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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: December ::
Four Riddles in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0587  Wednesday, 9 December 2009

[1] From:   Mike Sirofchuck <
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     Date:   Monday, 7 Dec 2009 14:22:27 -0900
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet

[2] From:   Larry Weiss <
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     Date:   Monday, 07 Dec 2009 18:36:51 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet

[3] From:   Abigail Quart <
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     Date:   Monday, 7 Dec 2009 18:37:06 -0500
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet

[4] From:   Arnie Perlstein <
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     Date:   Monday, 07 Dec 2009 18:46:45 -0500
     Subj:   Four Riddles in Hamlet

[5] From:   Donald Bloom <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 8 Dec 2009 12:58:14 -0600
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Mike Sirofchuck <
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Date:       Monday, 7 Dec 2009 14:22:27 -0900
Subject: 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet

As to "hawk from a handsaw"

James Lipton has an explanation in his fascinating book, An Exaltation 
of Larks:

"Herein lies a clue to one of Hamlet's more mysterious utterances: "I am 
but mad north-northwest; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from 
a handsaw." By Shakespeare's time, the common tongue that had turned 
Route du Roi into "Rotten Row" had corrupted the insulting "He doesn't 
know a hawk from a heronshaw (heron)" to "He doesn't know a hawk from a 
handsaw" - a mark of churlish ignorance of the language of hunting. 
Since herons fly with the wind, a southerly wind makes them easy to 
distinguish by putting the hunter's back to the sun; hence Hamlet's 
cryptic hint to his childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that 
his madness is feigned."  (quoted in Lipton's memoir, Inside Inside, 
page 164-5)

It's the best explanation I've read -- elegant in its simplicity.

Mike Sirofchuck
Adjunct English Instructor
UAA Kodiak College
Kodiak, AK

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Monday, 07 Dec 2009 18:36:51 -0500
Subject: 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet

Good grief!  Is this necessary?

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Abigail Quart <
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Date:       Monday, 7 Dec 2009 18:37:06 -0500
Subject: 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet

The "hawk" Hamlet is referring to is, I believe, a dungfork. The gloss 
in my paperback Hamlet says a "southerly" wind is unhealthy. So he's 
basically saying, "When an ill wind blows, I can smell shit."

"Hawk" is one of Will's wicked tells. For instance, in Merry Wives III 3 
it's a warning of a fecal reference coming:

     * Page. Let's go in, gentlemen; but, trust me, we'll mock
       him. I do invite you to-morrow morning to my house
       to breakfast: after, we'll a-birding together; I
       have a fine hawk for the bush. Shall it be so?

     * Ford. Any thing. 1620

     * Sir Hugh Evans. If there is one, I shall make two in the company.

     * Doctor Caius. If dere be one or two, I shall make-a the turd.

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Arnie Perlstein <
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Date:       Monday, 07 Dec 2009 18:46:45 -0500
Subject:    Four Riddles in Hamlet

Jim,

I particularly like your "excavations" in the Camel, Weasel, Whale 
riddle, and have one comment to add, in response to the following from you:

"Methinks ... Weasel: Hamlet lacks W and S to spell Weasel; Methinks 
supplies the S, and the W is backed by M in next line.


Do you not see certain rather famous authorial initials hiding in your 
sentence? Which sorta fits with the idea that the Shakespearean 
character who perhaps came closest to a self-portrait was none other 
than that great shape shifter, the Prince of Elsinore himself!

As Mr. Knightley might have said, "Well done, Jim!"

ARNIE

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Donald Bloom <
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Date:       Tuesday, 8 Dec 2009 12:58:14 -0600
Subject: 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0585 Four Riddles in Hamlet

My understanding is that Fox (perhaps Hyde's Fox), Cloud, Camel, Weasel, 
and Whale were famous Elizabethan race horses. The joke involved, 
however, is debated. Was Weasel, that the playwright recommends backing, 
actually pathetically slow? Or was he used in a notorious doping 
scandal? The historical record is uncertain.


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