Multimodal Explorations of W. Shakespeare’s
‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’
My fifth and current reading/study of William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” has focused on two insights: First, Hamlet’s struggle with his darkness, how he weighs what violence courage and action could win, and at what point, paying careful attention to when he’s decided on destructive means. Second, the play’s widespread literary influence in multi-modal forms and their impact on the mythos’ accessibility to new interpreters. I chose to revisit this story, for our literature class’ ~ Shout out to my fellow cohorts C2 #LIT205e @ Marylhurst University ~ examination of theater, as a way to understand what I see as a fractal-like nature in the reiterations of Hamlet in cultural media, especially digitally. My study of the text and insight on the characters, has matured and grown over the years, given so many encounters with the doomed prince, and it dawned on me that in order to have a truly authentic experience with a text, one can’t rest on a definitive analysis. There is no superior way to experience ‘Hamlet’ but the best way is to allow oneself to be informed by all the ways there are to experience it. The best study of literature extends into every incarnation of story and multimodal expression. Hamlet’s expansion into digital realms has been kaleidescopic, indeed he “could be bounded in a nutshell yet be called king of infinite space,” assuring the gothic prince’s immortality in humanity’s collective consciousness. And while this transition into the techno-sphere is all good and well, it’s important to have a foundational experience with the play, as a play!
Of this first focus, I was careful to lay out the progression of Hamlet’s insanity and how it fuels the violence which follows. What gives Hamlet his third-dimensional aspect is his conflict of conscience and being. The questions he asks of himself are at the heart of ontological inquiry, ‘what is the point of being’. Hamlet is also struggling with the concept of will and courage, coming to the conclusion that it is his duty to act upon his thoughts even though they run against his morality, “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprise of great pitch and moment with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action” (III:I). As Hamlet became more confident in his ability to take action and exact vengeance, the more he slid towards the ‘dark side,’ and the more violence did occur. While the ghost of his father drives him on he considers the possibility that it may be his perspective has been tainted by an evil form seeking to use him, ” I know my course. The spirit that I have seen may be a dev’l, and the dev’l hath power t’ assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps, out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me” (Hamlet II:I). So in spite of this self-awareness, why does Hamlet proceed? It sets into motion the play, The Murder of Gonzago, Hamlet has devised to test the reaction of the king. When the play does indeed confirm his suspicions that his uncle is his father’s murderer, Hamlet submits to his insanity which leads to his unintentional slaying of Polonius. This accident leads to Hamlet’s travel to England, where the king has arranged for Hamlet’s assassination. This is a critical moment, because Hamlet has relented his insanity and agreed to go, but when he discovers in the letter, left to the negligent care of king’s sponges, the king’s design to kill him, Hamlet immediately returns to Denmark with the promise that, “my deeds be bloody, or be nothing worth.” It is this commitment to destroy which decides his bloody fate. In the penultimate scene, Hamlet challenges Laeretes, and calls his final fate, “I pray you, pass with your best violence” (V:I). Thus, the best violence is done, the lives of all major characters ends in ruin.
This progression is significant to note because it offers possible insights into the same nature of irrationality which causes many young men to partake in violence – a struggle that echoes in the dispirited minds of ‘outsiders’ who find the courage to enact some misguided sense of justice through destructive means. For each murderer there is much of Hamlet within: father issues, inflamed Oedipal complexes, instability in relationships, impulsive and dramatic emotional outbursts, and a pattern of ethical limitations overcome by an ever-growing reservoir of anger. And each mass murderer, confounded by the impotency of inaction, eventually comes to Hamlet’s resolution, and when they finally succumb to the dark side it is with the same promise, “my deeds be bloody, or be nothing worth.” Horrible, horrible stuff, but hey! Shakespeare!
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