Monday, December 21, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act V, Scene 2 -- Part One

This is it, the final scene.  Once again, I'm splitting it into two posts, so this post is about lines 1 through 195.

It opens quietly, calmly.  Gielgud says, "This scene must start in a light mood, as if it's the beginning of a new play with a different color.  It should have a reckless curiosity, with a great charm and sweetness.  Hamlet has resolved all his problems" (John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet (72).  And I think it really feels that way, sort of peaceful and calm after all the angsty drama that came before.

We start with Hamlet telling Horatio how he discovered Claudius' murderous plot and subverted it.  That "hoist with his own petard" theme comes in again -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get killed because they agreed to escort Hamlet to his death.  We also come back to the idea of Laertes as a foil for Hamlet.  For Hamlet not only tells Horatio that he's sorry he fought with Laertes, but adds, "by the image of my cause I see The portraiture of his" (76-77).  

Anyway, in comes Osric.  Shall I make a confession?  I can't stand Osric.  In every version I've ever seen, he makes me cringe, and I want to shoo him off the stage.  And of course, he's supposed to make me feel that way, I'm well aware of that.  Doesn't mean I have to like him, though.  He's a perfect caricature of empty, meaningless talking meant to flatter and please.  Blech.  I do get a kick out of lines 96-103, though, when Hamlet mocks him by speaking similarly.  And Horatio and Hamlet's snarky asides to each other are pretty funny.  But still, I can't stand Osric.

I probably also dislike Osric because he comes to tell Hamlet about the proposed fencing match between him and Laertes, which we all know is A Treacherous Plot.  And Hamlet agrees to it.  He obviously knows it's A Treacherous Plot of some sort, because he says, "Thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart" (185), but dismisses it as a weak nervousness.  Horatio urges him to follow these instincts and delay the fencing match.  But Hamlet refuses.  As Harold Bloom puts it, "Their plot, absurd and messy, would fool no one except that the Hamlet of Act V wishes to make an end, and will accept any Claudian wager, whatever the odds" (64).  I concur.

Hamlet has accepted that, at some point, he is going to die, and he's done struggling against the inevitable.  Whether he dies right now or when he's an old man, it's going to happen.  He's decided that "[t]he readiness is all" (194).  That's my favorite line in this whole play, by the way.  If I ever got a tattoo, that's what it would say.  

We'll stop here for today, teetering on the brink.

Favorite Lines:

"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will" (10-11).

"If it be now, 'tis not to come.  If it be not to come, it will be now.  If it be not now, yet it will come.  The readiness is all" (192-94).

Possible Discussion Questions:

When Hamlet says that the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not weigh heavily on his conscience, Horatio says, "Why, what a king is this!" (61).  Do you think he means Hamlet, and what a king he could be, or Claudius, and what he's doing as king?


  1. Oh! Nice idea, & I know exactly where it would be. Hamlet is already dead & Horatio strokes his hair, saying "What a king this is." Then the finishing lines, "Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. (Does anyone know if this is the only time Horatio uses the familiar 'thee' instead of the formal'you?')
    Hamlet dies peacefully. I think Horatio's Stoic philosophy has begun to an influence on Hamlet's beliefs. "If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all."



    1. Oh, I like that! I would put it there too.

      Horatio calls the Ghost "thee" too, with "I charge thee, speak!" When the sailor brings the letter from Hamlet, Horatio returns his blessing with "Let him bless thee too." (Before you think I have a phenomenal memory, I just searched this site.)

      I like that idea, that Hamlet has learned from Horatio. Very cool.

  2. Ha, I disliked Osric too -- because he wouldn't put his hat on! :P That is a good line. Oh Hamlet. At the beginning of the play while he was being indecisive I wanted him to just go for it, no matter the consequences. But now I wish he could have thought of a way to get his revenge and avoid the consequences...

    I'd say Horatio was talking about Hamlet. Just the impression I got. And we've already heard enough about the kind of king Claudius is, so it's nice to think about what kind of a king Hamlet would make.

    1. Sarah, yes, what is with Osric and his silly hat, anyway? (Though I often quote Hamlet from that bit when my kids won't put their hats on. I tell them, "Put your bonnet to its rightful use" because it amuses me.)

      I also like thinking about what sort of king Hamlet would have been. Would he have been good and just and useful? Or more interested in academic pursuits and watching plays than in matters of state? Hmmm. Later, Fortinbras says Hamlet would have "proved most royal" if he'd been made king...

  3. And we're back to Hamlet ridiculing and the victim barely realising it! (I loved all the snarky asides, though. Shows off Hamlet's and Horatio's friendship once more)

    1. Rose, yup, they get a bit more fun in before the end :-) The playful banter is so enjoyable!


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