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Something And Nothing In Shakespeare's Hamlet

1824 words - 7 pages

   Can nothing be something? Or can something turn into nothing? Shakespeare would have the reader believe both are possible. A person can be something and "nothing" as exemplified when Ophelia asks Hamlet "What is my Lord?" and Hamlet replies "Nothing."(3.2. 109,111) Shakespeare uses "nothing" multifariously in his tragic play  "Hamlet."  "Nothing" becomes a way for the reader to draw parallels between Young Hamlet, and his slain father.  Young Hamlet's  use of  the word "nothing," consistently borders on the realm of something. Still, "nothing" is more than a  mere lack of something, "nothing" is the catalyst that enables the reader to see the coalescency that exists between Hamlet, and his father.

     The first mention of "nothing" is in a conversation between Rosencrantz and Young Hamlet.   Young Hamlet explains to Rosencrantz why he feels Denmark is a prison, "Why then ‘tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so; to me it is a prison."(2.2. 246)  King Hamlet believes that Claudius killed him to take his throne. Young Hamlet's father is in a "prison." Therefore, Shakespeare suspends King Hamlet in a place somewhere between a living being and heaven; he walks the earth as an apparition.  The Hamlets think it and therefore to them "it is so."  Both Hamlets have lost their thrones and now seek revenge.  Likewise, both King Hamlet and Young Hamlet have thought their perceptions into reality.

     The next time "nothing" appears, Young  Hamlet is referring  to a player's ability to falsify anxiety. Young Hamlet exclaims surprisedly that the actor can emote such anguish out of "nothing."

 

                      A broken voice, and his whole function suiting

                    With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing.

                    For Hecuba!

                    What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,

                    That he should weep for her? What would he do              

                    Had he the motive and the cue for passion

                    That I have? (2.2.533-9)

 

"Nothing" suggests insignificance, and Shakespeare prompts the audience to remember Hecuba is fiction and unreality, merely a character.   Young Hamlet becomes an actor, playing an actor,  playing a character. Thus, the preceding scene turns Young Hamlet into a  traverse between reality, unreality, and performer and audience.  By speaking of his own position as to "motive and cue," Young Hamlet brings himself to the same level as Hecuba. Young Hamlet is a character; he is  a "nothing."  When King Hamlet's appears to Young Hamlet for the second time, Young Hamlet identifies the ghost as "nothing."

               Queen: To whom do you speak thus?

               Hamlet: Do you see nothing there?

                    Queen : Nothing at all, yet all that is I see.

               Hamlet: Nor do you nothing hear?

               Queen : No,...

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