Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hung Jury

If Hamlet were put on trial for Polonius's murder, and you were on the jury, what would your verdict be?

Personally, I'd go with guilty. He was only pretending to be insane!


Donald Brown said...

First of all it would have to be manslaughter -- a rash act resulting in a death -- rather than outright murder (premeditated killing). And he could still be gotten off; he was emotionally distraught, depressed, paranoid, felt persecuted, needs psychiatric care, possibly even drug treatments. Polonius, though harmless, was perceived at the time of the killing as a threat, etc.

Andrew Shields said...

Manslaughter, I agree, but he'd need some good lawyers to make clear that he was not feigning madness—assuming that recordings of his soliloquies had been made by Claudius! :-)

Donald Brown said...

I disagree. If you can conceive a modern U.S. trial for Hamlet than you'll have to concede that by the standards of OUR culture he isn't "feigning." The emotional state he's in equates sufficient disturbance, as in those things I listed. You can serious medical treatment for any of them.

Andrew Shields said...

Okay, I see your point: in our world, he could get off an temporary insanity.

Within the world of the play, I've always read him as consciously feigning madness—although, of course, as with many things, it depends on how you stage it. Heiner Müller, in his seven-hour production at the Deutsches Theater in the early nineties (with Ulrich Mühe of "The Life of Others" as Hamlet and Müller's "Hamletmachine" as the play within the play), had a visibly pregnant Ophelia.

Your comments also remind me of the wonderful mock interview of Hamlet in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," where R pretends to be Hamlet and G asks him a bunch of questions (or the other way around). Paraphrasing wildly, I remember the questioner as saying something like this: "Your father dies. Your mother marries his brother. You are the heir to your father's throne. Your uncle takes the throne. So why are you behaving in such a peculiar manner?" (Much better in the Stoppard, of course.)