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It is therefore not surprising to find allegories being employed on the English Renaissance stage. These include the plays of John Lyly and Robert Wilson, Jonson’s masques, plus the allegories in Gorbudoc and other entertainments recommending to the Queen that she should marry. Allegory solving was a common subject of conversation at Court,1 and as Elizabeth I’s cousin, Sir John Harington, remarked in the introduction to his translation of Orlando Furioso (1591), the “sweetness of the verse” is not where the underlying meaning of a text is to be found, so those of “stronger stomachs” should look beneath the surface to “digest the allegory.”2 It is unfortunate therefore, that the allegories in Shakespeare not only have received little attention from modern literary critics but that‐‐‐with the exception of one small experimental theater company which specializes in translating them into performance‐‐ they are almost never performed explicitly on‐stage. The last time they were systematically investigated was in the 1930s when prominent scholars such as G.Wilson Knight3 tried to show that the 3,000 religious references in the plays created a consistent Christological allegory—and failed. It is now clear why. Recent identifications of Shakespearean allegories include Patricia Parker’s identification of Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a comic allegory of Jesus and the Church, in a
parody of the Apocalypse which all goes wrong.4 There is also the “impious parody” identified by Steve Sohmer in Julius Caesar, in which the historical details of Caesar’s death are turned into a comic parody of the death of Christ.5 These allegories do not reflect traditional Christian doctrine, and scholars nearly a century ago were therefore unable to apprehend them within the constraints of their worldview. They are rather, a parody of Christian doctrine and appear to be written from a non‐Christian perspective. This article will examine how the allegories work in Hamlet and discuss an attempt by an experimental Shakespeare company, the Dark Lady Players, to depict them on‐stage for a modern audience. Gabriel Harvey noted that the “wiser sort” among contemporary Elizabethan audiences would find much of interest in Hamlet.6 However for a modern audience not used to thinking about play composition, and lacking the background knowledge of an educated Elizabethan, substantial dramaturgical work is required to create a production in which these allegories can be understood. The Sources For Hamlet Towards the end of the 19th century a group of scholars suggested that Shakespeare’s Hamlet was based on a play by Thomas Kyd. This has survived only in German, and has been retranslated back into English as Fratricide Punished.7 Drawing on histories such as those of Saxo‐Grammaticus and Belleforest, the Ur‐Hamlet as it is known, is set in Denmark, and begins with a long pseudo‐classical introduction. Then the play proper begins with two soldiers waiting, a ghost, and the entrance of Hamlet, who discusses the
ghost with the men. Then the Gertrude character enters and dissuades Hamlet from going to Wittenberg. The Polonius character returns to announce that Hamlet is mad, and Ophelia enters to complain Hamlet is troubling her. Then the actors arrive, Hamlet makes a few rather pedestrian remarks about acting, and asks to see their play about king Pyrrhus, which is about pouring poison into a brother’s ear, and so on. The Ur‐ Hamlet contains no allegories and no religious references. The second important source is a long allegorical religious poem A Fig for Fortune (1596) written by a Roman Catholic, Anthonie Copley.8 It has 3 sections about the hero, Elizan, a sort of Elizabethan everyman. In these three sections, • the ghost from hell and the goddess of revenge urge Elizan to murder and revenge; • there is a graveyard scene in which the hermit, equipped with a skull full of worms and the picture of a grave, urges Elizan to stop being a beast and follow Christ and let go of his impious melancholy; • there is a scene clearly based on the Book of Revelation, in which the hermit leads Elizan to the heavenly Jerusalem, the temple of Sion, where the forces of Jerusalem overcome the Whore of Babylon. Hamlet borrows language and ideas from this poem, particularly in the graveyard scene‐ ‐‐ but turns them upside down. So Hamlet meets a gravedigger with the skulls, but instead of giving up his melancholy and following Christ, he does exactly the opposite. As we shall see, instead of ceasing to be a beast, Hamlet goes on and becomes one of
the beasts of Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation. The third major source, identified by Linda Hoff in her book Hamlet’s Choice,9 is the Book of Revelation itself. This is the last book of the Christian Bible and describes the Apocalypse or Doomsday, the most sacred event in Christian theology because it describes the second coming of Christ, at which time he will inaugurate a messianic age. Revelation describes a great battle between the forces of evil (the beast and the whore of Babylon, the beast from the sea, the Anti‐Christ and the king of the pit), all of whom are opposed against the forces of God led by Christ and the Woman crowned with the sun. The forces of Christianity win in the end and a new heavenly Jerusalem descends from the sky. Hamlet’s Structural Resemblance to the Book of Revelation Structurally, the Book of Revelation is constructed upon a theme of sevens: seven trumpets, seven letters to seven churches, seven seals, seven judgments and seven bowls pouring out plague. For instance, the seven trumpets are sounded across chapters 8‐11 of Revelation. Trumpet 1 is associated with hail, fire and brimstone. Trumpet 2 with a great mountain and fire falling into the sea. Trumpet 3 with a star called Wormwood. Trumpet 4 with eclipses and darkness of the sun, moon and stars. Trumpet 5 is associated with the abyss, and locusts like horses. Trumpet 6 is associated with a great river. Finally trumpet 7 is associated with thunder, and unleashes seven bowls of God's wrath which are poured out by seven angels.
Perhaps the most startling thing about Hamlet is that it features a similar catalogue of sevens to the Book of Revelation. Revelation has seven angels. So does Hamlet. Revelation has seven trumpet blasts, so does Hamlet. Revelation has seven letters, so does Hamlet. Then Hamlet goes on and creates its own catalogue of seven songs, seven soliloquies and the prophesied seven‐fold deaths that accompany the slaughter of Cain. • 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). • 7 Soliloquies 'O that this too sullied flesh would melt' (1.2); 'O all you host of heaven' (1.5; 'O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!' (2.2) ; 'To be, or not to be, that is the question' (3.1) ; 'Tis now the very witching time of night' (3.3): 'And so 5
a goes to heaven' (3.3) : 'How all occasions do inform against me' (4.4). 7 Songs are sung in snatches. Why Let the Strucken Deer (3.2), Hobbyhorse (3.2), Bonny Sweet Robin (4.5), Tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day (4.5), Walsingham (4.5), And Will He not Come Again (4.5), I loathe that did love (5.1).
7 fold Deaths for the death of Cain/Claudius (Genesis 4:15 states that there will be seven deaths if Cain is killed, and in addition to Cain/Claudius there are 7 corpses).
The Forces of Heaven and Hell in Hamlet But it is not only aspects of the structure of the play that follow Revelation. The characters do as well. As Linda Hoff has shown, the playwright has transformed the characters from Kyd’s Ur‐Hamlet into allegories for the characters from Book of Revelation. The 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. • 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. Work by Chris Hassel has shown that the way that Ophelia is interrupted while sewing and reading is a parody of the annunciation to the Virgin Mary.11 The references to pregnancy and maggots in a dead dog are allusions to medieval theology about how Mary conceived and remained a virgin. Ophelia’s death singing lauds and with a coronet is a parody of the ‘Assumption of Mary’ into heaven to be crowned. • 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.
The second Triad 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.12 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, and whose tribe church theologians expected to give birth to the Anti‐Christ. This second Triad family includes: • Gertrude, who at the end holds the poisoned chalice containing a pearl, represents the Whore of Babylon, adorned with gold and pearls, who holds a chalice filled with abominations and will be made to drink a “double draught” of it (Rev. 18:6). Dressed in scarlet and purple, the Whore was sometimes regarded as an allegory for the church.
• Claudius, is the “serpent” who stung Old Hamlet, and the Hyrcanian beast (the tiger), who is called an “adulterate beast”. He represents the Beast from the Apocalypse which has the body of a leopard, heads like a serpent, and on whom the Whore rides. The heads are associated with the seven Caesars and sometimes with the seven hills of Rome‐‐‐‐ and Claudius is of course the name of the Julio‐Claudian dynasty of Caesars. • 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 “The spirit that I have seen/May be the devil: and the devil hath power/ To assume a pleasing shape.”
Hamlet as Lucifer, the Anti‐Christ Prince Hamlet is allegorically the son of the devil, but as the son of Hyperion he is also an allegory for Helios, the god of the sun. As if “loosed out of hell” (2,1,82), he frightens and interrupts Ophelia while she is sewing and bends the “light” (2,1,100) of his eyes upon her. This parodies the beams of light that marked the Archangel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary while she is sewing as shown in Renaissance paintings. Ophelia’s later appearance with her abortifacient herbs—identified by Newman13 and others‐‐‐ suggests that she aborts the baby. One way of reconciling these attributes would be to posit Hamlet as representing the Archangel Lucifer, the light bearer, the star who fell from heaven into hell. Lucifer is mentioned, for instance, in Henry V, “arrayed in flames like to the prince of fiends” (3,3,16). Further support is found in the idea that Polonius is killed by Hamlet playing the part of the simpleton as a parallel to the slaying of Julius Caesar by Brutus‐‐‐whose name means simpleton. In the Roman story however Brutus is not the character’s original name, which was Lucius meaning ‘light, or shining’, which is paralleled by Hamlet’s alter ego as Lucifer the light bearer. Hamlet’s identity as Lucifer is further supported when he imagines wearing Provincial roses on his shoes, which were used by stage actors to indicate a cloven foot, a well‐known signifier of the devil. He also uses expressions used by the Vice or comic devil on the English stage. His identity as an Anti‐ Christ is further made clear by the three allegorical identities he takes on:
• Martin Luther, regarded by Catholics as the second Anti‐Christ. Steve Sohmer has used the pattern of feast days in the play to work out that the initial part of the play is set on the day before Luther nailed the 95 theses of the Reformation to the church door in Wittenberg.14 In addition Hamlet’s melancholy parallels Luther’s, both men wore black and he is associated several times with Wittenberg. • Emperor Nero, regarded as the first human Anti‐Christ. Various events echo the Life of Nero in the well known history The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius: the matricide, killing of the Emperor Claudius, his interest in music, being an actor, performing onstage, acting in a play about Orestes, writing verse, playing pranks, being pursued by a ghost, and being mad. Moreover, according to Suetonius,15 Nero was known as Nero‐Orestes, and other parts of Hamlet’s character come from Orestes. Nero was also compared to the sun god, and Hamlet is an allegory for Helios the son of Hyperion. • The Sea Beast, Hamlet comes back from the Sea and resembles the Beast from the Sea in the Book of Revelation who makes images of the first Beast (in the play, the odd brooches/portraits of Claudius).
This Apocalypse All Goes Wrong In sum, Hamlet parodies the catalogues of sevens from the Book of Revelation, and the main characters are parodies of the characters in Revelation. In addition Hamlet uses some of A Fig for Fortune, an allegorical religious poem. The play is set on Apocalypse or Doomsday, which is mentioned 5 times in the play. Many aspects of the plot such as the references to Wormwood, and the attack by Laertes (as Christ) on the citadel of Claudius, come directly from the Book of Revelation’s depictions of Doomsday. The play opens with the cock crowing and the waiting which are together an allusion to Advent—the season in which “our Saviour’s birth is celebrated” (1,1,164). But Advent could also imply the Second Advent, or Parousia, the second coming of Christ, which took place on Doomsday. This is why the gravediggers say that graves last to Doomsday. They then proceed to unmake those graves by taking the skulls out, showing that it is therefore Doomsday, when the spirits are resurrected from their graves. Except that in this parodic play, their skulls are crudely thrown out rather than resurrected. The allegorical plot of Hamlet is completely opposite to the Book of Revelation–a complete parody of the most sacred Christian doctrines. The king of hell escapes from the pit, and the devil tells his son Lucifer to take revenge for his death and incarceration. The son of the devil takes on the identity of 3 Anti‐Christs. He first impregnates the Virgin Mary/Woman Crowned with the Sun (Ophelia), leading her to abort the baby and then die in a parody of the Assumption of Mary. He kills God the father (Polonius) and
then the Resurrected Christ (Laertes) in a sword fight. He then ends up killing directly or indirectly, through their multiple allegory, both the Church (Gertrude) and Rome (Claudius). The Rule of God (which is the meaning of the name Osric, a minor courtier in the play) is utterly ineffective. The playwright is parodying the Book of Revelation in showing an Apocalypse that fails and in which no golden city descends from the heavens. Instead, after Horatio refers to the paradisum,16 a prayer asking that Hamlet should be received in Jerusalem (5,2,365), what arrives is Fortinbras. This is an apparent comic parody of Jerusalem, alluding to the analogous Fort‐in‐Brass, or City of Brass, in The Arabian Nights.17 So how can these allegories be communicated in a 21st century performance? This article will discuss the implications with reference to two productions which were the subject of a recent Hamlet Roundtable at the Alliance of Resident Theaters in New York.
Apocalypse as ‘High Concept’ One recent attempt to highlight the religious allegories in Hamlet was a Midtown New York City production by New Perspectives Theater, in Spring 2010, directed by Melody Brooks. Using a shortened version of the Folio text, it treated the Apocalypse as a directorial ‘high concept’ informing the show. The acting style was naturalistic, and the costuming of Gertrude in a series of red dresses, and Ophelia in blue—while matching the appropriate traditional colors of the costuming of their allegorical characters—did not suggest their allegorical identities. Similarly, Laertes’s brown modern clothes would
not have been understood by any audience member as indicating his allegorical identity as Christ, especially since the Folio misprint of ‘politician’ was used instead of the more meaningful ‘pelican’ of the Quarto text. It would have been equally impossible to infer Claudius’s allegorical identity as the scarlet beast of the Apocalypse from his elegant scarlet silk tie.
Furthermore, on entering the theater the audience was confronted with a bank of tv screens depicting scenes from programs on the Religious Right and religious militias. These suggested merely the context of a police State rather than Doomsday. Certain scenes, such as Hamlet’s confrontation of Ophelia, and the Mousetrap, were shown as video recordings‐‐‐conveying the impression that Denmark was a modern State with extensive video surveillance. Marcellus and Horatio wore earpieces like members of the Secret Service. At a couple of points during the production the screens showed a quotation from the Book of Revelation, presenting it as a generalized backdrop for the show. However as Show Business Weekly concluded “the use of on‐screen text from the Book of Revelation…adds little value to a story that is already apocalyptic in nature.” 18 This production was an invigorating depiction of Hamlet in contemporary times, but it
did not successfully make individual aspects of the play more comprehensible by revealing them as comic parodies of the Apocalypse. Nor did this production demonstrate how, taken together, these allegories alter the entire meaning of the play and transform it from a tragedy into a black comedy. Indeed the modern, naturalistic, costuming and the suggestion that the play was set in a modern police State prevented any Brechtian ‘alienation effect’ that would have encouraged audiences to inquire deeply into the production and inhibited any ancient allegorical identification. Issues in showing the allegory on‐stage Audiences in Elizabethan London went not to “see” but to “hear” a play: it was an auditory rather than a visual culture as Lukas Erne has shown.19 Players gave meta‐ theatrical, oratorical performances designed to allow theater‐goers to go beyond the surface text to discern the underlying meanings. Most audience members knew important Biblical passages, and some also knew their Josephus, their Roman history, and understood enough about rhetorical figures to be able to identify some of the allegorical meanings. However, the allegorical system would have been very hard to discern, because it requires reinterpreting various key assumptions in Christian doctrine. To enable modern audiences—used to a visual culture‐‐ to discern the allegorical meanings during performance requires making them highly visible though costuming, staging, lighting, props, movement and other theatrical techniques. This means transposing the allegories from covert auditory cues into a system of overt visual cues‐‐‐ which could never have been performed on an Elizabethan stage. It also requires a
meta‐theatrical and non realistic acting style that ‘points’ at the underlying meanings. Allegorical production thereby requires actors to take a new approach to their craft which is completely different from modern, internalized techniques of acting. An Experimental/Original Practices Adaptation Compared to the other production, the approach taken by the New York experimental Shakespeare company the Dark Lady Players, directed by Jenny Greeman, was more radical, lower budget, and low tech. Their adaptation at Manhattan Theater Source in Greenwich Village, was also aimed at a different audience which was more accustomed to experimental theater. The Village was the catchment area for audiences who attend productions of Shakespearean parodies, including a recent movie release based on the premise of Hamlet as a vampire and the production of a zombie version of Twelfth Night. The Dark Lady Players are an all women company which employs a highly meta‐ theatrical and presentational style to encourage the audience to look beyond the surface of the play to the underlying allegory. Their mission is not to perform the Shakespearean plays, but to perform proof‐of‐concept demonstrations of the allegories in those plays. The Dark Lady Players’ adaptation concentrated on the more important religious and astronomical allegories. The play was renamed Hamlet’s Apocalypse and was extensively cut to a 90 minute version which highlighted the lines in which these allegorical identities were most evident. Seven trumpet blasts echo throughout the
adaptation, although they were repositioned, beginning with one blast and rising successively to seven in order to emphasize the parallel to the seven trumpet blasts in Revelation. Drawing on both Quartos, the Folio and the Ur‐Hamlet, the cut of the play was also rearranged, restructured, and some lines were redistributed between minor characters. The production began with Hamlet deciding whether or not the soul of Nero would inhabit his bosom, and reading about Nero’s characteristics and his love of theater from the biography of Nero by Suetonius. Giving in to temptation, Hamlet put on Nero’s toga‐ ‐‐Nero being one of the three figures of the Anti‐Christ in the play. Immediately the players enter and a series of events unfold that echo Nero’s biography, in which Hamlet interacts with the actors, writes poetry, and like Nero acts out a part of a play related to the Orestia. After the Mousetrap, Horatio inquires if Hamlet is ready for the players to put on another play— it is called Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Each of the five players then describes how he would produce the play in terms of different aspects of the allegory. The players mention about a dozen of the parallels to Revelation which are hung up center‐stage where they remain throughout the performance, like the plot summaries that hung in Elizabethan theaters. Hamlet then gives orders that all of these different understandings shall be performed together, and the play begins with the watch scene. The explanations given by the players and their signs on the wall provide the primary guide for the audience. Other devices used in this adaptation to convey the allegorical identities of the characters were costuming, dramaturgy, and the kind of
labeling used on the medieval stage—which often took the form of characters reading an over‐large ‘book’ when it is being alluded to in the text. This article will now consider how this adaptation used these techniques to convey the astronomical and religious allegories. The Astronomical Allegory The supernova in Cassiopea which begins the play is given prominence in this production by being observed by Hamlet through his telescope. Horatio is given extra asides, in which to point out that this was the event that was observed by Tycho Brahe, and which overthrew the conventional models in which the stars were eternally suspended on crystal spheres and revolved around the Earth. In the play Hamlet’s helio‐ centric model overturns that of Claudius until in the end he is eclipsed. One way in which this is indicated is the reference to “god kissing carrion” which In this production is read from a large book, the Anti‐Claudianus by Alanus de Insulis , who was the originator of this idea. Claudius is described as being the center of ten thousand stars that rotate around him as if on a massy wheel. To understand that Claudius represents the Earth in the astronomical allegory identified by Peter Usher,20 and also represents the geocentric universe of Claudius Ptolemy, requires knowing that Claudius’ alter ego Pyrrhus had the alternative name NeoPtolemus the New Ptolemy‐‐‐which in this production is indicated in an aside. As the center of a geocentric model of the universe Claudius wishes Hamlet, as the Sun/ Son of Hyperion (ie. Helios), to revolve around him. When Hamlet is accused of actions that are ‘retrograde’ to what Claudius desires, this
alludes to the retrograde movement of the sun that was inexplicable in Ptolemy’s astronomy. It is dramatized by having Hamlet walk backwards, in a circle around Claudius. The costuming in Hamlet’s Apocalypse was not naturalistic, but rather meta‐theatrical ‐‐ ‐for instance Hamlet’s telescope was a cardboard tube, as were the swords in the fight scene. Costuming was critical to conveying the allegorical identities and a costume‐rack appeared prominently on stage, with each costume hung under a large label with the allegorical identity it represented‐‐‐and the actors putting on their costumes in full view of the audience. These costume elements were not tailored clothing but rather large bits of colored cloth, to indicate the importance of the color and that these characters are literary figures rather than real people. Guildernstern’s identity as a golden star was conveyed not merely by his name but was signified by him holding a large yellow cardboard star. Ophelia’s lunar allegory was conveyed by her wearing a crescent moon as a brooch. Hamlet’s identity as Helios was indicated by his wearing a hat of sun rays— made out of red and yellow paper. The astronomical identity of Polonius the Pole as the planet’s rotating axis (and paralleling the slaying of the sledded Poll‐ax on the ice), is suggested by his carrying a large staff which he periodically rotated. Since Hamlet is a rewriting of the mythical character Amleth or Amlohdi who carried the polar axis or ‘mill’ from one sign of the zodiac to another, as described by two MIT professors in Hamlet’s Mill, 21 when he kills Polonius, Hamlet is allegorically striking down the axis of the age. This is foreshadowed earlier in the production when one of the players brings
onstage a blown up copy of Hamlet’s Mill and describes how it would be used in his ideal production of the play. That concept is later illustrated by Polonius dying in a strange rotating movement, accompanied by a grinding noise, intended to represent the rotation of the polar axis. It thereby puts an end to the 2,200 year span of a Zodiacal Age as marked by the precession of the equinoxes.
This astronomical allegory has political importance since it overthrows not only the seven spheres but the polar‐axis of the State‐‐‐a metaphor which the Elizabethans applied to Elizabeth’s Government and specifically to Lord Burghley who was referred to as the Pole or ‘Polus’, and for whom Polonius is a contemporary allegory. In a well known book on statecraft the Sphaera Civitatis (1588) –which is brought on stage in this production‐‐‐ Elizabeth was even shown on the frontispiece as upholding the universe. The seven spheres of the heavens nestle in her dress, and the Court of Star Chamber entrenched in the sphere of the fixed stars along with princes and heroes. Since the order of the stars was replicated in the order of human government, in the Great Chain
of Being overturning the astronomical order went hand in hand with overthrowing the political order. The Religious Allegory In parallel, the religious allegory in the play puts an end to the Book of Revelation’s traditional model of the victory of Christ on Doomsday. The religious identities of the characters in this production were again indicated through costuming. Polonius was costumed in white and given a long beard as the “father of good news”, God the father. Similarly dressed was the Christ figure Laertes, the life‐giving pelican, arms outstretched, who jumps out of his grave on Doomsday ‐‐‐his very name echoing the figure rejuvenated by a goddess in the Odyssey. Ophelia was costumed in white with a blue cloak and head‐dress in the traditional iconography of the Virgin Mary. Rosenkrantz carried a large set of rosary beads, as indicated by his name which means ‘rosary’. The whorish Gertrude as the whore of Babylon was costumed in pearls, scarlet and purple, and carried her chalice at all times. She also made her entrance riding on the back of Claudius as the Beast, illustrating the text in Revelation. Claudius had blood‐stained hands and was dressed in scarlet, echolng the description of his analog Pyrrhus as covered in blood, “total gules.” He also wore a snake decoration echoing his description as a “serpent” and alluding to the serpentine heads of the Beast of the Land. Over his tunic he wore the purple robe of a Caesar, since his name is that of the Julio‐Claudian dynasty of Caesars and the Beast also conventionally symbolized the dynasty of the Caesars.
Appropriate for Nero (whose name means ‘black’), Hamlet wore stage black, on top of which he wore signifiers of his three different identities as the anti‐Christ: a purple robe as Caesar (Nero was the first human anti‐Christ and the last of the Julio‐Claudian dynasty), a black cloak for his allegory to Martin Luther of Wittenberg (regarded by Catholics as the second human anti‐Christ), and the sea‐robe alluding to the sea‐Beast (the original anti‐Christ). In addition at other points in the play he wore small red horns indicating his diabolical identity. In a visual pun, Osric (whose name means the ‘rule of God’ and alludes to the one who rules with a rod of iron in the Book of Revelation), carried instead a large three foot ruler, with which he measured the swords and the distances between the protagonists in the fight scene. In addition to costuming, extra dialogue and occasional stage actions were added to clarify certain points. For example the gravediggers put up a sign ‘The Place of the Skull’ indicating that their allegorical location is Golgotha, which is reinforced by the skulls that are dug up. Then the second gravedigger‐‐‐having realized that graves last until Doomsday and that these graves have not lasted‐‐‐suddenly draws the logical conclusion that today must be Doomsday. Later, he is sent to get a drink from Yaughan (Yohannan, the Hebrew version of John, who supposedly wrote the Book of Revelation). In the Shakespearean text he never returns. But in Hamlet’s Apocalypse in order to emphasize the parody of the Passion story, a new piece of stage business is inserted in which he returns with a dram of St John’s Eisel Vinegar just in time for Hamlet’s
reference to drinking eisel. The gravedigger follows the gospel in administering the vinegar to Laertes who has jumped out of the grave with his arms still outstretched in a cross, while Hamlet is referring to “God’s wounds.”
However the religious and the astronomical allegory in Hamlet do not operate in isolation from each other‐‐‐they are closely interwoven, which can be illustrated by how this production depicted Ophelia. Her costume of blue and white cloth clearly signified the Virgin Mary. This identity was emphasized by the address on Hamlet’s letter – actually a large FedEx envelope so it was visible on‐stage. As the characters read the address on that letter they noted in asides that ‘celestial’ indicates heavenly, while Ophelia is the Greek for Mary’s property of ‘succour’ and ‘soul’s idol’ refers to idolatry. Ophelia is twice interrupted, once while reading, the other time while sewing, which were the two normal ways that the Virgin Mary was shown being interrupted by the angel of the Annunciation. Hamlet warns that Ophelia may conceive, if exposed too much to the sun, and compares her to the way that the carcass of a dead dog can generate maggots in the sun by “a god kissing carrion”. This image was used in Christian theology as a way of explaining how Mary might have conceived Jesus, by supernatural 23
means. Similarly in Renaissance art Mary was shown as conceiving Christ, while remaining a virgin, in the same way that sunbeams pass through a glass window. Hamlet, as the son of Hyperion, represents Helios the sun god, signified by his hat of red and yellow sun‐rays.
He bends the light of his eyes—sun beams‐‐ to Ophelia, without looking away, even while he walks out of the room. This is staged in dumbshow, while Ophelia pulls the maggots out of her pregnant belly to indicate the conception. Ophelia’s pregnancy is resolved later in the play by the explanation of Ophelia’s flowers – almost all of which are used in abortion recipes. As Ophelia names each of the flowers, a messenger opens up a contemporary Herbal and reads a one line description of how the flower is used to procure an abortion. In this way the astronomical allegory of Hamlet as Helios interworks with a black religious parody of the Archangel’s annunciation to Mary. In Hamlet, the angelic visitor is evidently not the Archangel Gabriel but the Archangel Lucifer.
Conclusion It would appear that Hamlet was written in order to create a parody of the Apocalypse’s promise of the return of Christ and the coming of a new Jerusalem, by depicting a very different Doomsday. In Hamlet both the forces of Christ and the forces of the Anti‐Christ destroy each other, leaving the world entirely free from their mythology. Indeed the entire Zodiacal age of Pisces, and the hierarchical geo‐centric model of the universe are overthrown and with them the political order. The Mousetrap, which forms the centerpiece of the play, leads to the overthrow of the State and acts as a catalyst for all the deaths in the play. In the covert classical allegory this is represented by the deaths of the three ‘kings’ Julius Caesar, Claudius Caesar and Nero Caesar, spanning the entire Julio‐Claudian dynasty. Yet there is one more complication. There is no reason why either the king of Denmark or at an allegorical level, Claudius Caesar should be caught in a literary device, let alone why it should be called a Mousetrap or why it should be at the center of the play. There are also a number of details which suggest that the three Caesar figures are actually rare double allegories and represent another dynasty of Caesars, the Flavians. Claudius is described as treating men like sponges‐‐which does not appear in the biography of Claudius—but does appear in the biography of Vespasian Caesar, the founder of the Flavian dynasty. His son Domitian Caesar was sometimes believed to be the re‐ incarnation of Nero‐‐who was a member of the Domitian family and originally bore the
names Lucius Domitius—and in the play is represented by Hamlet. This leaves the third of the Flavians, Titus Caesar who was described in the Talmud as stabbing through the curtain of the Temple and thinking he had killed the god of the Jews. He is ironically represented in Hamlet by the character Polonius, who has played the part of a Caesar, who represents the god of the Christians, and who is killed by being stabbed through a curtain. So why should Hamlet parody the Flavian Caesars in this complex and circuitous fashion? What would such a parody have to do with depicting the end of Christianity? Firstly, equivalent parodies have been found in some of the other plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so this is not an isolated example. More specifically, recent scholarship on the Testimonium Flavianum (The Flavian Testament which is part of Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities) suggests that the “World Mouse” described there represents the three Flavian Caesars.22 Read laterally, the account describes them as inventing the figure of Jesus as a false god‐‐‐‐a Roman literary device to trap Jews into following a pacifistic, literary messiah. A detailed comparison of their literary structures shows that this is the trap that is being parodied in Hamlet. In the play however, the trap is reversed and the Mousetrap becomes instead a trap to catch Caesars. To make this relationship evident the Dark Lady Players not only placed the Mousetrap section at the beginning of Hamlet’s Apocalypse, they designed it to be presented in a double bill with The Big Mouse, which was the world’s first transposition of the Testimonium Flavianum as a stage play.
Work on depicting the allegories in the Shakespearean plays is in its infancy. However it is probably the most exciting area for future development of Shakespearean performance. As the research becomes better known and attracts other scholars, dramaturges and directors, it will offer new ways of attracting audiences, and enable theater companies to present the underlying meanings in these 400 year old plays which the author intended the ‘wiser sort’ should be able to comprehend.
Marion A. Taylor, Bottom Thou Art Translated: Political Allegory in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Related Literature (Amsterdam:Rodopi, 1973),16. 2 Sir John Harington, Orlando Furioso in English Heroical Verse (London:1591),4. 3 G.Wilson Knight, Shakespeare and Religion: Essays of Forty Years. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967). 4 Patricia Parker, ‘Murals and Morals; A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in Editing Texts APOREMATA; Kritische Studien zur Philologiegeschichte ed. by Glenn W.Most (Gottingen: Vanenhoeck & Ruprech, 1998). 5 Steve Sohmer, Shakespeare’s Mystery Play: the Opening of the Globe Theatre 1599 (Manchester: Manchester University Press,1999),130. 6 G.C.Moore Smith, Gabriel Harvey’s Marginalia (Stratford‐upon‐Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1913). 7 Anon, Der Bestrafte Brudermord oder Prinz Hamlet Aus Daennemark (Fratricide Punished), Variorum Hamlet ed. Horace H. Furness (Philadelphia:Lippincott, 1877). 8 Anthonie Copley, A Fig for Fortune (London: The Spenser Society, 1883). 9 Linda K. Hoff, Hamlet’s Choice (Lewiston; Edwin Mellen Press, 1988). 10 Jan H. Blits, Deadly Thought; ‘Hamlet’ and the Human Soul (New York; Lexington Books, 2001). 11 Chris Hassel, ‘Painted Women: Annunciation Motifs in Hamlet.’ Comparative Drama, 32, (1998): 47‐84. 12 Cherrell Guilfoyle, Shakespeare’s Play Within a Play: medieval imagery and scenic form in Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University, 1990). 13 L.Newman,‘Ophelia’s Herbal’ Economic Botany 33, 2 (1979): 227‐32. 14 Steve Sohmer, "Certain Speculations on Hamlet, the Calendar, and Martin Luther." Early Modern Literary Studies 2.1 (1996): 5.1‐51 15 Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars ed. Catherine Edwards (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 195‐227. 16 This is an antiphon from the Latin liturgy of the Catholic burial service.
Anon, Stories from the Thousand and One Nights, trans. E.W.Lane (New York: P.F.Collier and Son, 1909‐14). 18 Giovanni Palumbo ,‘Hamlet: review’ Show Business Weekly, downloaded on June 4 from http://www.showbusinessweekly.com/archive2010/592/hamlet.shtml 19 Lukas Erne, Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2003). 20 Peter Usher, Hamlet’s Universe (San Diego: Aventine Press, 2007). 21 Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlet’s Mill; An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time, (Boston: Gambit, 1969).
Joseph Atwill Caesar’s Messiah (Berkeley; Ulysses Press, 2005)226‐49
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