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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hamlet #10 - The Play's the Thing


(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started eight posts ago - just scroll down and catch up!).

* * * * * * * * * *

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, struggling to cheer Hamlet up, mention to him that a troupe of traveling players is coming to town, actually to court. Hamlet is delighted that the Elizabethan equivalent of the circus is coming:

Ham: "Gentlemen, you are welcome to Elsinore.
…..You are welcome. But my uncle-father and
aunt-mother are deceived,"

Guild: "In what, my dear lord?"

Ham: "I am but mad north-north-west. When the
wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw."

Having telegraphed that he is (usually) merely playing at insanity, he begins doing just that with Polonius, who arrives to greet the players.

Pol: "The actors are come hither, my lord."

Ham: "Buzz, buzz!"

Pol: "Upon my honor -"

But Hamlet stops toying with the king's minister as soon as the players walk in, as though dropping one toy to pick up another. Although this second toy he treats with greater care:

Ham: "…Come, give us a taste of your quality.
Come, a passionate speech."

1st Player: "What speech, my lord?"

Ham: "…I heard thee speak me a speech once, but
it was never acted…..'Twas Aeneas' tale to Dido,
and thereabout of it especially when he speaks of
Priam's slaughter, If it live in your memory, begin
at this line; let me see, let me see…".

In the ancient Greek tale of the Aeneid, the slaughter of Priam, the Trojan king, is performed by Pyrrus, who is Achilles' avenging son. Ah. An avenging son. Hint, hint. The player gives the speech at great length and to Hamlet's delight, though not to Polonius':

Pol: "This is too long."

Ham: "It shall to the barber's with your beard, -
Prithee, say on. He's for a jug or a tale of bawdry,
or he sleeps. Say on…".

The players say on for quite a while, and Hamlet then encourages Polonius to make sure they are "well bestowed," or well taken care of:

Ham: "Let them be well used, for they are the
abstract and brief chronicles of the time. After
your death you were better have a bad epitaph
than their ill report while you live."

Pol: "My lord, I will use them according to their
desert." (meaning what they deserve)

Ham: ",,,Use every man after his desert, and who
Shall 'scape whipping? Use them after your own
Honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the
More merit is in your bounty. Take them in."

The players begin sauntering off to prepare for the following night's presentation, as does the hopeless Polonius, who has shown himself to be dead to art and to any fine thing that appeals to the soul. Hamlet takes one player aside and asks if he could "study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines which I would set down and insert" in the script of the intended play. The player agrees, and at the end of this scene, described at the end of this post, we learn what 12 of 16 lines Hamlet will write and why.

But for now, Hamlet is alone. He reflects on the sample performance he just enjoyed, and on how an actor can conjure whole worlds and "drown the stage with tears," and yet Hamlet himself…"

Ham: "…can say nothing – no, not for a king
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damned defeat was made. Am I a coward?
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murdered,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must like a whore unpack my heart with words…"

But though he is sick of his own hesitation, Hamlet needs – or says he needs – something more than the prompting of his father's ghost to persuade him to murder Claudius:

Ham: "…I'll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle. I'll observe his looks,
I'll tent him to the quick. If 'a do blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil, and the devil hath power
T' assume a pleasing shape………..….
…………………………. I'll have grounds
More relative than this. The play's the thing
Wherein to catch the conscience of the King."

To be continued……

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hamlet #9 - What a Piece of Work is Man!


(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started eight posts ago - just scroll down and catch up!).

* * * * * * * * *

Pol: "My honorable lord, I will most humbly take
my leave of you."

Ham: "You cannot, sir, take from me anything that
I will more willingly part withal, except my life,
except my life, except my life."

Well, like much of Hamlet, that's strange, depressive and manic. Hamlet's dismissive sarcasm, appropriate to a prince of the realm, would be arrogant if it were being wielded by a less philosophical character. But our prince seems more interested in amusing himself than insulting Polonius. In any case, Hamlet's spirits are revived by the welcome arrival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ("Good lads, how do you both?"), two former schoolmates. The value Hamlet places on friendship can withstand even his own despair:

Ham: "Good lads, how do you both?"

Ros: "As the indifferent children of the earth."

Guild: "Happy in that we are not overhappy.
On fortune's cap we are not the very button."

Ham: "Nor the soles of her shoes?"

Ros: "Neither, my lord."

Ham: "Then you must live about her waist, or in
The middle of her favors?"

Guild: "Faith, her privates, we."

The three friends construct the most charming, if slightly masculine, characterization of R&G's place in the world. Neither the button on Lady Fortune's cap nor the soles of her shoes, they find themselves lodged, um, precisely in between. In an era of nobles, peasants and guild members, R&G seem to represent that novel, modern thing, the middle class. (In the bard's time, they would have been lesser nobility, the closest approximation).

Hamlet next asks his friends why Lady Fortune has so frowned upon them as to send them to the "prison" of Denmark.

Ros: "We think not so, my lord."

Ham: ""Why then 'tis none to you, for there is
nothing either good or bad but thinking makes
it so. To me it is a prison."

Ros: "Why then your ambition makes it one.
'Tis too narrow for your mind."

Ham: "O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell
and count myself a king of infinite space, were
it not that I have bad dreams."

Seeing his nation as a prison, Hamlet next describes his ambition within it as "a shadow's shadow." But if he has surrendered his drive to prevail, he has not given up using the eyes in his head. Indeed, with Polonius and Claudius around, Hamlet seems to have eyes even in the back of his head:

Ham: "….Were you not sent for? Is it your own
inclining? Is it a free visitation? Come, come,
Deal justly with me…".

Guild: "What should we say, my lord?"

Guildenstern's answer betrays that he is not at liberty to speak. Hamlet pursues the matter and at length Guildenstern fesses up, though doing so is a crime against the king. Even though these two men are would-be spies, who, even discovered, will undoubtedly still relay what they learn from Hamlet to the King, Hamlet finds himself confiding in them. He confesses that he has lost all his mirth and that even "the most excellent canopy, the air," is for him a "foul, pestilent congregation of vapors." But then he says this:

Ham: "What a piece of work is man! How noble
in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and
moving how express and admirable, in action how
like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!
The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!
And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?..."

Time and again with Hamlet, you see his fellow-feeling and generosity of spirit persist even as his own connection with the world drains away. It is almost as if the less of a stake he retains in the world, the more clearly he can appreciate its wonders.

To be continued….

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hamlet #8 - Madness, Yet there's Method


(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started seven posts ago - just scroll down and catch up!)

* * * * * * *

When we left off, Polonius was sucking up to his boss Claudius and her wife Gertrude, King and Queen, even as he proclaimed that Gertrude's son Hamlet was mad, the cause being his own daughter Ophelia's rejection of him. On this last point Polonius is not done repeating himself:

Pol: "And my young mistress thus I did bespeak:
'Lord Hamlet is a prince out of thy star,
This must not be.' And then I prescripts gave her,
That she should lock herself from his resort,
And he, repelled – a short tale to make –
Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,
Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness
Thence to a lightness, and by this declension
Into the madness wherein now he raves…".

As always with Polonius and Claudius, when confronting a problem, the solution is surveillance:

Clau: "How may we try it further?"

Pol: "You know sometimes he walks four hours together
Here in the lobby."

Clau: So he does indeed."

Pol: "
At such a time I'll loose my daughter to him,
Be you and I behind an arras then,
Mark the encounter….".

Even as the plan is hatched Hamlet, as though baiting those who would bait him, saunters by - ("Enter Hamlet, reading a book") – and Polonius ushers the King and Queen off to their hiding place:

Pol: "How does my good lord Hamlet?"

Ham: "Well, God-a-mercy."

Pol: "Do you know me, my lord?"

Ham: "Excellent well, you are a fishmonger."

Pol: "Not I, my lord."

Ham: "Then I would you were so honest a man."
Have you a daughter?"

Pol: "I have, my lord."

Ham: "Let her not walk I' the sun. Conception is
a blessing, but as your daughter may conceive,
friend, look to 't."

Hamlet warns Polonius not to let his daughter get pregnant, even though Hamlet himself is the man who might, uh, bring this about. But once Hamlet has hinted at a recognition of Polonius' daughter - even as he either fails or pretends to fail to recognize Polonius himself - he moves beyond the issues that involve only himself (Ophelia; the Ghost's request) and gives us first a bit of vaudeville, and then a critique of Literature:

Pol: "What do you read, my lord?"

Ham: "Words, words, words."

Pol: "What is the matter, my lord?"

Ham: "Between who?" (Bah dah Boom! - bardseye)

Pol: "I mean, the matter that you read, my lord."

Ham: "Slanders, sir, for the satirical rogue says

here that old men have gray beards, that their
faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging, thick
amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have
a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak
hams. All which, sir, though I most powerfully
and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty
to have it thus set down, for yourself, sir, shall
grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go

Pol: (aside) "Though this be madness, yet there's
method in it."

Most new Hamlet readers let their eyes slide over these weird speeches, preferring to stumble from one famous scene to the next as though feeling for familiar furniture on the way to the bathroom in the dark. At the risk of stubbing our toes, let's look at this weirdness.

Hamlet is reading a satirical story, whose writer (the rogue) is ridiculing old people. Hamlet admits that everything the writer writes is true, "yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down." But how can an accurate if unkind description of the elderly be "not honesty"? Hamlet seems to be hinting that truth separated from compassion is in some sense dishonest (perhaps about our human nature).

The strangeness continues with Hamlet's next statement, that "yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward." Substitute "young" for "old" and this would make sense, with Polonius moving backwards into youth. But Hamlet calls himself old and Polonius – what? If Polonius is young, going backwards would only make him younger.

But if Hamlet has grown old through weariness and the pain of seeing things clearly, then Polonius, going backwards to reverse the long progress of his moral corruption, would arrive at a state as painful, if also as pure, as Hamlet's, a state that seems to have rendered Hamlet "old" before his time.

Well, Bardseye's interpretation may be a stretch, but Shakespeare invites each reader to come up with their own sense of what these and other of the eeriest words of Hamlet are intended to convey. What does seem clear is that Hamlet is able to see the hopelessness of his situation without flinching, if not always without complaining.

And Hamlet's situation is hopeless. Fidelity to his father's memory requires him to kill a king, an unforgivable act even for a prince, unforgivable whether or not Claudius did in fact kill Hamlet's father - since kings then answered only to G-d for their crimes. And besides Horatio, Hamlet sees no honest and honorable men around him who would at least understand such an act and Hamlet's grief over losing what he will lose by performing it.

Pol: "Will you walk out of the air, my lord?"

Ham: "Into my grave."

Pol: "Indeed, that's out of the air."

To be continued....

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Hamlet #7 - Doubt that the Stars are Fire


(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started six posts ago - just scroll down and catch up!)

* * * * * * * * *

Shakespeare has now laid out on the chessboard of his imagination the pieces of his Hamlet Game. We have the anguished, hypersensitive Hamlet, the innocent and somewhat passive Ophelia, Polonius the lover of intrigue and indirection, the upright but absent Laertes, the disconsolate Ghost, the presumptuous-toward-Hamlet and accused-by-the-Ghost King Claudius, and the king's overly-dexterous new wife Gertrude. With the pieces lined up on the board, Shakespeare begins that series of scenes of haunting strangeness and disorienting depth that make up the heart of the play.

We begin with Claudius welcoming Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two pawns in the story given appropriately court jester-like names. Claudius has summoned these two boyhood friends of Hamlet to - well, let Claudius tell it:

Clau: "… here in our court
Some little time, so by your companies
To draw him on to pleasure, and to gather
So much as from occasion you may glean,
Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus
That, opened, lies within our remedy."
Ros: "Both your Majesties,
Might, by the sovereign power you have of us,
Put your dread pleasure more into command
Than to entreaty."

Guild: "But we both obey…"

Clau: "Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern."

Gert: "Thanks, Guildenstern and gently Rosencrantz."

In other words, the king can't keep straight which one is which, and the queen corrects him. Similar jokes will follow this benighted pair throughout the play, all the way to their graves. But for the time being court business follows, important because Shakespeare wants to show the larger effects which the family squabble of the play will have on the outer world.

Denmark's ambassadors to Norway return from there with news. You will recall that the king of Norway, an old guy usually referred to as Old Norway, took over his throne after his brother was knocked off by the elder Hamlet (recently promoted to Ghost). While Old Norway is interested in peace, his nephew Fortinbras, the dead Norwegian king's son, is not. The ambassadors inform Claudius that Old Norway…:

Volt: "……sent out to suppress
His nephew's levies, which to him appeared
To be a preparation 'gainst the Polack,
But, better looked into, he truly found
It was against Your Highness, Whereat grieved
That so his sickness, age, and impotence
Was falsely borne in hand, sends out arrests
On Fortinbras, which he, in brief, obeys,
Receives rebuke from Norway, and in fine
Makes vow before his uncle never more
To give th' assay of arms against Your Majesty.
Whereon old Norway, overcome with joy,
Gives him three thousand crowns in annual fee…".

Hello? Sounds like we're at the United Nations, crying tears of joy over the latest promise from Iran, North Korea or the Palestinians to stop all they've been doing and, to quote Austin Powers, behave.

Anyoo, Fortinbras, having already put together his own independent militia (think Al Sadr, think Hamas, think Muslim Brotherhood) has now played his uncle (and the word uncle starts with U.N. – coincidence? I think not) to the tune of 3000 crowns a year.

These high matters of state are suddenly interrupted by Polonius rushing in to announce in his wordy matter (while at the same time assuring the King that "brevity is the soul of wit") that…

Pol: "…your noble son is mad…."

Queen: "More matter, with less art."

Pol: "Madam, I swear I use no art at all.
That he's mad, 'tis true, 'tis true 'tis pity,
And pity 'tis 'tis true – a foolish figure,
But farewell it, for I will use no art."

Polonius eventually gets to the point, producing with a voyeuristic flourish a letter he got from Ophelia that she got from Hamlet, for all the adults to read and analyze:

Pol: "(He reads the letter) 'To the celestial and my
soul's idol, the most beautified Ophelia' – That's an
ill phrase, a vile phrase; 'beautified' is a vile phrase.
But you shall hear. Thus (he reads): In her excellent
white bosom, these, etc.'"

Queen: "Came this from Hamlet to her?"
Pol: "Good madam, stay awhile, I will be faithful. (He reads):

'Doubt that the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.

O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers. I have
not art to reckon my groans. But that I love thee
best, O most best, believe it.'"

When Hamlet says 'numbers,' he is referring to the sullen drudgery of constructing a love poem that rhymes and scans with poetic meter. His always-pressing need for the truth – in this case for Ophelia to know the truth - drives him not to poetry but to prose. This is the opposite of what usually happens in Shakespeare, where a character's deepest expression requires verse to contain it. But while Hamlet may speak Shakespeare's highest poetry, he is only a run-of-the-mill poet when he writes his own.

To be continued....

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hamlet #6 - What Forgeries You Please


(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started four posts ago - just scroll down and catch up.)

* * * * * * *

As Act II begins (already!), the curtain rises on a thickening plot as we peek in on Polonius hiring a spy. Polonius wants the spy to surveil Polonius' his son Laertes at his school in France, or more likely at the bars surrounding his school.

Pol: "By this encompassment and drift of question
That they do know my son, come you more nearer
Tan your particular demands will touch it
Take you, as 'twere, some distant knowledge of him,
…………..Do you mark this, Reynaldo?"

Rey: "Ay, very well my lord."

Pol: "'…you may say…he's very wild,
Addicted so and so,' and there put on him
What forgeries you please – marry none so rank
As may dishonor him, take heed of that,
But, sir, such wanton, wild, and usual slips
As are companions noted and most known
To you and liberty."

So Polonius has not only hired a spy, but is directing that spy to slander his son among his new acquaintances. An additional irony in this exchange is that we have the client Polonius instructing the spy Reynaldo in spying, and Shakespeare's main purpose may be to show what manner of man Polonius is and whether he deserves – later – to be stabbed by Hamlet through an arras (a screen made of fabric; a sort of tapestry hung in the middle of the room). But let's get back to Philip Marlowe/Reynaldo in his detective's agency, who wants to know just how slandered Polonius wants his son to be (drabbing means whoring):

Rey: "As gaming, my lord."

Pol: "Ay, or drinking, fencing, swearing,
Quarreling, drabbing – you may go so far."

Rey: "My lord, that would dishonor him."

Pol: "Faith, no, as you may season it in the charge…."

Rey: "But, my good lord – "

Pol: Wherefore should you do this?"

Rey: "Ay, my lord, I would know that."

Pol: "Marry, sir, here's my drift…"

Polonius proceeds to drift for quite a while, twice prompting Reynaldo to the verbal equivalent of shifting in his chair in impatience, and once actually forgetting what he was trying to say and needing Reynaldo to remind him. But eventually Polonius says that he believes these slanders of Laertes will loosen the tongues of Reynaldo's conversational companions, who will either confirm or deny that Laertes is as Reynaldo describes him:

Pol: "……………See you now,
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth;
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
By indirections find directions out."

Hamlet will soon engage in his own share of sleuthing, driven to it by rather than in spite of his conscience, and it will be interesting to contrast his methods to Polonius'. Bardseye will allow our readers to decide which - between Hamlet and Polonius - is guilty of illegal wiretapping in flagrant disregard of Congress, and which has constitutional authority to pursue a reasonable security measure in time of war. In the meantime, Reynaldo leaves and Ophelia enters:

Oph: "O my lord, I have been so affrighted."

Ophelia proceeds to describe a scene familiar to any lovelorn lass burdened with a troubled beau. Hamlet has visited her looking not his best:

Oph: "No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled,
Ungartered, and down-gyvved to his ankle,
Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other
And with a look so piteous…
At last, a little shaking of mine arm
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being…".

With yet a bit more interrogation, his specialty, Polonius eventually asks his daughter if she has given Hamlet "any hard words of late."

Oph: "No, my good lord, but as you did command
I did repel his letter and denied
His access to me."

Pol: "That hath made him mad.
I am sorry that with better heed and judgment
I had not quoted him. I feared he did but trifle
And meant to wrack thee. But beshrew my jealousy!"

Ophelia has only done what her father ordered her to do. As for Hamlet, he didn't know Polonius was behind it. His love for Ophelia, and for his late father, has been as real as is his grief, confusion and outrage now over Ophelia's sudden rejection and his mother's sudden remarriage. Not to mention what that Ghost keeps whispering in his ear.

To be continued....

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamlet #5 - In the Porches of My Ears!


(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started four posts ago - just scroll down and catch up.)

Hamlet and Horatio are shivering in the cold, sharing the frozen monotony of the guards on their night shift. A flourish of trumpets sounds in the castle behind them. Hamlet, using a bunch of frustratingly antiquated words (wassail; upspring; Rhenish down) explains that the king is partying through the night:

Hor: "Is it a custom?"

Ham: "Ay, marry, is 't.
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honored in the breach than the observance…".

If Shakespeare sometimes uses phrases that have by now become long-familiar, and here two in the same sentence (to the manner born; more honored in the breach), it is usually because he invented them. Hamlet proceeds to describe how the character of a generally virtuous person, if he indulges a moderately-sized fault in his nature, may "take corruption from that particular fault."

Ham: "…..The dram of evil
Doth all the noble substance often dout…".

Yes, these occasional defunct words in Shakespeare (dout means blot out), are a stumbling block. But speed bumps don't keep us from visiting shopping malls. And neither should a few words that might as well be Klingon keep us from the Bard. Anyhoo, the Ghost shows up and here's what Hamlet says to him:

"Ham: "Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee. I'll call thee Hamlet,
King, father, royal dane. O, answer me!...".

Even by the end of the play, the question of whether the Ghost brought airs from heaven or blasts from hell goes unanswered. What he did bring was – to quote the heroine from Kill Bill – unfinished business:

Gho: "I am thy father's spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away….".

Ham: "OK. Fine. Whatever. Get to the point. It's cold out here."

Bardseye is just kidding. Let's continue:

Gho: "If thou didst ever thy dear father love – "

Ham: "O God!"

Gho: "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder."

Ham: "Murder?"

Gho: "What are you, deaf? I just said that."

Again, just kidding. Let's continue:

Gho: "Murder most foul…
……………..Sleeping within my orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon,
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebona in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leprous distilment, whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
Thus was I, by a brother's hand
Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched,
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head.
O horrible! O, horrible, most horrible!
If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not.
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest."

Bardseye recalls the first time he read this speech, at perhaps too tender an age, when for a moment I thought the Ghost was saying that Claudius killed more birds than anyone else, since he didst "murder most foul." (Foul - Fowl? Get it? Actually it's an old joke). Anyhoo, laugh all we like, this and other language from Hamlet, once you have read it once, simply does not leave you. In my case, the phrases, "porches of my ears" and "with all my imperfections on my head," have remained with me from the moment I read them, evoked whenever poisoning or confession would come up in other contexts.

That last criticism that the Ghost lays at his living brother, for killing him without giving him a chance to confess his sins (presumably, it would have been more gentlemanly for Claudius to slaughter the elder Hamlet as he leaves the confessional) will come up again later. For now, Hamlet orders the guards and Horatio to swear they will tell no one what they have seen. Then, like sportscasters as the credits roll after the Super Bowl (less than a fortnight to go!), Hamlet and Horatio do a wrap-up:

Hor: "O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!"

Ham: "It's been Pittsburgh's year all along!"

No, again, just kidding. Bardseye does not know what has gotten into him tonight.

Ham: "And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
The time is out of joint. O cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right!"

Those last two lines, in Bardseye's view, are as close as any come to summarizing the heart of the play.

To be continued….

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hamlet #4 - To Thine Own Self Be True!


(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started four posts ago - just scroll down and catch up.)

Hor: "My lord, I came to see your father's funeral."

Ham: "I prithee, do not mock me, fellow student,
I think it was to see my mother's wedding."

Hor: "Indeed my lord, it followed hard upon."

Ham: "Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven
Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!"

Our scene has begun with some famous lines expressing Hamlet's pained sarcasm over the odd, over-hasty marriage that hovers above his thoughts. Hamlet goes on:

Ham: "My father – Methinks I see my father."

Hor: "Where, my lord?"

Ham: "In my mind's eye, Horatio."

Hor: "I saw him once. 'A was a goodly king."

Ham: "A was a man, Take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again."

Hor: "My lord, I thought I saw him yesternight."

"'A" is a casual way to say "he," by the way. It's worth noting that, for all Hamlet's love for his father, he is able to seem him clearly ("He was a man, take him for all in all"). Hamlet's clear-sightedness is more a burden than a blessing when you consider what it is that he is given to see. Anyhoo, with Horatio's sober report of a supernatural occurrence ("I thought I saw him yesternight") the play's story is now set in motion. Hamlet agrees to join the watch that night:

Ham: If it assume my noble father's person,
I'll speak to it though hell itself should gape
And bid me hold my peace…."

Now that Shakespeare has generated a little suspense, he generates anticipation by giving us not Hamlet and the Ghost but Ophelia and her brother Laertes. They are brother and sister, the children of the royal counselor Polonius, and Ophelia is additionally the object of Hamlet's romantic attention. As we meet Polonius' children Laertes, like any number of exchange students each September, is packing up - in his case for France - and saying goodbye to his family. Somewhat like his father later on, Laertes admonishes his sister to be careful about getting too close to Hamlet:

Laer: "Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain
If with too credent ear you list his songs.
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmastered importunity,
Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister…".

Oph: "I shall the effect of this good lesson keep
As watchman to my heart…."

But Ophelia hardly forgets to return the compliment to her brother, who after all is a young and single man journeying to France:

Oph: "…But good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles like a puffed and reckless libertine
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads…".

This sibling ribaldry ends when dad – Polonius – arrives to offer his own parting advise in yet another now-famous speech:

Pol: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry.
This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man…".

This excerpt is less than a third of the total speech, which is charming throughout, and would do honor to any good father addressing his son, or daughter. But in Shakespeare fine words are hardly the warrant of a fine man, and it will be useful to note whether Polonius will later remain true to his own advise.

With Laertes embarked, Polonius lays into his daughter for getting too chummy with Hamlet:

Pol: "Affection? Pooh! You speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?"

Oph: "I do not know, my lord, what I should think."

Pol: "Marry, I will teach you. Think yourself a baby
That you have ta'en these tenders for true pay
Which are not sterling….
I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth
Have you so slander any moment leisure
As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet…".

Oph: "I shall obey, my lord."

So as Polonius informs his daughter that he will not only teach her, but teach her what to think, and as Hamlet stands oppressed by the feminine example of his mother's (to use Hamlet's own word) dexterity in marrying his uncle, we are left to wonder at what these two lovers will be left to make of the world, and of each other.

To be continued…

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hamlet #3 - Incestuous Sheets!


Hamlet's mom, who has just married his uncle, asks Hamlet why he seems so particularly sad about his father's death:

Ham: "Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not "seems."
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
But I have that within which passes show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe."

(Suits here means presentations).

The reality of Hamlet's grief, and of Hamlet generally, and how that reality plays out for someone surrounded by so many smooth survivalists, is a major theme of the play. In reply, Claudius starts out with an oily compliment of how "sweet and commendable" is Hamlet's demonstration of grief, but he goes on to criticize Hamlet's sorrow as unseemly in its excess:

Clau: …but to persevere
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness. 'Tis unmanly grief,
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
Fie, 'tis a fault to heaven
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,
………..We pray you, throw to earth
This unprevailing woe and think of us
As of a father; ………..
……………………….your intent
in going back to school in Wittenberg,
It is most retrograde to our desire..".

Ger: "Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet.
I pray you, stay with us, go not to Wittenberg."

Ham: "I shall in all my best obey you, madam."

Clau: "Why, 'tis a loving and a fair reply."

Any number of adolescents or young adults, facing off with a step-parent over lingering loyalty and regard for the parent who has been lost, will recognize this exchange. Claudius manages to combine an insult to Hamlet's manhood - for his unmanly grief - with a presumptuous assertion of himself as a substitute father, all the while presenting himself as Mr. Reasonable, before bringing in the big gun of Hamlet's mother to seal the deal. Hamlet's quiet desire to go lick his wounds in Wittenberg (a suitably German city, dour and philosophical) is efficiently crushed.

Claudius, Gertrude and the attending courtiers depart, leaving Hamlet alone on stage to mumble to himself – or exclaim to the heavens – the first of his many famous soliloquies:

Ham: "O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on 't, ah fie! 'Tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely….".

The "To be or not to be" speech is not the only time Hamlet addresses suicide – he does so right from the start. Adolescent (or slightly post-adolescent) angst and hyper-sensitivity is central to Hamlet's nature. The world is an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Untended, it has been taken over by things rank and gross in nature. Lust might be one example - such as the lust for one's brother's wife, and another might be the lust for power. But let's let Hamlet himself reveal what's bugging him:

Ham: "….That it should come to this!
But two months dead – nay, not so much, not two.
So excellent a king, that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr, so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth,
Must I remember! Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on, and yet within a month –
Let me not think on 't. Frailty, thy name is woman!

The violence that this hasty, imprudent marriage has done to Hamlet's mind is very real. He not only loses respect for his mother (and of course his uncle), but begins to doubt his mother's prior love for his father. Hamlet's ability to trust in any woman's love is compromised as a result, and his later mistreatment of Ophelia is the corrupted harvest that will follow.

Ham: "….O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, it cannot come to good."

True enough.

To be continued…
- - - - - -
P.S.: Bardseye will of course interrupt our Hamlet tour whenever events in the public sphere prove too outrageous to resist Shakespearean commentary. But for the time being I have decided to enjoy a break from producing the daily enjambment of Shakespeare and the news that has become my practice. I will certainly return to it, refreshed, after polishing off Hamlet. Bardseyeview is, for me, the hobby of a lifetime.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Hamlet #2 - A Little More Than Kin.


Clau: "Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,

So King Claudius begins the second scene of the play. Claudius is holding court and speaks regally for the nation, acknowledging the grief all feel for Hamlet's death. Of course the Hamlet he is referrring to is our young Hamlet's father, the former king of Denmark, and Claudius' brother. The man whose ghost we met in scene 1. And note how the young Fortenbras' father over in Norway was also named Fortenbras. These repeated names, (and later, repeated murders and wars) will add to the play a sense of eternal recurrence running down the generations, one of the qualities of tragedy; a failure to progress.

Claudius' fine phrase, "our whole kingdom / to be contracted in one brow of woe," is not the end of his sentiment:

Clau: "Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him
Together with remembrance of ourselves."

Discretion, or reason, struggles against our grief and despair, and the resulting alloy, a "wisest sorrow," instructs us to think of the departed "together with remembrance of ourselves." Claudius urges us to keep one eye always on the here and now.

Clau: "Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
Th' imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we, as 'twere with a defeated joy –
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with a dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole –
Taken to wife."

How's that? Claudius' description of how, in the midst of grief, he has gone about marrying his late brother's wife sounds so smooth and reasonable that we tend to overlook what he is describing. Gertrude is no Old Testament widow, doomed to poverty if not adopted by marriage into her late husband's family. In fact, Claudius has had to win a certain amount of official approval to pursue the marriage:

Clau: "….Nor have we herein barred
Your better wisdoms, which have freely gone
With this affair along."

It's not clear whose better wisdoms were being consulted - presumably the nobility and the church - but considering it was the king who was asking, who would dare refuse? We are left with a newly installed king choosing to marry his brother's widow during the very moment of the nation's grief. A sort of Jackie Kennedy marrying Aristotle Onassis, but even earlier, not two months after JFK's assassination.

The suggestion of a pre-existing love affair between Claudius and Gertrude, or of his long-simmering desire for her, extending back to when she was married to his brother, is inescapable. And if that is what is true, than Claudius' language ("…with a defeated joy – with an auspicious and a dropping eye,…") begins to feel quite false; diplomatic to the point of deception.

In good kingly fashion, Claudius proceeds to discuss the young Fortenbras' war preparations in Norway, and Claudius' own muscular response to them.

And we are now ready to meet Hamlet. Claudius treats his brother's son as one more piece of business to be handled along with, in fact after, handling Laertes, the son of his advisor Polonius. Laertes appears before the king to ask permission to go study in France. Claudius readily grants the request; age granting young manhood the full enjoyment of its youth:

Clau: "Take thy fair hour, Laertes. Time be thine,
And thy best graces spend it at thy will!"

Later in this scene we will see Hamlet's similar request to travel - to Wittenburg - in order to study be refused by Claudius. And now, finally, the new King turns to his nephew Hamlet:

Clau: "But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son –"

Ham: "A little more than kin and less than kind."

Clau: "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?"

Ham: "Not so, my lord. I am too much in the sun."

A little more than kin because Claudius is both Hamlet's uncle and his step-father, and because he refers to Hamlet a bit presumptuously as his son. And less than kind for marrying Hamlet's mother under such questionable circumstances. Too much in the sun means too much in royal (that is, Claudius') favor - here Hamlet is merely being courteous. Just as his mother Gertrude appears now to be merely maternal:

Ger: "Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark,
Do not forever with thy veiled lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou know'st 'tis common, all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity."

Ham: "Ay, madam, it is common."

Hamlet is not really being spiteful, his argument is less with his mother than with the human condition itself. The commonness of accepting death, of allowing oneself to merely pass through nature to eternity as though through some oddly scenic digestive system, is simply insufficient for our Hamlet.

To be continued...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hamlet #1 - Sweaty Haste


Hamlet opens at night, in fact at midnight, as two Danish border guards explain to Horatio, Hamlet's trusted friend and the only completely virtuous character in the play, what they have seen in recent nights:

Marcellus: "Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us.
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night…".

Of course you can't watch minutes, since time is as invisible as Horatio thinks the ghost is, but if you raise those kinds of objections, you'll miss the fun Shakespeare has to offer. With the bard, minutes are visible, ideas can be touched, colors tasted, and ghosts can walk the night:

Mar: "Peace! Break thee off! Look where it comes again!"
Hor: "What art thou that usurp'st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometime march? By heaven, I charge thee, speak!"

Horatio accuses the ghost of usurping the night. True, the night can't exactly be usurped, but its quiet can be stolen by a noisy ghost, and it's more fun to stretch for a word like usurp than settle for mere accuracy. Moreover, later we will learn that the entire play is about how Hamlet's uncle may have usurped the throne of Denmark by killing his own brother, Hamlet's father, who resembles the ghost, or whom the ghost resembles. So Shakespeare does have his additional reasons for saying usurp'st.

Horatio adds that the ghost is usurping not only the night, but "the fair and warlike form / in which the majesty of buried Denmark / did sometime march." He could have just said, you look like the dead king. But that would lose for us the importance of that dead king, Hamlet Senior, who Horatio describes as having embodied the majesty of the country, now lost.

The ghost disappears and Horatio decides to tell Hamlet what he has seen, but Shakespeare needs to do a little backfilling first, so he has Marcellus ask Horatio why the number of border guards has been increased recently, and…:

Mar: "And why such daily cast of brazen cannon
And foreign mart for implements of war,
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-laborer with the day?"

What's with all these war preparations, pursued 24/7 and in sweaty haste? Horatio explains that Fortenbras, son of the slain king of Norway, is putting together an army to recover lands that Hamlet's father won, or won back, from Norway in a prior war, a war in which Hamlet's father slew Fortenbras' father, setting the stage for a recurrence, or a rematch.

Please note that Norway went to its slain king's brother "Old Norway," not his son Fortenbras, and Denmark went to its dead king's brother Claudius, not his son Hamlet. The uncles rule while the sons - well, each follows a different course. Here's some irresistible language Horatio uses to explain how this young Fortenbras…:

Hor: "Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Sharked up a list of lawless resolutes
For food and diet to some enterprise
That hath a stomach in 't,…".

Fortenbras has put together an army composed of criminal riff-raff, drawn from the "skirts" of Norway – the hidden corners of his nation; men who are fighting not for a noble cause but for food and diet; that is, out of poverty and desperation.

Amidst this atmosphere of external threat, the appearance of the late king's ghost bodes ill, and Shakespeare has the educated Horatio draw a parallel to the events preceding the fall of Julius Caesar, when signs and portents of his coming murder were visible in Rome:

Hor: "A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun, and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse…".

A nice little Halloween effect. That moist star by the way is in fact the moon, which influences Neptune's empire through the tides. The ghost comes again, and is just about to speak when the cock crows, signaling dawn:

Ber: "It was about to speak when the cock crew."

Hor: "And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons…".

Hamlet, the play, extends its fearful summons to you, fair bardseye viewer, as in the coming weeks, whenever current events fail to inspire, your humble hierophant (explainer of mysteries – a very cool word), will pursue this guided tour of that master of misery, that earl of equivocation, that ambassador of ambiguity, the Prince of Denmark.

Here's a link to the recommendable Joe's Cafe.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Tempest, Islam and the West


The first bad guy in the Tempest, actually a gal, remains off-stage. Sycorax, which sounds like a bad trademark idea, is a foul witch, indeed a witch so foul that she had been banished from her native land to the forgotten island where the play takes place. And banished not from any native land but from Algiers. Whatever one has to do to get banished from Algiers, Sycorax did (actually "mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible / to enter human hearing.")

She arrived on the island pregnant and gave birth to Caliban, a character Shakespeare turns into a watchword for beastliness. Here's an exchange between Caliban and Prospero, the Duke of Milan, also exiled onto the island with his daughter Miranda:

Pros: "….I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with humane care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child."

Cal: "Oho! Oho! Would 't had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans."

Now, recalling Arthur C. Clarke's dictum – any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – it becomes obvious what Shakespeare is really talking about. Prospero is meant to stand for western civilization, and his magic book represents western technology. And Sycorax, of course - why am I the only person who sees it? - represents radical Islam, unless all of Islam is radical (an open question). We can divine Shakespeare's intent by noting that Sycorax had a god of her own, Setebos:

Cal: "I must obey. His art is of such power
It would control my dam's god, Setebos,
And make a vassal of him."

Well, Setebos is of course Allah, as interpreted by the Prophet. Caliban regards Prospero's (the West's) advanced technology as so powerful that it could control not only his potent mother Sycorax (Radical Islam, or we can just say Osama) but even her god Setebos (The Prophet's Allah). It is obvious that Sycorax would have coveted Prospero's magic book and its ultimate magical power (a nuclear bomb).

But Prospero uses his book - modern technology - only for good; he may enslave Caliban (occupy Iraq and Afghanistan), but only after Caliban attempted to rape his daughter Miranda (only after 9/11, the harboring of the Taliban and the flouting of UN sanctions by Sadman Insane).

See how clear it all becomes?

Caliban's mother, if not Caliban himself, had powers of witchcraft, which she herself used, just as Prospero later did, to take over the island. (Two colonial powers vie for control of a native third world nation! Can't you see it? No? Only me?) A lithe sprite named Ariel was already there, and when he refused to perform Sycorax's "abhorred commands," she froze him into a pine tree. She then died, leaving it to Prospero, when he arrived, to free Ariel from the tree (hests means behests, or commands; ministers means magical powers):

Pros: "……..Dost thou forget
From what a torment I did free thee?

Ari: "No."
Pros: "Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot
The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
Was grown into a hoop? Hast thou forget her?"

Ari: "No, sir."
Pros: "This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child
And here was left by the sailors. Thou, my slave,
As thou report'st thyself, was then her servant;
And, for thou wast a spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorred commands,
Refusing her grand hests, she did confine thee,
By help of her more potent ministers,
And in her most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine, within which rift
Imprisoned thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years; within which space she died
And left thee there, where thou didst vent thy groans
As fast as mill wheels strike. Then was the island –
Save for the son that she did litter here,
A freckled whelp, hag-born – not honored with

A human shape."

Prospero frees the Iraqi Shia, I mean Ariel, from Sycorax/Saddam, and he frees the Afghans from the Caliban/Taliban, and what thanks does he get? The natives – that's Ariel – merely regard themselves as enslaved to new colonial masters, even though the Americans (Prospero) consider themselves liberators, not colonizers ("Thou, my slave, as thou report'st thyself,…") . True, the Prospericans need some lessons in cultural sensitivity ("Thou liest, malignant thing..."), but their efforts in freeing the natives from Sycorax, from the Soviets, from the Taliban, from Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam, Milosevic and more, could be better appreciated as well.

Alas, no good deed goes unpunished for the tolerant, freedom-loving West.

* * * * *

And here's a recommendable post from the political teen.

And here's one from the recommendable Joe's cafe.

And here's one from the recommendable A Blog for All.

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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Tempest and the Plantation


In the Tempest, Caliban is a beastly savage who had the run of a small island before Prospero showed up with his daughter Miranda. Prospero, treated in the play as a wise and conciliatory wielder of magic, nevertheless enslaves Caliban. Here's how they greet each other (dam means mother; fen means marsh, considered a source of disease and infection):

Pros: "Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself
Upon thy wicked dam, come forth!"

Cal: "As wicked dew as e're my mother brushed
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen
Drop on you both! A southwest blow on ye
And blister you all o'er!"

Pros: "For this, be sure, tonight thou shalt have cramps
Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up. Urchins
Shall forth at vast of night that they may work
All exercise on thee. Thou shalt be pinched
As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging
Than bees that made 'em."

And thus does Prospero with such magical powers enslave Caliban, turning him literally into a hewer of wood and drawer of water. And speaking of slavery, in a speech in Harlem on Martin Luther King Day, Senator Clinton compared the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to a plantation where dissenting voices are squelched.

Clint: "The House has been run like a plantation,
and you know what I’m talking about. It has been
run in a way so that nobody with a contrary view
has had a chance to present legislation, to make an
argument, to be heard.”

Bardseye viewers, even Hillary-inclined left-leaning ones, must question if the senator believed what she was saying or was merely pandering to her primarily African-American audience. The Democratic Party has been able to rely on receiving upwards of 90% of the black vote for the past two generations, ever since President Johnson championed the legislation that ended the legal subjugation of blacks in America. It is little remembered, however, that in 1964, a higher percentage of republicans than democrats voted for that famous civil rights legislation in the House of Representatives. Here Caliban, who represents not blacks but the Democratic Party's increasingly patronizing, racist image of blacks, complains to Senator Clinton, I mean to Prospero, of his treatment:

Cal: "This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me and made much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in 't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night. And then I loved thee
And showed thee all the qualities o' th' isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile.
Cursed be I that did so!..."

It remains to be seen if today's African-Americans have grown tired of being treated by the Democratic party as though they were Calibans and not citizens; Calibans chained to failing schools rather than citizens free to take a voucher to any school they choose; Calibans locked into violent Democratic Party dominated inner city neighborhoods instead of citizens who can rely on law enforcement and protection the way republicans of any color can in the suburbs. Caliban regrets voting for President Clinton and Senator Clinton; that is, showing them "the qualities o' th' isle." Cursed be I that I did so, he says. Here's what he goes on to say, and how Senator Clinton, I mean Prospero, answers:

Cal: "Cursed by I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o' th' island.

Pros: "Thou most lying slave…"

We'll see if African-Americans vote against their own enslavement on the Democratic Party
plantation in future elections.

* * * * * * * * *

Here's a post from the recommendable basil's blog.

And here's a post from the recommendable Jo's Cafe

And here's a link to the Carnival of Satire

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Romeo and Juliet and the U of Penn


Two University of Pennsylvania students purposefully inserted themselves into the confined space beside a dormitory windowpane and proceeded (children, turn aside) to fornicate, their act visible to all who passed. The brazen pair did this on at least three separate occasions. They were of course photographed by anyone who had a camera, and one student uploaded his photographs on the internet. The university's flummoxed administration, after a month-long investigation, charged the internet uploader with sexual harassment.

Bardseye gives U of Penn credit for trying to uphold moral standards, but not for succeeding. The university was quickly forced to drop the charges, once it was brought to their attention that publishing so public an act is hardly harassment. Can bardseye viewers guess who wasn't charged? Why, the public fornicators, of course.

R: If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
J: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.
R: Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
J: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
R: O,then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
J: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
R: Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
(He kisses her.)

I have squished Romeo and Juliet's lines together to make more obvious to bardeye's viewers that their combined exchange adds up to a perfect sonnet.

A sonnet (Review for Newer Shakespeareans!) is a 14 line poem that follows an ABAB rhyme scheme – hand/this/ stand/kiss - that is repeated three times (3 x 4 = 12), followed by a concluding couplet - sake/take - (12 + 2 = 14). In Shakespeare's sonnets every line is written in iambic (duhDUM) pentameter (duh DUM times 5, or duhDUM duhDUM duhDUM duhDUM duhDUM – the standard meter for much, probably most of Shakespeare's writing. And while you should be aware of them, you shouldn't overemphasize the duhDUMs as you read).

Anyhoo, what's happening in the dormitory window of the Globe Theater's stage, is that R & J have just met, and they have made bold to place their palms against each other. Romeo says his unworthy hand is profaning the holy shrine of her hand, not that this stops him. He offers to make up for doing so by kissing her. Smooth. Juliet says, nothing like it, saints offer their hands to pilgrims to be touched, and the palms brought back by pilgrims returning from the Holy Land (palmers – a pun!), if touched to each other, would equal a symbolically holy kiss.

So, which form of romance more appeals to us, the University of Pennsylvania's or Shakespeare's? The question answers itself.

Note how the bard is careful to infuse his ultimate romance with an air of holiness, of sanctity. Along with some healthy masculine initiative in proceeding to first base:

R: ……. let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
J: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
R: Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.

Lips pray, and do so for the purpose of maintaining faith against the threat of despair, Romeo says. Juliet reminds him that saints (and remember they have decided that her palm is a saint's and his a pilgrim's) do not "move," meaning they don't take the initiative the way Romeo obviously wants to, but instead they grant grace, or intercede with G-d, in answer only to prayers. Romeo says, well, since you're the saint, you should move not, while my pilgrim's prayer (to kiss Juliet, of course) is answered.

And so do Romeo and Juliet leave the University of Pennsylvania fornicators in the dust, or rather in the window.

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Here's a recommended link to the Carnival of Satire.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hamlet and the Border Redux


Work commitments continue this weekend to keep Bardseye from his Shakespearean pleasures, but that is no reason for you to suffer, as I extend another timeless Best Hits post to bardseye viewers:

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We face on our border with Mexico much of what Hamlet's royal family faced with Norway.

Borders are never easy to maintain. The news reports following Katrina included a brief mention that our border guards had been pulled from the Mexican border to assist with the recovery efforts. Congressional authorization for increased guard strength has only partially been executed by our president.

Since he's from Texas, President Bush is undoubtedly familiar with the personal virtues of our Mexican neighbors – by all accounts hard-working, religious and family-oriented - and so he may be reluctant to force their removal. Presidente Fox of Mexico, and the Mexican nation at large, are certain to follow American policy closely, measuring options. After all, Mexico cannot look on so much territory which was once Mexican without a wistful sense of longing. A longing that Fortenbras, the young and headstrong leader of Norway, understood.

In Hamlet, Fortenbras seeks to reclaim the lands lost to Denmark in an earlier war, occurring before the play begins. King Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, step-father and king, summarizes:

"Now follows that you know, young Fortenbras,
Holding a weak supposal of our worth,
Or thinking by our late dear brother's death
Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,
Colleagued with the dream of his advantage,
He hath not failed to pester us with message,
Importing the surrender of those lands
Lost by his father…".

A weak supposal of our worth. For Fortenbras, let's substitute the broad stream of Mexican society as it regards our society from across a thin strip of neighborly fencing. Mexican society must indeed have formed a weak supposal of our worth if we will use so little to protect so much. Nor is there lacking in Mexico the sense of resentment over lands thought taken and sought to be restored. Horatio explains Mexican, I mean Norwegian, sentiment in Act I, Scene I:

"…Our last king,
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
Was, as you know, by Fortenbras of Norway,
Thereto pricked on by a most emulate pride,
Dar'd to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet, -
For so this side of our known world esteem'd him, -
Did slay this Fortenbras;"

It's easy to forget that Hamlet's father killed Fortenbras' father in a prior war. It's easy to forget how the swath of land from Texas to California was once listed on maps as part of Mexico. And it's easy to forget that no matter how virtuous individual Mexicans may be, they remain saturated in a broad culture of poverty and corruption that we cannot expect them to leave behind as they import themselves into America, and that this culture has led them to a fully understandable desperation. Horatio explains:

"…Now sir, young Fortenbras,
of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there,
Shark'd up a list of landless resolutes,
For food and diet, to some enterprise
That has a stomach in't..."

These "landless resolutes, for food and diet" travel thousands of miles to Denmark, I mean America, because their own government over centuries has preferred corruption to growth. These are the most ambitious and most misused of Mexicans, the ones paying graft rather than receiving it, the ones who would push for change within Mexico if they couldn't get out.

Even under Claudius, Denmark's response was better than ours. Horatio's speech about Norway is in answer to Marcellus' question about why he and Bernardo and Francisco have been assigned additional watch duties:

"Why this same strict and most observant watch,
So nightly toils the subject of the land…?"

Things break down later, of course. Denmark's government becomes distracted over domestic, indeed very domestic, concerns. Gertrude's fecklessness, Hamlet's doomed but good faith attempts to confirm his suspicions of his father's murder, the Miers nomination, the leaking of a possibly covert CIA agent's name. The list goes on.

Decades of distraction have opened portions, in fact all, of our country to essentially uncontrolled entry. Our past allegiance to the concept of assimilation, for ourselves and other new Americans, has been weakened by concepts of multi-culturalism. And even though our constitution does not require it, our laws generously permit the children of illegal immigrants automatic citizenship.

Our imaginations flee from the prospect of a Trail-of-Tears forced march back to Mexico. But what will the social reaction be during the next economic downturn, when the labor of these non-citizens becomes not only unneeded, but unwelcome? We are responsible today if we fail to avoid such a predictable reactionary surge before it happens.

Fortenbras found himself in charge at the end of the play, having sensed such weakness, represented by Hamlet's collapse of will:

"O that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew…"

That's not exactly leadership.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Religion and Domestic Peace


Bardseye is blessed, but also swamped, with work and domestic responsibilities today. Happily, one advantage of this blog's long-form essay-like presentations is that the occasional effort will stand the test of time and bear repeating. And thus it is that Bardseye makes bold to present to you (again) this effort:

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Let me begin at my health club, where this morning an elderly lady, completing her physical therapy, joked about how she had been made late the week before because she had come in from the parking lot without her cane (having in her improving health forgotten it), and had had to return to her car for it.

"I wake at 4:30, and I anoint myself, pressing olive oil to my forehead," she informed me, "in praise of the Lord, who returns my health to me."

Such scenes, which are among the joys of living in the American South, to me are nothing but moving. But of course they are the source of satire in Hollywood and in portions of the cold north in America among the same people who will sit down, somewhat against their own logic, to a Thanksgiving meal next week. But faith and its absence is no laughing matter.

We see in Europe what there is to fear from a majority culture made up of those who pray against prayer. From King John (V.iv.12):

"Welcome home again discarded faith."

Target is a retail outlet store that occupies the link in the outlet store food chain just above Walmart and just below everyone else. The Target chain has prohibited the Salvation Army, a private Christian charity organization with an unimpeachable record of service to Americans in need, from soliciting donations during the Christmas season outside Target stores. Christmas solicitations represent a major portion of fundraising for the Army, which does not engage in the more aggressive sales tactics of the American Red Cross and other groups.

"We, ignorant of ourselves,
Beg often our own harms, which the wise powers
Deny us for our good; so find we profit
By losing of our prayers."

Anthony and Cleopatra, II.i.5.

In this case it is those who pray against prayer, that is, atheists and their corporate appeasers at Target, who might be said to be begging of their own harms. For if there is one key distinction between the relative domestic tranquility America is experiencing, certainly in comparison to Europe and the Middle East, it is not really our more vibrant capitalism or even our lower taxes or the Electoral College system for selecting our President. It is in our spirituality, which is broadly Christian. Henry VIII:

"Heaven is above all yet; there sits a judge
That no king can corrupt."

Now, being Jewish, I make bold to predict that were the American majority Jewish (one can dream), it would be similarly tranquil, and yes I will offer democratic and progressive Israel, its unlucky geography aside, in support of this belief. But that is a digression. America is broadly Christian, and in the health of American Christianity resides the security of American Jews, and Muslims and atheists for that matter.

"Now, God be praised, that to believing souls
gives light in darkness, comfort in despair!"

Henry VI, Part Two, II.i.66By contrast, atheism, the religion of those who pray against prayer, and who consequently can seek nothing outside the self or the present on which to base hope or meaning, has formed in Europe the foundation of two generations of hard-hearted anti-Muslim discrimination. For while minority American atheism, aided by corporate appeasement, may target Salvation Army soldiers at Target, the majority European variety holds all belief, including Muslim belief, in contempt – and it is foolish to think that European Muslims don't know this. I will let a doomed and damned Macbeth speak for Europe:

"I had most need of blessing, and "Amen"
stuck in my throat."

Well, Muslim theology, which is supremacist, confident, self-sacrificial, and communitarian, hardly sticks in Muslim throats. Meanwhile, the European absence of each of these values, coupled with a weak-kneed appeasement of Muslim extremism, has found its climax in the recent Eurofada, whose beginning was as sudden as its end now appears unforeseeable. The Winter's Tale (II.iii.113) contains a line that today may serve to depict both European and Muslim civilization, and it is hoped never our own:

"It is a heretic that makes the fire,
Not she which burns in it."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

R&J's Friar Laurence and Spielberg's Munich


We first meet Friar Laurence in Act II, scene III of Romeo and Juliet, as he is indulging his hobby of picking poisonous and medicinal herbs from his monastery garden:

Fri: "I must up-fill this osier cage of ours
With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good bit, strained from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometime's by action dignified."

No matter how vile any living thing may be it will provide the earth some special good, and no matter how good something is, it will turn vicious if misused. It should be clear to the reader that what Shakespeare was really talking about was Steven Spielberg's latest movie, Munich.

Just as Friar Laurence injects himself into the Montague/Capulet peace process, Spielberg has acknowledged in interviews his hope that Munich will play a role in the solving the Middle East one. Bardseye has his doubts. but we wish Mr. Spielberg well. And if his plan doesn't work, perhaps a screening of Dr. Doolittle before a joint Israeli-Palestinian delegation will do the trick.

The film critic Michael Medved identified the problem with Spielberg's approach, hitting a bird's eye that bardseye can do no better than quote:

Med: "'A response to a response doesn't really solve
anything,' the director declares — indicating that he
somehow views the slaughter of unarmed athletes
by Black September terrorists as "a response." A
response to what, one might inquire? Israel's very
existence, or its determination to resist bloodthirsty
calls in 1948 and 1967 to "push all the Jews into
the sea"?

A response to a response, to a response to a response. With no calling to account on the issue of fault, and certainly no acknowledgement of the possibility of evil. In other movies Spielberg has been willing to acknowledge evil, so long as the evil beings are 1940's Nazis. But that has been at a remove of fifty years, and after the world had reached a consensus on the Third Reich. One wonders how well Spielberg's instincts would have served him in the 1930's.

Back in Verona, we next run across Friar Spielberg, I mean Laurence, as he counsels a desperate Juliet. Her Romeo has by now been banished to Mantua for killing a Palestinian who murdered an Israeli civilian in cold blood; I mean for killing Juliet's cousin Tybalt who murdered Mercutio. Meanwhile Juliet's arranged marriage to Paris has been penciled in for the coming Thursday. Here's Spielberg's, that is, Laurence's solution:

Fri: "Hold, daughter. I do spy a kind of hope,
Which craves as desperate an execution
As that is desperate which we would prevent.

Friar Spielberg hopes to bring Juliet to Romeo, and the Montagues to amity with the Capulets, and the Palestinians to peace with the Israelis, by making Juliet's family feel really sorry and really guilty about driving her to suicide. Here's our director/friar addressing the Capulets over Juliet's apparently dead body; that is, addressing the world, in his movie, over the bodies of those killed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:

Fri: "…Heaven and yourself
Had part in this fair maid; now heaven hath all,
And all the better is it for the maid.
Your part in her you could not keep from death,
And weep ye now, seeing she is advanced
Above the clouds, as high as heaven itself?"

Well, no, the Palestinians, trapped in a brutal, nearly lawless totalitarian culture, are unlikely to weep over the Israeli women and children who are the targets of Palestinian violence.

Bardseye will get right to the point. It is fundamentally immoral for Spielberg to equate the purposeful killing of unarmed athletes with the purposeful killing of the killers of those athletes. The rules of war were developed so that, if war could not be avoided, at least the civilians could be protected as it ran its course. The Palestinians' Klan-like terrorism, which the civilized world had previously ruled out of bounds even in wartime, has been granted aid and comfort by this movie.

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Bardseye Viewers are invited to take the bardseye survey. Click below to let me know who you see as today's Hamlet, today's Julius Caesar, today's Cleopatra and today's Lady Macbeth. I will write a blog post for the winning candidates for each - the Hamlet, Caesar, Cleopatra and Lady M that you select.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Coriolanus and Alito


Bardseye readers who come upon this post in future years through some google search will learn it was written during the week that Judge Alito sat before the US senate judiciary committee to respond to its members' questions as to his fitness to serve on the US Supreme Court.

In the excellent-but-obscure play Coriolanus, a Roman general of that name returns to the capital in triumph after kicking the stuffing out of the Volscians, a barbarian nation with an appropriately Star Trekky name. Coriolanus is now eligible to become a consul, but to do so he must fulfill an ancient tradition. He must stand in the public square to be ritually questioned by Roman citizens as to his fitness to serve:

Enter Coriolanus in a gown of humility, with Menenius.

3rd Citizen: "Here he comes, and in the gown of
humility. Mark his behavior. We are not to stay
all together, but to come by him where he stands
by ones, by twos, and by threes…."
Men: "O sir, you are not right. Have you not known
The worthiest men have done 't?"

Cor: "What must I say?
'I pray, sir' – Plague upon 't! I cannot bring
My tongue to such a pace. 'Look, sir, my wounds!
I got them in my country's service, when
Some certain of your brethren roared and ran
From th' noise of our own drum.'"

Judge Alito, of course, is today's Coriolanus, standing in the public square to submit to ritualized questioning in conformity with an ancient practice. Here is an except of his exchange with Senator Specter, who questioned him on Casey, a Supreme Court case which is in line with Roe v. Wade in supporting abortion rights:

SPECTER: "Do you agree that Casey is a super-
precedent or a super stare decisis, as Judge Luttig

ALITO: "Well, I personally would not get into
categorizing precedents as super-precedents
or super-duper precedents or any..."

SPECTER: "Did you say super-duper?"

ALITO: "Right."

SPECTER: "Good. I like that."

ALITO: "Any sort of categorization like that sort
of reminds me of the size of the laundry detergent
in the supermarket."


If the issue de jour for applicants to the US Supreme Court is abortion and Roe v. Wade (abortion politics has been addressed by Bardseye here), the issue the Roman citizens have in mind to question Coriolanus about is humility:

3rd Cit: "Tell us what hath brought you to 't.

Cor: "Mine own desert."

2nd Cit: "Your own desert?"

Cor: "Ay, but not mine own desire."

3rd Cit: "How not your own desire?"

Cor: "No, sir, 'twas never my desire yet to
trouble the poor with begging."

3rd Cit: "You must think, if we give you
anything, we must hope to gain by you."

Cor: "Well then, I pray, your price o' the consulship?"

1st Cit: "The price is to ask it kindly."

Judge Alito seems willing to pay that same price this week by asking kindly enough. Though it must be said that no similar price was asked of his senatorial inquisitors. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, in particular, was tenacious in his insistence that Alito declare himself on the abortion issue:

SCHUMER: "Does the Constitution protect free

ALITO: "Yes, Senator, the First Amendment
protects free speech."

SCHUMER: "Well, why can you give me a straight
answer on that issue but not give me a straight
answer on abortion?"

ALITO: "Because the text of the Constitution
explicitly includes the term 'free speech.'"

An interesting point. Three more days at least await Judge Alito in the far more elaborate American version of this ancient nerve-testing ritual. Coriolanus, insulted that he must go hat in hand to the very citizens he had already protected through his military valor could not last one afternoon:

Cor: "Better it is to die, better to starve,
Than crave the hire which first we do deserve.
Why in this woolvish toge should I stand here
To beg of Hob and Dick that does appear
Their needless vouches? Custom calls me to 't.
What custom will, in all things should we do 't.
The dust on antique time would lie unswept
And mountainous error be too highly heaped
For truth to o'erpeer. Rather than fool it so,
Let the high office and the honor go
To one that would do thus…."

To translate: It would be better to die or starve than to beg for a job I already deserve. Why do I have to stand in a stupid-looking toga and ask every Tom, Dick and Harry that shows up for their votes? Custom requires it, and I suppose I should follow custom. Come to think of it, if we didn't follow custom, dust would collect unswept on time itself, and our errors would accumulate into a mountain too high for the truth to see over. So instead of fooling the tradition, let someone willing to undergo it have the honor.

Shakespeare is making his case for why traditions should be followed. Rituals sweep the dust off of antique time, keeping us in line with our ancestors and their accumulated wisdom. Without the guidance of tradition, our errors would eventually accumulate to the point where they would blot out our connection to truth.

Quite a thought to pull out of an unswept sentence in a forgotten corner of one of the Bard's lesser known plays.

Hope you enjoyed!

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Bardseye Viewers are invited to take the bardseye survey. Click below to let me know who you see as today's Hamlet, today's Julius Caesar, today's Cleopatra and today's Lady Macbeth. I will write a blog post for the winning candidates for each - the Hamlet, Caesar, Cleopatra and Lady M that you select.

Click here to take survey

And here's a related post from PoliticalTeen

And here's one from Confederate Yankee
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