I have a speech of fire, that fain would blaze, But that this folly drowns it.

I’ve been told that anger is not a primary emotion, that it is often a mask for fear or sadness. But as someone who avoided anger for most of my youth, I have come to really admire anger, to respect speeches of fire and to appreciate how anger can energize.

I have doused numerous speeches of fire in my tears. Sometimes it feels as though I could drown myself in the tears – but then my partner will offer up his hand to punch and if I’m ready – the tears start to dry up as my anger begins to ignite. Making the switch from the moist tear soaked environment to the land of fiery speeches and cathartic kicks and punches is how I know I won’t cry forever. And the fire does FIRE. It fires one up. But it is hard to blaze in a rain of tears.

Adieu, my lord:

What? You can’t say goodbye to the Queen, too?
I guess in the middle of a patriarchal expression of grief wherein you denigrate the woman within, it’s a little hard to acknowledge an actual woman, especially the woman who just told you that your sister is dead.
But, man – I mean – can a Queen get a little respect around here? Might it be possible to, like, at least say adieu to her too when you’re leaving?
But that’s the thing – in the patriarchy, only men are really PEOPLE. They are all that matter. Ophelia only matters as the daughter of a man, the (ex) girlfriend of a man and the sister of a man. In and of herself, she’s not that important.
And I fear this is true of Gertrude, too, a little bit. I don’t like to think that way. I love this play. I love my man, Shakespeare. But this is a patriarchal moment to be sure.

When these are gone, The woman will be out.

And here we have a line that I always understood completely differently because I had not looked at it closely. I thought he was saying his tears were just gonna come. That is, “the woman” is just gonna “woman.” Tears will be tears. Boys will be boys. The woman will be out. In other words, the tears must flow.

But I see now that he’s talking about the tears he’s crying in the moment. He’s already crying and when these tears are gone, all that is womanly in him will be gone. He’s expunging all femininity as soon as he stops crying. It’s almost as though he feels as if he’s been possessed by a woman and she is leaking out of him, out of his eyes and when he’s cried it all out, she will be gone.

Nature her custom holds, Let shame say what it will:

Every time a male character cries in Shakespeare, he gets all full of shame and self-flagellation and every time, I want to play him Rosey Grier singing “It’s alright to cry.” I grew up listening to this song but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized Rosey Grier was actually a pretty bad ass tough guy football player. So it’s even more alright to cry, little boy, when a man such as this tells you it’s alright. It’s alright to cry little boy. I know some big boys who cry too.

But yet It is our trick;

These phrases don’t hold together so much. Clearly Laertes is distraught (with good reason.) But even though the words are disjointed and the sense shifts and clicks and stops and starts, it is all metrically pretty even (aside from the feminine ending of the first line.)
It’s as if Laertes, even in his grief, cannot let go of convention. He speaks in ten beat lines, though the iambs are up and down and he keeps interrupting himself. He’s crying but won’t give himself time or space to cry. There is no obvious pause in this flow of words – there is no spot for him to stop and get emotional. But instead, the stopped up nature of his feeling comes out in his broken up speech.

Alas, then, she is drown’d?

There are quite a lot of drownings in classical literature. I don’t know whether this is because people just drowned more often – like maybe they didn’t learn to swim at summer camp like a lot of modern folk do – or if it’s more that there’s a certain metaphorical pleasure in the concept of drowning. It leaves so many opportunities for correlations to the water of tears and the water that took the loved one’s life.

I don’t know if I’m just lucky – but I’ve never lost anyone to drowning. In literature, though, I have lost a lot of the beloved characters – either the characters themselves, like Ophelia or the authors like Virginia Woolf.

It’s elemental, I suppose that’s part of its appeal.

O, where?

While I feel pretty sure that this wouldn’t be the first question I would ask upon learning that a loved one had drowned, I do recognize that many unlikely questions or thoughts arise in a moment like this.

I mean – let’s say I heard my beloved was in a fatal car accident. The street it happened on wouldn’t be nearly so important as what happened – and how it happened. But I suppose the question of where does help us place on unfathomable event. It helps us imagine the unimaginable. If I cannot imagine my loved one dead, at least I might be able to imagine the place. If I cannot believe it, at least the place will ground the sense of it SOMEWHERE.


In a writing workshop I took a while back, we were tasked with writing a first person account of our own death. At least, I think that’s what the assignment was. Or maybe it was just meant to be a fear? Anyway I wrote mine as if I were drowning – and the memory of writing it is almost as visceral as the times where I thought I might drown. I don’t know why drowning is so potent for me. A past life death perhaps?

The fear of it was once so strong, I didn’t really learn to swim for fear of taking my feet off the bottom for more than a moment or two. Which I know isn’t logical. One would think a fear of drowning would make me want to know how to avoid it. But pretty much the extent of my anti-drowning skills were several variations of the Dead Man’s float.

I’ll touch my point With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly, It may be death.

Almost every other instance of the word ‘gall’ is in the context of irritation – of bothering of – bugging someone. In Italian that would be molestare which always sounds even worse than bothering or galling.
Now we pretty much use gall to do with something presumptive or irritating. That or the gall bladder. We don’t use it in the sense of irritating someone – which is the way it’s often used in Shakespeare and we even more rarely see it used this way – which, I have discovered, was one of the first definitions, to gall would be to create an irritation of the skin. A tiny little bother – a small disturbance of the peace of the skin. Laertes isn’t saying he’s going to BOTHER Hamlet or frustrate him, he’s just going to irritate his skin a bit, give him a tiny scrape and the deadly work of the poison will begin.