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hamlet & ophelia poll followup

so i would ask all of you about this:

at the end of act one, hamlet has learned of claudius' crime and the ghost's command.

the very next of hamlet reported to us, in act 2, scene 1, is a visit to ophelia.

ophelia tells her father of hamlet's unusual appearance and demeanor, and goes on to say:

he took me by the wrist and held me hard,
then goes he to the length of all his arm, 100
and, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
he falls to such perusal of my face
as he would draw it. long stayed he so.
and thrice his head thus waving up and down, 105
he raised a sigh so piteous and profound
as it did seem to shatter all his bulk
and end his being. that done, he lets me go,
and, with his head over his shoulder turned,
he seemed to find his way without his eyes, 110
for out o' doors he went without their helps
and to the last bended their light on me.

this is my understanding of this encounter:

a) hamlet (his desire for confirmation of claudius' guilt just an aspect of his hesitation) believes the ghost and knows that he is bound to slay claudius despite not being able to prove claudius' guilt to others, leading either to his own death or some other dire punishment (leaving aside that he could've tried to kill him surreptitiously, just as claudius killed hamlet, if he were more cunning).

2) hamlet truly loves ophelia.

c) hamlet, believing himself doomed, knows whatever form his bad end takes, he and ophelia will not be together. of all the losses he faces, this is the most heartbreaking.

4) hamlet goes to make his final farewell to ophelia. but he knows he can't explain to her that he's saying farewell and why because he can't tell anyone about the ghost's story and what he plans to do. moreover, he's already realized he's going to have to falsely repudiate his love for her, in order to dissociate her from him, and spare her grief at his bad end, so he can't express his love for her.

e) so he goes to her, saying nothing, for there's nothing he can say, and he just takes in her being, acknowledging this amazing person he loves so dearly and has horrible foreknowledge he has lost. he loses himself in perusing her face as if he were an artist studying a model, and a great deal of time passes. in anguish at his loss he raises a sigh so piteous and profound that it shatters him, as if his own being was ended, which for all intents and purposes it already has been. even as he turns to go because he must he can't bring himself to look away and to the last bends the light of his eyes on her.

since i imagine my view is unique, how do you read this encounter? what's going on here and collaterally what purpose does it serve in the play?


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 11th, 2010 07:49 am (UTC)
Contrary view would be he now has general women issues because his mother is either accomplice to murder or at least has terrible taste in men and when to marry them. He stares at her and does all that stuff because he's thinking, can something so beautiful and trustworthy-looking really be all rotten within what with all the frailty etc.

But as this also happens right after he says he's going to pretend to be mad, and him being mad because of love provides a nice cover, he really might be protecting himself.

And/or he's protecting her because of all what you said.

Or all of the above. The play specifically warrants that first one, hence my choosing 'primary' for #3 rather than 'entire.' You cannot deny some of that stuff's really kicking around in him. But he probably exaggerates it for #2 and #3.
Dec. 11th, 2010 10:21 am (UTC)
Just because, because of the thread, it's what we've been watching over here:
Dec. 13th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
Hamlet's Facebook profile: It's complicated.

I think he's saying farewell to love, or to a life where love could matter. That's why we only get her PoV. I think the King has to be right when he says that it's not love -- his affections do not that way tend -- since he's also right to recognize him as not mad. We get Ophelia's point of view because it matters that Hamlet wrongs her, and that the way he wrongs her is not being on stage as someone who loves her. He only loves her in her back story,* but he's left that back story behind, doesn't make it part of the play (until, a little, after her death). The only person he loves is Horatio, and I don't think that he ever really mentions Ophelia to him, not even at her grave.

*See that Paul Griffiths novel using her words
Dec. 13th, 2010 10:10 pm (UTC)
i greatly appreciate having your perspective, even moreso because it's not my own.

and like an ideal student i'll argue otherwise:

i think we have only o's PoV for this encounter because, as i assert above, there is no possible dialogue, it's all action, which therefore demands exposition. and i can think of no better means of exposition (i would not want observers for this private intimate encounter where he's being entirely genuine, unlike later encounters which do have observers because he is, then, putting on a show). and i don't think he wrongs her in this encounter, despite his intensity, only later.

and speaking of later, it is not until later, when claudius observes hamlet's actual cruel show that he makes that observation that it's not love (which what he's seeing is not). in point of fact, the very thing polonius says regarding the private encounter immediately following o's report is "this is the very ecstasy of love". had claudius observed the first encounter, he may have discerned the truth.

so when hamlet truly is wronging o, it's entirely public, not just o's PoV. and yes, he enhances his wrong to her by holding out in public that he does not love her, but that's exactly the result he has to achieve.

and i think the reason we only see hamlet's love in flashbacks and this one encounter, and it's not a large part of the play, is because of where the focus of this story is, which is not on love lived, but love lost (among losses generally).

and i don't think hamlet loves horatio except in like manner as bruce wayne to alfred (except with a brother role rather than father/mentor):

hamlet doesn't even know horatio that well ("[you are] horatio, [i believe,] -- or i do forget myself"; "do not mock me, fellow-student; i think it was to see my mother's wedding."

horatio doesn't speak to hamlet as a friend but as a loyal retainer. and likewise hamlet uses him as a loyal servant. and yes, like alfred, horatio serves as a confidant, but only because he can be trusted with secrets. and horatio can only be trusted so far (hamlet, worried, makes him swear on his sword), so hamlet would neither be inclined to talk about his feelings for o, nor give away the particular secret of his now-hidden love, lest horatio accidentally ("by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase") give it away. a confidant also by necessity, too, so that he has someone to tell the public the truth once he has perished.

also, hamlet doesn't know it's ophelia's grave when he's speaking with horatio, so even if he were wont to let slip something of that secret so late in the game, he didn't really have a good chance.

and, yes, thanks, i very much should read the griffiths (which woefully is not at my library, and has no reviews on amazon, where it is not being sold new, but only used).
Dec. 14th, 2010 08:51 am (UTC)
You're definitely onto something re. Hamlet and Horatio - 'thou art one who suffering all, suffers nothing' doesn't fit too well with doing a Roman's part. Hamlet loves the person he'd like Horatio to be, rather than what's in front of him, another besmitten Hamlet fan. And by not trying too hard to see whether Horatio fits that mold (when does Hamlet ever ask about Horatio's day?) Hamlet's pretty much tacitly admitting no one does. Passionlessness is just the ideal he's aspiring to himself, in among his tangle of true and simulated passions. And probably that's true in his dealings with Ophelia also: he's tearing up love using forced hate in the hope something calm can ensue. But he can't, I think. You can shout love down but not out.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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