To Read or Not to Read

As promised, I have brought forth some classic literature, the bard himself. So here we go, guys, let’s read some Shakespeare.  Are you ready?  Look, I even put in pictures to make it easier for you.

Poor Yoric

Mel Gibson as Hamlet

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous fortune;
Or to take Armes against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: To die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to? ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep
To sleep, perchance to dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,

The pangs of disprized love, the Lawes delay,

The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,

The subject of our excerpt.

When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would there fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Countrey from whose Bourne
No traveller returns, puzels the will
And makes us rather beare those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’re with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turne away,
And lose the name of Action.

Basically this guy is everything that Stein hates, and probably against everything I said I was looking for in my About this Blog page.  Except for one thing.  Hamlet always gets me from the first line, and doesn’t even let go after the last.  When we were freshmen in college, my friends and I often burst out with a chorus of

Who’s there?

Nay, answer me.  Stand and unfold yourself.

Long live the king!

Bernardo?

He.

And who doesn’t leave the playhouse (or turn off the dvd) still wondering if Hamlet was crazy or justified in his actions?  But enough of that.  We’re here to talk about “To be or not be” in specific.

So what struck you the most in this passage?  What do YOU think makes it the most popular soliloquy and Shakespeare quote of all time?  I was lying yesterday when I told you to prepare yourself for some intellectual discussion.  This is by no means an English class, so don’t feel compelled to say something profound.  I’m just wondering what Shakespeare does that makes him the go-to literary guy.   What can we take away from this saint of writing and implement into our own modern style?

I’ll go ahead and start off with my own ideas.  The phrase that arrests me the most here is a popular one, “When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.”  “Shuffle” conotates the movement of the old, a calm and slow motion.  But the soft, reassuring sound of sleep and shuffle is then taken over by the more dramatic tone of calamity of life and the dread of the unknown beyond. Hamlet isn’t talking about dying a natural death here; he’s thinking of avenging his father’s murder and contemplating his own suicide! Juxtapositions like these are poetry to my soul. There’s the buildup of the terrors of this life clashing with one simple fear: the uncertainty of death.  “For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?”  I shiver with pleasure every time I think of it.  It makes me morbid, I know, but even Shakespeare can make death beautiful.  I want to add some more juxtapositions like these in my writing.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  Next week will be busy with the release of Ghost Targets: Expectation and the second edition of Gods Tomorrow (both written by Aaron Pogue), but hopefully we will be able to get out some more Shakespeare and other giants in the literary field very soon.  Thanks for reading with me!

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One Response to To Read or Not to Read

  1. Of course, “to be or not to be, etc.” gets me in this passage, but I think it’s the phrase “what dreams may come” that really hooks me. Yeah, maybe it’s morbid, but I like the concept Shakespeare is presenting here: that death is dream-filled sleep, and we can’t know what form those dreams might take. I believe we’ll wake at some point…but in the meantime, maybe our earthly lives will determine the nature of those in-death dreams.

    What is it about Shakespeare? I think it’s that in everything he writes, he presents the nitty-gritty reality of the human condition. The human condition never changes through the ages — so if we can get past all the stuff that Sol Stein hates, 😉 we all find something in the Bard’s tales that speaks to our hearts.