Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Opening of Hamlet.

A really interesting lecture form Trevor about the opening of Hamlet yesterday in Early Modern Drama. We looked at just the first ten lines or so and in doing so really marvelled at the way Shakespeare was able to craft an opening.

There's a surprise right from the off with Bernardo - the guard arriving to take up the watch - asking 'Who's there?' a revealing sign of his nervousness and a clear signal to the audience that something is up.

Francisco quickly re asserts the natural order of command 'Nay, answer me: stand and unfold yourself.' But the mood has already been disturbingly set.

There's a quick exchange before Francisco tells Bernardo that he comes 'most carefully' upon his hour. Is this a man trying to maintain a semblance of sanity by reinforcing the precision of time? The double meaning here of carefully is brilliantly chosen to keep us on guard.

Shakespeare then gives us some more expositional cues. 'Tis now struck twelve' and 'Tis bitter cold' before Francisco reveals that he is 'sick at heart.'

Bernardo asks whether he has 'had quiet guard?' Francisco says 'not a mouse stirring.' Which suggests the fear comes from a deep disquiet rather than noisy crashes and bangs. As he's leaving Bernardo wishes  him 'good night' as a half line. He pauses here before adding almost as an after thought 'If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus, The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.'

Shakespeare's London was full of soldiers. English campaigns in the 1590s took men to France, Ireland and the Netherlands. War was a constant and, barely ten years after the defeat of the Armada, the Elizabethan audience knew the bravery needed to face down invading forces. So it's fascinating that Shakespeare chooses the toughest men in Elsinore - these professional soldiers to introduce such this atmosphere of paranoia and uncertainty.

The ghost is on his way and the play is about to unfold itself.

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