One thing we discussed in class very often is the use of words and how words define the characters of our plays. Not only do words have importance, they are the heart of the play. After my previous blog posts, I recognized I have focused so much on the women of our plays and although I would like to write about Ophelia and her death in act four, I am going to try and take a different approach.
There are many scenes thus far that Hamlet's wit emerges through his language, but more specifically Act Four Scene Two is one of the ones I enjoy, simply because the two men he is speaking two are supposed to be his friends but as readers we know they are not. This makes it even better for readers to enjoy the scene because Hamlet has every right to try and play games with their heads, after all, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not there to look out for Hamlet’s well-being. Although he has gone “mad” by this point, the wit he demonstrates with his language is remarkable. In this very small exchange between Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet provides responses that are so well thought out but remain mysterious. His words are perfectly aligned with his acting skills because only a so-called crazy person can get away with the way he responds. When asked where the body of Polonius is, Hamlet immediately responds with “Compounded it with dust, whereto’tis kin” (IV.II.5) Before the men can get a further explanation from Hamlet, he has the ability to change the subject of their conversation. Hamlet says,
Ay, sir, that soaks up the King’s countenance, his rewards, his authorities. But such officers do the King best service in the end. He keeps them, like an ape an apple in the corner of his jaw, first mouthed to be last swallowed. When he needs what you have gleaned, it is but squeezing you, and, sponge, you shall be dry again (IV. II. 14-19).
This quote to me speaks to readers on so many levels. Not only does it address the personality of the King and how he just uses everyone to his advantage and to get his power stronger, but also addresses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s mere position as a “sponge”. This clearly addresses how the two men are just instruments that the king uses to clean up a mess. He provides treasures to these two men, but the second he no longer needs them, they are squeezed dry and useless until the next time. This comment is just so witty and the symbolic language used within is intriguing. One could look at the way in which he addresses the men to be the apples that the “ape” will eventually swallow. It is also ironic that further down in this scene that Hamlet calls Rosencrantz a fool because he does not understand the above response from Hamlet (see footnote number 2 on page 1754). Hamlet also comes up with what the Norton believes to be a riddle as to where Polonius is truly located, implying the “afterlife” with the King in lines 25-26. With this riddle, not only are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern confused but Hamlet understands what he is saying (or at least that is the way I perceive it). I find his use of words and thought to be so mysterious yet powerful and full of so many different meanings. Although I have focused primarily on Hamlet’s use of language in this blog post, as I was writing one of the bigger pictures of Hamlet came about in my mind. If Hamlet has the ability to come up with these riddles and speak so abstractly is he actually mad, even if he is talking in “commoner speak” (demonstrated through the lack of couplets to speak)?