Times two

In contrast to this idea of multiplicity within a structured framework being used to concentrate elements together into a tangible form, Hamlet Act3, SC2 demonstrates how multiplicity can be used to cause a confusion that unravels any definitive explanation. Thoroughout theplay, Hamlet’s diction is filled with so many meanings and interpretations that Polonius- a figure of supposed wisdom and learning within the court- summarises his words as often being ‘pregnant’ with meaning. By using multiplicity in this way Hamlet is able to complicate his language until his sentiments become irreducible, and by doing so he is able to create a barrier of obscurity that the simple Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are unable penetrate. Infact, his diction is so multiplicitous that its ambiguity reduces Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to begging Hamlet to: ‘put your discourse in some frame’.

Just like Malvolio, their singular perspectives of the world allow their understanding of the situation to be manipulated by the complexity of language. There is a noticeably dominance of the multiple over the singular in both plays, and in many ways this can be interpreted as one of the core theme across Shakespearean drama: that things are not always what they seem. This multiplicitous view of the world seems to be interwoven into the very structure of Shakespearean drama and critics such as J.A. Barish believe that it is not co-incidental that almost all of Shakespeare plays actively support numerous interpretations of events, and as such the audience should try see them ‘all pitted against each other, each with its own irrefutable force and weight requiring us to hold them in suspension in our minds as unresolved simultaneities’. The inclusion of this etymological undertone may stem from the fact that both Twelfth Night and Hamlet were written during a period of great upheaval.  It is commonly recognised that ‘a man in Shakespeare’s day was living in almost the last generation that could unquestionly accept […] the over orderly scheme’; ie. the scheme of epistemology that believes in an overarching truth that all knowledge must be tied into.  At the time Francis Bacon was serving as the Queen’s Counsel and his philosophies were rapidly changing the way men viewed the world by challenging the assertion that there was only a single way to interpret anything.

This view, that alternatives interpretations of events are always present, can be seen very strongly in two extracts from the aforementioned passage of Hamlet.  Firstly, when the desperate Guildenstern, unable to comprehend Hamlet’s meaning, urges him to ‘start not so wildly from my affair’.  Hamlet’s response picks upon a single word- wildly- and uses it to undermine Guildenstern’s concern by drawing out its connotations of bestiality in order to dehumanise what Hamlet sees as a false sentiment.  In doing so he is attempting to demonstrate the multiplicitous nature that lies in all language and, considering this passage immediately follows Claudius’s furious departure from ‘The Mouse Trap’, within the court itself. The second revealing passage is Hamlet’s strange call for ‘some music, come, the recorders’.  Is this the actions of a troubled man seeking to distract himself from his newfound certainty that Claudius murdered his father? Or is it part of the masterful scheme of a man who is able to utilise the multiplicity of language to such an extent that he can predict that the recorders will act as a critical example in his attempt to will Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to see the layers of meaning within the court?


February 1, 2018

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