Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act IV, Scene 2

Another short scene!  Don't these make you feel productive?  "What did you do today?"  "Read a scene from Hamlet."  No one needs to know it was only a page and a half long!

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern accost Hamlet and try to get him to tell them where he's hidden Polonius' body.  Hamlet resumes his antic ways, verbally sparring with them, playing with words, and not being at all cooperative.  He ends with "Hide fox, and all after," whereon most productions have him run away and them chase him, like grown men playing tag.

Remember in the post for Act III, Scene 2 that I mentioned I'd just learned that "thing" and "nothing" were used in Shakespeare's day as euphemism's for men and women's "naughty bits" (to toss in a Monty Python euphemism).  As soon as I learned that, I immediately thought of the end of this scene, when Hamlet says, "The King is a thing" (24).  I don't know enough about slang in Shakespeare's day to know if this is true or not, and this is totally my own reading/idea here, but might Hamlet be using the word "thing" here the same way we would say "jerk," or several other less-savory modern euphemisms that people today use to describe people who are being jerks?  And then saying he's "of nothing" would seem to be a reference to Claudius' seduction of Gertrude to secure the throne, perhaps?  I don't know, it just makes this passage make more sense in a way, because "the King is a thing" is so random and pointless otherwise, and Hamlet's words, wild and whirling though they may be, are rarely pointless.

Favorite Lines:

"A knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear" (20).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Do you think Rosencrantz really didn't understand Hamlet calling him a sponge, or is he just angry and frustrated with this antic, deadly prince?

Can you think of a different reading of "the king is a thing" that also makes sense?  Or is Hamlet just being super-random in his feigned madness there?


  1. This scene was very humorous to me. And that seems to be exactly the appropriate way for them all to exit! Haha!

    I'd imagine that Rosencrantz understood him... but more and more I'm loving the idea that so much of this could be played two, or even more ways. So my official opinion on everything now is that I love that there are questions more than I have opinions on what the answers are. :D

    Your explanation definitely makes sense to me too -- otherwise why would Guildenstern interrupt him there and seem so shocked?

    1. Sarah, it is fairly amusing, isn't it? I mean, if we ignore the fact that he has stuffed Polonius under the stairs.

      There are many ways of interpreting every character and scene. Which is why there are so many adaptations, and why so many actors yearn to be in a production of it.

  2. I don't think these two reactions are necessarily separate. That is, the misunderstandings co-exist. R&G have been yanked around with all matter of wordplay and physical rough housing. They aren't as quick minded as Hamlet or
    Horatio. Rather, they are limited to lewd wordplay and suggestions that
    Hamlet's depression is just his disappointed ambition.

    1. Kelda, it's true -- Rosencrantz could be both. Hamlet is certainly far above them, intellectually -- the only character who seems to truly match his quick wits is the Gravedigger, don't you think? Horatio has a much more thoughtful, pondering sort if intellect. No less intelligent, but of a different sort.


What do you think?

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