All these years into my life with Shakespeare and I never really examined “complexion” before. I thought of it how we mean “complexion” today – that is the color or state of one’s face/skin. Which – apparently it could also mean at the time of this play’s writing – but –
complexion originally meant one’s temperament and its relationship to the four humors. It only meant FACE as it related to how one’s personality or temperament was reflected there.
I feel like I want to go back in time and play Viola in 12th Night again. I’m not sure it would have come through but the line about loving someone of Orsino’s complexion would have meant a lot more to me if it had been about his temperament instead of his FACE coloring. I mean – it always struck me as so shallow and racially uncomfortable to have characters be so obsessed with their love interests’ complexions – that is, the hue of their faces. But it wasn’t about that at all, I learn now from a cursory etymological search.
It’s hot for Hamlet’s “complexion” – not because of his skin tone – but because of his temperament – his humors. I know a scholar who has done a bunch of research on the humors and I remember that she identified which of the humors Hamlet seemed to be – I want to say wetness was involved? And darkness? And also that the humors were associated with geography as well. Spain is hot and dry. Denmark is cold and moist. Is this right? Anyway. A sultry and hot bit of weather would not suit Hamlet’s humors. His complexion, that is, his face, would not be a factor.
In my citified life, I never have cause to think about the direction of the wind. I notice which way it blows my skirt – ahead of, or behind me- but which direction it comes from never enters my mind. I expect, in more open climates, the direction from which it comes is quite a bit more significant. Maybe you can feel the chill coming in from Canada or the heat from the rains down in Africa.
Here in NYC, I’d have to consciously think through which way the wind was coming from to know if it were Northerly.
I know Osric is a tool and a suck up and a water-fly. But I also think Hamlet is being kind of a dick. Like – who has more power – a prince or a landowner? I mean. Hamlet is abusing his authority a bit just because he’s not a fan of this guy. But he’s punching down, really.
It helps if Osric is played by someone who we want to see taken down a peg. It helps if we want to see Hamlet put him in his place.
On paper, though, I find myself sympathetic to him. He has no other recourse but to suck up to authority. He doesn’t really have any.
What a funny sentence!
First – a bonnet to my mind, is a hat for a lady, which Osric is not.
But that’s not the funny part really.
The funny part is the peculiar anthropomorphization of the bonnet. It’s not “its right use.” It’s “his right use.” His.
The bonnet has a gender and it’s male.
And that’s kinda funny.
Having just been offered a “thing” from “his majesty,” Hamlet responds with as much polite snark as might be allowable under the circumstances.
Certainly no diligence of spirit is required for a message but a “thing”? Maybe.
This last bit could be a comic satisfaction of Osric’s way of speaking.
It is affected and overly wordy and that’s just the sort of person Hamlet enjoys making fun of.
It’s quite clever to introduce the character’s first line with a soft imitation of him.
It also handily dismisses him before he’s even begun.
The note on Genius says that a chough is a chatterbox. I think this is one of those ourobouros meanings. Someone has decided that this word means something that the character seems to be. However – some light googling reveals that a chough is actually a bird – a species of crow, to be precise, or a jackdaw. And that is much more meaningful than “chatterbox.” A crow is a very particular sort of bird to invoke. There is the sense of their tendency to show up where you don’t particularly want them – perhaps their tendency to steal – or their tendency to make a great deal of noise. As a performer, thinking of Osric as a jackdaw – a crow – does a whole lot more for me than a “chatterbox.” It could give me a full character if I wanted. It could give me a voice – a cawing quality of speech – it could give me a sense of preening – as crows do seem to be quite aggressively proud birds.
All these years with Hamlet and I never looked up this word before but it could be such a rich investigation. And Shakespeare’s knowledge of the natural world suggests to me that he would not be unaware of the layers.
I guess Osric lucked out. I’m gonna assume he didn’t get his fertile land from tilling the fields and laying the fertilizer. I’m gonna guess that he didn’t get his fertile land from husbanding his resources and gathering the best farmers around.
Probably Osric’s dad had some good land and he passed it on to his waterfly kid when he died. Probably Osric has never had to do much in his life but suck up to the people.
What a way to say “You’re lucky not to know that guy.” To imagine that one has more grace just due to not being acquainted with someone is an interesting way of looking at things.
There are a few people I feel this way about – that my capacity for Grace would be much increased had I never made contact with them. Not necessarily because they are so evil but because my response to their foibles disturbs my peace like a hurricane.
I like that the “thou” in this sentence is implied. We know he means “thou” rather than “you” because “dost” and “you” do not go together. The “dost” without the “thou” adds an extra layer of familiarity and ease; It suggests to me that Hamlet has become pretty comfortable with Horatio. Most of us start to use a shorthand when we’re close to someone; We leave out unnecessary words. We shorten phrases and summarize references to inside jokes with single words. Hamlet doesn’t need to say “thou” when asking Horatio about his knowledge of Osric and he can also skip right to his own opinion of the man.
I don’t know a lot about waterflies but I suspect that at least one of their qualities that brings them to Hamlet’s mind on this occasion is the fly’s tendency to irritate. A fly, especially on the water, will buzz around and around. They will alight and land. They will not catch a single hint or even an instruction to go away. They will get too close to your eyes, your ears and sometimes cause a bit of chaos while trying to swat them away. But they are ultimately harmless.