Arts of Hamlet


The Hamlet and His Mother; The Closet Scene is an oil on canvas painting by Richard Dadd, done in 1846. It is currently held in Yale Center for British Art.

The image represents the conversation Hamlet had with Gertrude in the Queen’s chamber, when Hamlet sees the ghost of his father in Act III, scene iv, lines 2499-2529:

Enter the Ghost in his nightgown.

Hamlet. A king of shreds and patches!
Save me and hover o’er me with your wings,
You heavenly guards! What would your gracious figure?

Gertrude. Alas, he’s mad!

Hamlet. Do you not come your tardy son to chide,
That, laps’d in time and passion, lets go by
Th’ important acting of your dread command?
O, say!

Father’s Ghost. Do not forget. This visitation
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
But look, amazement on thy mother sits.
O, step between her and her fighting soul
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works.
Speak to her, Hamlet.

Hamlet. How is it with you, lady?

Gertrude. Alas, how is’t with you,
That you do bend your eye on vacancy,
And with th’ encorporal air do hold discourse?
Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep;
And, as the sleeping soldiers in th’ alarm,
Your bedded hairs, like life in excrements,
Start up and stand an end. O gentle son,
Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
Sprinkle cool patience! Whereon do you look?

Hamlet. On him, on him! Look you how pale he glares!
His form and cause conjoin’d, preaching to stones,
Would make them capable.- Do not look upon me,
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects. Then what I have to do
Will want true colour- tears perchance for blood.

Gertrude’s expression is frightened and confused, and her body language conveys a sense of vulnerability. Hamlet, on the other hand, looks anxious and restless. His black hair and clothing contrasts strongly with his pale skin, which emphasizes his craziness and shock at seeing the ghost. Gertrude dresses in white and red, making her the more innocent and pure figure between the two. Her hands are gripping each other in a praying position. She has a resemblance to Mary, while Hamlet seems to be on the side of the devils. The painting quite accurately portrays the scene through their vivid facial expressions. Hamlet looks like his nerves are as tight as violin strings and he is running purely on madness. The protruding, coal black sword by Hamlet’s side adds a sense of danger to the scene. The atmosphere of the scene foreshadows doom of the two in the near future.

Picture from: Wikimedia Commons


The Bad Hamlet

The “Bad Hamlet” is indeed quite entertaining. The first things I have noticed are the chopped names and soliloquies. Claudius and Gertrude are simplified to King and Queen. When the guards see the ghost during their watch, Horatio says the ghost “horrors me with fear and wonder”, whereas in the original version Horatio says “it harrows me with fear and wonder”. The person who wrote it down probably either had hearing problem or he was not as learned as we would have liked.

The King’s and Hamlet’s lines are mostly destroyed. Along with many other rich speeches written by Shakespeare, the King’s speech in which he asks Hamlet to stay home is cut half as short, making the plot seems to be going too fast. I enjoyed how the King calls Hamlet “princely son Hamlet” and he keeps calling the prince “son Hamlet” afterwards. Just like how Cassio in Othello keeps saying he is not drunk, the repeated use of “son” as Hamlet’s title makes me feel like the King is trying to convince everybody in the palace, including himself, that he is now Hamlet’s father. The copier probably was very confused by the meaning of the play, as he wrote “the rouse the King shall drink unto Prince Hamlet”. Then Hamlet’s internal conflict immediately after that is ruined by the hilarious exclamations like “such speed!”. All in all, the copier is just trying too hard.



Havamal No. 21

21. Cattle know
when to go home,
and then from grazing cease;
but a foolish man
never knows
his stomach’s measure.

This advice means that cattle knows how much it can eat, so when it feels full it ceases eating and goes home. On the other hand, an idiotic man eats all he wants until he is full but he keeps eating. Number 21 can be interpreted in two different ways:

  • A foolish man does not understand himself, so he often either overestimates or underestimates himself.
  • Unknowing to him, a foolish man is falls to his greed, which is represented by the stomach.

We can use this advice often in life. Gaining an understanding of ourselves is one of the most important things that we can do. High school serves as a testing ground for finding out what we like and how much we can take without being overwhelmed by work. So in college, we will have a better grasp of our own abilities when choosing classes and activities. Failure to learn about ourselves can certainly lead to greed, since we would not know when to stop taking. Knowing how much is too much is a crucial skill in all aspects of life, no matter if it’s in relationships, conversations, or at dinner tables.

In the play Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, Caesar also needs to heed this advice. The general trusts in his power too much and ignores all signs of trouble, which eventually leads to his murder by his own men. Of course greed also plays a role in the play, in which Caesar would not stop expanding his power. People are intimidated by his supreme leadership, while others are revolted by it. However, I doubt that the proud Caesar would follow the Viking’s advice had he heard of it.