Claudius is one of those extremely efficient characters in Shakespeare’s canon. He drives from moment to moment, action to action with a clear direction and overarching purpose: to solidify his power and maintain a stable realm. If only it weren’t for that pesky step-son mucking things up.
Which is why his soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 3 is such a fascinating moment. It is one of the rare times a character other than Hamlet himself is left alone on the stage to speak of his internal life. (The only other one I can think of off-hand is Ophelia.)
In the production directed by Chris Mangels at Visalia’s Fourth Wall Theater, Shawn Paregien’s Claudius turns the corner into this silent and alone place with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“Arm you, I pray you, to this speedy voyage
For we will fetters put upon this fear,
Which now goes too free-footed.”
. . . he says to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as he sends them out to do his bidding. He shuts the double doors on them roundly and dismissively and then turns to face himself in the audience.
The delivery of his soliloquy is searching for a logic that will ease his conscience, guilty of the betrayals he’s already committed, but fearful of the loss of his position and the destruction of a realm. Earnest prayer and a supplication to God are the only things that can wipe clean his soul, but when he commands his knees to bend into a penitent position, it is though the stubbornness that seizes his knees has also calcified his soul. When he forces himself into a prayerful pose, it is the the outward seeming that saves his life, as Hamlet believes him to be in a state of grace while praying and therefore killing him then would be profitless.
But that outward seeming is a problem everywhere in this inward-looking play. For when Paregien opens his eyes again, he delivers his final lines of the scene, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below/ Words without thoughts never to heaven go” with a blunt realism that says that Claudius has looked inside and found nothing there except the here and now, not the promise of salvation to come.
Paregien then turns and manfully marches upstage to the double doors he shut just a few minutes before, and walks through them with the grim determination of what Claudius must do next.
It is nothing anyone wants to do. But it is the moment that a man knows the bed he has made, and so makes the choice to lie in it.
About Just a Moment
The conundrum: I used to review shows. I no longer do unless specifically asked. But from time to time I still like to tell the world a little something about what I saw. My solution: The “Just a Moment” where I will discuss one moment in a show I watch that I found effective (or perhaps ALMOST effective?) and then try to articulate why. Not the whole show, not a review, just something that struck me personally.
They’ll be compiled in this category, if you’d like to see the other Moments. (And yes, the idea struck me while watching Into the Woods.)