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Thread: Confused about line in Graveyard scene...

  1. #1

    Confused about line in Graveyard scene...

    I dare say its glaringly obvious, and I'll feel like a fool when someone explains it to me, but I hate when I can't understand something so here goes;

    What does Hamlet mean when he says to Yorick's skull: "Now get you to my lady's chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come. Make her laugh at that."

    I found this reference at the link below, but it's only confused me further!

    "One may be put in mind of the heavily made-up Queen Elizabeth in the later years, and the ultimate impossibility of remaining a successful court jester (cp. Feste, Berowne)."

  2. #2
    Registered User Beewulf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ayesha.maya View Post
    What does Hamlet mean when he says to Yorick's skull: "Now get you to my lady's chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come. Make her laugh at that."
    Here's how I understand the line: As you know, Yorick was King Hamlet's jester, and Hamlet remembers Yorick as a friend and as witty entertainer whose comedic skill could produce roars of laughter. Seeing the decaying skull of this once lively man causes Hamlet to reflect sardonically on death's ability to rob a man of his most vital gifts, "where be your gibes (i.e., jeering or mocking remarks) now? your gambols (i.e., dances)? your flashes of merriment . . .?"

    Then, perhaps inspired by the the grave that's being prepared for the corpse of a young woman (Ophelia), Hamlet reflects on the way women use make up to hide the fact that age steals their beauty, even as death waits to take their life. Hamlet says, "Now get you to my lady's chamber" (probably a reference to Ophelia), "and tell her, let her paint an inch thick," (tell her she can try applying a thick layer of makeup), "to this favour she must come;" (no matter what she does, she'll end up looking no better than Yorick's moldy skull) "make her laugh at that" (and see if you can make her laugh at this grim truth).

    In other words, Hamlet seems to be asking, "How the hell can we spend so much time goofing around, pretending that we'll never grow old, when the reality of our own demise lies right beneath our feet?"

    As a side note, Hamlet's preoccupation with the way in which women use disguise begins earlier in the play. For example, in Act III, scene i, Hamlet accuses Ophelia, and women in general, of being two faced:

    "I have heard of your paintings too" (i.e. use of makeup), "well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp" (i.e., Women mix provocative behaviors -- makeup/jig/amble--with child-like affectations like lisping; this allows them to seduce men to satisfy their lust, while also allowing them to act like innocent girls to protect their reputations.
    Last edited by Beewulf; 04-26-2010 at 04:38 PM. Reason: punct.

  3. #3
    Aaah..... that makes a lot of sense..

    Yes, I remember the other reference to painted faces Hamlet makes in the nunnery scene... what a contrast this scene is to that confused, deeply unhappy, idealistic young boy in the first four Acts!

    Thank you Beewulf!

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    Registered User Beewulf's Avatar
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    Yes, I think you're right about the difference between Hamlet in Act III and Act V. Among other things, Hamlet is developing the ability to face mortality and not be overcome by sadness or tragic musing; in fact, he seems to have acquired the ability to laugh at the inevitability of death. I'm often reminded of Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus when I read this speech.

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ayesha.maya View Post
    What does Hamlet mean when he says to Yorick's skull: "Now get you to my lady's chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come. Make her laugh at that."
    Accepting the allusion to Ophelia, there also seems a strong allusion to Gertrude in these words of her son. For both Yorick and Hamlet, isn't "my lady" more naturally the queen? Just as Hamlet's words to Ophelia seem even more pertinent to Gertrude, or so Hamlet thinks:

    I have heard of your paintings too, well enough.
    God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.

    Similarly, Claudius's aside gently reminds us of a disloyal Gertrude, his late brother's wife, as seen through the eyes of Hamlet, her disenchanted son:

    The harlot's cheek, beautied with plast'ring art,
    Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it
    Than is my deed to my most painted word.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

  6. #6
    Registered User Beewulf's Avatar
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    Yes, I think you're right, "my lady" could be directed at Gertrude, and the passage you cite is powerful evidence. It's also possible Hamlet is referring to women in general. Ultimately, it's ambiguous enough to support a variety of conclusions.

  7. #7
    Yes, he could be referring to Gertrude as well... however, the fantastic irony of Ophelia's body being borne in immediately after this line, and then his shock when he finds out that it is her 'maimed' rites that are taking place... makes you wonder

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    Registered User Beewulf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ayesha.maya View Post
    Yes, he could be referring to Gertrude as well... however, the fantastic irony of Ophelia's body being borne in immediately after this line, and then his shock when he finds out that it is her 'maimed' rites that are taking place... makes you wonder
    Yes, it was the idea of having Ophelia's body brought in immediately after Hamlet has been joking about her, that led me to think of Ophelia as the lady in Hamlet's, "get thee to my lady's chamber."

    According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in Shakespeare's day, "lady" described, among other things, a female head of household (which Gertrude could be) or a woman who is the object of romantic love or devotion (which Ophelia could be). Of course, if you were a Freudian, Gertrude could also be the the object of Hamlet's romantic love. Not my cup of tea, but it's possible.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Beewulf View Post
    Of course, if you were a Freudian, Gertrude could also be the the object of Hamlet's romantic love. Not my cup of tea, but it's possible.
    'Tis true; 'tis true 'tis pity,
    And pity 'tis 'tis true

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