A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hamlet and Kerry Surveyed


Bardseye's First Survey...

…has been completed, and bardseye's collective viewers (not a great number of you, but pleasingly more than I would have expected after a mere 2½ months) have made your selections. As promised, bardseye will now proceed to prepare a post for each.

Let's begin with Senator Kerry, who won honors as our present-day Hamlet, sending Bardseye scurrying to the Prince of Denmark's script for support. Kerry's most Hamlet-esque qualities would at first appear to be his straddling of both sides of two wars; first Vietnam, where he posed as both a war hero and a war protester, and Iraq, where he claimed to have voted both for the senate war resolution and against it (bourne means frontier):

Ham: …the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourne
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action."

Well, what distinguishes Kerry from Hamlet is that Kerry suffered less from a puzzled will than a puzzled intellect. He was after all willing not only to act, but to act both for and against each of the two major wars of the last two generations. But we can still say that his campaign was an enterprise of great pith and moment, and his failure to spend $15 million of campaign funds available to him suggests indeed that he allowed its currents turned awry and lose the name of action.

Warming to the subject, bardseye will suggest the King and Laertes for the role of the Swift Boat Veterans, those former comrades of Kerry's who turned against him in the campaign, airing advertisements that questioned the veracity of his wartime claims. Here the King explains to Laertes (whose father Hamlet killed) how he could poison Hamlet during an upcoming fencing match:

King: …He, being remiss,
Most generous, and free from all contriving,
Wil not peruse the foils, so that with ease,
Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
A sword unbated, and in a pass of practice
Requite him for your father.

Lae: "I will do 't…"

But is Senator Kerry, or any senator, "most generous, and free from all contriving"? Hamlet's inescapable nobility separates him from comparison from any sullen, earthbound politician. If Kerry and Hamlet are united in anything it is in their ambition, and here Hamlet, knowing his own destiny to be thwarted by his father's ghost; that is, by his family issues, casts an envious eye toward Fortenbras, the young King of Norway, whose army Hamlet comes across as it prepares to attack, for no particularly large reason, Poland. (Makes mouths…event means scoffs at the unforeseeable outcome):

Ham: "Witness this army of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell…".

Even for an eggshell. Even for a cause as small as that, in other words, for glory's sake and no other. And indeed, for what cause or concept did Kerry campaign, beyond the advertisement of himself? But alas, this casts Kerry not as Hamlet but as Fortenbras.

Well, I gave it the old college try, in fulfillment of my promise to you my readers, but that's about the closest bardseye can drag the ignoble fence-straddling Kerry toward the transcendent and truly anguished Hamlet.

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