The Medieval Method Actor An Analysis of Hamlet s Madness and Melancholy Essay

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The Medieval Method Actor An Analysis of Hamlet's Madness and Melancholy
By Evan Jones

Method acting, although a relatively young technique, has helped many actors achieve a higher quality performance. Usually, a method actor will call upon powerful emotions to bring life to their character. This results in a character that is more realistic and dynamic than that of a conventional actor. Although the ethics of method acting are often disputed, its effectiveness is not: Even James Franco, a conventional actor, acknowledges the effectiveness of method acting. In a recent article for the New York
Times, he reasons that method actors produce more compelling performances because
“[A method actor] wasn’t putting something on as much as he was being”
(“Why Actors
Act Out”).
Often when Shakespeare’s
Hamlet
is discussed, Hamlet is regarded as either truly insane or acting insane throughout the work. However, this is an unrealistic view.
People change with day to day life, and even more so when confronted with catastrophes. It would make sense then to reason that Hamlet, who experiences some of the worst events imaginable, would change very much over the course of his life. This alteration of mental acuity is best illustrated by the difference in Hamlet’s attitudes toward friend and foe. When his plot is young and he first begins to act mad, he is completely sane in the company of those he trusts. In the presence of the king’s court, however, he is a gibbering lunatic. He carries on like this until he hears the traveling troupe of actors speak an emotional performance of “The Mobled Queen”. Hamlet’s following soliloquy becomes a pivotal moment in his descent into darkness. As time passes and events progress, Hamlet becomes so caught up in acting genuinely mad that he becomes genuinely mad. He acts the same to his lifelong friend Horatio as he

does to his greatest enemy Claudius. He even professes his immense love for Ophelia, to whom he himself earlier admitted “. . .I loved you not” (III.1.119).
One shining example of Hamlet’s inequality of attitude is as he realizes that
Guildenstern and Rosencrantz have not come all the way to Elsinor just to see him. Just before, Hamlet acts very mad in the presence of Polonius. Polonius tries to carry on a conversation, but with answers like “Words, words, words”, how can he? Not surprisingly, Polonius exits shortly. As he does, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz meet
Hamlet for the first time since their childhood. Naturally Hamlet is ecstatic. He treats them very well, and even runs a bit of an “inside” joke about the goddess Fortune. It’s not long, though, before he begins to question why they have come to see him at such an odd time. As the King’s spies, they can’t give him a straight answer, and Hamlet immediately resumes his mad masquerade.
However, the difference in Hamlet’s treatment of those he trusts and those he does not is no better illustrated by his dealings with Polonius just before the players enter: “The first row of the pious chanson will show you more; for look, where my abridgement comes.
Enter the Players
You are welcome, masters, welcome, all. I am glad to see thee well. ­ Welcome, good friends. ­ O, old friend, why, thy face is valenced since I saw thee last. Coms’t thou to beard me in Denmark? . . . ” (II.2.361­366)

Hamlet was harassing Polonius just before they entered, but the second that he saw them he stopped. He silences Polonius with less than a line, and delivers a warm and friendly greeting to each player that enters. Hamlet in these lines acts more like a grandmother than a prince. This is not the attitude of a madman. This is sincere happiness, and joy for meeting old friends. Even Rosencrantz, usually quite ready to call Hamlet mad, notices that “There did seem in him a kind of joy / To hear of [the players]. . .” (III.1.18­19). If Hamlet were…