Hamlet and "Unpacking the Heart"
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 95. Sunday, 3 May 1992.
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1992 10:49:00 -0400
Subject: 3.0092 Qs: Hamlet's "Whore"; Bevington on Disk?
Comment: Re: SHK 3.0092 Qs: Hamlet's "Whore"; Bevington on Disk?
The notion that whores use abusive language more readily than others
less trammeled with social regulations, propriety, &c., is conventional
enough. Part of this comes with the outlaw territory: the proverbial
expression is "As bold, or brazen-faced, as a whore" [Cotgrave's transla-
tion of "Effronte' en putain", 1611].
However, I think it unlikely that "unpacking" the heart is a
positive concept -- whores are not more honest because less bound by
social convention. More to the point, they are *less* honest, their
sweet words adopted for convenience of trade, their curses expressive
of an indiscriminate hostility in evidence whenever professional considera-
tions do not require sweetness. Thus, unpacking the heart reveals not
true feelings but the accumulated baggage of vicious anger and contempt.
The resulting language is indiscriminate abuse -- and thus the whore's
language is conventional and ultimately empty.
In comparing his ranting to a whore's, Hamlet is chiding himself for
indulging in the temporary emotional satisfaction of using strong language,
as if it had any effect on reality.
There's a parallel here with any number of rather misogynistic
conventions about certain kinds of women's use of language (fishwives, &c.),
but I really don't think we need to get into that...