A Level English: A deliciously deadly enactment? Hamlet’s dumb show

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“Hamlet”s dumb-show; it seems like a small detail in the play, but on closer inspection it is a significant one.. so, are you guilty of overlooking it? I am very sorry to confess that I am one of the guilty. On my first few readings of “Hamlet”, I had been so convinced that it was completely unimportant and irrelevant to the play that I hadn’t even read the little section of Scene II. However, further research revealed the importance of the dumb-show in affecting the dynamic of the whole play and in escalating the dramatic effectiveness of the scene. If you too are guilty of overlooking the dumb-show, or if you simply want to learn more about it, I have collected some research that may enlighten you. Critics have long considered the significance of the dumb-show in Hamlet- was it, in putting the King on his guard, rather than producing signs of guilt in Claudius, a mistake on Hamlet’s part? Or would it be more correct to question what Shakespeare’s intent was in inputting the dumb show into the play? Let us look some of the different interpretations of this piece of dramatic mime:

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Despite considerable disagreement on the details of the dumb-show: why Claudius stood up when he did, how it affects the scene and even the play as a whole, and why it was included in the first place, there is a great consensus between critics that the dumb-show effectively increases the tension of the scene, and the anticipation on the audience’s part as to what will happen next. As soon as the dumb-show is finished, Claudius realises that Hamlet possesses his guilty secret- it is arguably a costly mistake on Hamlet’s part to have had an almost identical version of the true events of his father’s death enacted before the King, who as a result becomes certain of the inescapable necessity of destroying his step-son. Certainly, the dumb show is one of the many smaller details of “Hamlet” that have helped the play captivate its audience in the way that it did in Shakespeare’s time, and continues to do so today.

I would love to hear about your opinion on the inclusion of the dumb-show in Hamlet; How far do you believe it increases the dramatic tension of the scene?

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BreakTheEnigma by BreakTheEnigma is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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