March 17, 2010

Some vicious mole of nature?

Image by way of wikipedia.

One disadvantage of growing up in the scenic Mud River valley of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia is that there's not a whole lot of live Shakespeare going on. I've seen several on stage but for Hamlet have had to rely mostly on the printed page and the screen.

My favorite film version has to be Kenneth Branagh's mammoth movie, which pretty much sticks to the original play. I mean no disrespect to the dead, but I wasn't that crazy about Olivier's version, which he both directed and starred in (sorry about the preposition thing).

In his version, "This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind." I'm not sure that's entirely fair. Admittedly, the whole thing might have gone smoother if he would have just whacked Claudius in the beginning, but that wouldn't have been much of a play. I've always thought part of Hamlet's charm was that he recognized that he could just be wrong or plain crazy.

The literary critic and philosopher Rene Girard once pointed out that you'd want anybody sitting with his finger on the nuclear button not to be too trigger happy. And as I've said before, our erstwhile President W could have used a bit more Hamlet in him in the buildup to the Iraq War.

Jacques Barzun has some interesting observations on this topic. As he put it in his monumental and delightful book Dawn to Decadence, his character should be seen in the context of the political hardball of the Renaissance:

...The common notion of Hamlet is that he vacillates. In Olivier's film, the play is called "the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind." That the play is first and foremost political is ignored. Everybody since Coleridge has concentrated on Hamlet's character and forgotten his situation. It is true that his character is finer than that of his entourage; he has a conscience and does not kill first and think afterward. Killing a king accepted by the populace is not a bagatelle. Laertes is the impetuous boy, put in to make the contrast clear. Hamlet has to think and watch, because from the outset he is in danger, a threat to the usurper and his aides; all conspire against him, including, unwittingly, his betrothed. And he has his mother to consider. His soliloquies show him superior to his barbaric times, but what he thinks must not be taken for what he does. He wipes out the hired killers sent with him to England; he comes back resolved by wary and fails only by treachery.

I'll leave the last quote to Fortinbras, who spoke highly of him at the end of the play,

Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally: and, for his passage,
The soldiers' music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.

Good night indeed, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


AND HERE'S ANOTHER CALL FOR REFORM from a Kanawha County labor leader.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, younger Americans are likely to have more health issues.

RESULTS ONLY WORK ENVIRONMENT? Here's an interesting item from yesterday's Morning Edition about some welcome changes in the workplace.

WORKERS WALKING WOUNDED? Sorry about the alliteration thing, but this article looks at the aftershocks of the recession on America's workforce.



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