Share it Please
“Ophelia’s Mad Scene.” YouTube, uploaded by @shakeoutloud, 4 Dec. 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uet1OaTal5Q.
In the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet, Ophelia is portrayed grappling with a flabbergasted Claudius as she screams seemingly nonsense phrases. Dressed in a dingy sack-like dress, she falls to the floor, evades Gertrude’s ministrations, and then runs away before the King can catch her.
Having been obedient to father, King, brother, and lover for most of the play, this “mad” scene displays Ophelia in open revolt, disdaining Claudius’ authority and undermining the seat of his power in true carnival fashion. This scene—portraying the generally weak Ophelia successfully escaping the King’s attempts to subdue her—shows how a certain brand of carnivalesque lunacy incapacitates figures of authority in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
“Knock, Knock! The Porter, from Macbeth (2010).” YouTube, uploaded by @https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb6HFQPcEes, 12 May 2012,
In this scene from the 2010 Patrick Stewart Macbeth, the porter muses sullenly on the incessant knocking that his roused him from his drunken stupor. Besides throwing around the name of the devil fairly lightly, the porter’s lack of haste in answering the summons of whatever important person happens to be knocking (Macduff, in this case), is a sort of rebellion. His mutterings seem to be nonsense, but despite his crudeness, the porter feels far more in control than any of the other characters.
In my paper, I would comment on how carnival elements—such as whatever spirits the porter may have imbibed—are always shown in conjunction with a revolt against authority, demonstrating how Shakespeare uses the carnivalesque to create a shadowland in which social hierarchy no longer applies.
4. Social Sources
This person moderates a forum on fanfiction.com about Hamlet. According to her bio, she’s also on Twitter. In one post, she argues that Hamlet is feigning madness initially, but gradually, upon realizing the true insanity of human nature, becomes a shell of himself as he descends into real lunacy. This, according to her, is why the viewer can relate to the Hamlet from Acts 1-3, but the Hamlet from Acts 4 and 5 feels completely different.
I have messaged her, asking whether or not Hamlet’s madness, if feigned initially, could possibly be a way of revolting against authority. Depending on how she replies, I may adjust my interpretation of Hamlet’s lunacy as a carnivalesque element used to undermine Claudius’ authority.
Professor David Wiles, Professor of Drama at Exeter University
Dr. Wiles wrote “The Carnivalesque in A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which he argues that Bakhtin’s carnival theories are best understood in a Utopian sense within the context of Shakespeare, meaning that they were embraced by aristocracy and commoner alike as a means of growing closer to the gods. He bases this argument on the timing of the play in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the fact that’s it’s attended by nobles and peasants.
I emailed him, asking whether it could be possible that the aristocracy liked carnival because it supported their hierarchy. Small rebellions, harmless carnival moments, really support the system of oppression because they make said system into a fact of existence. Where is the boundary between carnival elements that support the hierarchy and elements that support open rebellion? And which one is Shakespeare supporting in his works? He answered that carnival elements can do both, depending on the circumstance. I am going to argue that this in itself is an example of the lack of any one right answer that carnival elements introduce.