Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Iconic moments and images

Say, completely hypothetically, you were asked to find in a Shakespeare play the moment that defines the whole thing. Where would you even start if, for example, you had to find the iconic image or moment in Hamlet? I'm not talking here about the moment where Hamlet the character is defined, but more like a moment that embodies the essence of the play.

The "alas, poor Yorick" moment gets a lot of press -- the whole skull-holding bit. I dare you to Google "Hamlet" and count the number of skulls on the first page of images alone. But when you come to that moment, is it really what Hamlet is all about? Yes, there's the preoccupation throughout with death... but at the gravedigger scene, the mood lightens and we don't really feel as much of the gravity of death as in the rest of the play. (In fact... I take issue with Sir Larry here: Hamlet says his "gorge rises" at the thought of the skull belonging to someone he knew and loved... and I kind of doubt he'd cozy up to it like this if he wanted to puke.)

What about the bit(s) with the ghost? After all, the whole thing starts on a dark and stormy night when a ghost appears. Doesn't that suggest that the rest of the play is basically a ghost story? (But then corollary question -- how do you graphically portray a ghost? Hmmmm.... Something to think about.)

How about Ophelia? There's definitely something going on with Hamlet's pretend madness and Ophelia's real insanity. Is there something with Ophelia that captures the whole play? Or is that too narrow?

If we pick one of Hamlet's soliloquies as the iconic moment / image, which one? There are a few to choose from! I find the "how all occasions do inform against me" bit to be more poignant than even the "to be or not to be" even though most folks know the latter better.

And don't even get me started on why Fortinbras is SO important to the play... because that could take forever.

But seriously... what do you think is the iconic image or moment in Hamlet? What sticks out in your mind the most? What do you feel sums up the whole thing? I haven't even mentioned the play within a play. Or the duel at the end. Or Gertrude. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

I have some ideas of my own, but I'm really curious -- What do you think? 

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