Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Indoor and Outdoor Spaces
Assistant Professor of English, MES Keveeyam College Malappuram
Spatial phenomena can be encountered in outdoor and indoor geography-related contexts. The paper elaborates on the connectivity of indoor and outdoor spaces in Hamlet, which includes mainly the connection of outdoor and indoor space and indoor to indoor space. On one hand, spaces, both outdoor and indoor, are in a co-existence state. This study also contributes to the exploration of the complex, dynamic interplay between tragic character and emplacement of action, leading to an understanding of the contribution of the indoor and outdoor spaces in the tragic experience. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, house and home remain a focal point of concern, especially as they criss-cross the public domain. For him, place is always virtual and imagined. A stage is a space in which virtual actions take place. Buildings can feature a varying degree of complexity and fulfil different functionalities. The indoor spaces such as room in the castle (Act II Scene ii), the court (Act I Scene ii), the bed chamber of Gertrude (Act III Scene iv), and the outdoor spaces associated with Hamlet’s travels (Act IV Scene ii), outer walls of Castle Elsinore (Act I Scene iv) and the grave digging scene (Act V Scene i) illustrate how Shakespeare brings together notions of stability, continuity, and intimacy in the lived space of the play.
It is interesting to notice how Shakespeare imagines home life and explores mediated, inhabited space in the major tragedies. Renaissance writers were acquainted with Dionysus’s association with tragedy and they are also familiar with tragedies destructive effects on great houses, families and households.
For Michel de Certeau, lived space offers an intimate “life narrative”, and an exploration of these domestic spaces affords an “involuntary confession of a more intimate way of living and dreaming.”(145-146) We do not live in a kind of void, inside of which we could place individuals and things. For Foucault we live “inside a set of relations” that describes and defines our connection to geography and location. Shakespeare represents domestic space as a web of tragic relations. (23)
Geraldo De Sousa in At Home in Shakespeare’s Tragedies, makes an interdisciplinary study drawing heavily from anthropology, architecture, art history, social history, theater history, and gender studies to explore the connection between tragedy and domestic life in the works of Shakespeare. Home is, for de Sousa, both a specific and imagined location, one defined not only by location but also by emotions, memories, and experiences. Hamlet’s return to Elsinore shows the concept of home as fragile. The castle is an emotional space and domestic battleground where Claudius, who asserts pleasure, and Hamlet, who feels pain and grief.
Robert M. Racoff in the essay “Ideology in Everyday Life: The Meaning of the House”, puts it dwelling houses are “part of an ordered human world.” (85) Houses, whether a castle or a shack serve to provide shelter and demarcate space, and define cultural activities, reveal habits of mind and social processes and express feelings.(85)
Mary Thomas Crane, in her essay, “Illicit Privacy and Outdoor Spaces in Early Modern England” contends that “home had for several centuries been shifting its prototypical meaning from the household, village, or town of a person’s origin to simultaneously larger and smaller units of nation and individual domestic household.”(4-22) Lu Emily Pearson argues, in her book Elizabethans at Home, that although housing conditions changed dramatically in the period the home remained the centre of life, and “from this centre of life emerged whatever stability was present in political, social or religious Elizabethan England.”(363-453)
Hamlet is a family drama. In Hamlet, Shakespeare represents home as a place that the residents reimagine, inscribe and transform based on their own experiences and perceptions.
The play dramatizes various home comings: Hamlet and Leartes return home for a royal funeral, a ceremony of crowning, and a royal wedding; a ghost, old Hamlet breaking the barriers of nature, makes a re-entrance first dressed in full armour on the battlements and later dressed in a night gown in Gertrude’s closet; Hamlet escorted to England and manages to escape certain execution and returns home; after Polonius death Leartes returns from France once again, this time to triumphal cheers of the common people who would like to see him crowned king; Fortinbras, on his voyage of return to Norway in Act V, chances upon the ruins of the Danish court and claims his “rights of memory” to the Danish throne.
Elsinore embodies Bachelard’s concept of home as a fulcrum, where “intimate space and exterior space keep encountering each other.” (201) The play focuses on the intertwined lives of Claudius who forms a physical, bodily sexual relationship with Gertrude and Hamlet who establishes an alliance with the ghostly presence of his father. It is useful to mention here Stanton B. Garner’s concept of dramatic presentation in Bodied Phenomenology and Performance: Spaces in contemporary drama that“bodied space is at the heart of dramatic presentation, for it is through the actor’s corporeal presence under the spectator’s gaze that the dramatic text actualizes in the field of performance.” (1)
In the play, Claudius breaks the bond of familial relationships in the castle. Claudius is moved to fratricide and then to incest because he wants to replace King Hamlet and occupy his position as king. Claudius is moved to commit another act of cruelty after the enactment of the
play in Act III, a trap set by Prince Hamlet to check Claudius if he is actually guilty of his father’s murder. Claudius’s reaction immediately confirms his crime. But at the same time Claudius realizes Hamlet to be a potential threat to his life and crown. Therefore, he orders Hamlet’s immediate transportation to England and his execution. It is interesting to notice the fact that Hamlet’s execution is planned outside his home. But at the end, most of the deaths (Polonius, Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius, King Hamlet and the Prince Hamlet) happened in the very same court, that is in the home of Hamlet. The death of Ophelia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are outside the home.
This play is located in the context of religious beliefs too. Religion is the framework through which a pious believer looks at the universe. In Act V scene I, the scene shifted to an outdoor space, the churchyard. There two gravediggers shovel out a grave for Ophelia. They argue whether Ophelia should be buried in the churchyard, since her death looks like a suicide. According to religious doctrine, suicides may not receive Christian burial. Another example is a speech by Hamlet’s father’s ghost. He wants his son to kill Claudius for a supreme purpose: “Let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest.”(1.5. 82-83) Claudius is described as vulgar and lustful, not because he killed his brother but because he married his brother’s widow. This kind of marriage was considered illegal at that time.
Another scene in which the importance of religion is perceivable is the indoor scene where Claudius tries to pray. Hamlet should not make use of this opportunity to kill Claudius, because he knows that it becomes a violation of religious laws and he doesn’t want to send him to heaven. (3.3 80-90)
In the narrative in Act I scene v, the ghost provides a link between two earlier sites of pain: the orchard and the prison house. The ghost takes Hamlet to the scene where Claudius poisoned his brother, and to the prison house where Hamlet’s father has been kept since his death. Claudius took advantage of his brother’s daily habits on that afternoon. Through the labyrinth of his brother’s ears, he poured the juice of hebona, the leperous distilment, and filled his brother’s body with poison. (1.5.75)The ghost also refers to a prison house, a torture chamber, where he is kept during daylight hours. (1.5.12-13)
Violent passions dominate Hamlet, but violent actions are excluded from the stage. Fortinbras’s wars, the fight at sea, and Ophelia’s drowning are distanced through narration, whereas onstage violence is consistently indirect.
From the analysis, it is vivid that in Hamlet, indoor spaces especially, the castle Elsinore, provide a web of tragic relations along with the outdoor spaces in association with the characters. Here, both indoor and outdoor spaces are described as cultural constructions endowed with meanings.
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De Sousa, Geraldo. At Home in Shakespeare’s Tragedies. Burlington: Ashgate, 2010. Print.
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Wells, Stanley, and Lena Cowen Orlin ed. An Oxford Guide: Shakespeare. London: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.