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Hamlet Essay

1087 words - 4 pages

It was Wolfgang Clemen who used the phrase "image cluster" to designate Shakespeare's use of repeated patterns of imagery functioning within individual plays as a sort of key signature. Recent articles in The Explicator have focused on such images as the wheel (Andrews) and the pearl (Ault); other critics have focused on the imagery of the mirror (Henry) and the rat (Berstein). Although the problem of Hamlet's sexuality has been in the forefront since such Freudian classics as the one by Jones, oddly little has been said about another complex of images, which recur throughout the course of the play, concerning conception, gestation, and birth.The first such instance comes in Hamlet's famous warning to Polonius to keep Ophelia out of the sun: "If the sun breeds maggots in a dead dog," Hamlet warns, Ophelia had best "not walk in the sun. Conception is a blessing, but as your daughter may conceive, friend, look to't" (2.2.181-85). Conception as "breeding" and as fantasy are linked in this disgusting analogy. Similar linkages occur when Horatio notes that the mad Ophelia's speech "may strew I Dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds" (4.5.15) and when Claudius remarks, after spying on Hamlet and Ophelia, "There's something in his soul / O'er which his melancholy sits on brood, / And I do doubt the hatch and the disclose / Will be some danger" (3.1.164-67). The analogy here yokes Hamlet's melancholy musing to a hen brooding upon eggs which, when hatched, will "disclose" some danger to the state: gestation = brooding = thinking; eggs = thoughts; hatching = deeds born of thought.Gertrude returns to the image of a bird brooding in its nest, and to the linkage of hatching and disclosing, when she predicts that silent calm will follow Hamlet's "fit" in Ophelia's grave: "Anon, as patient as the female dove / When that her golden couplets are disclosed / His silence will sit drooping" (5.1.273- 75). The image here is of the dove hatching ("disclosing") a pair of fledglings ("golden couplets"), and it suggests an allegory of poetic creation (among other things), for where else has Hamlet hatched golden couplets to disclose the guilt of the King if not in the "speech of some dozen or sixteen lines" that he tells the Players he will "set down and insert" in "The Murder of Gonzago," a play composed entirely of couplets (2.2.526)? These examples focus on the connection between "breeding" and "brooding," encoded in our language by the two meanings of the word conception (as in the joke about the man who, when asked what the difference between men and women might be, responded, "I can't conceive!"). The related notion of pregnancy is also frequent in the play: "How pregnant sometimes his replies are," Polonius says of the cryptic remarks Hamlet makes during his madness; these remarks, Polonius continues, have a "happiness that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity could not so prosperously be delivered of" (2.2.206-09). Once again, the concept here is...

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