Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Hamlet: the Agent Fool
I'm very glad we've waited a bit before starting Hamlet. Coming into this class, I didn't realize several things about society and its norms during the times of Shakespeare's writing. For instance, our focus on ascendance to the crown through hereditary blood lines was something completely new to me, and it has changed the way I look at each new play. The case of Hamlet is an interesting one when examined in this light.
Hamlet is a displaced king who has been denied his natural right to the thrown. Being a grown man (He's thirty years old), the throne should has passed on to him after the death of his father, regardless of cause. The fact that his uncle Claudius is now king seems to be a very odd situation, given the order of things as established by all the plays we've read thus far. There is little background in the first act about why Claudius is king, but we do learn that he murdered his brother (from the ghost of old king Hamlet) before he could be given last rights. Thus once again, we see a situation out of step with societal procedures for the times. I'm going to be looking for other instances of odd social procedures throughout the rest of the play.
Hamlet is also foiled against the displaced Norwegian ruler Fortinbras, who lost his father and his land in a duel with old king Hamlet, and has also been denied his seat on the throne. Fortinbras is a central figure in the first act. He is summoning an army and thus has kept the whole kingdom on full alert against potential invasion. In this way he is a very physical agent of change. He is making bold moves to try and reclaim the throne that has been denied to him.
On the other hand, Hamlet decided to act in a very different manor. He makes his compatriots swear they will report none of what they have seen after their encounter with the ghost. However, he also makes them swear that they will not question him if he begins to act strangely, or seems like a mad man. The reasoning for this seems to be so that Hamlet can enact the same sort of change as Fortinbras (reclaiming the throne) but he's going about it in a much different matter. Under the cover of maddening grief, Hamlet will be allowed to operate outside the realm of the base culture. If this base culture (the culture of the state) is corrupt, then removing oneself from it is of no consequence. And there is little doubt that the society is corrupt as we've had some problem over natural ascension to the realm. Something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark. Further readings will continue to illuminate more.