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Hamlet's Apocalypse CUNY Talk

Hamlet's Apocalypse CUNY Talk

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Published by JOHN HUDSON
A talk at City University of New York (CUNY) about the religious allegories in Hamlet, in connection with the production of Hamlet's Apocalypse by the Dark Lady Players on November 7th, 2010.
A talk at City University of New York (CUNY) about the religious allegories in Hamlet, in connection with the production of Hamlet's Apocalypse by the Dark Lady Players on November 7th, 2010.

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Published by: JOHN HUDSON on Oct 09, 2010
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1
TalkonHamlet’sApocalypseat3.30onNovember4
th
atSimonH.RifkindCenter,CUNY/CityCollegeofNewYork,138ConventAvenue,NewYork10031.OVERVIEW
Thankyouforinvitingmetotalkaboutourradical,new,andexperimentalproductionof
Hamlet.
Itistitled
Hamlet’sApocalypse
andopens
thisSunday
7November,foronlythreenights,andtherewillbea
studentdiscountticket
,of$12ifyoushowanID.Asyouknow,whatweareputtingonstageistheevidencethatshowsthat
Hamlet 
isacomicparodyofthe
BookofRevelation
.InthistalkIwillbeginbylookingatthe
background
context
.ThenIwilllookatsome
structuralcomparisons
betweenthesetwoliteraryworks–fromtheperspectiveofliterarycriticism.ThenthirdlyIwilladdresstheissueof
theatricalperformance
andwhatitmeanstotryandperformtheunderlyingallegoricalmeaning.AndinconclusionIwillturntothebroader
implications
,ifitturnsoutthat
Hamlet
isactuallyablackparodyofsomeofthemostsacredChristianbeliefs.
1.CONTEXT
The
BookofRevelation
isthelastbookoftheChristianBible.ItwascreatedinpartasafictionalizationoftheRoman‐Jewishwar,whichiswhythearmiesassembleatHar‐Megiddo(Rev16;16,)sometimestranslatedArmageddon,whereTitusandVespasianassembledtheirtroopsbeforedestroyingJerusalem.JerusalemisshownasthewhoreofBabylonwhohasgivenherselfovertotheRomans‐‐‐whoarerepresentedbyasevenheadedbeastwhoseheadscanbeidentifiedwiththesevenhillsofRomeandtheCaesars.ThebeastcanalsobeidentifiedprimarilywithVespasianCaesar.Thereisasecondbeastwhomakespeopleworshipthefirstbeastandmakeimagesofit—andthisisprobablyTitusimplementingtheworshipofhisfatherthedivineVespasian.OntoallthisisgraftedastoryabouttheWomanCrownedwiththeSun(aversionofMary),theLambJesus,thekingwhoescapesfromthePit,andtheDivineRulerwhoruleswitharodofiron.Themostnotablefeatureofthe
BookofRevelation
isitscataloguesofsevens:sevenangels,seventrumpets,sevenletters,sevenvials,sevenplaguesetc.Thisnarrativewasusedbythechurcharoundtheyear1600‐‐‐asitisusedbytheReligiousRighttoday‐‐‐asaninstrumentofpower,creatingfearthatDoomsdaywasabouttocomeandbringabouttheEndoftheWorld.SothisnarrativewasprevalentinShakespeareantimesasasacrednarrativewhichupheldthechurchandtheState.Aroundadozenoftheplaysconcernapocalypticthemes.Butthiscouldnotbeexpresseddirectly,becauseitwasillegaltobringissuesofreligionontothestage.Ithadtobedonecovertly.Thisbringsustotheissueofliterarystyle.InElizabethanliterarytheoryitwasnormativethattowriteaboutanythingriskyyouhadtouseallegory‐‐‐inwhichyousaidonethingexplicitlybutitwasasemblanceoffalseseemingthatstoodforsomethingelse.Youcreatedadeceptivesurfaceforeveryonetoconsumebutthosewhowerewisewould“digesttheallegory”(Harrington)underneath,astheexpressionwent.Pastorals,inparticular,wereespeciallyknownasa
 
2
pleasantsurfacethatconcealedmuchdarkermaterialunderneath.SowellknownworksofliteraturelikeSpenser’s
FairieQueen
usedallegory.Butsodidthetheater.ThebestknownwritertouseitwasJohnLyly.Buttherewereatleasthalfadozenothers.Oldfashionedplaysactuallytoldpeopletheywereusinganallegory.ThusinDekker’s
OldFortunatus
(1598)Fortuneentersfollowedbynymphscarryinghersymbolofaglobeandawheel.InWilson’s
TheThreeLordsandLadiesofLondon
(1588)Prideappearswithashieldonwhichthereisan
impressa
ofapeacock.Buttherewasanothertrendtoconcealallegories‐‐‐aswritersdidinCourtpageantsandasBenJonsondid.AttemptstofindtheallegoryormoralofplaysweresocommonthatJonsoncomplained(intheintroductionto
Volpone)
aboutthosewhokeptbotheringhimbyannouncingtheyhadhadfoundthemeaningofhiswritingand“claimtohaveakeyforthedeciphering”.Mostlythetruemeaningwas,asJonsonscathinglyputit“stepsbeyondtheirlittle,or(letmenotwrongthem)nobraineatall”.SothereisnoreasonwhythereshouldnotbeallegoriesinShakespeare,including
Hamlet.
Theonlyproblemisthatthelasttimeitwasfashionabletolookforthem,inthe1930s,scholarscouldnotmakesenseofthe3,000religioustermsintheplays,becausetheydidn’tformanyallegorythatwasconsistentwithChristiandoctrine.Andtheystilldon’t.BecausetheyarenotChristian.Theyarea
parody
ofChristiandoctrineand
Hamlet 
isoneofthesimplestexamples.
2.PLAYANALYSIS
Soturningnowtotheliteraryresearchandthecomparativestudyoftheplay,researchbyvariousscholars,mostnotablyLindaK.Hoff,whichIhaveexpandedon,suggeststhatboththestructureof
Hamlet
anditsmaincharactersmirrorthosein
Revelation.
(a)Structureof
Hamlet 
Perhapsthemoststartlingthingabout
Hamlet
isthatitfeaturesasimilarcatalogueofsevenstothe
BookofRevelation
.
Revelation
hasseventrumpetblasts,sodoes
Hamlet 
.
Revelation
hassevenletters,sodoes
Hamlet 
.
Revelation
hassevenangels.Similarly
Hamlet
hassevenmentionsofangels.Then
Hamlet 
goesonandcreatesitsowncatalogueofsevensongsandsevensoliloquies,evenmaybethe7vialscorrespondingagaintoRevelation
 
7trumpets
Thetrumpetblastsare1,2,1,1,2,128;1,4,7;2,2,364;3,2,89;3,2,133;5,1,220.
 
7Angels
appearin
Hamlet 
“Solust,thoughtoaradiantangellinked”,“likeanangel,inapprehensionhowlikeagod”,“Ofhabitsdevil,isangelyetinthis”,“Aministeringangelshallmysister“,“Artmoreengaged!Help,angels!Makeassay”,“Andflightsofangelssingtheetothyrest!”,“angelsandministersofgracedefendus!”
 
7Letters
Claudius’lettertoEngland,Norway'slettertoClaudiusdeliveredbyVoltemand,andHamlet'sfiveletterstoOphelia,Horatio(4.6.8‐28),Gertrude(4,7.36),Claudius(4.6.20and4.7.36‐46)andtotheKingofEngland(5.2.31‐35).
 
3
(b)Charactersin
Hamlet 
Butitisnotonlyaspectsofthestructureoftheplaythatfollow
Revelation
.Thecharactersdoaswell.Togiveyouasimpleexample,insteadoftheRulerwitharodofironfromthe
BookofRevelation
wegetthefopOsric,whosenameinoldEnglishmeanstheRuleofGod,butwhoisacompletedandy,aparody.Themaincharactersaredividedintotwodifferentfamilies,onegoodandtheotherevil.Letslook,first,attheforcesofChristianitywhoformthefirstTriad.ThisisthefamilyofPolonius.
TheHolyFamily
.
 
Ophelia,
isbothanallegoryfortheVirginMaryandalsoforMary’sequivalentinthe
BookofRevelation
,theWomancrownedwiththesun.ThisiswhyHamletaddressesherinhisletterasa‘celestial’heavenlyidolwhilethenameOpheliaistheGreekforMary’spropertyof‘succour’.
 
Laertes,
istheresurrectedChristwholeapsoutofthegrave.Thereasonwhythisyoungmanbearstheotherwiseinappropriatenameofanelderispresumablythatheisrejuvenated,justastheoldLaerteswasinHomerbyAthena.Heisacclaimedbytherabbleastheir“lord”,anddeclaresthathewillstretchouthisarmslikethe“kindlife‐renderingpelican”feedingpeoplewithhisblood‐‐awell‐knownChristsymbol.
 
Polonius,
isthe“fatherofgoodnews”(2,2,42),theterm“goodnews”beingtheliteralmeaningoftheword“gospel”.AstheallegoricalfatheroftheVirginMaryandofChrist,heispresumablyGodtheFather.Hediesbybeingstabbedthroughacurtain,inanoddparalleltotheaccountintheTalmudofhowTitusCaesarstabbedthecurtainintheJerusalemTemple,andthoughthehadkilledthegodoftheJews.
ThesecondTriad,
theUnholyFamily,
istheDanishfamilywhorepresenttheforcesofevil,theforcesofAnti‐Christ.CherrellGuilfoylehassuggestedthatthesettingoftheplayinDenmarkindicatedthatthissecondTriadrepresenttheforcesofAnti‐Christ.
i
TheDanishforDenmarkis‘Danmark’,andtheDaneswereaccordinglysometimesbelievedtobetheoffspringofthetribeofDan,describedintheBibleasaserpent,andwhosetribechurchtheologiansexpectedtogivebirthtotheAnti‐Christ.ThissecondTriadfamilyincludes:
 
OldHamlet,
isinHellatthebeginningoftheplaybecauseheisspecificallyidentifiedwithHyperion.HyperionwastheGreekgodoflightwhowassimilartoApollo—thegodofthesun,fireandplagues—whowasimprisonedinthepitTartarus.Hisequivalentinthe
BookofRevelation
isApollyon,thedestroyer—whowasthekingofHell—andwhoescapesfromthepit.Theplayclearlyassociateshimwiththedevil.

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