It is useful to have a guiding principle. I mean, if it’s blood – okay…maybe not the NICEST touchstone to have – but at least it’s clear. Is this thought bloody? No? It’s out. Next! How about this one? It is a way to keep one’s self on task, I suppose.
I feel like I use art this way sometimes. Does this decision help my art? Yes? It’s in. Does it hurt it? Out. Out. Art is my touchstone.
Blood becomes Hamlet’s – and even though he’s said this before he does rather hold to it. He pretty much gets on a killing spree right after this speech. Sailors, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, a grapple with Laertes, a swordfight with Laertes, a sword through Claudius finally before his own blood leaves him.
I’ve seen this passage used as a critique of war, of militaristic thinking, but it’s ironic because – Hamlet’s not really saying twenty thousand men dying for no reason is wrong, he’s saying 20 thousand men dying for no reason shame him for his failure to commit a murder. It’s like the men dying for no reason are inevitable and just exist to make Hamlet feel bad for sending one more man to his grave. Hamlet wouldn’t necessarily do anything differently than Fortinbras here. He’s clearly convinced that Fortinbras is honorable and this dumb troop killing battle is somehow honorable as well.
It just points out, for him, that people dying for no reason are somehow more honorable than him.
But in any case the twenty thousand are definitely going to their graves like beds. It’s just a question of whether the numbered dead might have included Claudius, making the dead Twenty Thousand and One. Twenty thousand for no reason. One for a good reason.
Yes. Self-talk at its finest.
Because it’s not like Hamlet’s been siting around doing nothing. He’s not kickin’ back playing video games, lying around staring at the ceiling or even reading. At almost every moment, he is trying to work out what to do and the best way to do it. He’s staged a play. He’s killed someone in trying to kill his target.
To me, it looks like Hamlet has been trying to get this revenge in a careful measured way for two thirds of the play and then ends up overly excited and kills the wrong guy. At which point, it’s not his sleeping that is preventing him from killing Claudius, it’s opportunity.
I’m sure Claudius has guarded both himself and Hamlet heavily. There is no way for him to do his father’s will under the current circumstances.
But of course that’s not what he says to himself. No, no…to himself, everything is his fault. And not due to circumstances at all, but some mortal character flaw.
And thousands of literary critics followed and wailed about his tragic flaw.
Yeah. I don’t think this is right. I know this whole honor thing might have made sense in the 1500s – but now, in most situations, we don’t go in for this line of thinking. The only contemporary cultures that are particularly concerned with honor are closed, monocultural clusters. This is how you get Hatfields and McCoys. This is how you get Bloods and Crips. This is how young women get murdered by their families for having a young woman’s body and not submitting to shame. You can be murdered for desire in the name of some dude’s “honor.”
So when women’s bodies become as inconsequential as a piece of straw to fight over, I suggest that honor may be a dated concept that it is time to retire.
With the deaths and burials of my grandparents these last few years, I have had more exposure to the military than I have in all the years pervious. An army does have great mass and charge and to lead them effectively does require delicacy and tenderness. I’ve been reading the West Point Alumni magazine and in it I learned about the ways that institute strives to create effective leadership.
I also read an example of a student leader who stepped in to relieve underclassmen who needed some reinforcements on some task.
Leading a group of people to a war over an eggshell or a scrap of worthless land doesn’t feel as though it’s very good leadership.
Not delicate. Not tender.
At my grandmother’s burial, we stayed after the service to watch her interment.
Her ashes were in a sealed box and they were going into the ground. Under the grassy tarp, there was a board, covering the hole and a pile of dirt. A pile of earth.
I suppose a pile of earth meant to cover someone’s earthly remains might be seen as gross – but it didn’t seem that way to me. There was, in fact, something poignant about that pile of earth. It sat. Patient. Waiting for my grandmother’s arrival. It was in no hurry. It had a delicacy, a respect somehow. And once the crew had placed her box in its box and lowered it all into the ground, a man with a shovel moved the pile back to the hole from which it had come.
In this high tech world, it is somehow moving that it can still come down to a man and a shovel. We can hide on the internet but our end is still a man and a shovel. As it ever was.
Many decades into my life, I am finally getting a sense of what it might be like to have all these things lined up – to really be able to accomplish all that I want to. For me, all that’s stopping me, is having a plan of action. Because you can have all the resources you like at your back – but until you know what step 1 is, it is very hard to proceed.
In Hamlet’s case, the thing he wants to accomplish is, essentially, a murder – so it’s not as if he’s really failing hard here –
What he’s failing to do is commit a crime and mortal sin.
Again, I think of how critics have taken Hamlet’s self talk so at his word. That because Hamlet suggests his not killing Claudius is ¾ cowardice, Hamlet must be a coward.
Which misses the ¼ wisdom. And also the point…in that Hamlet may question himself, as do we all. He may equivocate, contemplate and call himself a coward but that doesn’t make him one. If calling one’s self something made one that thing, Donald Trump would truly be a great man. And I would be a magical dragon. Because why not?
This is as good a plea for using our brains
Someone made us with this extraordinary capacity to think and learn and grow – we couldn’t be so rude as to not do those things. Even if it’s only evolution that made us it still seems silly to allow such gifts to lie dormant to fust in us, as it were.
We have a use it or lose it system. We have the great capacity to learn anything but if we don’t use what we have, our brains quickly shut down all unnecessary action. If we don’t get busy thinking, we might lose said ability to think clearly.
If we don’t use our limbs as much as we can, our limbs will lose their ability to move as much as we can.
If we don’t grow, we shrink.
That’s why I became a Feldenkrais practitioner.
The book I’m reading features a group of furry aliens that sing. They seem like beasts…like creatures that are brutal and pure instinct but then they sing. And singing may be one of the most non-beast like activities there is. I mean – maybe, like, embroidery or something would be more refined. But singing is this incredible civilizing force. It’s hard to imagine a singing creature as only a beast.