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Hamlet: Act 4, Scene II

O HAI I BET YOU THOUGHT YOU'D SEEN THE LAST OF THESE. But no, I want to finish Hamlet at least. I tend to come back to Shakespeare every spring, so possibly that is when I will pick up with a new play. But for the moment, we're a little more than half through this one, so onwards!

Previous posts:

First Act:
Scene I: The Crazy Occult Forays of Marcellus and Horatio.
Scene II: Claudius is the villain, but he's still hotter than you.
Scene III: Ophelia's virginity is a national treasure. Just ask her dad and brother.
Scene IV: That a ghoooooooooost?
Scene V: "'Who's your daddy?' Now that's just inappropriate."

Second Act:
Scene I: Happy families are all alike---they're totally fucked up.
Scene II--Part One: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are creepy. and Part Two: Hamlet was a high school drama geek.

Third Act:
Scene I: Hamlet and Ophelia get couple's counseling, Elsinore style.
Scene II: But what he really wants to do is direct.
Scene III: Claudius isn't just hot---he's got depth!
Scene IV: In which Hamlet completely loses his shit.

Fourth Act:
Scene I: Gertrude and Claudius make flaily gestures.

Safely stowed.

I can just see him making a little hand-dusting gesture. Does he actually think he can conceal Polonius's death indefinitely, with his mother having witnessed it? An interesting question---I guess it would depend on how mad you think he is.

[Within] Hamlet! Lord Hamlet!

What noise? who calls on Hamlet?
O, here they come.

I always read "o, here they come" as a kind of groaning aside that's part irritation, part relief.


What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?

Compounded it with dust, whereto 'tis kin.

In the Branagh Hamlet, Timothy Spall is all huffed and puffed in this scene, and it's the first time you begin to see how thoroughly Claudius' creature he's become---he's lost most of his earlier comradeship with Hamlet and has begun to bristle over Hamlet's antics with an almost parental indignation. Which Hamlet sees right through, naturally, and so begins this long riddling session that isn't too disturbing until you make yourself remember, Polonius has been dead about two minutes.

Tell us where 'tis, that we may take it thence
And bear it to the chapel.

Do not believe it.

Believe what?

That I can keep your counsel and not mine own.

I go back and forth on this line, but I think Hamlet briefly loses patience with his ruse, like in the "easier to be played upon than a pipe" scene earlier.

Besides, to be demanded of a sponge! what
replication should be made by the son of a king?

Quite possibly it is, yes, his actual ego, rather than his grief or his anger that CAN NO LONGER BE CONTAINED!!! Princes are not nursemaided by royal stoolies. He breaks the cover of madness long enough to let his feelings on this point be understood. Because Hamlet ALWAYS has his priorities in order.

Take you me for a sponge, my lord?

Ay, sir, that soaks up the king's countenance, his
rewards, his authorities. But such officers do the
king best service in the end: he keeps them, like
an ape, in the corner of his jaw; first mouthed, to
be last swallowed: when he needs what you have
gleaned, it is but squeezing you, and, sponge, you
shall be dry again.

I understand you not, my lord.

'Scuz you're stupid. I love that speech of Hamlet's. The tongue-wagging in this scene is like a tennis match, and then suddenly you run smack into the wall of that amazing image with the king as an ape.

I am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a
foolish ear.

Hamlet is Dumbledore, basically. He can have as much fun with people around him as he likes, because he knows no one will understand him, or if they do will put it down to him not being normal. Brilliant people have this trait in common.

My lord, you must tell us where the body is, and go
with us to the king.

The body is with the king, but the king is not with
the body. The king is a thing--

A thing, my lord!

Of nothing: bring me to him. Hide fox, and all after.

That last line about the fox, I confess, defeats me. Anybody with annotations want to step up?


Tomorrow, Act 4 Scene III. Hamlet---the people's prince.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 2nd, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC)
My annotations tell me that the fox line is Folio only, and I've got Q2, and therefore I've got nothing. Maybe it's a hunting thing? He doesn't want to actually be arrested, because that's not very dignified, and as he reminds us, he's royalty. So he takes the initiative and goes to Claudius, rather than letting him give chase. That... sort of makes sense in my head.

Edited at 2008-12-02 06:27 pm (UTC)
Dec. 2nd, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
I haven't anything sensible to add, but it's lovely to see these posts back again!
Dec. 2nd, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)
AWESOME. I haven't had the energy to comment on a lot of these, but they're always thoroughly enjoyable. Glad you're continuing!

For "hide fox", I was always reminded of a foxhunt, with "all" the hounds and hunters after a sly, quick-witted trickster. Maybe in going to the king, Hamlet is reminding himself to keep his true purpose hidden despite everyone who's trying to sniff it out?
Dec. 3rd, 2008 12:31 am (UTC)
Off the top of my head (which is to say "how I always interpreted the line, when I bothered to think about it"), I'd say that Hamlet is the "fox" there--possibly mocking everyone who's about to follow him offstage, since they all have to leave. Also (and here I'm just thinking of this, so dismiss it if you like), possibly a suggestion of Globe exit door = foxhole.

Oh, also:

Does he actually think he can conceal Polonius's death indefinitely, with his mother having witnessed it?

I watched the Campbell Scott Hamlet just recently, and he stuffed Polonius' body into a wardrobe (through which Claudius and Polonius had earlier been watching Hamlet and Ophelia, which was a bit creepy!). He definitely seemed to think he'd done a good hiding job. Er, until the blood started leaking out of the wardrobe, that is.

Edited at 2008-12-03 12:35 am (UTC)
Dec. 3rd, 2008 12:40 am (UTC)
Sadly I don't actually have a copy of Hamlet on me, but my guess would be something along the lines of what catechism said, that Hamlet is ironically referring to himself as the fox -- all are after him -- and that he's going to give himself up.

And wonderful to see these back again! Makes me all the more excited for seeing Hamlet this weekend! I shall have to reread over the next few days.
Dec. 7th, 2008 04:10 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you're doing this again! (took me a few days to get to the new post, as I felt it necessary to reread the play and all the old ones to catch up on the conversation)
Oct. 12th, 2016 08:08 pm (UTC)
Found this via The Unified Theory of Ophelia via prufrocking's Tumblr repost of hellotailor's post of "I tried to argue that Ophelia resonated because Shakespeare had made an extraordinary discovery in writing her, though I had trouble articulating the nature of that discovery. I didn’t want to admit that it could be something as simple as recognizing that emotionally unstable teenage girls are human beings. …

When Ophelia appears onstage in Act IV, scene V, singing little songs and handing out imaginary flowers, she temporarily upsets the entire power dynamic of the Elsinore court. When I picture that scene, I always imagine Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes, and Horatio sharing a stunned look, all of them thinking the same thing: “We fucked up. We fucked up bad.” It might be the only moment of group self-awareness in the whole play. Not even the grossest old Victorian dinosaur of a critic tries to pretend that Ophelia is making a big deal out of nothing. Her madness and death is plainly the direct result of the alternating tyranny and neglect of the men in her life. She’s proof that adolescent girls don’t just go out of their minds for the fun of it. They’re driven there by people in their lives who should have known better.
" originally posted by peachpulpeuse, and I am thrilled.

I am a late comer to Shakespeare and lit theory, taking it up where I can, and here the tides and ways of the internet have brought me to these posts of yours. Thank you for not deleting them. It makes me so happy to have yet another way to learn to learn from and about Shakespeare and reading.

Edited at 2016-10-12 08:09 pm (UTC)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )