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Hi I’m John Green, this is CrashCourse Literature and today we’re going to talk about the
greatest Dane of all, Scooby-Doo. No, it’s Hamlet.
So Hamlet is either a 16h or 17th century play, we’re not positive. The Tragedy of
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1599 and 1602
and it’s considered by many to be Shakespeare’s best work, even better than Timon of Athens
or Cymbeline. Mr. Green, Mr. Green, I know Hamlet’s like
super famous and important and everything, but isn’t it basically just like a super
long play about a guy who never makes up his mind?
Well, Me From The Past, some argue that Hamlet doesn’t have trouble making up his mind
so much as he has trouble executing his vision. More specifically, executing his uncle.
Then again, Me From The Past, many of us would argue that Hamlet does struggle to make decisions,
but the decisions he has to make are quite difficult. I mean this is a play about justice
and revenge and your conscience, and your place in the social order, and once again
deeply uncomfortable feelings about mothers. Intro
So, Shakespeare based Hamlet on a medieval Scandinavian tale chronicled by everyone’s
favorite Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus, pictured here, depending on your world view
as either Santa Claus or God. But shakespeare probably knew the tale from
contemporary plays rather than like actual Danish history because up to that point had
been mostly about Vikings and pastries. Actually, that’s still mostly what it is.
So Saxo tells the story of Prince Amleth, a kid who he sees his uncle murder his father.
And then young Amleth bides his time and pretends to be crazy in order to lull his uncle into
a false sense of security. And then, as soon as he’s grown up, Amleth slaughters his
uncle with his father’s sword. Amleth by the way, 80% of the way to being
Pig Latin for Hamlet. Anyway, it’s interesting to know that background
because it makes you think about the changes that Shakespeare makes to that story which
indicates something about what’s really important to Shakespeare.
For instance, Hamlet isn’t unable to kill his uncle because he’s young. And he doesn’t
actually see his uncle murder his father. So basically, Shakespeare was introducing
ambiguity into the story which is kind of Shakespeare’s specialty.
So Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular play, in fact, it’s perhaps the only one
to have been consistently performed since it debuted. It’s also, very long.
Like when Kenneth Branagh attempted to film every line the movie lasted more than four
hours. Some theatrical productions have gone on as long as six.
The general consensus is that Shakespeare wrote the play so long to satisfy himself,
and he knew that theatre troupes would just like make it shorter any way they wanted.
But it’s also possible that he thought that by keeping the audience at the theater for
longer, would help him to sell more mutton pies at the concession stand. We have to remember
that art is also commerce. But this whole link thing brings us to the
fact that there are actually three different versions of Hamlet. There are two quartos,
one from 1603 and another from 1604, and then the Folio edition from 1623
The second quarto and the folio are somewhat similar, although the first was probably based
on Shakespeare’s notes and the second based on seeing the play in performance.
But the first quarto is known as the “bad quarto,” and not in the sense that it’s
evil, but in the sense that it’s kind of terrible.
Historians believe that an actor probably transcribed the first quarto his memory and
that that actor probably only played really small parts. Like Marcellus.
You know Marcellus, from “Pulp Fiction”, he’s played by Ving Rhames. What? There’s
a Marcellus in Hamlet? Basically, the scenes he was onstage for he
remembered pretty well, but the other ones not so much. He was probably that actor who’s
always mouthing other peoples’ lines. For example, here’s the bad quarto’s “To
be or not to be” speech: “To be, or not to be, that's the point,/ To Die, to sleepe,
is that all?” that’s just fantastic. But sometimes the divergences are interesting.
In one version Hamlet wishes that his “too solid flesh” would melt, in another, he
talks about his “too sallied flesh” which might mean assailed flesh or might mean sullied
flesh. Anyway, in all the versions, the plot is the
same: Hamlet is a grad student who returns home to Elsinore when his father dies and
then his mother Gertrude suddenly marries his uncle Claudius. Claudius takes over as
king even though technically Hamlet should inherit the throne.
So a grieving Hamlet deals with this as any grad student would by wearing black, listening
to sad music, and making long speeches about how he wishes his flesh would melt. Which
spoiler: It eventually will. But then, his father’s ghost appears to
him and begs Hamlet to revenge his murder by that aforementioned uncle Claudius. Hamlet
isn’t sure about this. So he pretends to be insane, you know as you do. That buys him
some time. He then hires a troupe of players to put on a show that will make Claudius to
reveal his guilt, Claudius is indeed overwhelmed with emotion,
flees the play, Gertrude summons Hamlet to her bedchamber where they have a weirdly intimate
discussion, until Hamlet hears a noise and in a rare decisive moment stabs the curtain.
Oh, but it’s not my uncle, it’s Polonius.
Polonius, who was never brief despite saying that, “brevity is the soul of wit.”
And then also famously said, “to thine own self be true” and you know, proceeded to
not be terribly true to himself. So Gertrude decides that Hamlet should get
out of town for a while and he sails away and there’s a writ of death and storms and
pirates, and then Hamlet returns only to find that Polonius’s daughter Ophelia has committed
suicide and that her brother Laertes is kind of mad at Hamlet.
So Claudius schedules a fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet, poisoning Laertes’s
sword and Hamlet’s wine. Hamlet is stabbed, but manages to wound Laertes
while Gertrude downs the fatal wine. And then, once everyone is dead or dying Hamlet decides
that, now, is finally a good time to stab Claudius.
Basically, all the Danes die. Except Horatio of course because you need someone to say,
“Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
What kind of place is this Denmark where people have stunningly un-Danish names like Claudius
and Polonius. Well, let’s go to the Thought Bubble.
So, throughout the play, Claudius is building up an army to take on Norway and Denmark is
caught in a strange limbo between war and not war. As often happens, the specter of
external enemies leads the ruling powers to search for enemies within, and we see a lot
of examples of Elsinore as a surveillance society. Like, Hamlet’s not wrong when he
tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “Denmark’s a prison.”
The characters are closely watching each other; I mean Gertrude and Claudius are watching
Hamlet, so is Polonius, though he’s awfully bad at it. Hamlet’s schoolmates, Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern are watching him closely as Claudius is encouraging them to spy while
they throw back Danish grog and talk about girls. Ophelia is watching Hamlet, too, but
Hamlet isn’t watching her, because he’s too busy staring at Claudius, trying to figure
out if he really did murder his father and of course Hamlet also spends a lot of time
watching himself and then reciting anguished soliloquies about it.
Personally, in the end, I’m more struck my Hamlet’s narcissism than by his indecisiveness.
Note12_Watching_Hamlet.jpg Anyway, all of this is probably less a criticism
of Denmark, which is a perfectly nice place full of herring sandwiches and competitive
handball, than it is a commentary on Elizabethan England, a place notorious for spying and
also the place where Shakespeare actually lived. There were all sorts of anti-royal,
anti-Catholic conspiracies going and Elizabeth I ran a whole network of spies to help discover
them—sort of like M in James Bond, but with more tiaras. Even Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare’s
rival and one of the most badass playwright’s ever, was a spy. So the court of Elsinore
can be read as a commentary on Shakespeare’s own environment, in which being tried and
beheaded for secret treason was kind of a national pastime.
Thanks, Thought Bubble. So Hamlet is a play about watching and being watched. Something
that we’re all pretty familiar with these days, but it’s also a play about doubling
and mirroring. This is a common Shakespearian thing but it
gets to some really core questions about being a person.
Like are people really capable of change, can they become different people over time,
and when you look in the mirror are you seeing the person that is actually you? Are you the
person you imagine yourself to be? So, there are at least two Hamlets in this
play, right, there is the old dead King Hamlet who goes around haunting the Elsinore battlements
and our hero who is supposed to avenge that old Hamlet .
But the living Hamlet is also split into two people: the one who wants to kill Claudius
and the one who’s like, “You know maybe not. Maybe I should just be a grad student.”
And some critics argue that the Hamlet who returns home from the pirate adventure is
yet another person, because he is a very different guy from the one who left.
And you can even see Ophelia as a kind of extreme, subversive double for Hamlet, like
what Hamlet might be like if he were robbed of all power and agency.
And then obviously when the actors perform their play The Murder of Gonzago, they’re
mirroring all the recent events in Elsinore. But it’s not a regular mirror right. It’s
kind of a funhouse mirror. But ultimately, it’s not just…. oh no!
My desk is moving! That must mean it’s time for the open letter!
An open letter to Simba. Hey there Simba, let’s take a look at the 1990s adaptation
of Hamlet that DIDN’T star Mel Gibson. The one starring you - The Lion King.
Simba? Hamlet Mufasa? Recently murdered king.
Scar? Claudius Mufasa in the sky and smoke? Oviously, Ghost.
Nala? Ophelia The Elephant Graveyard? England. Or maybe
the actual graveyard with the last poor Yorick whom I knew well.
The point is: YOU MUST NEVER GO THERE, SIMBA. Sorry, I don’t have a good James Earl Jones.
Best wishes, John Green. So anyway, it’s not just one mirror, but
many, that reflect Hamlet’s trouble figuring out what kind of a man he is and how he should
act. These mirrors also underscore the perpetual cycle of violence at the heart of the revenge
tragedy which you’ll no doubt remember from our talk of ancient Greek stories.
There is, literally, always another Hamlet. Like in these tragedies the desire for vengeance
ultimately corrupts the revenger and he or she has to die, too. Each murder has to be
answered for with another murder until we are out of people who can die.
A good example of this unending violence is old Hamlet’s ghost, who can’t rest in
this grave until he’s avenged. Now, the critics Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle
describe ghosts as “the very embodiment of strange repetition or recurrence: it is
a revenant, it comes back” Okay, but it comes back from where? Like ghosts
don’t really fit into Hamlet’s understanding of death. He describes death as “The undiscover’d
country, from whose born / No traveller returns.” Except his dad, apparently.
In fact, one way to read it is that the ghost’s fate is in some ways aligned with Catholic
purgatory, “confin’d to fast in fires / till the foul crimes done in my days of
nature / are burnt and purg’d away.” And Hamlet seems to fear something similar, “For
in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” Though it’s also worth nothing that Hamlet
wonders if the ghost really is his father. Hamlet has to ask if the ghost is a “spirit
of health or goblin damn'd.” Regardless, the ghost makes Hamlet wonder
about the consequences of his actions. I mean here’s Hamlet saying, “Can this ghost
(who’s name I remind you is Hamlet) be trusted? Is justice the business of people or God.
Now obviously there are no easy answers to those questions but earthly justice is clearly
corrupted—I mean Claudius has usurped the kingdom and there’s evidence that old King
Hamlet might not have been the greatest ruler either.
And Claudius is already being punished spiritually, although it’s not clear whether it comes
from himself or from god, but at one point he tries to pray and finds that he actually
can’t: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below / words without thought never to heaven
go,” Now prayer was seen as cleansing and in that
scene Hamlet decides not to kill Claudius because he believes that Claudius is praying
and therefore will be cleansed of his sin and will go straight to heaven if Hamlet killed
him right then. And that wouldn’t be fair! Of course, actually,
if he’d just killed Claudius in that moment due to the thoughts not going up to heaven
everything would’ve been fine. I mean not for Claudius, but you know, for justice.
So should Hamlet act? Should he let diving justice take its course? Does divine justice
only work through people? Even I can’t decide! But Mr Green, Mr Green, in the end how does
Hamlet make up his mind though? Well, Me From the Past, when he finally makes
up his mind he’s dieing, right? He has like seconds left to live.
Ultimately, Hamlet is a great play for its aphorisms, and its language, and its ambiguity,
but also because it brilliantly captures the fact that we do not know what we are doing.
Hamlet doesn’t struggle to decide a course of action because he’s young or because
he’s an academic or because he’s a narcissist. He struggles because he’s human.
We’ll continue our discussion of him and the play next week. Thanks for watching. I’ll
see you then. Crash Course is made by all of these nice
people and it exists because of your support at Subbable.com including Subbable subscriber,
and Crash Course supporter, Kevin Lee who sponsored todays video. So thanks Kevin, and
thanks to all of our of subscribers at Subbable for helping us to keep Crash Course free for
everyone forever. You can also get great perks at Subbable so
check it out. Regardless, I just wanted to say thanks for watching and as we say in my
hometown, “Don’t forget to be awesome.”


Ghosts, Murder, and More Murder - Hamlet Part I: Crash Course Literature 203

24165 タグ追加 保存
Laura Hung 2014 年 7 月 2 日 に公開
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