For Hamlet, it is essential to portray a story in a realistic way. He wants the actors to represent people as close as possible to their real images. In The Murder of Gonzago, he tries to create the King and Queen characters accurately. It should help him show the details of his father’s murder.
Hamlet sees the theater as an instrument for seeking the truth. In act 2, players arrive at Elsinore to perform The Murder of Gonzago. Hamlet inserts the scene of the King’s death in the play. He intends to show the similarity between the plot and the murder of his father. The primary purpose of this action is to expose Claudius. Hamlet says:
I’ll have grounds
More relative than this: the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.
(Act 2, Scene 2)
He believes that the theater may have a significant impact on the viewers. Hamlet wants to make the play as close as possible to reality to achieve the needed effect. He tells Horatio,
There is a play to-night before the king;
One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee of my father’s death
(Act 3, Scene 2)
Apart from parallels with the events, he wants to represent the King and Queen realistically.
Shakespeare provides the episode of The Murder of Gonzago in the form of the dumb show. The play describes not only the characters’ actions but also their feelings. Before the performance, Hamlet is angry with his mother. She is cheerful, although not much time has passed since his father’s death. Thus, he asked the actors to show his mother’s attitude:
The Poisoner wooes the Queen with gifts: she seems loath and unwilling awhile, but in the end accepts his love.
(Act 3, Scene 2)
Shakespeare’s view on the theater may have been close to Hamlet’s opinion. Britannica notes that it is problematic to determine what style of acting (realistic or melodramatic) was typical for the period’s theater. However, it is possible to understand the author’s attitude through its representation in his plays.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare reflects that the audience does not get the message that the protagonist tried to send. Claudius plans to kill Hamlet, and Gertrude ignores the similarity between the play character and herself. According to Britannica, through Hamlet and other plays, Shakespeare was interested in various performance issues. These issues included:
- the realism of the stage setting;
- how the audience understands the message;
- how well actors perform their roles.
Let’s also discuss the general features of Shakespeare’s theater. The article Hamlet: the play within the play states that Hamlet was produced at a “time when the professional theater was a relatively new medium.” Nevertheless, it was not limited to London. Actors often toured across the country.
Britannica notes that Elizabethan theater differed in its structure from the modern one. It had the central platform, an inner and upper stage, which allowed actors to move in various directions and gave flexibility to performance. Viewers, depending on their class, could either stand or sit during the play. Shakespeare’s works were first shown in the Globe Theater that was built in 1599.