Friday, March 2, 2012

Hamlet: "Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not 'seems.'"

Methinks Hamlet does know "seems," and very well.  What about being?

There is so much in this play--revenge, sanity and insanity, the genre of tragedy, family relationships, surveillance and privacy, doing and thinking, corruption and decay- but we are going to focus on how Shakespeare's play sheds light on our enduring questions about the complex relationships between being and seeming--in everyday life, in performance, and as we consider the contemporary film interpretations of Hamlet, in media representations.


Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not 'seems.'
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe. Act 1, Scene 2

Shakespeare, and the directors of the film interpretations, contrast Laertes with Hamlet.  We pick up at around the 3:20 minute mark, in this clip from the Royal Shakespeare Company film:

and at 4:20 in the Branagh film


O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month--
Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman!--
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she--
O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month:
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good:
But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.

Laurence Olivier's 1948 performance of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 1, scene 2

Ethan Hawke's 2000 performance:

In this clip, Patrick Stewart discusses setting Shakespeare in a contemporary or historical context, acting for stage and film, and some issues about performance that are central to our discussions.

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