Shakespeare Sunday: Goodbye For Now!

When I started “Shakespeare Sundays” I had this absurd notion that I had time to maybe read a play a week and have a constant stream of great quotes to work from.  After all, I’m an accomplished reader and have plenty of time for reading right now.  I had forgotten a few things though.

Reading an unfamiliar Shakespeare play is hard.  It is beyond time consuming because I actually want to understand the references and the arcane language, so I have to read all of the glossing and the footnotes and the commentary that might go along with a single page.

Add to that, my body, even when well-rested and upright, recognizes reading as a prelude to napping.  Even fast-paced thrillers might last for only a short chapter on a warm afternoon before I’m long gone.  Scholarly close reading?  Fuggiddaboutdit.

Add to that, I’m usually in the process of reading three books at a time.  The good news is that I’m often finding little, non-Shakespearean gems that are very worthy of commentary.  That’s why I’m opening the Sunday feature up to whatever I may stumble across over the course of my reading for the week, including my daily immersion in news reporting and opinion writing.  I still have to figure out a title for this revised feature (suggestions are welcome!).

I just finished reading the densely researched book by John Bohrer, The Revolution of Robert Kennedy.  It describes the personal transformation of Bobby Kennedy from being an often ruthless aide to the hated Joseph McCarthy to becoming a keeper of his brother’s legacy and an even more capable champion of oppressed people, not just in the U.S., but world-wide.  Even after 400 pages, I was disappointed that the work just covers the years 1963-1966.  I wanted to see how the “revolution” continued and formed his campaign for president in 1968.

Two passages stood out because they were familiar.  Many people from my generation will remember Teddy Kennedy’s simple, but eloquent summary of his brother’s life, delivered with a distinct quaver in his voice as he said, “My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life.  To be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it…saw suffering and tried to heal it…saw war, and tried to stop it.”

Not much to say about that.  Whenever I see it, or hear a recording of that mournful moment, I’m taken back to the chaos and sadness of that time, that feeling that hope itself had died along with him.

But the words he spoke on June 6, 1966 at the University of Cape Town in South Africa still recharge my faith even in this dark time:

“Each time a man stand up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lots of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Here’s wishing you a peaceful and hopeful Sunday.

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Shakespeare Sunday: Methinks, the Play Goes On A Bit Too Long

Endings are important and who am I to be an editor to Shakespeare.  However, every time I taught the play Hamlet, I found I kept wishing he had ended it about one page earlier.  I mean, the swordplay, multiple poisonings, and Hamlet’s long-awaited vengeance on Claudius are all very satisfying.  But then he ends the play with Fortinbras surveying the scene and morosely reciting the ever-so-forgettable lines:

Take up the bodies: such a sight as this

Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.

Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

C’mon, man!  “Go bid the soldiers shoot”?  That’s really the best you’ve got for maybe your very best tragedy.  I’m always disappointed. Of course at the time, he probably didn’t suspect the enduring nature of Hamlet.  Maybe he was having a bad day.  Maybe he just decided, “Ye gods, fuck it.  I’ve got to just end this sucker.”

He certainly nails it in other plays.  The Prince, in Romeo and Juliet, surveys the tragic scene and succinctly and beautifully captures the mood of the moment:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

I once had the chance to play Romeo’s father in our high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet, which was perhaps the most epically awful production ever, and yet that scene and those six lines had the audience sobbing nightly.

In Hamlet, a mere 50 lines before, he’s got the death of Hamlet and Horatio’s magnificent tribute:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Boom.  Done.

Except for maybe one loose end.  The critical character known as “First Ambassador” needs to come on stage to inform us that “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.”  Without that line, Tom Stoppard might not have ever had the chance to write his wonderful, absurdist play of the same name some 464 years (more or less) later.  That would have been a loss.

Happy Sunday everyone!  Don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you are so moved!

 

Shakespeare Sunday: Everyone Dies

Happy Sunday everyone!  Last week when I wrote about Sonnet 18, I mentioned the irony in how the speaker in the poem brags about the immortality that his poem gives to his loved one’s beauty, when Shakespeare spends an awful lot of time reminding us of our fragile grasp on life.  That brought me back to Sonnet 73. Go ahead and read it again if it’s been a while.  I’ll wait:

SONNET 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou seest the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire

Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Just to bring a little more rigor to Shakespeare Sunday, I actually read some analysis of this poem, but what I was looking for was to see if there was any record of when each poem was written.  I was curious to see how much later 73 was written than 18.  No luck.

However, I did find lots of analysis and deep parsing of this lovely poem which would have completely ruined it for me, but I long ago quit paying much attention to literary criticism.  I enjoy reading some analysis to inform me of just how ignorant I might be when I start writing about literature, but am sometimes appalled at the nit-picking I start to find.  I sure hope that I didn’t kill the enjoyment of the poetry that I read with my students in a similar manner.  I did write about my approach to poetry as a teacher some time ago in a piece I called “I Don’t Hate Poetry.”

One analysis found the three metaphors that Shakespeare uses to be “cliched”–another writer might call them “timeless.”  Regardless, as a teacher it was great fun to play with these metaphors with students because most young people simply do not think in terms of metaphor.  They do not consider that the seasons, or that the cycle of the day, or that the burning of a fire is kind of like the progression of life from youth to death.

I particularly like the first four lines.  I’m not sure you can find a better example of iambic pentameter (just supposing you were looking for one) and they are maybe my favorite four lines of poetry to read aloud.  The image of naked branches as “bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang” seems just perfect; naked branches “where yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang.”

In the following quatrain, the speaker thinks of himself as being in the “twilight” of his life “which by and by black night doth take away.”  I was always intrigued by Shakespeare’s characterization of night as “death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.”  To think of sleep as akin to death seems totally appropriate to me.  It reaffirms my daily response to the overly-cheerful baristas at Starbucks who greet me every morning between 5 and 7 AM with the question “How is your day going?”–just a horrible question to ask me BEFORE I’ve had my twenty ounces of morning Joe.  The only thing I can think of to say is, “Well, I woke up this morning.”

In the third quatrain, the speaker admits he is no longer a bonfire, but just a collection of burning embers, soon to be extinct.

In the final couplet, we come to understand that the speaker seems to be speaking to a younger person and warning or advising him or her that one must “love that well which thou must leave ere long.”  Life is short.  Live long and prosper.

As I was warming up to write this piece (something that goes on all week!), I thought about that scene from “Dead Poet’s Society” when Robin Williams character takes his boys down to view the pictures of long-dead alumni of the fictional Welton Academy and delivers his famous “carpe diem” speech:

“Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You have walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them. They’re not very different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their live even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilising daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, Lean in. Listen… Do you hear it? (whispers) Carpe. (whispers again) Cape. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Some critics thought this speech sucked also, but I like it.  Any movie that showed a teacher teaching with mindfulness and passion was OK with me.

Hope you’ve had a great week.  I promised my mid-week piece would be a check in on “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse” and I will try, but “Retired, Not Dead” will be on the road to Seattle, WA for a well-deserved vacation,  and I may just be having too much fun to write about politics.

Shakespeare Sunday: Poet Claims, “Yes I Am That Good.”

Sonnet 18

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 was always a lot of fun to work with in the classroom because students want to view it strictly as a love poem and because so much of the poem turns on the single word “this” in the very last line.  In case you’ve forgotten all of your Shakespearean sonnets, here it is:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Easy to see why it is looked at as a love poem, yes?  I even found it listed by one website as a poem suitable for Valentine’s Day, and for the first eight lines, I could not agree more.  The poet finds his loved one more beautiful than a summer day, “more lovely and more temperate.”  After all, a summer’s day can have “rough winds” and can be too hot or perhaps obscured by clouds.  The poet recognizes that “summer’s lease has all too short a date” and as all things in nature “every fair from fair sometimes declines.”  All things natural pass through their time of youth and beauty, decline and eventually die, a theme Shakespeare returns to time and again.

But line 9 surprises us.  If all things natural (including his lover’s beauty) decline, how can he say that “thy eternal summer shall not fade”?  He spends three more lines declaring that her beauty is immune from time’s ravages or the “shade” of death.

How so?  The final couplet is the poet’s tribute to himself.  He has given her immortality because  “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see” they will be able to read his poem, the poem which has frozen her beauty in time. He assures her that “So long lives this (his poem), and this (his poem) gives life to thee.

Trying to figure out those last two lines used to drive my students crazy which was, of course, another reason I loved this poem.

Have a wonderful Sunday.  Check in later this week for some thoughts on Orwell’s 1984, and it’s also time to check in on how things are going with Surviving the Trump Apocalypse.  Cheers!

Shakespeare Sunday: Macbeth Needs A Nap

Welcome my 12 faithful congregants!  If you’d turn your hymnals to the tragedy of “Macbeth”, let’s take a look at a very short passage:

Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep”,
the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast….

Macbeth (Act II, Sc II)

Even without knowing much about the context of this passage, I’ve always loved this image.  It seems to crystalized an image that I’ve always had of sleep–that it is a great healer of mind, body, and spirit. Whether it is a mid-day nap or turning in early to be able to shut my mind down to whatever may be troubling me, there is nothing like the retreat of sleep.  When I feel overwhelmed by exhaustion, worry, or anxiety there are sometimes where it is sleep alone that “knits up” and mends my soul.  Sometimes the clarity I have when I wake up is startling to me.

Of course, Macbeth has just murdered King Duncan in this scene and has a whole lot on his mind.  Not surprisingly, this little passage has been analyzed deeply but there is one simple (I like simple) aspect of it that I wanted to share.

Shakespeare often uses sleep as a metaphor for death or vice versa and so mixing them so closely here makes this passage even more interesting to me. He calls sleep, “the death of each day’s life” and then follows with two descriptions of it as a soothing “balm” that can cure the pains of both our bodies and our minds.

Then he calls it “great nature’s second course.”  Hmmm.  Does that make nature’s first course life and all that comes with it–experience, love, excitement, danger, sorrow, and death?

I needed some help from Dave’s blog “The Ape Philosophy” which can be found at (apeliterature.blogspot.com).  He suggests that:

“A “ravell’d sleave” is a tangled skein of thread or yarn. Macbeth uses it as a metaphor for the kind of contravention we experience when we have so many problems that we can’t see the end to any of them.”

Truth be told though, I need very little excuse, to find my way to bed in the mid-afternoon for my  escape into unconsciousness. You know how when you can’t get your computer, TV, router, smartphone, or tablet to work properly and after maybe an hour of frustration you remember that the best medicine for anything technological is to shut it down, talk nicely to it, let it rest a bit, and then start it back up?  Sleep is like that for me.  It’s my chance to shut down, reboot, and waken, energized and ready once again to enjoy what the rest of the day has planned for me.

Shakespeare Sunday: The Madness of King Trump

I’ve decided that it’s the transitive property of equality that keeps bringing me back on Sundays to interpret Shakespeare in light of the Trump presidency.  Or maybe vice versa.  I think the transitive property (if A=B and B=C, then A=C) applies here for the following reason:  Shakespeare wrote tragedies; the Trump presidency is a tragedy; therefore a big chunk of what Shakespeare wrote relates to the Trump presidency.

I wasn’t alone in noticing this phenomena this week as there were several articles about the new play that envisions Trump as Julius Caesar.  I noted the comparison also in the Shakespeare Sunday post “Pride Before the Fall.” However, this week Trump’s bizarre Cabinet meeting brought comparisons to King Lear.  One by one, as Trump beamed, each Cabinet member fell over themselves to tell him what it honor and a blessing it was to serve him (note in the picture that, when not speaking, the Cabinet members look awfully Pope-faced).

Just as Lear invited his three daughters to express their love to him as he decides just how to partition up his kingdom, clearly someone less elegantly put these poor fellows up to this silly show.

Lear at least does it with class as he demands:

Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

That we our largest bounty may extend

Where nature doth with merit challenge.

And then the groveling begins.  First Goneril proclaims:

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;

Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;

Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;

No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;

As much as child e’er loved, or father found;

A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;

Beyond all manner of so much I love you.

Just as at the Cabinet meeting, it became important to out-toady the previous speaker and likewise Regan feels a need to out do her sister:

Sir, I am made

Of the self-same metal that my sister is,

And prize me at her worth. In my true heart

I find she names my very deed of love;

Only she comes too short: that I profess

Myself an enemy to all other joys,

Which the most precious square of sense possesses;

And find I am alone felicitate

In your dear highness’ love.

It is Cordelia alone who dares to be honest, to speak truth to power.  When asked by Lear what she can say that will make him feel even better about himself than the proclamations that have come before, she says, simply, “Nothing.”  An astounded Lear, urges her on, in essence, begging her to come up with something praiseworthy, but Cordelia honestly replies:

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave

My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty

According to my bond; nor more nor less.

For her crime, Lear not only withdraws her part of the kingdom, but advises her that from this point forward she will be a “stranger to my heart and me.”

What a moment it would have been if just one of those “leaders” had been brave enough to say, “Hey, Mr. President, do we have time to talk about some issues here.  You know, like soldiers dying in Afghanistan, congressmen being shot up on a baseball field, the entire country waiting to find out about health care changes?”

As Anna North, opinion writer for the New York Times pointed out in her article “President Trump’s King Lear Moment” (May 17, 2017) well before the above-mentioned Cabinet meeting:

He seems to lack a Cordelia who will speak to him honestly. Instead, Mr. Trump has been Regan and Goneriled all the way to the presidency, flattered and coddled by his advisers, the Republican establishment and his family to the point where flattery and coddling are useless and no amount of careful management can keep him from revealing state secrets and then bragging about it on Twitter.

That’s it for this Sunday!  Have a lovely Father’s Day wherever you are.  While you are relaxing in the recliner take a look back at the piece I posted earlier this week called “My Museum.”  You might like it.

 

Shakespeare Sunday: Smooth Talker

R: If I profane with my unworthiest hand

This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

J:  Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,

Which mannerly devotion shows in this;

For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,

And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

R:  Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

J:  Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

R:  O! then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;

They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

J:  Saints do not move, thou grant for prayer’s sake.

R:   Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

Welcome to the weekly literary nerd edition of “Retired, Not Dead”!

Most of you will recognize this as the very first words exchanged between Shakespeare’s “star-crossed” lovers from maybe his most well-known tragedy, “Juliet.”

OK, it’s actually known as “Romeo and Juliet” but if you’ve read the play, you know that this is really Juliet’s story.  Romeo is pretty much an accessory.  Juliet gets the great speeches, the deepest conflict, and the most achingly perfect death.

However, in the passage above, Romeo does have his moments.  It took my faithful poetry anthology Sound and Sense (Arp–9th edition) to point out to me that this lovely exchange, when lifted from the play, is actually a sonnet written as dialogue.

Romeo has been struck with the lightning bolt of love when he sees Juliet for the first time, as I was when I first saw Olivia Hussey playing Juliet in the 1968 film.  I  thought it was cruel for Franco Zeffirelli to unleash this 15-year-old beauty on my 15-year-old self when I first saw the film.

OK, the dialogue.  The beauty of Romeo’s appeal to Juliet for a kiss is that he frames himself (his lips, rather) as “pilgrims” approaching a “shrine” and then continues to work the worshipful metaphor with references to “saints,” “devotion, and “prayer.”  Juliet plays along as she tries to chastely and gently deflect his desire for a kiss.

Thankfully for Romeo, her resistance only lasts for fourteen lines of poetry before she allows his reverent kiss.

Ah, young love in iambic pentameter.  It doesn’t get any better than that!  Happy Sunday, everyone!

Shakespeare Sunday: Pride Before the Fall

In reference to the title, it turns out that “pride before the fall” is actually a misquote from Proverbs.  In the King James Bible, the quote is, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.”

Sound like anyone we’ve seen in the news recently?

In casting about for a Shakespeare moment that I liked for today, I couldn’t get my mind off the cascade of news coming out of Washington. It’s like I have the Trump virus and it’s infected my brain.  However, his bully-boy tour of Europe and decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris accords, his continued narcissism and dog-eat-dog mentality took me to a quote from Julius Caesar, where Caesar admits that yes, there are other men but compares himself to the Northern Star, immovable and incomparable–in other words he too sees himself as unpresidented.  It goes like this:

I could be well moved, if I were as you.

If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.

But I am constant as the Northern Star,

Of whose true fixed and resting quality

There is no fellow in the firmament.

The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks;

They are all fire and every one doth shine.

But there’s but one in all doth hold his place.

So in the world: ’tis furnished well with men,

And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive.

Yet in the number I do know but one

That unassailable holds on his rank,

Unshaked of motion; and that I am he

Let me a little show it, even in this:

That I was constant Cimber should be banished,

And constant do remain to keep him so. (3.1.64-79)

Of course, this is moments before he is lured into the betrayal by his most trusted allies and is brutally assassinated.  The quote reminded me of how fragile leadership is especially when it is not tempered by self-awareness and a sense of morality.

And then columnist David Brooks’s essay in the New York Times, kicked my Trump virus into full gear with his insightful break-down of a statement made by two of Trumps lackeys this week.  Brooks wrote:

“This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: ‘“The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”’

What disturbed me most (and made me think of Roman times) was their use of the word “arena” to describe the world view of the Trumpistas.  They claim that their leader has a “clear-eyed” world vision that we are locked in battle with everyone seeking our own “advantage.” It derides and sweeps away generations of foreign policy that were centered on the creation of a “global community” for the greater good.

Brooks continues to comment that this attitude, “explains why people in the Trump White House are so savage to one another. Far from being a band of brothers, their world is a vicious arena where staffers compete for advantage.”

Have you seen the reports of how difficult it has become to find anyone willing to work at the White House? There are fewer people running this White House than there were cast members of the “West Wing” television series.

Brooks ends his column with a historical insight (Greeks this time) that suggests we are on a path that fills people like me with dread:

“I wish H. R. McMaster was a better student of Thucydides. He’d know that the Athenians adopted the same amoral tone he embraces: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Athenians ended up making endless enemies and destroying their own empire.”

Likewise, the Biblical passage above is somewhat incomplete.  The full passage is, “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

Bits of wisdom that Mr. Trump would be entirely immune from.  Besides, they come in long sentences with big words and no pictures.

Oh, well.  Think I’ll just brew me up a big pot of covfefe and enjoy the rest of my Sunday.  I hope you do too!

Shakespeare Sunday: Sad Bastard’s Complaint Becomes Sweet Love Song

Starting this “Shakespeare Sunday” thing, I really wanted to focus on a particular SHORT passage for emphasis, but by week 2, I’m failing utterly because I want to talk about all of Sonnet 29.  There is one particular passage that I favor, but to get it, I have to talk about the sonnet in its entirety. Sorry. If you have never read the sonnet before, here it comes. Bear with it–I promise it will only be 14 lines:

SONNET 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing åçme like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

I used to really enjoy using this sonnet as an introduction to the language of Shakespeare because it is highly accessible and it deals with two common human conditions–depression and being in love (two things which oddly seem to often go hand in hand–or is that just me?).

The thing is, kids often entirely missed the “being in love” part of it.  They certainly could pick up the aspects of depression that the speaker wallows in during lines 1-8. In these lines, the speaker recounts all of the things that are making him feel isolated and sad. He is in full self-pity mode, cursing God and his fate, and even worse, comparing himself to others who in his mind at least, all are more fortunate than himself.  I certainly know the destructive quality of comparing myself to those who are slimmer, more gifted, richer, or less bald than I am.

Of all of the lines the speaker recored, the one that most spoke to me was (bolded) “With what I most enjoy contented least.”  When walking, or spending time in the garden, or enjoying a visit to the local pub do nothing to improve my mood, I know that I’m in bad straits.

What saves this poem from being a straight lament is the major shift that takes place in line 9 (“Yet in these thought myself…”).  Here is where the depressive dude dissolves into a mush of romantic goo–and I love him for it.  He describes how just the very thought of his loved one, lifts his spirits which become “like to the lark at break of day arising” to “sings songs at heaven’s gate.”

By the end, the sad bastard would rather be with his love than to “change [his] state with kings.”  Just the act of thinking of his loved one is enough to dispel his sadness and make him realize just what riches he does possess.

Must have been one lucky guy.

Shakespeare Sundays: The Readiness Is All

I’ve worked hard about not going all English teacher on all of you, my faithful 15 readers, but part of me has wanted to bring a little structure to the blog to keep me writing on at least a weekly basis.  Let’s see how this goes. I’d like to bring you a passage from Shakespeare on the weekends that we can talk about.  I’ll share what I can, and please feel free to add your comments.

“Not a whit, we defy augury: there’s a special

providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,

’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be

now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the

readiness is all.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

I taught this play for years but always struggled with this passage syntactically. In Act V, Hamlet is about to go into a “friendly” fencing match against Laertes, a man with a grudge, since it was Hamlet who caused his father’s death.  Hamlet’s best friend, Horatio, cautions Hamlet to withdraw from the match if he has any misgivings.

Above is Hamlet’s reply. I’ve always interpreted it as kind of an existential statement.  “It” seems to be his death.  If he is to die now, that just means he won’t be dying in the future (“tis not to come”), but if he isn’t meant to die in the future, he is meant to die now.  He reassures us that no matter what, he knows that he will die, like all of us (“if it be not now, yet it will come”). I’m thinking the actor would have to hammer that last WILL.  Death is inevitable, “the readiness is all.”

I think about this passage a lot.  I admire Hamlet’s resignation to the truth of the moment.  I think about mortality often.  I can say with some certainty that I won’t see the year 2043.   I don’t expect to see 90.  Waldron men do pretty well getting into their eighties, so 2038 is certainly reachable.  That gives me about 20 more years to do whatever I might want to, to see what I still would like to see.  Sounds like a lot, except for when it is your last 20 years, when you’ve already seen 20 years go by three times.

I don’t think of it as being sad or morbid.  It just is.  As Seth Avett says in his song The Perfect Space:

I wanna grow old without the pain,/Give my body back to the earth and not complain.

My life has been good.  I suspect it will continue to be so for a while, but if “the readiness is all” then I’m ready.