Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hamlet as Dark Comedy

Before the break in my Shakespeare class the Professor asked us why Hamlet is a tragedy. There were many ranging answers. She who annoys Geek just by speaking made a good point or two about Ophelia and Gertrude though it all tied back into her Shakespeare anti-feminist subtext theory she goes on about. The classical definition of tragedy found its way into the mix.

I brought up that really Hamlet is a comedy, a dark comedy but a comedy none the less. I mentioned briefly one of the reason the 'Slaughterhouse' scene in R&G are Dead works so well is that Hamlet has the dark humor already built into the text. I found myself auguring the case further against some of my fellow students that could see nothing of comedy in a play were everyone (almost everyone) dies.

I maintain therein lies the dark humor.

Hamlet in his mock insanity often is darkly witty with his word play and doesn't hold is punches against anyone. Even with Ophelia, who we must believe he once –if not still- loved, his tongue is humorless dark. "Get thee to a nunn'ry…" he tells her, and though lost on most modern audiences Elizabethan audiences would recognized the double play on the word nunn'ry, slang for whore house. Hamlet's statement to the dead Polonius ("I took thee for thy better…") and the speech to Yorick's skull are disturbingly humorous in ways. The absurdity of giving a dead man a back handed compliment, or the image of a skull telling the Queen where she'd end up one day can be taken as darkly funny.

Claudius smoothly admitted incest, "Therefore our sometimes sister, now our Queen…" has enough built in humor it's hard to believe the man could say it with a straight face.

Ophelia's insanity is tragic by her words bitingly funny. Even playing the role seriously an actress could prompt laughter with just the right quirk to Ophelia.

Then end of the play if very much 'rocks fall everyone dies'. The main players drop like domino's with R&G being the last touch, the two almost forgotten characters by this point. No one wins but the man that the audience as barely scene; Fortinbras.

The idea of Hamlet as a dark comedy is hardly new or groundbreaking, while checking my term and quotes I even came across the wiki article on it. I'm sure if I looked sparknotes would have something to say on the matter. Strangely enough, for some in my class you would have thought I'd just told them that Jack and Rose really weren't on the Titanic. She who annoys became huffy and rolled her eyes, since she has taken it upon herself to disagree with everything I say.

The Professor pointed out that if Macbeth could be turned into the dark comedy of Scotland P.A. and Romeo and Juliet would be a comedy only for the lack of a happy ending, then Hamlet as dark comedy did not stretch things and ended the discussion.


Shakespeared said...

I'm going to be presenting this same argument to my Shakespeare class.

Hopefully no one will roll their eyes at me.

The king admitting to incest is great! Thanks for pointing that out.

History Geek said...

We have differnt concepts of what is incest these days so that line often slips past people. Just the fact that she was married to his brother, made their marriage incest in the eyes of the church.

I wish you the best of luck in your presention.