Thursday, November 17, 2016

A New (?) Theory About Hamlet's Ghost

One of the reasons I love Shakespeare is that every time I see a play, I see something that I've never considered before.  Beneficial Cinnabun's version is no different.

Consider the ghost's appearance in the bedchamber scene.  A standard question on high school exams is, "Is the ghost even real at this point, or is Hamlet insane?  How come we could see the ghost in the first two occurrences, but not this one?"

Coming away from Benvolio Concubine's version I'm left with a new idea.  What if the ghost is there because Hamlet is screwing up the plan, and he's here to save him?

It depends heavily on how you play it, but this version of Hamlet (I'm getting tired of thinking up variations for the man's name) is pretty heavy handed with all of the "Look, seriously, I'm not crazy I'm only pretending" clues.  It goes so far as having Hamlet himself dress up to take part in the play-within-a-play and pour the poison in his player father's ear, which is about as big an F-U to Claudius as you could imagine.  If that doesn't say "I know what you did" I don't know what would.

And now here he is lecturing his mother on "almost as bad dear queen as kill a king and marry with his brother" and everything that comes after.  I imagine the ghost hovering underneath the stones (a joke the "old mole" played for laughs earlier) thinking, "What is this kid doing???"

So he makes an appearance, where he basically yells at his son that he's doing everything wrong.  He's invisible to Gertrude, so it's going to look like Hamlet is suddenly talking to no one.  He comes as an angry ghost, so from Gertrude's perspective her son goes from yelling at her to apologizing to the wall.  Presto, now she's back in the "My son is crazy" camp.

One of the big questions is whether Gertrude knows what Claudius did, and/or was in on it.  But either way, she's still a mother dealing with her son, and as far as I know is very rarely shown to be more on Claudius' side than Hamlet's.  So, she's already sympathetic to his cause.  Maybe she doesn't know what Claudius did.  Maybe Hamlet is actually convincing her that maybe there's something to it.   Maybe, if the ghost doesn't appear, maybe she goes to Claudius and says, "Hamlet was in here muttering all kinds of weirdness about me murdering his father."  But that doesn't happen.  The ghosts appearance makes her firmly believe that her son is nuts and needs to be protected from a very irate Claudius.  She says nothing, other than the obvious murder thing.

I suppose most of the scene continues after the ghost disappears, so Hamlet's got plenty of time to talk sense to his mother.  Or, you could shuffle things around a bit so that all the logic comes first, then the ghost, and then she's left completely confused as to whether he's nuts or not.  Lots of potential room for interpretation I hadn't really considered before.


Anonymous said...

I want to say about my version. First, the ghost appeared before the guards, then before Horatio and Hamlet. I think in these cases guard Francisco was a made-up the ghost.
In the scene with his mother it was a hallucination of Hamlet.

JM said...

Haven't seen this version, so I'm not sure what you're saying. But I'm curious as to why this:

" How come we could see the ghost in the first two occurrences, but not this one?"

would be a question on any high school exam.

In both Folio 1 and Quarto 2, the conflation of which has given us every "modern" version, there is an obvious stage direction for The Ghost to enter; to wit: *Enter Ghost*, which says to me that Shakespeare intended for us to see the Ghost, even though Gertrude cannot.

Any reasonable discussion would center on why Gertrude can't see the Ghost, not why *we* can't see it. It's clear that Shakespeare intended it to be more than just a figment of Hamlet's fevered imagination. I think any "interpretation" that plays it as ether for only Hamlet's eyes is complicating the issue for some purpose other than what Shakespeare had in mind.