Hamlet is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. It recounts how Prince Hamlet of Denmark goes about taking revenge for his father by killing his murderer, Claudius. In act 3, scene 1 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fail to report the reason for Hamlets ‘madness’, so Ophelia, Hamlet’s lover, is instructed by Claudius to see if his ‘madness’ is caused by her. I chose to perform this scene because it shows key elements of Hamlets character, his contemplative yet cynical side, shown fully in his famous “to be, or not to be” soliloquy and Hamlet’s rash and impulsive side, showing his anger at Ophelia as well as his unpredictability. The area that I focused on was from the start of his soliloquy to where he leaves Ophelia before her “oh what a noble mind” speech.
I started the scene in silence, keeping a neutral body posture, and slowly began with “to be, or not to be”, instead of making it a huge dramatic statement, I chose to make it more hesitant, with a lengthened pause at the comma, this was done to make it look like it was a statement that had just come to Hamlet. Hamlet is a scholar and a philosopher and I was trying to portray this by making it seem as if he had discovered this notion of the ‘point of existence’, a key recurring theme throughout the whole of the play. Hamlet is not talking about a wish to commit suicide, in fact he does not use the words “I” or “me” throughout the whole speech, which meant that the speech was more rhetorical than personal. I tried to portray this by conducting the speech as if it were two balanced sides of an argument.
In an underlying tone that would be used to say the phrases like on the one hand for the line “whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and on the other hand, “or to take arms against a sea of troubles”. I also had to show how Hamlet related to the speech, showing how he contemplated the idea of ending all his troubles through death, but without actually expressing the actual desire to kill himself, so I put emphasis on lines like “to die, to sleep” and using lengthened pauses to make is seem like he was in pensive state.
This ‘argument’ then brings him to the issue with his issue of “being”, which was that of not knowing what comes after death, which Hamlet concludes is what all men fear, “thus conscience does make cowards of us all”. I said this line with a defeatist tone, lowering my voice and adding a sigh to show Hamlets philosophical and cynical attributes made him come to this conclusion.
When Ophelia enters, Hamlet is initially glad to see her, although he is still in his pensive mood, this was achieved by him smiling when facing her and returning to a more sombre expression when turned away, emphasised by the three “well”s which are in response to Ophelia demanding how hamlet is. The first is higher pitched, and said with a smile to show how hamlet is happy to be standing in front of his love, the second is more to himself, said with a more questioning feel to it, and the last is more for the audiences benefit who previously participated to his” to be, or not to be speech”, said in a lowered voice almost through gritted teeth to show how Hamlet is thinking about the conclusion to his soliloquy, and the uncertainty of life after death.
Ophelia has been instructed by her father to return several tokens of Hamlets love to him, this hurts Hamlet who thinks it odd and makes him start to question her motives; concluding that Hamlet might think that she might have a sent by someone else, at which point I look around stage looking for this ‘other man’ to show how Hamlet is cynical. At this point Hamlets anger comes out, which is where I raise my voice to a near shout, throwing the tokens, in this case, books, to the floor.
Hamlet then tells her how he really feels for her, saying, “I did love you once” which is where I lock with the actress playing Ophelia to show how Hamlet is in fact saying his true feeling, to which she replies “indeed my lord, you made me believe so”, this blunt statement just angers Hamlet’s character even more, which makes him want to hurt her feelings, so he retorts with “I loved you not” which is in fact a lie, was portrayed by Hamlet looking in the opposite direction to Ophelia, so I could give Hamlet a pained expression that expressed his true feelings.
Hamlet then has his “get thee to a nunnery” speech, which is where Hamlet again addresses the wider public with his notions; a key speech which is the dramatic climax of the scene, here I had to show Hamlet releasing all his anger and frustration by essentially saying that Ophelia should lock herself away never to be a temptation for any other man ever again. Being quite a vicious message, I chose to put emphasis, on the key words and phrases such as “get thee to a nunnery” and “breeder of sinners”, to show it was like Hamlet was actually trying to hurt her with each metaphorical “blow”. At the end of his speech Hamlet asks the question “where is your father”, I interpreted this as Hamlet giving Ophelia one last chance, to show his compassionate and loving side.
This was done by getting closer to the actress playing Ophelia and instead of demanding as a loud command which is what would have been expected, I whispered it, to show how Hamlet was testing her, as he knew that there was someone else, observing them. And when Ophelia fails his test, I expressed disappointment instead of anger, again to show how really he would have wished for her to be truthful to him, so that he could continue to love her as he always had. Now Hamlet is resigned to not being able to trust Ophelia, so he returns to his previous way of abusing her. I again used this chance to show Hamlets hasher, angrier side. Emphasising his more powerful images such as “chaste as ice” where I elongated the sound of the sibilance.
Toward the end of the scene is where Hamlet says a line that indicates that he is referring to the other person in the room; “all but one shall live”. This shows how the aim of revenge is ever present in Hamlets head; I showed this by focussing all my characters attention on a spot that had previously been accidentally pointed out by Ophelia.
In conclusion, I portrayed Hamlet as an impulsive and unpredictable character who did not always give the reaction expected by the audience. The scene contained a speech that was perfect to show Hamlets philosophical and cynical side, where key themes are introduced into the play. I also showed Hamlets ability to love through his relationship with Ophelia, where even though he knew she wasn’t acting truthfully, he still gave her a chance to prove herself to him. And finally, I was able to show how Hamlet reacted in anger, which was the state that he is in for the better part of the scene, portrayed through a number of little venomous speeches directed at Ophelia.