For the purposes of this assignment I aim through exploring characterisation and language, themes and imagery to consider the significance of the selected extract to the overall action of the play. The lines included in the chosen extract are taken from Act III sc ii. and form part of the play within a play. The main protagonists are assembled to watch the play; it is Hamlet’s plan that the performance will provoke Claudius into revealing his guilt. ‘The play’s the thing/ wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King’ (II, ii lines 557-8)
The character of the player queen can be compared and contrasted with that of Gertrude. Within the extract we see the player queen swearing that she will not remarry should her husband die. She proclaims that whilst she is married to him in life so shall she be in death ‘both here and hence pursue me lasting strife/ If once a widow ever I be wife. ‘(223-224). The player queen’s lines provide us with a direct comparison to Gertrude’s actions. These lines can be seen to belittle Gertrude and make her actions in remarrying after her husbands death seem heartless and rash.
Hamlets line 225 ‘If she should break it now! ‘ Immediately follows this proclamation from the player queen, here it can be said that Hamlet is implying that the player queen may not remain true to her word and can be seen to directly refer to Gertrude. Gertrude’s judgement on the player queen ‘The lady doth protest too much methinks’. (210) refers to Gertrude’s disillusionment with the sentiment and insincerity behind the player queen’s words and can be said to illustrate that she is recognising herself in the play and realising her own guilt.
The language used by the player queen is heightened and melodramatic. Her lines are spoken in verse comprising of rhyming couplets thus adding to the theatricality of the lines spoken. The use of verse can also be attributed to showing the player queens status and again shows a direct link between her character and that of Gertrude. The character of Lucianus, nephew to the king can be seen as a direct comparison with Claudius in that lucianus’s actions within the play within a play are obviously intended to mirror Claudius’s poisoning of old king Hamlet.
The lines spoken by lucianus and the imagery given in them ‘Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit… ‘(line 231 -235) perfectly illustrate the way in which Hamlet views Claudius and his character. Within this extract we see Claudius beginning to feel his conscience pricked. Claudius’s line 213 ‘Have you heard the argument? Is there no offence in’t? ‘ can be said to reflect that he is trying to justify his marriage to Gertrude. It can in turn also be said to illustrate his growing unease with the way that the plot of the play is unfolding.
As the player king is poisoned Claudius rises and leaves calling for lights (244-245) here we can see that the action of the play has stirred his conscience thus revealing his guilt. Again the language used by the Player Lucianus is heightened theatrical language. Rhyming couplets are used to emphasise the melodramatic elements of the play within a play and serve to heighten the reaction of Claudius to the play. Within this extract the most notable element evident concerning Hamlets character is his complete change in demeanour.
This is illustrated through the way in which his language can be seen to have changed during this scene. Throughout the play Hamlet’s language has been in the form of verse displaying iambic pentameter but here we see a dramatic change in that all his lines within the extract are spoken in prose. This can be seen to show that his mood during the player’s performance is different from at any other time in the play. His departure from verse into prose can be said to illustrate his excitement, he has set a trap and hopes that through the action of the play within a play his suspicions will be confirmed and Claudius’s guilt revealed.
This dramatic departure form his usual speech can also be seen to elude to the theory that Hamlet is mad. Here in this extract it is evident that he is not thinking of the words he is saying almost infact slipping up and revealing his knowledge of his fathers murder ‘No, no they do but jest, poison in jest … (line214) Hamlet’s cruel words to Ophelia (lines 225-230) illustrate his contempt toward women who betray their husbands, a direct jibe at Gertrude. The action that takes place inside the play within a play runs parallel to the state of affairs in the court at Elsinore.
Thus the themes that run throughout the player’s performance are a mirror of those of the play as a whole. Murder, death, revenge and conscience are dealt with within this small extract. Hamlet has set up ‘The mousetrap’ ‘The Mousetrap. ‘Marry how/ Tropically… and we that have free souls it touches us not’ (219) as a trial to unveil his uncles treachery and prove the words of the ghost in Act I sc VI to be true and the need for revenge worthy. The elements of murder and death in turn reflect the disorder within the State of Denmark.
The metatheatrical elements also lend themselves to another of the major themes within the play, acting/play acting, the illusion that things are not as they may seem that people take on roles that contradict their true personas. Claudius is now king but he is also a murderer; Hamlet feigns madness. The imagery to be found within this extract also mirrors the imagery used throughout the play as a whole. Within the player’s speeches we can see the use of the imagery of nature and decay (line 230-35) line 196).
Hamlet uses animal imagery in his line to Claudius (line220) comparing himself to a saddle sore horse. Hamlet also uses sexually crude imagery in his harsh taunts to Ophelia (lines221-230) In conclusion it can be said that the extract has great significance to the overall action of the play. The play within a play is a microcosm of the actual play. Within it we see a parallel or mirror to the main action of the play as a whole. The reactions of Claudius and Hamlet to this parallel action help to move the play along and set up for forthcoming scenes.