February 10, 2010

The primrose path of dalliance

If you know anything about Shakespeare's tragedies, you know that a lot of bodies are going to pile up by the end. Hamlet's whole family will wind up shuffling off this mortal coil, but they won't be alone. Another whole family will join them before it's over.

That would be the family of Polonius, counselor to Claudius and a major twit as well. Apparently a widower, he has a son, Laertes, and a daughter Ophelia. Laertes has been studying (or, more likely, partying) in Paris and returned to Denmark for the funeral/wedding. Those ceremonies concluded, he seeks and is granted permission to go back to France.

In the meantime, Hamlet has begun or revived his courtship of Ophelia since he returned from his studies in Wittenberg. She, alas, will be double-teamed by son and father in Act 1, scene 3 and told not to trust Hamlet's pledges of affection and even to break off the relationship.

Laertes takes aim first, warning her not to take Hamlet's professions seriously:

For Hamlet and the trifling of his favour,
Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute; No more...

He (no doubt hypocritically) urges her to chastity:

Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain,
If with too credent ear you list his songs,
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmaster'd importunity.
Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.
The chariest maid is prodigal enough,
If she unmask her beauty to the moon:
Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes:
The canker galls the infants of the spring,
Too oft before their buttons be disclosed,
And in the morn and liquid dew of youth
Contagious blastments are most imminent.
Be wary then; best safety lies in fear:
Youth to itself rebels, though none else near.

Ophelia appears to yield, but she knows a double standard when she hears it and urges him to take his own advice:

I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.

SPEAKING OF DALLIANCE, here's an article on edible aphrodisiacs.

SCARRING. Here's a sobering look at the possible long term impacts of the Great Recession.

MYSTERIOUS PRESENCES and near death experiences are discussed here.


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