Hearing Green: Logomarginality in Hamlet

Bruce R. Smith
Georgetown University

Smith, Bruce R. "Hearing Green: Logomarginality in Hamlet
" Introduction. Early Modern Literary Studies 7.1/Special Issue 8 (May, 2001): 1:1-2 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/07-1/logomarg/intro.htm>.


Click here to start the audio file for the opening section.


Buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz

[Sound trumpets.]

[Cock crows.]


Let us impart what we have seen tonight
Unto young Hamlet; for upon my life,
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.



But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son--



A little more than kin and less than kind.


How is it that the clouds still hang upon you?


[to Claudius]
Not so, my lord, I am too much i'th'sun.



O that this too too sallied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.



1. What you have just witnessed, with your ears or with your eyes, is the coming-to-presence of Hamlet. By the time Hamlet speaks his first soliloquy ("O that this too too solid flesh would melt" ([1.2.129 ff in Wells and Taylor 657]), he has laid claim to center stage. Alone after the departure of Claudius and his court, Hamlet hears only his own voice as he speaks. His thoughts come in quick succession, and as they come he utters them in such quick succession that syntax is stretched to the breaking point. Modern editors turn to dashes and exclamation marks to transcribe these rapid changes in thought and speech:

That it should come to this–
But two months dead–nay, not so much, not two–
So excellent a king . . . .


In the simultaneity of thought and speech what Hamlet seems to offer here is a perfect instance of logocentricism. Consider Derrida’s description of that effect in Speech and Phenomena:

When I speak, it belongs to the phenomenological essence of this operation that I hear myself at the same time that I speak. The signifier, animated by my breath and by the meaning-intention . . . , is in absolute proximity to me. The living act, the life-giving act . . . which animates the body of the signifier and transforms it into a meaningful expression, the soul of language, seems not to separate itself from itself, from its own self-presence. It does not risk death in the body of a signifier that is given over to the world and the visibility of space. It can show the ideal object or ideal [meaning] connected to it without venturing outside ideality, outside the interiority of self-present life (Derrida 78-79).

That is to say, Hamlet’s voice confirms in him a sense of presence in which thinking a word and saying a word seem to be simultaneous events, confirming the speaker's sense that what he says is.

2. In the theater Hamlet's speaking would seem to work the same effect in listeners: the in-filling of the actor's voice in the ears, bodies, and minds of the audience would seem to reproduce the same simultaneity of sound and meaning that Hamlet himself enjoys. Hence, perhaps, the play's popularity aross the four hundred years since the play's original production: the sheer bulk of Hamlet's lines--he speaks 1,422 of the quarto text’s 3,776 lines, which amounts to 38 per cent of the total--make him seem almost detachable from the play, as if his voice were that of a lyric poet or the first-person narrator in a novel or the omniscient voice-over in a film--a position that Hamlet, speaking in soliloquy, does indeed assume in Lawrence Olivier's film performance of 1948. The sequence of sounds you have just heard (or have read in the transcript) suggest that Derrida’s listening has been selective. Let us consider Hamlet’s coming-to-presence in the play’s original performances through three successive frames or windows: a physical frame, a dramaturgical frame, and a physiological frame You may enter these in any order you like.