I was talking with Christopher Armitage last night over dinner at the Convocation on Scholarly Communication. He said that when he teaches Shakespeare these days, he doesn’t focus on Hamlet’s issues with his dead father, or his issues with his uncle, or his mother fixation, or his girlfriend problems. Instead, he focuses on the political situation – that is, Norway marching on Poland through Denmark – and how this conflicted political situation plays out in Hamlet’s internal state. Armitage mentioned one scene specifically, where Hamlet and a Captain of the Norwegian army are discussing an impending battle over a worthless plot of land, and how this scene speaks to our current American political situation.
Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 4
Enter HAMLET, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and others
Good sir, whose powers are these?
They are of Norway, sir.
How purposed, sir, I pray you?
Against some part of Poland.
Who commands them, sir?
The nephews to old Norway, Fortinbras.
Goes it against the main of Poland, sir,
Or for some frontier?
Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.
Why, then the Polack never will defend it.
Yes, it is already garrison’d.
Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats
Will not debate the question of this straw:
This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace,
That inward breaks, and shows no cause without
Why the man dies. I humbly thank you, sir.
God be wi’ you, sir.
The big difference, of course, is that the lands we’re fighting over these days are worth quite a lot. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be there.