Tuesday, December 27, 2011

to be or not to be etc.

in case it somehow escaped your notice, i am a fan of shakespeare.  thus, today, i am going to talk about something that has come repeatedly to my attention.

hamlet is perhaps the most often quoted play, ever.  and equally as oft, i find, those who quote it do not quite understand the full gravity of what they say.

for example, "to be or not to be" is ventured forth on almost every occasion in which a character wishes to sound profound.  it is in many ways the iconic shakespearean quotation.

very few seem to realize, however, that the monologue is about suicide.  the dane prince is discussing whether he should live or, perhaps, enjoy the peace of death, free from the heartaches and responsibilities of this world.  it is a topic i myself has grappled with on more than one occasion.

ask the average person on the street, however, and i doubt they would be able to tell you the intricacies of the  speech as a whole, especially with relation to the play itself.

"the play's the thing" is bandied about whenever one wants to make a stirring speech on their own play.  i doubt many remember that the next line is "to catch the conscience of the king".  it is not an affirmation of drama but, rather, a statement of motive.

"neither a borrower nor a lender be" and "to thine on self be true."  first and foremost, these are both comments made by the resident fool, polonius.  without hyperbole, entire papers could be written on the significance of these lines.  are we to take them seriously?  is this to show hidden depths of an otherwise mostly incompetent character?  or, perhaps, are they here to reveal him an actually competent, beloved father before our protagonist runs him through?  or maybe they are there to show him the fool.  perhaps we are to see how little he regards his own advice.  how truthful is polonius to himself?  perhaps it is to show his hubris, hubris witnessed when he blunders into a theory on the prince's behavior and never questions it, regardless of contrary evidence?

i am not trying to say that these phrases cannot have deeper meanings with regards to different people--far from it.  nor am i trying to be some form of drama purist, demanding that no one use certain phrases without a dissertation backing up their meaning.

i am merely contemplating the nature of these words, and their oft forgotten context.  context is, after all, perhaps the most important part of speech.  and integral to certain understandings one might have.

for example:

when someone says, "there is a bird on my windowsill", it is a statement of fact.

when i say it, 'tis a statement of fear.

1 comment:

  1. I remember a poem from my youth about a bird on my windowsill. I seem to remember the protagonist not being a morning person, and crushing the bird's skull by closing the window on it. The bird's racket was gone, and sleep was soon had.

    I liked the poem quite a bit, in fact.