When the ghost of Hamlet’s father urgently needs to incite his son from paralysed sympathy to sweeping revenge, he remembers his living body and the murder performed upon it. Indeed, he re-performs the ghastly business, transferring it to Hamlet’s memory by re-citing the narrative in graphic detail. This ‘telling’ is not unlike the First Player’s ‘telling’ of another murder of another ‘unnerved father’, limb-lopped Priam. In that later performance, the Player subjects his actorly body to his narrative, and forces ‘his whole function’ to ‘his own conceit’ so entirely that the blood drains from his face while tears spring to his eyes. He remembers the body of Trojan Priam, the ‘reverend’ king whose age-enfeebled arms can no longer heave a sword, whose ‘milky head’ incites no pity in killer Pyrrhus. In turn, Grecian Pyrrhus is remembered as another body graphically re-cited and transformed by slaughter, ‘total gules’, as revenge literally incorporates itself into his deadly physical frame, ‘bak’d and impasted’ with ‘blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons’, monstrously ‘o’ersized with coagulate gore.’ Prompting his son to revenge as ruthless as Pyrrhus’s, the Ghost remembers how his own body was monstered, how the effects of the poison corrupted, boiled and burst through his mortal flesh, the ‘leprous distilment’ coursing like ‘quicksilver’ through ‘the natural gates and alleys of the body’ to ‘posset’ and ‘curd’ his blood then to erupt in an ‘instant tetter’, ‘most lazar-like’. ‘All my smooth body,’ cries the Ghost, remembering feelingly the sensuous pleasure of his living flesh, was ‘bark’d’, scabbed with a ‘vile and loathsome crust’. Audience to this appalling re-embodiment, Hamlet reacts by trying to hold off sensation—whose effect is working upon his sensible body already. ‘Hold, hold, my heart,’ cries the prince, feeling it crack. ‘And you my sinews, grow not instant old,/But bear me stiffly up.’ Spectator, that is, to the spectre whose re-citation makes his body ‘instant old’, Hamlet turns into an obscene spectacle—theatrical ‘telling’ works as violently on his body as his uncle’s bizarrely theatrical poison worked on his father’s.
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Publication information: Book title: Enter the Body:Women and Representation on Shakespeare's Stage. Contributors: Carol Chillington Rutter - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 2001. Page number: xi.
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