Saturday, November 26, 2011

III.i. The Nunnery Scene - Olivier '48

When considering Olivier's adaptation, we must contend with the unusual placement of this sequence. It comes after the Fishmonger scene through a time lapse transition and a the set-up from before To be or not to be, and is followed by To be or not to be (which becomes a guilty reaction to it). Jean Simmons' Ophelia is probably the most innocent of them all, almost a child really, and as such, can hardly lie convincingly. Throughout the scene, she keeps glancing at the arras behind which her father and the King are hiding, usually before her cue to speak, leading Hamlet to do the same. He was suspicious when he came in, but Ophelia's jumpy disposition inflames his paranoia. Not that Hamlet doesn't give her cause to be jumpy. He throws her book away to stop her from reading, and his blasé, monotone "well, well, well" doesn't let on that he cares for her. When he doesn't receive the tokens she hands him, she uncomfortably puts them on the table, his cue to grab her hand violently.

By violent, I realize I merely mean sudden. All the violence in this scene is psychological. There are a few moments where Ophelia throws herself at Hamlet and he tears her away and watches her fall, but that's about it. The performances however add a lot of sting to the words themselves. When Hamlet tells her she should not have believed his love, she rubs her cheek, as if she'd been slapped. And in slight change to the accepted text, Ophelia cries out "Help me you sweet heavens" (instead of "Help him"). She's the one in distress, and who emotionally explodes, not Hamlet. His only violence is rejecting her, or refusing to show kindness, and it's what sets off her hysterics. Polonius' claims of madness-for-love aren't so much wrong as they are badly targeted. If the mirroring effects of the play go in a "like parent, like child" direction, we must then recall how Polonius earlier claimed he suffered much for love. It's behavior genetically imposed on Ophelia, but we can't say the same for Hamlet or his absentee father.

Hamlet's lack of interest in Ophelia is counterpointed by his over-interest in the arras and what might wait beyond it. In moments, he is talking not to Ophelia, but directly to the arras. The word "ambitious" in particular is directed at Polonius and the King. Should we infer that the litany of sins Hamlet accuses himself of are actually leveled at them? Or is it an implicit threat to the throne? If it is, it's one that consciously confuses the issue of his motivation. The spies could understandably, if mistakenly(?), believe his motives to be political. By the end of the sequence, Ophelia is on the floor and Hamlet is conversing only with the two people who are ignoring her cries for help. He leaves her with a last kindness, kissing her hand and advising her to get out of Elsinore.

Ophelia's speech is replaced by loud sobbing as the spies completely ignore her. Polonius follows the King around and only spares her a look very late in the game. And even then, he leaves her on the steps alone and walks out.
As we leave the scene, Ophelia is reaching for Hamlet, or for her sanity, or in a more meta-textual way, for the camera's point of view which may or may not be the Ghost's. What does she see going up those steps? Is her mind breaking already? If it is the Ghost and not a proper hallucination, does she recognize Hamlet in it? In any case, the pitiable image stresses how the entire scene has been about violating Ophelia.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Nunnery Scene - Branagh '96

Initially, Branagh's Hamlet is all smiles and teary eyes, soft-spoken and kind, which in turn makes Kate Winslet's Ophelia hopeful and just as teary. The meeting is imbued with a tenderness we have not seen in Hamlet since the events of the play began. After Ophelia's "How does your honor...", they both giggle at the formality, and he answers in kind, as if play-acting. We have to remember that in this adaptation, they've been intimate, so the courtly mannerisms are out of place (except that her father is watching, so Ophelia at least knows not to be too familiar). Hamlet's three "well"s are ever more tender and end in an embrace. He holds her close, kisses her deeply, but she pushes him away to get things back on track. Hamlet appears deeply insulted, red-faced and betrayed, and it's here that the staging seems to both ask and answer a question: Is Ophelia acting from a script? On the one hand, she's being particularly formal and one might say, out-of-character. Then she fails to adapt to the situation (Hamlet's surprise kindness) and reacts, perhaps as scripted, with a complete non sequitur, giving back Hamlet's gifts. Hamlet has just returned her affections, and now she's going on about "perfume lost"? But we WOULD expect Polonius to have given Ophelia a script. She's a girl with no control over her life, and a poor improviser besides, so she pushes her father's agenda no matter what Hamlet says or does. There are other clues that point to this being the case. She looks to the side when, as if by rote, saying the line about rich gifts waxing poor, which really sounds like one of her father's slogans. Is she remembering, or is the eye motion a "tell" that points to the spies in the room?

Does the prince react as he does because he realizes all this already (though the "Where is your father?" line is spoken only later), or is it more visceral than that, an immediate connection between her apparent changeability and his mother's? It's a connection that certainly fuels his anger, since much of the coming speech and violence is transferred from guilty Gertrude to innocent Ophelia. And in terms of changeability, the pots and kettles irony is that Hamlet himself will turn unkind and confuse his would-be princess all the more. He slaps the gifts away, among them the poetry we know he wrote, and denies ever having given them to her. His moving "I did love you once" sounds like he's imploring Ophelia not to go through with this charade. He gives her an out and hopes she'll take it. And then the spies make a noise, and Ophelia lies about where her father is with the guiltiest look in creation on her face. For Hamlet, it's the tipping point. He breaks down crying, hands on face and when Ophelia tries to reach out, he lashes out at her.
The scene would be comical if it weren't so cruel as Hamlet drags Ophelia behind him as he opens one mirrored door after another, in a rage-fueled game of hide and seek. He silences her and pushes her face against a mirror, for the drama's sake, the exact door behind which Polonius and Claudius are hiding. It is telling that neither comes to Ophelia's defense. Though visibly shocked, seeing this through to the end is all they really care about, and they let Ophelia be violated, both physically and psychologically. She has been thoroughly abandoned. It is a violent image, one that distorts her face as a way of evoking her own mind snapping, and perhaps foreshadowing her drowning, the mirror providing a watery distortion.

Hamlet guesses the spies are behind this door, or that they might move to that position during the assault, or can even hear them there at this range. We may assume then that while his anger is genuine, he still puts on a show, using Ophelia as a prop. Violence gives way to a strange kiss when he tells her there will be no more marriages (is he saying in this moment that they'll never be intimate again, marriage being equal to intercourse?) and speaks straight at them (at us!) when he threatens that all but one shall live. They run off before he can catch them, but it is clear they were there. Secret doors don't slam silently. He leaves Ophelia with one last kindness (now that they are gone?), as his last "To a nunnery, go" loses the tone that might connote a whorehouse. It's a plea for her to leave Elsinore before something bad happens, whether that be blood-letting or her own corruption.
Ophelia's speech ends with a strange dawning realization which I wish I had a good handle on. It remains one of this adaptation's mysteries for me (and considering how many times I've seen it, it's great to still be able to admit there are still some). "See what I see" has its own unique tone, and makes us wonder just what it is she suddenly sees. The rest of the speech makes her point of view rather naive. She believes Hamlet has gone mad. What is her epiphany at the end then? Does she see the bigger picture? That perhaps Hamlet's troubles with women begin and end with his mother? That his madness is all for show, perhaps even having her suspect foul play in the death of the previous king and/or the murder Hamlet is planning? Does she foresee her own doom, the only possible end for a dejected lady like her? Ambiguity reigns.
The return of the other men in her life is as traumatic for her as Hamlet's violence. The father who put her in harm's way and failed to rescue her holds her tight and comforts her, not allowing her to talk. Ophelia is emotionally rocked in every direction. As for the King, he completely ignores her and her pain, giving in to anger and brooding. His mood is not improved by Polonius's reiteration of his mad-for-love theory, and he furiously slams his hand against the wall. Polonius almost approaches fatherly kindness in this scene, putting his well-meaning but empty comforting of his daughter above playing the sycophant to the King's frustrations.

Friday, November 11, 2011

III.i. The Nunnery Scene

The last section of Act III Scene 1 is Hamlet's staged encounter with Ophelia, in which he may or may not discover that he's being spied upon by Claudius and Polonius, who close out the scene after Hamlet leaves with important consequences for the prince. Over the course of the next few articles, we'll look at how different directors staged this sequence, and how different actors played it, but first we'll look at the text itself. Shakespeare is in italics, while my comments are not:

OPHELIA: Good my lord,
How does your honour for this many a day?
HAMLET: I humbly thank you; well, well, well.

I love Hamlet's triple repetitions because the actors can play around with them so much. As with the previous "Words, words, words" and "Except my life", actors can take each of the tripled meme and give it its own reading, or find a way to say all three with the same intent.

OPHELIA: My lord, I have remembrances of yours,
That I have longed long to re-deliver;
I pray you, now receive them.

There is something quite touching about the use of the word "remembrances" here. Ophelia is not just returning tokens or gifts, but the memories associated with those objects. Memory plays a big part in this section of the text, as Hamlet then makes like he doesn't remember having given her anything. Hamlet's demeanor has changed and he has, in effect, become someone else, changing the meaning of Ophelia's memories. There is no doubt an interesting thesis to be gleaned from how people's perceptions of one another change, and in turn change their memories of one another, throughout the play. There's the revelation that Claudius is a murderer, of course, which is made to both Hamlet and Gertrude. False friends revealed, lovers lost, princes mistrusted, Norway's intentions, and ultimately, Hamlet's own new understanding of himself.

HAMLET: No, not I;
I never gave you aught.
OPHELIA: My honour'd lord, you know right well you did;
And, with them, words of so sweet breath composed
As made the things more rich: their perfume lost,
Take these again; for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
There, my lord.
HAMLET: Ha, ha! are you honest?
OPHELIA: My lord?
HAMLET: Are you fair?
OPHELIA: What means your lordship?
HAMLET: That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.
OPHELIA: Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?
HAMLET: Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once.
OPHELIA: Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.
HAMLET: You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not.
OPHELIA: I was the more deceived.

Hamlet's harshness may be born of a mirroring effect. Though Ophelia is betraying his trust here, playing a part in her father's scheme, it's not clear whether Hamlet knows about it or not. So why so harsh? If he knows about the spies, it could all be part of the act, a tug of war between what he really feels and the act he's putting on for Claudius and Polonius. His cruelty towards Ophelia is a necessary evil. However, if he doesn't know he's being spied upon (at least until he asks where her father is), it may be more true to say that he's actually talking to his mother. Ophelia did not betray him, but Gertrude did betray his father. Hamlet indicts the entire sex, in a run of motivated misogyny. Women, being attractive to men as they are, make men lose their reason and betray themselves. The solution Hamlet proposes is to lock away women before they cause more men to do so.

HAMLET: Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where's your father?

In these lines, Hamlet blamed his mother not just for betraying his father, but for his own birth. Motivated by present circumstances, an Oedipal impulse (though you know I hate that Freudian interpretation of the play) or his religious beliefs, Hamlet has put all the sins of the world on his mother. His father is dead because Claudius killed him to get her. He must now avenge his father because he exists thanks to his mother. In this sequence, Shakespeare reveals that at least part of the reason Hamlet has been delaying action is that he's been moved to take revenge on the wrong person. Claudius is at fault, sure, and Hamlet hates him. However, the Ghost's warning not to hurt Gertrude is what rankles, and it all comes out in Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia in this scene. We should also mention how "nunnery" is an ironic term for a whorehouse. Just as in an earlier scene, Hamlet called Polonius a "fishmonger" (a colloquialism that can mean "pimp"), Hamlet can again be seen as treating Ophelia/Getrude/women as whores. Nun or whore, neither is meant to be a mother.

The line also holds a few actorly double-entendres, from the concepts of imagination and acting out offences, to the request not to believe the actor's words. It plays on multiple levels, since the actors on stage are not really their characters, and Hamlet is play-acting his madness, though it's still ambiguous.

OPHELIA: At home, my lord.
HAMLET: Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool no where but in's own house. Farewell.
OPHELIA: O, help him, you sweet heavens!

Shakespeare doesn't give many stage directions. They're suggested by the text itself. Ophelia's invocation to God here indicates Hamlet is acting strangely, losing himself in madness. His words don't really suggest it, so it's up to the director and actors to figure it out. We'll see how different adaptations dealt with it.

HAMLET: If thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.
OPHELIA: O heavenly powers, restore him!
HAMLET: I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nick-name God's creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I'll no more on't; it hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages: those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.

I love the line "the rest shall keep as they are", a fabulously clever continuation of the rot theme of the play. Those that are married already are Gertrude and Claudius. One shall live (Gertrude) and the other shall keep as he is (Claudius). Not "die", but "keep". The idea is that he's dead and rotting already. An image of corruption or of a fate that can no longer be delayed. Note that the other married man in the play is Hamlet Sr., another character that is "kept as he is", preserved by the special state of the undead. Hamlet once again puts up a mirror to the two Kings and in this case, finds them equivalent.


OPHELIA: O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword;
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

Ophelia''s little soliloquy paints a portrait of Hamlet before he went mad, at least through her eyes. Even after all this, she has not stopped loving him. The perfume has not been lost, we could say. Note how Ophelia feels sorry for herself for having had a particular experience, again a play on memory. If ignorance is bliss, then Ophelia would have rather stayed ignorant. I don't think I've ever come across it, but a director could theoretically use the past tense on that last line to involve Ophelia in the murder of Hamlet Sr. What she sees now is Hamlet's madness. What she has seen in the past could be a secret she's keeping from Hamlet even now, the cause and not just the result of his madness. Just more reasons for her mind to break.


KING CLAUDIUS: Love! his affections do not that way tend;
Nor what he spake, though it lack'd form a little,
Was not like madness. There's something in his soul,
O'er which his melancholy sits on brood;
And I do doubt the hatch and the disclose
Will be some danger: which for to prevent,
I have in quick determination
Thus set it down: he shall with speed to England,

Another mirror: If Hamlet cannot touch Gertrude for his father's sake, then Claudius cannot touch Hamlet for his wife's sake. Both men are prevented from taking the action they want by love for another. Claudius chooses exile for Hamlet (though this will change).

For the demand of our neglected tribute
Haply the seas and countries different
With variable objects shall expel
This something-settled matter in his heart,
Whereon his brains still beating puts him thus
From fashion of himself. What think you on't?
LORD POLONIUS: It shall do well: but yet do I believe
The origin and commencement of his grief
Sprung from neglected love. How now, Ophelia!
You need not tell us what Lord Hamlet said;
We heard it all. My lord, do as you please;
But, if you hold it fit, after the play
Let his queen mother all alone entreat him
To show his grief: let her be round with him;
And I'll be placed, so please you, in the ear
Of all their conference. If she find him not,
To England send him, or confine him where
Your wisdom best shall think.

Here, Polonius seals his own fate. The way his particular hubris manifests is in his stubbornness that prevents him from accepting he is wrong (as they play shows, he almost invariably is). Claudius is convinced Hamlet is neither mad nor acting from neglected love. Polonius still disagrees and sets up yet another encounter, this time between Hamlet and his mother, during which Hamlet should admit to being mad for love. And it is spying on this encounter of his own making that gets him killed.

KING CLAUDIUS: It shall be so:
Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go.


The pregnancy theory
None of the plays examined by Hyperion to a Satyr make use of the idea that Ophelia is pregnant, but if someone were to do so, this is where the most irony could be drawn from the idea. Ophelia would already be a breeder of sinners, and any injury (both psychic and physical) would be all the more violent for it. If a nunnery is a whorehouse, that may be a clue that Hamlet and Ophelia have been sexually active which plays into the pregnancy theory. Directors who entertain this notion may wish to reveal Ophelia's belly in her madness scenes (adding to the pathos), or have this particular sequence cause her to lose the baby (further motivating her madness).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - A Midwinter's Tale

Michael Maloney's lively Hamlet actually jumps into the aisles for his rendition of this speech, letting out all his venom right at the crowd/camera - or at least, the angry section where he screams names at his uncle. Interaction with the audience is one element that naturally can't be part of movie adaptations, but is still an important part of staging the play theatrically. This is where films ABOUT staging Hamlet can inform us. A Midwinter's Tale's Hamlet starts with a machine gun being fired over the heads of the audience, and follows up with a Hamlet that first appears at the back of the room. Though Faj's set design is cheekily described as "people in space", Branagh is true to that idea in his direction. The use of space includes the audience and makes for a visceral watching experience. It helps that the play is staged inside an old church, rather than a standard theater. It removes the demarcation between play and audience, placing the latter IN the set, in the atmosphere.

Monday, November 7, 2011

III.i. To Be or Not to Be - Brian Cox Masterclass with Theo

Before going on to the next sequence, I thought I'd share this lovely video of Brian Cox teaching a 30-month-old to do Hamlet. Though it's a measure of parroting the words, is there something modern actors or directors can take away from this innocent intonation of the words? There may be. We're used to Hamlet being "too old" to be a student, but how about too young? How does that change our perception of the play? What if Hamlet were a troubled teenager? Or as in this case, he would be meditating on mortality when his entire life stretches before him? It's a magical moment when Theo looks away from Cox and repeats the soliloquy while looking into the distance, somehow getting into the proper performance on instinct.

Brian Cox explains the experiment in a later interview:

Friday, November 4, 2011

III.i. To Be or Not to Be - Discovering Hamlet

In 1988, Derek Jacobi was asked to direct Kenneth Branagh's first stage Hamlet. It was his only directing job ever - not because he did a poor job, but because he much prefers acting - but the documentary special Discovering Hamlet chronicled the effort (if not the finished play). "To be or not to be" is the only sequence from the documentary I wanted to examine on Hyperion to a Satyr, but it's an incredibly intriguing take on the scene. He sadly doesn't go into detail, but Jacobi claims his approach is wholly rooted in the text. That approach? Having Hamlet speak the lines, not as a true soliloquy, but to Ophelia.

In my estimation, he's entirely correct in thinking this. For one thing, Ophelia is on stage when Hamlet enters, and no stage directions have her leave or hide. Shakespeare's didascalia are always sparse, but entrances and exists are clearly marked. What if the Bard meant for Ophelia to be present and aware of the speech? The main argument against this staging is the final line, "Soft you now! The fair Ophelia," written as an interruptive and usually read as Hamlet's realization that she is present. However, it is possible to read them instead as Hamlet shushing her, giving her permission not to respond to his meditation on mortality. He's not telling himself or the audience to be quiet, but her. "Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remember'd" becomes the actual conclusion to "To be or not to be", Hamlet perhaps admitting what spurred this black speech on, i.e. the guilt of having cut Ophelia off from his affections.

Brought into the scene quite viscerally, Ophelia is both witness and confidante. She may well be the only person Hamlet could say this to (Horatio has been absent a while), showing vulnerability for the first time since he went "mad". So how much greater is Ophelia's betrayal when the spies are discovered? She hasn't just lured Hamlet into the open, but made him show his true self. In other words, Jacobi's staging seems to confirm that the speech is not an act on Hamlet's part, and furthermore indicate that he perhaps would not have made it at all if not for the safety provided by Ophelia. Her presence makes him admit something he should not have. Theatrical conventions aside, it also confirms that the spies heard the speech, which normally would have been a long aside to the audience, representative of inner thought. There's an ambiguity on stage, that can lead the audience to reject that the character is literally talking to himself aloud, and ambiguity that is dispelled in this staging of it.

And of course, it heightens the irony of Ophelia later taking her own life, "acting" where Hamlet was unable to. While her prince seems to be confiding in her, we'll find that he was planting an idea in her head instead. In this version, there is no speech without Ophelia. In any version where she is present - hidden or not - it could be said Ophelia doesn't die but for this speech.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

III.i. To Be or Not to Be - French Rock Opera

At the center of Johhny Hallyday's Hamlet (at the beginning of Disc 2) is a dirge, constructed as a show-stopping number based on the play's most famous speech. It uses the opening line quite a lot (and as a title), with no translation. Though "Être ou ne pas être" is a famous French phrase, Hallyday opts for the original text because, well, it's famous no matter what language you speak. Before getting into it, here are the words, and then my doggerel translation.

To be or not to be
To be or not to be
To be or not to be
To be or not to be

To be or not to be
To be or not to be
To be or not to be

Encore choisir, choisir encore
Choisir entre chair et poussière
Entre bleu ciel et ver de terre
Pourrir du coeur, mourir du corps
Quelle question tragique à poser

To be or not to be
To be or not to be
To be or not to be

Mourir, dormir, un point c’est tout
Plus de justice à voir boiter
D’amours bafoués à voir ramper
Dormir seul au fond de son trou
Quelle question mortelle à poser

To be or not to be
To be or not to be
To be or not to be

Mourir, dormir, rêver peut-être ?
Voir chaque nuit les souvenirs
Sortir de l’ombre comme des vampires
Et vous tournoyer dans la tête
Quelle question vitale à poser

To be or not to be
To be or not to be
To be or not to be

Sans cette peur au cul blafard
Quel est le fou ou le peureux
Qui perdrait le temps d’être vieux
Alors qu’il suffit d’un poignard
Pour que la question soit réglée

To be or not to be...

To Be Or Not To Be
To be or not to be x6

Again to choose, to choose again
To choose between flesh and dust
Between blue sky and earthworm
Rot of the heart, die of the body
What a tragic question to ask

To be or not to be x3

To die, to sleep, and that's all there is to it
No more justice to see someone limp
Of ridiculed love, to see someone crawl
To sleep alone at the bottom of one's hole
What a mortal question to ask

To be or not to be x3

To die, to sleep, perchance to dream
Each night to see memories
Come out of the shadows like vampires
And spin in your head
What a vital question to ask

To be or not to be x3

Without that pale-assed fear
What fool or coward
Would give up growing old
When all you need is a dagger
To answer the question

To be or not to be...

The odd thing about the arrangement is that it has back-up singers. In the rock opera, these usually represent the people, courtly whispers or Danish opinion. Hamlet's voice is Hallyday's, and in this most private of moments (spied on or not), he is somehow accompanied by others. I'd like to say that it's the line reverberating across history, its sentiment universal. I rather think it's a mistake, thematically, and that Hallyday's wish to make this a bigger production number made him forget the conventions of his own opera.

The question gets asked a lot in this version of the speech, acting as a driving beat. It is asked in other ways as well. For example, the question is initially "tragic" and "mortal" (some word play here, since "mortelle" means both mortal and lethal), and later, "vital". Hamlet moves between life and death, flesh and dust. The choice predominates. The first line gives a false choice ("Again to choose, to choose again"), while also making the choice a repeated one. Hamlet has been on the line between choosing life and suicide since before the start of the play. Hallyday correctly understands this speech as a last time he will consider death as an alternative to action. He makes the choice again, but for the last time. Are we also to understand he believes the question to be a false choice? Because ultimately, it is. Hamlet may claim to long for death, but he argues strongly against it. Given who he is, and the fact that he has not yet taken his own life, this contemplation can have only one outcome. And yet, he hasn't acted. The alternative to dying has not been living, but rather, doing nothing. His thoughts, here described as vampires, have sucked the action out of him. So while Hamlet was never going to kill himself, he needs to strike the option off his list with words, so that he can move on to the active option of revenge.

Lost in translation
There's a nice pun in "Entre bleu ciel et ver de terre" lost in the literal translation I offered. "Bleu ciel" is not truly "blue sky", but rather "sky blue", the color. "Ver de terre" is "earthworm" (a link to the one going through the guts of Hamlet's metaphorical beggar), but is homophone of "vert de terre", which would mean "earth green". In French, the choice is between two colors, on representing life and the other death, though in the funereal world of the speech, could both be visions of the afterlife.