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The significance of the players exceeds the sole purpose of entertainment, as each possesses the power to unveil the "occulted guilt" (3.2.75) and conscience of the King. Hamlet assumes the responsibility to advise these players with precise and adequate direction so that a "whirlwind of passion" (6) may not effectively separate Claudius from personally identifying with the play. Hamlet's enthusiastic approach toward direction may be so that he encourages the players to "suit the action to the word, the word to the/ action, with this special observance, that you o'erstep not/ the modesty of nature" (16-18). However, this exercise of caution may justify Hamlet's too often delayed attempt toward the action of avenging his father's murder. His direction confines him to the overflow of words as he experiences imprisonment within the truth of his own identity.
Hamlet grants himself the opportunity to momentarily direct himself, yet it remains unknown as to whether he directs a representation of truth or a falsity. He exemplifies madness so well, as the sight of "a damned ghost" (77) insanely induces his imagination and comfortably transforms his identity to one of lunacy. This role he acquires is one he portrays so explicitly well as an actor that he easily utilizes it as the foundation for his players. He instructs the players:
Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand,
Thus, but use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest,
And, as I may say, whirlwind of passion, you must acquire
And beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. (4-7)
Abstinence from overly dramatizing the actions of the play may be reflective of Hamlet's character prior to his escape from true self: a once-lived life of normalcy focused more wholly on "smoothness" (7) rather than an uncontrolled "torrent, tempest, / ...whirlwind of passion" (5-6).
Hamlet's direction of the players claims victory as Claudius abruptly arises and exclaims, "Give me some light. Away" (254)! Horatio's observation of the King's reaction confirms his guilt-inflamed conscience as he was forced to witness the reenactment of his brother's murder. Hamlet, relieved, reveals, "I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand/ pound" (271-272). The ghost is officially trustworthy as the King's reaction encourages Hamlet to journey further toward his mission of avenging the death of his father.
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Any form of immediate action is ignored when Hamlet wrestles Polonius with false visions of psychosis as he inquires, "Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a / camel" (355-356)? Hamlet's separation from action invites a sense of fear that intensifies his madness and entangles his entire self in nothing more than the mere use of words. It is his words that camouflage the notion that his own conscience may be afflicted with an overpowering sense of guilt.
Even though Hamlet's accurate direction of the players did celebrate success as it illustrated the guilt of the King's conscience, Hamlet's identity remains in crisis as he continues to revel in his words. His speech reveals his craving for action:
'Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself (breathes) out
Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood,
And do such (bitter business as the) day
Would quake to look on. (367-371)
The claim that he is prepared to engage in necessary action remains solely a claim as Hamlet's burden of self-loathing dominates his internal struggle. He may fear the truth of his identity, as he is horrified by the realism included in the players' precise portrayal of his own life in actuality.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Danson, Lawrence. "Tragic Alphabet." Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Rpt. from Tragic Alphabet: Shakespeare's Drama of Language. N. p.: Yale University Press, 1974.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. T. J. B. Spencer. New York: Penguin, 1996.