February 08, 2010

A mote to trouble the mind's eye

The opening scene of Shakespeare's Hamlet does a masterful job of setting the mood. It is midnight on the battlements of Elsinore castle. Bernardo and Marcellus relieve their fellow soldier Francisco.

They are basically grunts, far down the chain of power and command, but they sense something is amiss. Old Hamlet, their king, died under mysterious circumstances. His brother Claudius married the widowed Gertrude and displaced young Hamlet from the succession. There are rumors of war with young Fortinbras of Norway and a military buildup is in progress which "does not divide the Sunday from the week." On top of everything else, a ghost resembling Old Hamlet has been seen in full war gear the last two nights.

Bernardo and Marcellus have invited the scholar Horatio to witness this for himself. Horatio, full of the "modern" learning is skeptical but is convinced when the ghost appears. All agree this is a bad sign, one which reminds Horatio of those said to have occurred at the time of Caesar's assassination:

A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.--

I especially like his courteous if unsuccessful effort to converse with the spirit:

Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
Speak to me:
If there be any good thing to be done,
That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
Speak to me:
If thou art privy to thy country's fate,
Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid,
O, speak!
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death...

The spirit remains silent and they resolve to tell young Hamlet of it the next day. It's a scene that has worked to get the audience's--and the reader's--attention for the last 400 years.

JOBS. Here's an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute on the latest trends in the jobs picture.

MINE WARS, PAST AND PRESENT. The Charleston Gazette's Jim Haught had a good column in Sunday's paper reviewing the history of West Virginia's mining conflicts--including the latest battle to get Blair Mountain listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

GRIDLOCK. Here's a discourse on the disfunctionality of the US Senate.

HERE'S A SHOCK. A coal industry-commissioned study of itself found it to be all good all the time. By the way, a belated happy birthday to Ken Ward's uber-blog Coal Tattoo!


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