Last night I went to that gorgeous old theatre The Astor to see the full-length version of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. I will soon be doing a discussion piece about this version and John Marsden’s recent novel adaptation (and express my enthusiasm for Shakespeare in more detail). For now, out of so many powerful scenes, I’ll share with you this small part of Hamlet’s monologue after the player (actor) has so powerfully performed a speech:
Now I am alone.
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann’d,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appall the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing; no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn’d defeat was made. Am I a coward?
Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i’ the throat,
As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?
Ha! ‘Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave’s offal. Bloody, bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
Why this monologue in particular strikes me is the way it acknowledges fictional empathy. The actor cries when Hamlet cannot. The actor stirs passion in him. The actor is like a writer, believing and living one’s character/s.
And how many times this play forces you to look upon skulls – not just Old Yorick’s – and think about worms and dust – but often too with such humour… but more on that later.
What are your favourite parts?