I was loosely a part of a company called “Foolery” years ago. It was a good name for a company of clowns.
It occurs to me now that aside from it being a crowd of clowns, a group of fools doing silly stuff – it might have been a reference to this line.
The founder, after all, had recently played Hamlet and said this line hundreds of times.
Mostly, I don’t go for the Melancholy Dane business. Hamlet doesn’t seem to suffer from depression or malaise or melancholy. Sure, he can get a little bit macabre and he does seem to be going through an existential crisis but I don’t think he’s particularly depressive. I don’t think of depression at all in the play.
Except for a line like this.
The depressive, to whom I am closest, says things like this all the time. After a big emotional blow, they will say “It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”
Partly it’s that they don’t want to talk about it but it’s also a way to brush away the pain.
Much is made of Hamlet having a sense of foreboding that foreshadows his death and that’s all right here in this scene. He’s got a bad feeling; he waves it off. Horatio suggests he honor it; he waves it off with some of the most poignant lines in the play.
It’s so rare that someone says “it doesn’t matter” when it doesn’t actually matter. It almost always matters a great deal.
What a day for this line to appear!
I am all twisted up with a sense of foreboding, two varieties of sudden stress – heat and a heart that is fluttering like a curtain in a hurricane.
I’m not about to face a sword fight that will lead to my death but my system is acting like it is.
All I’m doing is going into a day of rehearsal. That is all. But all these years of roller coastering emotionally whenever I do this have lead to this day featuring the same all ill feeling about my heart that I get every time I do this.
Why do I do it?
I ask myself this question every time as well.
It’s not that I forget that this happens. I know.
It’s just that I convince myself that it’s worth it. I’m not sure it is.
But whatever inspiration makes this happen feels stronger than all of it when it begins. Inspiration beats all the other things. At least so far.
And again, what a day for this line to appear as I got to post it into the website, two years later. It’s inauguration day as of midnight and the hope is only just barely making its way through the fear and anxiety that something, anything, will go wrong. But it must be alright. It has to be alright. Is that hope? I think so. My fingers are crossed double hard.
These are the kind of odds I could win at, too – the kind where I don’t exactly win, just don’t entirely lose. Those are the kind of odds wherein I get a few choice hits in and we call that success.
If feels like that’s what aging as an artist means – figuring out what our odds are that allow us to redefine success. Once you know what the winnable odds are – then you can play THAT game.
The Genius note expressed some skepticism about the veracity of this claim. Certainly, we haven’t SEEN Hamlet continually at fencing practice. But that doesn’t mean he’s not getting some practice in.
I mean, he’s preparing to revenge his father’s death by killing Claudius. What other kinds of preparation for murder might there be?
And when he does get the opportunity, he hits Claudius with just one blow – so he’s got some muscle memory in this department.
If I had plans to kill someone, even if I didn’t plan to murder them with a rapier and dagger, I might find rapier and dagger practice useful – just to get me going.
I feel like it’s easy to think Hamlet is being uncharacteristically optimistic here. He thinks he’s going to win this?
But – he’s not saying he’s going to win the sword fight. He’s going to win at the odds – that is, the wager that Claudius has is that he’s not going to lose entirely – that he’ll get a few hits in. Which he does. Sort of.
It is a funny wager though – I bet you’re only going to lose a LITTLE bit.
I keep thinking about Theresa Rebeck’s play about Sarah Bernhardt playing Hamlet. I did not much like this play but I occasionally consider a recurring idea in it wherein the character of Sarah Bernhardt is convinced Hamlet is, like, 19 and not 33 as is customarily assumed. I don’t know whether that was actually Bernhardt’s take or whether that’s Rebeck’s – but it is an interesting notion. I’m inclined to go with what the text suggests in the gravediggers scene because I’m a text junkie. But a case can be made for a teenage Hamlet. He’s at University. He’s not King. He’s not married. He’s under his parent’s thumb.
But this line leans me toward an older Hamlet. A teen might respond to this request from his mom with annoyance and frustration. He might say, “Gawd! She is so annoying. I was ALREADY going to do that! I was just SAYING that. Come on!”
But he doesn’t. He says, “She well instructs me.” – which feels like something only an older son could say.
I would love it if folks who worked in service started to use this. Like, if you asked for an extra spoon at a restaurant, the server could say “In happy time.” And the good thing about it would be that they could mean it sarcastically without it sounding so necessarily – so it could stand for a kind of cushion of time. It could SOUND like “right away, sir” but could MEAN “just as soon as I get around to it and it might be a while.”
Because happy time is likely to mean different things to different parties.
The journey of “fitness” from a quality of being suitable, to the ideal physicality of the body is very interesting to me.
“Fitness” as we use it today first came in to play in the 30s and you know, I’m a little uncomfortable about that timing. Fitness as an ideal physicality is a little close to the Nazi ideals of supermen and perfection – genetic superiority and such.
The word once meant something akin to appropriateness and the fact that we shifted that idea to bodies is a little disturbing. In the ever striving for “physical fitness,” so many strive for an unattainable ideal instead of, just, like, being able to do stuff.
Fitness conjures images of women with no fat on their bodies in pastel leotards and shiny tights.
My training in Feldenkrais leads me toward words that have more possibility. Instead of physical fitness – I’m interested in physical readiness – physical potentiality. The more stuff you can do, the more potential for movement you have, the more choice.
It’s not: Can you join the army of genetically identical warriors? But – Can you learn to do a somersault with a child if you want? That’s readiness. The readiness is all.
Once upon a time, I could not fathom what it might be like to be a king, catered to on every point. I did not know what pleasure might mean for a king. To want things and have them delivered seemed so far out of my perceived experience. My cultural conditioning taught me to give pleasure, not receive it. Then, I would have said my only desire was to please others.
But now I know that that’s because I had not learned to recognize my own desires. It took purposeful attending to myself to learn my actual desires. Now I think I could even articulate some. I could call out orders like a king.
But even so – every so often I catch myself still catering to the kings instead of being one.