“I don't really agree with the notion of setting the plays anywhere in particular. When asked that question about Hamlet I tend to say that it was set on the stage.”-Neil Armfield1.
No other quote on Shakespeare’s Hamlet could have more precisely summed up the play’s echoic, reverberant and hauntingly evocative self-referential quality. No other playwright deployed the language, conventions and the resources of the theatre as effectively, so as to bring alive the whole world of the text/stage to the world of the audience. This connecting chord between the script on the page and the script in performance in Shakespeare leads to a plurification of significance and meanings to the play. Ian McKellan, in John Barton’s Playing Shakespeare: An Actor’s Guide, rightly avers of the connection:
“Perhaps it's because Shakespeare himself was an actor that he uses the metaphor of the actor and of the theater so often in his plays. Often when a character is at the peak of his emotional problems he compares himself with an actor: "struts and frets his hour upon the stage." This has a wonderful resonance for an audience...” Thus, it is clear that Hamlet is a play that implicates itself within the paradigm of “play” and the various acts of branching out thereof. These would include the notion of “play” itself, the centrality of “play” within the play, the simultaneous power of the ‘play’ and the threat it generates and the thin line of seperation between the ‘play’ within the play & the play and the play & reality. As frustrating and confusing as the above would sound, this particular phase of Hamlet has intrigued and fascinated literary critics, scholars, theatre-goers, drama critics, reviewers and the plebeian alike.
Therefore, the aim of this paper is to investigate the discourse of play within the play, analyze its multiple significances as game, performance and the additive layer of meaning and delineate the interrelationships between it and the metadramatic elements of the play. The paper also seeks to take issue with the self-referential quality of the play, the interpretation of self-referentiality as a correlate of metatheatre and how Hamlet’s “antic disposition,” whether approached from a psychological superior point or a study in the subversive nature of his supreme self-awareness that tends to project his own images and thoughts onto the reality around him. This seems to create an almost doubly magnified reality. The paper shall, en route, attempt to analyze the existence of these elements within the rubric of the play, by paying close attention to the “didactic presentation of word and action” and relating them as arising out of each other’s presence and coalescing to form a seamless whole. The paper is an endeavor in engaging with critical dialogues on the self-referential quality of Hamlet and proposes, in its denouement, to add to the dialogue, thereby encouraging further contestations, counter-arguments and validation of critical...