One of the benefits of living in a college community is when we have opportunities to see plays or concerts. We got to see a Globe touring production of the second half of Hamlet on Wednesday afternoon, and then got to see the whole play Friday night. The set on Wednesday was very minimal, but this was the set on Friday.
Whenever it’s a traveling troupe most of the actors have to play several parts, and they change parts by what they wear as well as by mannerisms.
In Wednesday’s performance, sitting in the last of a maybe 10 row theater, I was struck by the undress of Hamlet when acting mad: he seemed to be in white long underwear. (it did seem odd, starting with that, while on Friday he started fully dressed, and went to the whites with a student cap and scarf on)
Then when Ophelia goes mad, she was wearing a white slip with her father’s cloak half off one shoulder over it. I was struck by the near indecency of her slip but also that it wasn’t indecent. Her clothing so well matched her state: white of madness like Hamlet, but dressed in the cloak of her dead father.
Ophelia, told by father and brother to give up Hamlet, loses him without knowing the reason for his seeming madness. Losing father too then, and at Hamlet’s hand, is her undoing. Where can she turn? She was obedient and she lost both her lover and her sustainer.
Hamlet, on the other hand, lost his father before the play began. The throne is taken by his uncle as if he is yet a little boy, whereas he is a college student. Several times people wonder at the king he would have been. All is disrupted by the problem of revenge.
He plays the fool. He pretends madness. His only friend to trust is Horatio. In this play, acted before me twice, I saw his struggle, his words given face and form and passion. Heard once the To Be or Not to Be soliloquy but twice what caught me this week: “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow… the readiness is all.” This actor gave it depth. It wasn’t just foolery or near suicidal feeling but wisdom. We will die, now or later. We cannot die betimes (too early) because the special providence (God’s timing) is in control of when. But being ready…
It bothers Hamlet that his father was killed in such a way that he could not make a last confession, could not “get his affairs in order” and so had to suffer purgatory. When a prime opportunity comes to kill his uncle kneeling in prayer, Hamlet sees it as sending him straight to heaven and refrains. Laertes, speaking of his desire to revenge his (and Ophelia’s) father, cries out that he would kill Hamlet in church.
The readiness is all.
They do, as you may know, all save Horatio left to tell the tale to Fortinbras.
But the company, with dead bodies lying on the stage, solved the problem of getting them up to bow by having the music play, and the redressed Ophelia dances in to rise and dance with first the queen:
And then Ophelia turns to raise and dance with Hamlet:
The whole company then dance together, to a clapping beat and we all do clap, enjoying the dance until they stop for bows. Joy?
And when on Wednesday we had question and answer time with the actors someone asked about it. The actors said it was traditional, even in Shakespeare’s time, to end the play with a dance, even a tragedy. One of the actors, who played Horatio, actually said that it showed resurrection.
There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
Who can Hamlet trust, really?
The readiness is all.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Thanks and praise to God for Resurrection Hope!