We really do need to be told a few times when something like this happens. We’re most of us, not really equipped for this kind of terrible surprise.
We have to say, “What? – I’m sorry. What happened?”
I’ve gotten several calls over the years – the kind letting me know that someone I’d cared about was gone, usually a suicide – and the brain just does not compute. It can’t grasp the reality of the information. Even a stranger – I was glued to social media on August 12th when the car killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. I’d been watching and sharing and trying to be of help from a distance all day and when the news broke that a guy in a grey car had just driven into a crowd, it was incredibly hard to process. I saw the videos of people immediately after. I saw the chaos. I soon heard that someone was dead. For a while, the word was that it was a 12 year old kid. It is a terrible feeling to feel a little relieved that it was an adult woman instead. But then awful again. Because we watched it in progress, really. And even if you were following – you needed to be told twice. She’s dead. She was hit by a car. She was murdered by an angry white supremacist trying to inflict as much damage as possible and now she’s dead. Murdered. Dead. Murdered.
Killed by clothing.
It’s not that she killed herself, it’s that her clothes drank themselves silly and pulled her from the water into the mud.
Murderous dress? Not exactly.
Just careless cloth that soaked up too much and let itself get so sopping it pulled a poor innocent singing woman into the muck.
This is a good reason to watch what you wear. You don’t want your outfit turning on you at the inopportune moment and killing you by accident.
The Ophelia-fish is a curious native to the local ponds. It floats on the surface for a while as if it were sunbathing and then appears to become heavy and sinks below the surface like a stone.
Just when you think the Ophelia fish has gone forever, it floats back up to the surface face down in a classic dead man’s float. It is likely then to swim away and repeat this cycle somewhere else.
This is actually not a terrible way to go – at least, as described here. I hope however I go, I can go down singing.
Once, on a boat, in a terrible storm, one that might comfortably be called a tempest, I clung to the side and I sang. No one could hear me – because the storm was loud – but I sang for myself. I thought I might die out there. So I sang.
My friend, clinging to another rail on the boat, recited poems to herself. She is a poet, of course.
Music and poetry are there for us when we need them most, up to and including our deaths. May my death come when I have a few moments to sing as it arrives.
In my fantasy version of Hamlet, Ophelia’s mermaid–like clothes swirl into a tail and she is, as she sings, transformed into a mermaid. She grows gills and her lungs expand and as she lies there, she finds her tail moving her first one way then other. She finds herself moved by her own tail and in a sudden burst of inspiration and knowledge, she dives deeper into the water and then emerges again, laughing. She takes one last look at the land and swims away toward the sea.
The brook started crying as soon as he saw her coming. There was something about her face and her manner that reminded him of a girl who’d fallen into him years ago. Her song was so sad. Her arms full of flower crowns. She did not seem as though she might be coming to crown him king. She looked likely to lose her footing on one of those slippery rocks in his bank. She was wearing clothes that suggested she had not spent much time in nature. She was lost in her own world. He thought, “If she falls, I’ll do my best to toss her back on to the bank. I’ll bring her to a rock. I’ll catch her in the weeds.” He had a million plans but he knew none would really work.
By the time that tree branch broke and unceremoniously dumped her into the water, the brook was crying was so hard he could barely feel her land.
Now I’m seeing sexual allusions everywhere. Maybe because I tried so hard to repress them when I had to say this speech everyday – but pendent boughs?
I mean, once we start looking at hanging things, it is hard not to go to a sexual place when the idea of long cocks have been introduced in the line before.
Also hanging circular flowers over dangling limbs? I mean…
And, listen, in the hands of a different writer, I’d write this whole line of thought off as an accident – a slip of the mind.
But Shakespeare was not one to shy away from some ring imagery.
Here’s the thing – we can’t completely ignore the hoar/whore leaves in the line before, alongside these long purples. I mean, why on earth is Gertrude bringing up a flower that looks like a cock? I mean, sure, maybe there were some long purples AKA Dead Men’s Fingers AKA some word for cock used by shepherds in these fantastic garlands. But Gertrude doesn’t need to reference them and if she does need to mention them, she doesn’t need to reference their more “liberal” name. It’s like she’s asking us to picture purple dicks and then asking us to imagine dead men with fingers like purple dicks. It’s WEIRD. Gertrude doesn’t make any other sexual allusions the whole play and here in her recounting of Ophelia’s death, she’s gone with two, in the first two lines of the speech. It is really mysterious.
Every Gertrude I’ve ever seen (including myself) just rides through these references, just puts her shoulder to the wheel of her most dignified Queen face and leans on the rest of the poetry.
But I’m long past an era of wanting to do things correctly and appropriately. Now, I’d like to lean into this weirdness, to make it as odd and out of joint as it seems, to not smooth over the strange choice to make a dick joke in the middle of a poetic death speech.
Or what if Gertrude came in all muddy and covered in flowers herself? What if she witnessed this and tried to save Ophelia and she has one of these garlands in her hand and just looking sat those long purples makes her laugh? I’d be interested in a production that made that choice – to watch her almost lose it – and then pull it together for the rest of the play.
I really don’t go in much for the Original Pronunciation stuff – AKA OP. I find it a bit pedantic and proscriptive. But I think that is because I am an American Shakespeare advocate and I resist any notion of a correctness of the language – particularly when it comes to a language movement out of the UK. I have been fighting the perception that Shakespeare “should be” spoken in an English accent for my whole career. I will not yield to a British “correct” pronunciation now.
HOWEVER. That said. I am surely very grateful for the scholarship in this field as it yields up some interesting questions and explanations. Ben Crystal’s explanation of “From hour to hour we ripe and ripe and hour to hour we rot and rot” is full of interesting allusions to whores and STDs.
Which brings me to my question now. If Elizabethans would have heard “from hour to hour” as “from whore to whore” – I’d like to understand these hoar leaves. Because I hear “whore leaves” no matter how I say it. “Whore leave” “ore leaves” I drop the “h” it still sounds like “whore” and why on EARTH would the Queen of Denmark be using a word that sounds like “whore” in the middle of a beautiful speech recounting an innocent young woman’s death. Is she trying to make Laertes furious by using language that is insulting to his sister’s memory? I understand that “hoar” means old or grey but that’s not what it SOUNDS like – and my experience with this writer means I can never ignore the SOUND of something. So this is one of those times wherein it would be very useful to know the OP. Maybe it would all become clear.
The Queen just cuts right to the chase. She’s not stalling. She doesn’t start with “This is hard to say.” And some other gearing up phraseology. No, she just comes right out and tells Laertes the terrible facts.
If she weren’t the Queen of Denmark, she’d make a pretty good cop or a doctor.
I’d like this sort of person to be the one to tell me bad news.