Deconstruct this passage from Hamlet:
Come hear, my dear Hamlet, sit by me.
No, good mother, here's a more attractive place
O, ho! Do you see that?
Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
No, my lord.
I mean, lay my head on your lap?
Yes, my lord.
Do you think I meant sexual matters?
I think nothing, my lord.
That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
What is, my lord?
You are merry, my lord.
Yes, my lord.
O, your only dancer! What should a man do but be
merry? Because look how cheerfully my mother looks,
and my father died within these two hours.
No, it is four months, my lord.
So long? No then, let the devil wear black, for I’ll have a
suit of black fur. O heavens! Died two months ago and
not forgotten yet? Then there's hope that a great man's
memory may outlive his life at least six months, but, by
our Lady, then he must build churches or else he won’t
be remembered with the prostitute, whose epitaph is
“For, O, for, O, the prostitute is forgotten!”
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Well, already this is not Shakespeare; it is a rewording. It was probably written to make the scene more understandable to young readers or for people who are unfamiliar with the original language of the play. And let's face it, this is a very bawdy exchange.
Hamlet is about to have a play put on in front of King Claudius that will re-enact the muder of Hamlet's father. It is with this play that Hamlet hopes to "catch the conscience of the King." He is expectant and in high spirits.
Hamlet's mother, the Queen, asks Hamlet to sit with her, but he tells her that he prefers to sit with Ophelia. Then he talks dirty to Ophelia. After that he throws a few verbal darts at his mother... trying to catch her conscience as well.
Since it has already been re-worded, is there something else in the quoted passage that you don't understand?
In this passage from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet is, in a sense, deconstructing the behaviors or actions and ideas of Gertrude, Ophelia, and Polonius.
Hamlet uses sexual entendres, understatement, and sarcasm to ridicule the three.
The sexual puns, lie and lay,create the entendre. Hamlet is obsessed with his mother's quick remarriage, and he insults both her and Ophelia. He infers his mother is old when he says Ophelia is a more attractive place, and he insults them both when, in front of his mother, he makes the suggestive, sexual jokes toward Ophelia.
He uses understatement when he jokes that of course he's merry when his mother looks so cheerful two hours (instead of two months) after his father's death.
The final bit of the passage is sarcastic. Ophelia corrects Hamlet's addition by pointing out that his father died two months before, not two hours. Hamlet plays on this by announcing that the fact that King Hamlet is still remembered two months after his death (by Ophelia) is good news. That means that a great man's memory may even outlast that of a prostitute--memory of him may last, perhaps, for a good six months.
Hamlet is ridiculing Gertrude for her hasty remarriage, Ophelia for breaking off their relationship and trying to play him, so to speak, and Polonius for thinking he is intelligent enough to interpret Hamlet's behavior and figure out the reason Hamlet acts as he does. Hamlet has a particular distaste for people who think they are smarter than him and can deconstruct him, in a sense.
This is Act III scene ii, just before the staging of the dumb-show and the play-within-the-play, "The Mousetrap." Here, Hamlet is the opening act. He is performing a show in the audience. As the comic prelude to "The Mousetrap," Hamlet is playing a role he is good at, "Crazy Hamlet," ridiculing his mother, and angering Claudius in the process. This playful scene diverts attention away from the action of the real play (the Murder of Gonzago) and Hamlet's real motives ("to catch the conscience of the king") and furthers the theme of "appearance versus reality."
The only problem is that Hamlet's scene partner, Ophelia, doesn't know that she is to be part of the act. She plays straight, while Hamlet proceeds with the puns and sexual innuendoes, signs of what Freud called the "Oedipus Complex," repressed feelings of sexual jealousy aimed at an older male figure who shares a bed with the son's mother.
Remember, most of what Hamlet says to Ophelia in the play is directed at his mother. Here, she is present and open to public ridicule at the hands of her own son. Hamlet knows this will anger her and, more importantly, Claudius. His primary concern once the show starts will be watching to see if Claudius will show signs of guilt, and this pre-show comic act is but a way to rile up the king in a very public way.
We have much meta-drama here. The audience is watching Hamlet. Later, the audience will be watching the actors. All the while, Horatio will be watching Claudius. So, everyone is on stage here: "the play's the thing."
The risque banter is fraught with Oedipal connotations. A Freudian critic may say that Hamlet is sexually jealous of his step-father here, that he wants to be object of his mother's affections (in mourning) after the passing of his father; instead, she turns to Claudius for emotional and sexual consolation, much to Hamlet's dismay.
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