Hamlet’s Infamous Question

Hamlet shows his skill for contemplation as this whole speech is concerned with a single question; which is more noble; enduring or ending? We get a pretty good feel for Hamlet’s pessimism. He goes through an exhaustive seven-fold catalogue of life’s troubles that paint the human existence bleakly into an expanse of darkness. It is no wonder that Hamlet earned the title of The Melancholy Dane. By virtue of his word choice in this most famous soliloquy, he concludes that we either suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or end themNothing in between. But we can keep in mind that Hamlet’s perspective is negatively biased. Just like Shakespeare’s other tragic heroes, he too is fortune’s fool {Romeo}. He has remarkably tough circumstances that distort the way he sees the world. This furnishes his mind to drift most pessimistically; in this most momentous speech, he proffers his deepest darkest & most personal cogitations aloud; ones that haunt us; that after our natural lives there there could be an undiscovered country [that would make us] rather bear those [insufferable] ills we have [rather] than fly to others that we know not of. It’s a trick question that Hamlet poses, for there is no definitive answer. It’s a paradoxical conundrum that has puzzled actors, readers and audiences alike for over four centuries. Perhaps what makes you noble is merely considering the question.

To be or not to be that is the question:

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them? 


A Conjecture

In 1593 Marlowe escaped to Naples to avoid charges of Treason from the High Court. Was Marlowe Shakespeare’s ghost-writer? Could it be that they worked as a team? Just like Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It, they were close to each other—being born the same year and working in the same profession. Note Celia’s lines to her father Duke Frederick; if she be a traitor, why so am I. We still have slept together, rose at an instant, learn’d, play’ed, eat together, and whereso’er we went, like Juno’s swans, still we went coupled and inseperable. Keep in mind that these roles would be played by males in their mid teens (a time when we can infer Shakespeare and Marlowe were especially close). Being reminded of days past with his famous friend Kit Marlowe, I can only imagine the nostalgia Shakespeare felt watching an afternoon performance of As You Like It at the brand new Globe. Fast forward twelve years; the final performance of Shakespeare’s tenure was arriving; Marlowe planned a return, and it was to be made a grand one. Did Marlowe play Prospero? In the epilogue, this Prospero announces that he is hanging up his hat for good; he pleads forgiveness for his misdeeds & deception, because his {life’s} project...was to please.  This is more of an epilogue to Shakespeare’s career than it is for The Tempest. It was certainly a risk for Shakespeare to consort with Marlowe given his less than spotless history & reputation; yet I am reminded of a poignant scripture from the King James Bible which was published the same year as The Tempest, 1611. The following is from the epistle of James, Jesus’ brother:

Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Prospero, in this same epilogue, asks the audience to play a game; he tells them that they can show that they forgive him by virtue of their applause; as you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free! The audience applauses and little by little he undissembles himself. As the applause culminates into an insurrmountable roar, he is left with looking just like himself; a miracle, someting that the bystanders almost couldn’t believe. What they thought could only happen in a play is now happening in real life right before their very eyes. KIT MARLOWE IS ALIVE?! The audience goes wild as their modern day Pop Superstar is back and I mean undeparted boldly and with style. The transgressor has surely been reformed and all is well. As to Shakespeare’s last dramatic words, we have these ten; enjoy!

Then to the elements be free, and fare thou well!!

Lady Macbeth’s Advice

Lady Macbeth’s advice to Macbeth when he starts having doubts about committing his heinous crime is well paraphrased with the following quote:

“Think as you like, but behave like others.”–Robert Greene

Lady Macbeth advises her husband, “Only look up clear, to alter favor ever is to fear.” The word ‘fear’ in the aforementioned quote is used to mean causing others to feel suspicion; synonymous with afear. When we start acting differently, people try to figure out what it is that is bothering our conscience. When Macbeth acts so unnatural and exaggerates his reply when he is told the King is slain, he stands out suspiciously. His proclamation of had I but died an hour before this chance, I had lived a blessed time sounds painfully rehearsed and insincere. Malcolm even categorizes musings of this kind as an unfelt sorrow…which the false man does easy. Although we often try to rise above commonness, sometimes standing out is a bad thing, especially when people are on the lookout for the rotten egg.

Textual Misunderstanding In Measure For Measure

Wikipedia states that: “It is generally accepted that a garbled sentence during the duke’s opening speech represents a place where a line has been lost, possibly due to a printer’s error.” It goes on to aver that because the folio is our only source for the play, there is no possibility of recovering that lost line. Here is the speech which starts at line 3.

Of government the properties to unfold
Would seem in me to affect speech and discourse
Since I am put to know that your own science
Exceeds in that the lists of all advice
My strength can give you. Then no more remains
But that, to your sufficiency, as your worth is able, 
And let them work. 

In any of the Norton Shakespeare editions it comments that: “The referent of them is unclear. Perhaps a line is missing.” This edition is looking to qualify which persons are are being referred to in the last line And let them work. But this is a misunderstanding of the complete usage of the word them.

If we lookup the definition of them in the Merriam Webster, it may clear up the confusion.

Them: used to refer to certain people, animals, or things as the objects of a verb or preposition

: him or her
: those

To your sufficiency and As your worth is able are prepositional phrases, and Sufficiency and Worth are the objects of the two prepositional phrases. If we replace Them in line 9 with Those from the Webster definition [a reasonably fair substitution in English Grammar] it makes perfect sense. Now we are not looking for a Who as with Them but a What as with Those. The referent is crystal clear as he is simply saying let your sufficiency and worth work for you.

Just because the first folio may seem opaque to us as modern readers, we shouldn’t “jump to conclusions” about there being mistakes in the mother text until we have exhausted every possible reading. The compositor of this play, Ralph Crane, is the same one that gave us The Tempest, a very reliable text. Shakespeare used conventions that authors at the time considered grammatical heresy, but he still managed to become the immortal author that he did…not merely in the English language but in every living language extant in the Globe.