Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Spain: A Shakespearean tragedy

Horatio: He waxes desperate with imagination.
Marcellus: Let's follow. 'Tis not fit thus to obey him.
Horatio: Have after. To what issue will this come?
Marcellus: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Horatio: Heaven will direct it.
Marcellus: Nay, let's follow him.

"Hamlet" is a play about revenge, treachery and corruption. It is a very modern play, but it is also a play which has tended to be reduced in popular culture to the single scene (the soliloquy) and the single line, be it the Yorick one, the nunnery one or the state of Denmark one. "Hamlet" is very much more than these isolated elements. Its greatness lies in its themes and in how enduring they remain.

These themes are expressed in the fourth scene of the play by a minor character. It isn't Hamlet or Horatio who delivers the key line about Denmark, it is Marcellus, a guard.

While the words about Yorick or Ophelia getting herself to a nunnery are placed in the mouth of Hamlet, the main protagonist, why did Shakespeare have Marcellus deliver the Denmark line? And to what was Marcellus actually referring? In the context of the play, he is unimportant, but it is his very unimportance which gives the line added potency. Marcellus, in the present day, might be a man in the street, a bloke in the bar. Joe Public. He is an observer, and he observes that there is a rottenness that comes from the top of the political hierarchy. But note that he is also a guard. A policeman or a member of the army perhaps; from the official security force, that which defends the state of Denmark, a state made rotten by corruption and treachery.

If Marcellus were a guard outside the Palace of Moncloa, the official residence of the Spanish prime minister, who would be the more important characters in a Spanish "Hamlet" for the present day? Who would be the ones committing the treachery? Who would be the ones seeking revenge?

Luis Bárcenas might be seen as either Claudius or Hamlet; Claudius because he has acted treacherously, or so it might be claimed, or Hamlet because he appears to want to have his revenge. But if Bárcenas were to be Hamlet, then Rajoy would have to be Claudius, though Rajoy might cast himself as Hamlet, seeking to avenge the actions of a Claudius who wishes to bring him down.

In fact, Hamlet wouldn't be either of them. Hamlet would be the metaphorical embodiment of the son of the ghost of his father, the fading spectre of a democracy which haunts the castle of Elsinore or Moncloa and commands Hamlet to avenge his death. Hamlet is Spanish society. It is going to want its revenge. Bárcenas and Rajoy would both be Claudius. They would be indivisible, two characters within the same character. They would be like other characters in "Hamlet", Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, once Tom Stoppard had transformed them into his own creations and ones that became so identical that neither of them knew who they were. They would be their own metaphor, the administers of the poison to the ear of that hoped-for democracy.

There will, at some point, be the play within a play, when travelling actors arrive and give Hamlet the chance to narrate and to present the poisoning scene. The play within a play wasn't at the first press conference Rajoy has given since the poison of Bárcenas's revelations had become public. It was never going to be. It was instead a declaration of treachery, of blackmail, of how he would not submit to blackmail. To whom was he referring? His Claudius alter ego who, at the same time, was making further revelations in a courtroom?

The press conference that wasn't a play within a play introduced another minor character, the prime minister of Poland. No one was really interested in his performance. Alas, poor Tusk, no one knew him. He might have been forgiven for thinking he would arrive and find all the main protagonists dead. Just as Fortinbras did, and Fortinbras had, by coincidence, been planning to attack Poland. It was Fortinbras, though, a character from abroad, who expressed his hopes for the future of Denmark, while Horatio was left standing, denied suicide by Hamlet in order to tell the full story.

One day, a Horatio will tell the full story. Maybe. Fortinbras is already here. He hasn't come from Norway but from Brussels. But then, there is also Marcellus. In days of old, when tragedy really was tragedy, guards took matters into their own hands when they saw that things were rotten. 

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

No comments: