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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: December ::
Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0827  Wednesday, 19 December 2007

[1] 	From:	Scott Shepherd <
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	Date:	Sunday, 16 Dec 2007 19:20:05 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0840 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

[2] 	From:	Robert Projansky <
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	Date:	Monday, 17 Dec 2007 03:59:05 -0800
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0840 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Scott Shepherd <
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Date:		Sunday, 16 Dec 2007 19:20:05 -0500
Subject: 18.0840 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard?
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0840 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard?

 >The point is that in this instance it is *Ophelia*
 >who delivers up a particularly trite rhymed aphorism
 >about how one ideally should conduct himself; and
 >that *is* peculiar to Polonius

But Polonius does not rhyme, and "Rich gifts wax poor" is not about how 
to conduct oneself. It's a truism about gifts. It has more in common 
with "Words without thoughts never to heaven go" than with "To thine own 
self be true."

 >and, most significantly, foreign to Ophelia's nature
 >and customary style of address.

Do we have any knowledge of that? We've seen her in just two scenes, in 
which she says very little, and we've seen her with her family only. Can 
we really evaluate whether a subsequent speech -- in an entirely 
different and difficult situation, rejecting her lover -- is plausibly 
characteristic?

Actually, consistency with what she has said before *is* evident: a 
continued concern for propriety in wooing ("he hath importun'd me with 
love / In honorable fashion"), with particular emphasis on the words 
spoken ("hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, / With almost 
all the holy vows of heaven"). And in its gentle-scolding construction 
her remonstrance to Laertes (thank you for the advice, but behave 
honorably yourself), is not all that unlike to the one to Hamlet (thank 
you for the gifts, but you have not behaved honorably).

What's more, all that "sweet breath compos'd" and "perfume lost" stuff 
is quite consistent with the "O what a noble mind" soliloquy that comes 
later, for which presumably Ophelia has not been coached: "honey of his 
music vows," "sweet bells jangled out of tune," etc -- ending with a 
neatly rhymed couplet! (NB too the reuse of the phrase "noble mind.")

 >Scott Shepherd is to be congratulated on the subtlety
 >of his ear.  It hadn't struck me that all the sententiae
 >in <Hamlet>are clumsily inappropriate to their context.

Inappropriate? How so? The context is returning gifts! If we came across 
Ophelia's speech in a different play, in a real lover's rejection scene 
without spies, no one would ever think to question the couplet, any more 
than we question "All that lives must die, /  Passing through nature to 
eternity."

What my "ear" tells me is that this rhyming pattern, half-line followed 
by full pentameter, is one of Shakespeare's favorite tricks, and that he 
puts it in the mouth of just about everyone in Hamlet  *except* Polonius:

     Gertrude:    ...All that lives must die,
         Passing through nature to eternity.

     Claudius:    ...It shall be so;
         Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.
             ...O come away;
         My soul is full of discord and dismay.
             ...Till I know 'tis done,
         Howe'er my haps, my joys were ne'er begun.

     Ophelia:    ...O woe is me,
         T'have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

     Laertes:    ...Best safety lies in fear.
         Youth to itself rebels, though none else near.

     R&G:        ...Never alone
         Did the king sigh, but with a general groan.

     Hamlet    ...The play's the thing
         Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
             ...O from this time forth
         My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth.

The case against "Rich gifts wax poor..." is trumped-up evidence 
designed to support a claim that Hamlet figures out that he's being 
spied on. We didn't find the aphorism surprising and then propose an 
explanation for it; we went searching for something in the text that 
could possibly give the game away to Hamlet.

Again, if Ophelia made the same speech in a different scene where she 
met Hamlet by chance, we wouldn't think twice about that couplet. Or 
just possibly someone might detect her father's *influence* in that 
little formula, but would we conclude from that that the whole encounter 
was a setup and that, although not specified, Polonius must be hiding 
behind an arras nearby? Isn't that what we're asking Hamlet to do?

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Robert Projansky <
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Date:		Monday, 17 Dec 2007 03:59:05 -0800
Subject: 18.0840 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard?
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0840 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard?

 >Larry Weiss says, in pertinent part,

 >"The point is that in this instance it is *Ophelia*
 >who delivers up a particularly trite rhymed aphorism
 >about how one ideally should conduct himself; and
 >that *is* peculiar to Polonius and, most significantly,
 >foreign to Ophelia's nature and customary style of
 >address."

But we barely know Ophelia, we've just met her and heard her utter a few 
lines. How can we know on this slender evidence how wide the horizons of 
this character's imagination, values, philosophy and complaints might 
lie? To say the above about her on such limited evidence seems to me to 
rely on a very narrow view of how much nature this human can have. I 
don't think I am traipsing onto forbidden ground by saying that the 
above position is a little bit analogous to the one that begins, "That 
unschooled Stratford townie could not have possibly . . ."

Best to all, hope the weather hasn't got you down,, that when the icie 
phang and churlish chiding of trhe winter wind, which, when it  bites nd 
blosw upon thy bodh \ even till jhrink with cold the winter wind, which, 
when it bites and blows upon your body  . . . s

Bob Projansky
PDX

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