In this scene, staged in the Great Hall of Elsinore, Hamlet’s cunning plan to determine his uncle’s guilt comes together. Hiring players to act out a play based on his father’s death (as his father’s ghost described it), he awaits Claudius’ reaction.
The whole point of this is Hamlet putting to rest his insecurity over the matter, once he discovers for certain Claudius did murder his father and was the snake in the orchard, only then can Hamlet feel at rest and kill him.
This scene is one of the many examples throughout the play which demonstrates one of many weaknesses in Hamlet’s personality, in which he comes across as immensely pensive and unsure about nearly everything.
The significance of the scene is evident in that both Hamlet and Claudius plotting each others death begins here. For Hamlet as he is now finally at ease with what his father’s ghost told him earlier in the play, thus he can now kill his uncle without any remorse and for Claudius as he is now alarmed to the fact Hamlet is aware of his crime.
Although this scene shows a negative side to Hamlet, we also get a glimpse of Hamlet as an intellectual. He takes role as an authority on acting, advising that the actors should use moderation and not to excess (even though this is a contradiction in sense – as his relentless verbal assault to Ophelia earlier in the play suggests).
There is reason to believe that it is in fact Shakespeare himself shining through Hamlet in this scene, commenting on acting flaws such as ‘overacting’, corpsing (dramatic term for inadvertently laughing whilst in character) and the unpredictability of an audience.
Also worth mentioning here is the player’s speech. Throughout the play, the actors speak in rhyme depending on the character they take the role as. Giving an indication to the audience of their class, as prose is an indication of lower social status. A character such as a king or queen however, use blank verse in this sense.
Hamlet’s antic disposition is evident throughout the play and it is used to full effect in this scene. After briefing the players on their task for the stage, Claudius, Gertrude, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius and his daughter Ophelia enter the Great Hall. What follows is what I’d interpret as an ‘amusing’ parody where Hamlet throws verbal daggers at everyone in range, the aim of this is to once again remind the group that he is insane, but also reveals some true feelings towards certain individuals.
He begins by intentionally misunderstanding Claudius’ greeting and states that his earlier promise of Hamlet succeeding him is ’empty air’ or untrue. Gertrude’s invitation to Hamlet for him to sit with her is also answered with an insult (possibly a misleading hint to Hamlet’s Oedipus complex), this time remarking that his mother’s appearance is appalling or as he put it;
“Here’s metal more attractive.”Polonius is next and branded “Brutus” and a fool, cleverly Hamlet achieves this using puns of “brute” and “calf”.
Ophelia, however comes off worst for wear in my opinion. Hamlet’s verbal treatment of his love interest is cruel and filled with crude jokes with the main theme of sex. The references to Ophelia’s ‘nothing’ (her genitalia) and ‘country matters’ (sexual intercourse) is without a shadow of a doubt, arguably the funniest part of the play, although Shakespeare’s obsession with these jokes are evident throughout the whole play.
Horatio on the other hand, is trusted by Hamlet, not only has he confided in Horatio about the ghost’s words and his plan to see if Claudius reveals his guilt, but the usually ‘insecure’ Prince has actually included his best friend in the scheme. This shows Hamlet’s respect and trust for his friend is deep, a point I picked up whilst reading the play.
This scene with Hamlet’s antic disposition in full view is not only amusing as mentioned, but also dramatic. It’s this unstable and sometimes unpredictable nature of Hamlet which makes him such an interesting character and one that has been looked upon as one of Shakespeare’s greatest achievements, I agree.
His antic disposition is clearly visible as he switches tones throughout the conversation with his uncle, mother and the ‘fair Ophelia’. One minute calm and collected towards Polonius showing interest in his acting past, the next at the throat of his uncle’s loyal terrier – branding him a fool.
If I was in charge of staging this scene, I wouldn’t change many of the features used in the awesome film version of the play (‘Hamlet’ – Franco Zeffirelli 1991), with Mel Gibson spectacularly playing the part of Hamlet. In this version, Hamlet is portrayed in this scene as ‘on edge’ and manic, Claudius on the other hand plays laid back and immune to Hamlet’s tongue and Glenn Close as Gertrude comes across not only naï¿½ve, but confused by Hamlet’s behaviour.
The significance of positioning the characters in this scene contributes a great deal to how it is interpreted, in my opinion putting Claudius at the forefront would be a good start and positioning Gertrude on the arm of her husband with directly Hamlet in front of them both would also make sense. Polonius and Ophelia would also be positioned together, although I’m unsure of having their arms linked. Hamlet’s ‘friends’ from university, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could be placed behind these two pairings, still in view but not as much so as the King, Queen, their adviser and his ‘fair’ daughter.
This would be relevant as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not as directly involved in the scene as the others. A problem encountered here could be Rosencrantz’s part in the scene, the line;
“Ay my lord, they stay upon your patience.”
This could be approached by having Rosencrantz stepping forward in order to say his line.
Although my suggestions have been made, I find Zeffirelli’s handling of the scene to be admirable and possibly flawless in the sense of interpreting the text into drama.
In conclusion, this scene is extremely significant to the play as a whole. As mentioned, it begins the plotting of both Claudius and Hamlet to kill one another, but it also gives yet more depth and structure to Hamlet’s character. Emphasizing his antic disposition, feelings towards other characters in the play and exposes both Hamlet’s qualities and flaws in his personality. This scene is a favourite of mine, falling short only to Hamlet’s soliloquy (“To be or not to be…”) and his somewhat upsetting reunion with his childhood friend and royal jester, Yorick.
Cite this essay
Hamlet – Act 3 Scene 2. (2017, Jul 26). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/hamlet-act-3-scene-2-essay