How does the audience react to the production of Hamlet in Chapter 31 of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?
The presentation of Hamlet by Mr. Wopsle is a farce, so poorly done that the audience reacts with laughter and derision. Among the ridiculous aspects of the performance are the deceased king, who cannot stop coughing even when he is supposed to be dead, and must read his lines from a manuscript, a queen who has the appearance of a kettledrum, and a boy who plays multiple roles almost simultaneously, and none of them well. The audience quickly loses patience with the ludicrous performance, and reacts loudly, with sassy retorts and laughter. When Ophelia, with maddening slowness, takes off her white scarf and folds it, a "sulky man" shouts out from among the onlookers, "Now the baby's put to bed, let's have supper!", and when Hamlet himself asks rhetorical questions in his soliloquy, "quite a Debating Society" arises in the audience, and individuals shout out sardonic answers and comments in response. Mr. Wopsle, in particular, performs laughably, and the audience does not hold back in voicing its scornful displeasure.
The scene in the graveyard is rendered especially poorly, and when Mr. Wopsle returns a skull to its place after moralizing over it, and fastidiously wipes his fingers on a white napkin before going on, there is a sarcastic cry of "Wai-ter!" from the frustrated viewing populace. Pip and Herbert, who are watching the play, at first make "some pale efforts...to applaud Mr. Wopsle," but, finding the play "too hopeless," sit there laughing along with the majority despite themselves, even though they are "feeling keenly" for Mr. Wopsle, who is the only one who takes the whole disaster seriously (Chapter 31).
The farcical performance of Mr. Wopsle in Chapter 31 of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is another example of what has been termed Dickens's "double narratives." These narratives, while providing comic relief, are also severe or cynical. Like Uncle Pumblechook, Mr. Wopsle is pretentious--he has changed his name to Waldengarver--and his "elocution" is like no one's:
...there was something decidedly fine in Mr. Wopsle's elocution--not for old association's sake, I am afraid, but because it was very slow, very dreary, very up-hill and down-hill, and very unlike any way in which any man in any natural circumstances of life or death ever expressed himself about anything.
Along with Uncle Pumblechook and Mrs. Pocket, and, of course, Pip, Mr. Wopsle represents those who rise or seek to rise financially and socially in imitation of what Dickens considered a frivolous aristocracy. As the Prince of Hamlet, Wopsle/Waldengarver is presented comically and satirically. The irony of Wopsle's performance is that Pip himself is engaged in a real-life pretence at aristocracy.