Tuesday, December 22, 2015

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

This final part of Hamlet suffers the most in being read versus seen.  The fight and the various characters' actions and emotions really need to be seen to be truly appreciated.  I've never yet been moved to tears by reading this scene, but I regularly cry when watching it.  So here is this half of the scene from the David Tennant version (2010), if you'd like to watch it and see how this particular production has it all play out.

Anyway, I find it interesting that Hamlet blames his actions on madness when he's apologizing to Laertes.  Does Hamlet truly believe he's been mad for a while?  Do any of the other characters?  Does Laertes?  I don't know.  I do love the end of Hamlet's apology, though, the part where he says, "I have shot my arrow o'er the house And hurt my brother" (212-13).  That part definitely feels sincere.

So then they fence a while.  Laertes has the "unbated" foil, that is, the actually sharp sword that doesn't have anything protecting the tip.  And of course it's poisoned too.  Claudius brings out his poisonous "union," aka a pearl, and poisons the wine with it.  But Hamlet won't drink -- he wants to stay sharp, I think.  Who wouldn't, ringed around by bad guys as he is?  

And then Gertrude drinks the poison.  Different productions play this different ways -- does she know it's poisoned and drink in an effort to save her son?  Does she realize he was right about Claudius and not want to live on with such a bad guy as her husband?  Does she have zero idea that it's poisoned?  Lots of different ways to play it, each with really cool insights into her character to be had.  

A couple scenes ago, Claudius claimed that he basically can't live without Gertrude.  So the way he says his line, "Gertrude, do not drink" (265) can really tell us whether he was being truthful then or not.  Does he say it desperately?  Resignedly?  Angrily?  It can be so revelatory.

Of course, we return again to that idea of being caught in your own trap.  Laertes says, "I am justly killed with mine own treachery" (284) and also, "The foul practice Hath turned itself on me" (295).  Claudius gets killed by both the poisoned sword and the wine he poisoned, and Gertrude basically gets caught in her own trap when she dies of poison set out by the man she married after he poisoned her first husband.  She, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, may have been initially unwitting of the nature of her actions, of course.  And obviously Hamlet, by seeking vengeance for his father, has vengeance served against him for things he did during that quest.

As Hamlet dies, he echoes his father's ghost.  Horatio tries to commit suicide, to follow his friend into the grave the way Roman soldiers would follow their leader when he died.  But Hamlet tells Horatio not to die just yet, but to "[r]eport me and my cause aright To the unsatisfied" (315-16).  In fact, just like the Ghost asked him to listen to his tale "[i]f ever thou didst they dear father love" (I, 5, 23), Hamlet asks Horatio to do this "[i]f thou didst ever hold me in your heart (322).  Striking similarity, eh?

And after Hamlet dies, in comes Fortinbras.  John Gielgud says, "All the people in the play are shut up in this castle... There is this curious feeling, except on the battlements and in the churchyard, that they are all really locked in the castle, in a miasma of corruption and sensuality.  It isn't until Fortinbras comes at the end that the whole thing opens and all are free (John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet p. 17).  I really like that insight, that in the end, it's Fortinbras who frees the Danish people from this sickness of corruption and duplicity that has poisoned the castle's inmates.

Favorite Lines:

"I am more antique Roman than a Dane" (317).

"The rest is silence" (334).

"Now cracks a noble heart.--Good night, sweet Prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!" (335-36).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Well, what did you think of it?

So.  We've finished it.  Yay?  Yay for us, anyway.  Thanks so much for taking this journey with me!  I think this is my favorite read-along that I've led thus far.

Of course, if you haven't quite finished reading it yet, please feel free to continue commenting and discussing this on your own time here!  I'm going to start up a giveaway today, and in the next day or two I'll be posting a link-up for anyone who might want to share their own blog posts about Hamlet, like if you're reviewing it for the Classics Club or what have you.


  1. I really do think this is the high point of the play,rather than a climax followed by a build-down (what't that term? denoumue?) I've seen so many versions. I can think of 3 versions without Hamlet dying in Horatio's arms. Well, maybe 2 1/2. The 1/2, I think in modern dress including guns,Hamlet is wounded. Horatio catches him, trying to keep him upright. But when Laertes confesses to them that sword was poisoned, Horatio *drops* Hamlet. Horatio falls to his knees to cradle him in his arms. The next bit of action is Hamlet stagger to the king's throne & dies there, while Horatio kneels at his feet.Finally, similar, Hamlet dies. Horatio picks him up & eases him into a niche cut into a rock structure rather like a throne, maybe cut into the walls of the battlement, so both the site & Horatio's presence bookend the first & last screen.
    In college a prof loaned his copy of long open verse that one of his profs had given to him. It was already long out of date, so I xeroxed it. Title was simply Horatio. The author was Hiram Plunik...as I remember. Lost the copy with a lot of other things. I keep surfing. No success. He took up Horatio's life in his old age. Fortinbras had kept him in Denmark, in part to verify the life and death of Hamlet et al. The people of the county were completely unpersuaded by Horatio. Hamlet was derided as an idiot who had handed away their free country. Every year that passed the slurs and baseness about Hamlet increased. Horatio wants nothing more than suicide, but he*cannot* - because he has not cleared Hamlet's name. Something about that promise to his friend exceeds all of the Stoic training he had. (I promise I have a much better life for him in my wip.)

    1. Gertrude: I think double kudoes to director & make up, & of course Glenn Close on this marvelous moment. She drank the wine. I think she knew what she was doing, with all of the staring at the cup,her hand to her throat.There's a brief moment away from her,& when the camera comes back, her face is blue & gray. I connected to it immediately. Several years ago, my doc gave me an untested injection &sent me home. By the time I got to the ER I was seizuring, but weirdly clear of mind. My hands & arms were all that I could see & I kept asking, "What's wrong with my skin?" It was blue & gray. Exactly like Glenn's skin make up.My oxygen level was below 60%, and apparently anything below 90% is not a good thing.

      In the Tennant/Stewart version, I think my favorite director's take is Hamlet holding the cup facing Claudius. "drink it off." Some Claudiuses get hysterical about now - calling out for his guards to save him. No!This Claudius faces this cocky nephew straight backed, head up. (What a king is this!)There is the smallest smile on his face, and he tips his head a inch or so in defeat. He takes the cup in a steady hand and drinks, then hands it back to Hamlet. I'd like to see him sit by Gertrude's body,maybe take up her hand & kiss it but that would take away from the Hamlet/Horatio ending. It would be a nice touch to acknowledge Claudius' devotion to Gertrude.
      Don't you think the Antique Roman scene would be awfully hard to block? Where is the cup, & how did it there?*Is* there some liquor left? Probably not if Hamlet has sloshed it all over him as in some versions. Horatio has his hands full...he can't be running around looking for it.
      I have read about a bit of business -never seen it, though - Fortinbras & his sergeant enter, followed by a few soldiers several steps behind. Horatio gives his little speech about explaining it all. Fortinbras thinks about it for maybe a minute, then says to his sergeant, "Go. Bid the soldiers shoot," pointing at this foreign upstart. Horatio scrambles to his feet. As the curtain falls,we hear a volley of shots. Well I suppose it's as good as the Green Alien Space Monkey my kids invented.
      ~ Kelda

    2. Kelda, yes, there's basically no denoument for this play. A few lines after Hamlet dies, is all. And it doesn't need more, of course.

      BLAH! I don't like that other person's ideas for Horatio's waning years. Poor guy has been through enough.

      Glenn Close's death scene is very well done, I agree. That's interesting about the lack of oxygen causing a change in skin color -- they must of done some good research on that. Have you ever read anywhere if people have speculated on what kind of poison might have been used? I know the "cursed hebona" the Ghost mentions is totally made up.

      I think if I were blocking this scene, I would have Hamlet drop the cup on the floor after poisoning Claudius, and then collapse nearby. Either that or just hold onto it as he collapses? I think I've seen it both ways, though at the moment I can't think of any specific instances.

      Ish, I don't like that having Fortinbras shoot Horatio at all. I don't think there's any real need for it -- surely he would want to hear what has happened here, and then decide? Weird. Makes about as much sense as the Green Alien Space Monkey, I guess.

  2. I knew this was a tragedy, but it was so sad. One could see all the cards falling as soon as Gertrude drank the poison. I'm kind of glad that Claudias died, though. Whatever comes around goes around. I guess all of the characters had death coming to them.

    I like that you put in John Gielud's commentary on the last scene. Fortinbras makes sense when I look at him that way. It's interesting that we don't see a lot of him in the play, yet he will play a good and just king for Denmark, which is an important role.

    Thank you for having the read-a-long! It was fun reading this play! I feel as if I have only touched the surface too. :)

    1. Ekaterina, yes, the whole ending feels kind of unavoidable, doesn't it? Remarkable writing.

      I do hope Fortinbras will rule the Danes well, and that they can have some peace after all of this.

      Thanks for joining the read-along and seeing it all the way through! Every time I read or see it, I learn new things, so I can see how you'd feel that.

    2. I googled poisoning & cyanosis. There were over 200
      compounds! One is the terrorist ricin powder. Various combinations; inhaled or ingested. Three vegetative sources: larkspur, yew/berries, and hydrangea. Those were probably known in Hamlet's lifetime. My doc's blunder was being out of my migraine med, demerol, and giving me Talwin. Because I am allergic to so many meds I always look up new ones. But he didn't tell me. After the fact, I got the PDR, and ran through the adverse effects. Half way down 'failure to breath' with an (*). hmmm, I skipped to the bottom of the list: 'failure to breathe may cause death.'Do you suppose old Hamlet died of a Gila monster bite? The Chinese Ophelia said,"They say you can find anything in the Palace."

      ~smile~Now a show of hands:Who has seen the 50's movie of the giant irradiated people-eating Gila monster?

    3. Goodness, Kelda, more than 200? That's rather scary.

      I haven't yet seen Godzilla, but it's in my Amazon video queue, if that gets me any points...

  3. The impression I got was that Hamlet considers the things he did while pretending to be mad as a kind of actual madness, because while he was doing it, he didn't realize what he was really doing -- shooting an arrow over a house and hurting his brother. That is a great line.

    Maybe he won't drink because he assumes it's a trap and is at least being a little careful?

    Ah! More things that are open to interpretation! It makes me want to watch all the different interpretations, just to see what everyone else thinks, and see what I like best. I bought the David Tennant version. Looking forward to watching it now!

    Everyone gets caught in their own trap. How very Shakespeare. Sad, but really very neat.

    I really enjoyed it, but I still feel like I've only just scratched the surface of understanding it. It's simultaneously inspiring and disheartening. :P :P Thanks so much for hosting this Hamlette! I'm pretty sure I'd never have had the determination or understanding to get through it all on my own! But I'm so glad I did!

    1. Sarah, you finished it! Well done!

      I hope you can watch the David Tennant version soon, while this is all fresh in your head. I think you'll really "get" a lot of stuff by watching it that you may have only vaguely felt while reading it -- makes a huge difference to see it all unfold.

      I think maybe Hamlet has realized that he took things too far while he was pretending to be mad, and that doing so was a sort of madness in and of itself -- so that's what he apologizes for, in a way.

      I'm happy this read-along helped you keep working your way through it! This really is a deep, sometimes difficult play, and anyone who gets through it and understands it at all has done well, I say.

  4. I agree, that this scene would make more sense being acted out instead of read. quite a dramatic last scene, everything happening at once.
    I liked the theme of being caught in your own trap, just shows why revenge never ends well.
    When Hamlet blames his actions on madness I think he means that he was pretending to be mad at the time and thus he did things he would never have done otherwise.
    And I liked that moment where Hamlet asks Horatio to tell his story, I was almost imagining a fade out to show an old Horatio and the whole play being him telling the story.

    It's been quite a project this one, but I am so proud of myself right now for actually finishing it! Thank you so much for hosting this read along and for all your helpful posts. I

    1. Rose, you made it! Good job :-) Thanks for sticking with it! I'm glad you've enjoyed the read-along AND the play!

      Interesting theory you have, that Hamlet meant he did things for his performance of madness that he wouldn't have done otherwise -- I'll have to mull that a while.


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