It wasn’t exactly unexpected, but it still felt like a bit of surprise this afternoon to find myself in a theatre with two actors and an assistant director…rehearsing Hamlet. Just like that, we’re off and running.
Today I spent 90 minutes with KO, working on Ophelia’s Act 3 soliloquy, followed by 90 minutes of “Too too sullied flesh” with WJC. I introduced my standard method: verse work first, including scansion to determine if the lines are mostly smooth verse (ie. regular iambic pentameter) or rough verse (lots of uneven lines, feminine endings, extra beats, etc.). Second comes comprehension; although it’s obviously paramount to know what you’re saying, I find the meaning of the lines becomes clearer after you have a sense of their rhythm. Certainly, it’s easier to hone in on the most important words or phrases.
Characterization comes third, and it’s a distant and slow third. It doesn’t make sense to drop into the middle of a scene and expect to make clear decisions about a character’s journey. We can get glimpses of it, but it only becomes clear once you’ve done enough nitty-gritty verse work that you can step back and see a pattern.
Here’s Ophelia’s speech:
O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword;
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck’d the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
KO made some interesting points that I’d missed. First, although I’d always assumed this was pretty much exclusively a speech about Hamlet and Ophelia, KO pointed out the ways in which it includes the entire court — “all observers” might even extend to the whole of Denmark — but not in a way that reassures Ophelia, who at this point is fairly certain that everyone in Elsinore has turned against her. When she turns her frantic observations on herself, she may be making a discovery — “of ladies most deject and wretched” isolates her forcefully, while also affirming what the menfolk in her life have been conditioning her to believe the whole time.
Otherwise, we talked mostly about the obvious contrasts between “Hamlet-that-was” and “Hamlet-that-is,” but I hastened to point out that both versions are subjective, and may not reflect Hamlet’s perception of himself. Scholars take it literally when she describes him as the “glass of fashion and the mould of form,” but that doesn’t mean he actually is haute couture and/or beefcake; she just saw him that way — or maybe only sees him like that in hindsight, now that he has turned on her. She is, after all, going to be a madwoman in about an act and a half.
“Too too sullied” notes tomorrow.