Tag Archives: suicide

“Song of Saul Before His Last Battle” by Lord Byron

“Suicide of Saul” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Warriors and chiefs! should the shaft or the sword
Pierce me in leading the host of the Lord,
Heed not the corse, though a king’s in your path:
Bury your steel in the bosoms of Gath!

Thou who art bearing my buckler and bow,
Should the soldiers of Saul look away from the foe,
Stretch me that moment in blood at thy feet!
Mine be the doom which they dared not to meet.

Farewell to others, but never we part,
Heir to my royalty, son of my heart!
Bright is the diadem, boundless the sway,
Or kingly the death, which awaits us today!

To understand this poem, you should be familiar with the biblical story of the death of Saul, as told in I Samuel 31. Saul is leading a battle against the Philistines, and things do not go well for the Israelites. Saul’s sons are slain, and the warriors flee. So Saul decides to take his own life, rather than be abused and killed by the “uncircumcised.”

Byron sees this as the ultimate heroic act, to sacrifice yourself rather than compromise your ideals. There is nothing weak about Saul’s decision to take his own life. It is totally an act of courage and bravery.

So why would this be so important to Byron? There are a couple possibilities. He could be expressing his unwavering commitment to a romantic love, vowing to die rather than allow another to pierce his heart. But I think a more plausible interpretation is that Byron is asserting his staunch adherence to his artistic ideals. Byron has a clear vision of his poetry and what he wishes to convey through his works. He would rather die than compromise his artistic integrity and create baser works intended for the Philistine masses.

I confess I looked online to see what others thought about this poem, and really did not find any out there, so these are just my personal thoughts on the poem. Feel free to let me know if you have a different impression of what Byron was trying to express. I would love to hear your thoughts. Cheers!

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

Sexual Violation in Shakespeare’s “Double Falsehood”

DoubleFalsehood

It’s strange how often I read something and discover it relates to events taking place in the world around me. Many of us are outraged at the lenient sentence given to Brock Turner, a mere six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. As such, I found it serendipitous that Double Falsehood, written over 500 years ago, also addresses the issue of the sexual violation of women.

For those of you who do now know the history of this play, it is thought to be a lost Shakespeare play. The play has only recently been attributed to him and added to the collection of Shakespeare’s works. If you are interested in reading more about the history of the text, check out this Wikipedia page.

Anyway, I want to focus on the text.

First off, I want to point out that one of the central female characters, the one who is sexually violated in the beginning by Henriquez, is named Violante. I instantly noted the similarity of her name to the word “violate.” Remove the “n” from her name and you have violate, symbolizing a violated woman.

After forcing himself on Violante, Henriquez tries to convince himself he did nothing wrong, that even though she resisted, she did not resist enough and therefore acquiesced in his mind.

Hold, let me be severe to myself, but not
unjust. Was it rape then? No. Her shrieks, her
exclamations then had drove me from her. True, she
did not consent: as true, she did resist; but still in
silence all.

(Act 2, scene 1)

Afterwards, as is often the case with victims of sexual abuse, Violante feels guilt and shame.

Whom shall I look upon without a blush?
There’s not a maid whose eye with virgin gaze
Pierces not to my guilt. What will’t avail me
To say I was not willing?
Nothing, but that I publish my dishonour,
And wound my fame anew. O misery,
To seem to all one’s neighbours rich, yet know
One’s self necessitous and wretched.

(Act 2, scene 2)

In her despair, Violante escapes to the country and disguises herself as a young boy. But her master figures out she is actually a woman and also tries to violate her sexually.

Come, you’re made for love.
Will you comply? I’m madder with this talk.
There’s nothing you can say can take my edge off.

(Act 4, scene 1)

She manages to escape her new attacker, but is then wracked with guilt and despair. Sadly, she considers suicide as the only way to rid herself of the pain she feels as a result of her violation.

And O, thou fool,
Forsaken Violante – whose belief
And childish love have made thee so – go, die!
For there is nothing left thee now to look for
That can bring comfort but a quiet grave.
There all the miseries I long have felt
And those to come shall sweetly sleep together.

(Act 4, scene 2)

While this is certainly not one of Shakespeare’s best works (if in fact it truly is the work of the bard), it’s an easy read and worth checking out, if nothing else but for insight into a social plague that still vexes us today. All sexual assault should be condemned and perpetrators given punishments that suit the crimes. But let me not get too high on the soapbox. Give the play a read and feel free to share your comments in the space below.

Thanks for stopping by and showing an interest in literature.

10 Comments

Filed under Literature

RIP Keith Emerson

KeithEmerson

2016 is proving to be a tough year for musicians, writers, and actors. Yesterday, we lost a virtuoso keyboard player who has been a major musical influence in my life. Keith Emerson died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. It seems that he was suffering nerve problems that were hindering his ability to play keyboards. How devastating it must be to have your life’s passion taken from you.

Here is a link to a Rolling Stone article about Keith’s death.

Hearing this news made me reminisce about the impact Keith’s music had on my life. I listened to my vinyl copy of Brain Salad Surgery yesterday, and this morning, I located one of my old ticket stubs from when I had seen him perform. Here is a link to my stub and memory from the concert, along with a video of Keith performing.

The Stub Collection: Emerson, Lake & Powell

Thanks for all the inspiration.

Leave a comment

Filed under Non-fiction

“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell

CloudAtlas

This book has been on my shelf for a little while. My friend Brian gave it to me, which was great because I wanted to read it anyway. I had seen the film, which was very good, so the book was already on my list of books to read. Anyway, I started reading it while on my trip to Israel and just finished it last week. My computer was in the shop, so hence, I am just now getting around to writing about it.

The book is amazing! It’s a thoroughly engrossing allegory of the cycles of stories, mythology, and resurrection, all woven together to symbolize the interconnectedness between lives and events. The books is comprised of six stories, which are all connected; but the structure of the book is circular, representing the cycles of rebirth. Here is the overall structure:

  1. The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (part 1)
  2. Letters from Zedelghem (part 1)
  3. Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (part 1)
  4. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (part 1)
  5. An Orison of Sonmi-451 (part 1)
  6. Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After
  7. An Orison of Sonmi-451 (part 2)
  8. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (part 2)
  9. Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (part 2)
  10. Letters from Zedelghem (part 2)
  11. The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (part 2)

In addition to the structure of the books representing eternal cycles, the story itself is rich with symbolism supporting this idea. One of the central symbols is the comet-shaped birthmark that appears on the central characters. On one hand, this represents that they are essentially reincarnated beings, all of whom share the same soul. But the comet is also a symbol of cycles, since comets travel a circular route through the heavens and reappear at regular intervals. Finally, a comet is fleeting and temporary, just like our lives. But our lives, like our myths and stories, come around and reappear again, just as the comet does.

In addition to the comet, Mitchell uses clouds as symbols for the soul, stressing that although they are constantly changing form, they are in essence eternal, just as the soul is.

I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o’ that kayak. Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Sonmi the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.

(p. 308)

Mitchell also includes references to theology regarding cycles of rebirth, such as the following reference to Buddhist ideology.

Keep looking, he said, and from the mountainside emerged the carved features of a cross-legged giant. One slender hand was raised in a gesture of grace. Weaponry and elements had strafed, ravaged, and cracked his features, but his outline was discernible if you knew where to look. I said the giant reminded me of Timothy Cavendish, making Hae-Joo Im smile for the first time in a long while. He said the giant was a deity that offered salvation from a meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth, and perhaps the cracked stonework still possessed a lingering divinity. Only the inanimate can be so alive. I suppose QuarryCorp will destroy him when they get around to processing those mountains.

(pp. 328 – 329)

As much as I hate spoilers, I must include a minor one here, so feel free to skip this last section of the post if needed. One of the characters, Robert Frobisher, is about to commit suicide. In his note, he explains how he will be reborn, how his soul is eternal, and how everything that existed and passed away will eventually come around again. It’s an amazing passage and one that I feel is fitting to end this post.

Luger here. Thirteen minutes to go. Feel trepidation, naturally, but my love for this coda is stronger. An electrical thrill that, like Adrian, I know I am to die. Pride, that I shall see it through. Certainties. Strip back the beliefs pasted on by governesses, schools, and states, you find indelible truths at one’s core. Rome’ll decline and fall again, Cortés’ll lay Tenochtitlán to waste again, and later, Ewing will sail again. Adrian’ll be blown to pieces again, you and I’ll sleep under Corsican stars again, I’ll come to Bruges again, fall in and out of love with Eva again, you’ll read this letter again, the sun’ll grow cold again. Nietzsche’s gramophone record. When it ends, the Old One plays it again, for an eternity of eternities.

Time cannot permeate this sabbatical. We do not stay dead long. Once my Luger lets me go, my birth, next time around, will be upon me in a heartbeat. Thirteen years from now we’ll meet again at Gersham, ten years later I’ll be back in this same room, holding the same gun, composing this same letter, my resolution as perfect as my many-headed sextet. Such eloquent certainties comfort me at this quiet hour.

(pp. 470 – 471)

7 Comments

Filed under Literature

Creepy: Issue #17

Creepy_17

I picked this up the other day, figuring it would be a fun read as Halloween draws near, and that’s what it was—a fun illustrated horror magazine.

As a long-time horror fan, I used to read Creepy back when I was a kid and enjoyed it then, too. The thing about this publication that was most entertaining then and now is the host: Uncle Creepy. Each of the three tales in this issue include commentary by Uncle Creepy at the beginnings and ends. His sick humor makes the grim tales fun. And each of the tales has a twist at the end, which I also really enjoyed.

The first tale, “The Human Condition,” is kind of a dark spin on “It’s a Wonderful Life.” A grotesque spirit visits a young man who is depressed and contemplating suicide, showing him scenes of what would happen if he killed himself.

The second tale, “Arrangement of Skin,” is set in the Victorian era. It is about a taxidermist who receives unusual requests from an aristocrat seeking to preserve the life around him which he has become accustomed to.

The final story is “The Duel of the Monsters” which is set in a Spanish village in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is basically a struggle between a vampire and a werewolf, each trying to gain control over the village by killing the other. But of course, there is the twist at the end. Sorry… no spoilers. You’ll have to read it yourself.

This comic is basically everything that I love about Halloween—that combination of humor and fright, of fun and fear. Happy Haunting, and keep on reading!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 2

Image Source: www.comicvine.com

Stephen Dedalus — Image Source: http://www.comicvine.com

This is a short episode, but there is a lot going on. For me, this episode sets the groundwork for the saga which will unfold throughout the book. Some of the dominant themes that stood out for me were memory, history, money, anti-Semitism, and misogyny.

Early in the episode, Stephen Dedalus’ mind wanders as he briefly considers memory. There is a sense that Stephen is haunted by memories, most likely the result of his pain over his mother’s death. I suspect that the reason for this is because often the most vivid memories are the sharpest and most painful, those which cut directly into the psyche.

Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it. A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake’s wings of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame. What’s left us then?

(p. 24)

As Stephen is discussing Pyrrhus with the class he is teaching, one of the students jokes that Pyrrhus was a pier. Stephen then follows the prompt and explores what is a pier.

—Tell me now, Stephen said, poking the boy’s shoulder with the book, what is a pier.

—A pier, sir, Armstrong said. A thing out in the waves. A kind of bridge. Kingstown pier, sir.

(p. 24)

The pier then becomes a symbol for memory. It is something solid that juts out into the sea of the subconscious. And despite the continuous crashing of the waves of forgetfulness against the pylons holding up the pier, the pier remains, just as the painful memories persist. It is also worth noting that a pier is a place where ships depart and dock, so the pier also builds the connection to the seafaring Odysseus.

As the class is dismissing, Stephen offers the following riddle to the class:

The cock crew
The sky was blue:
The bells in heaven
Were striking eleven.
Tis time for this poor soul
To go to heaven.

(p. 26)

The students are unable to solve the riddle, so Stephen tells them that the answer is “The fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush.” (p. 27) This is a totally absurdist answer and has no relevance to the riddle whatsoever. I would go as far as asserting it is a Dadaist answer. I pondered the riddle for a bit and came up with my own answer: Judas Iscariot. There were originally twelve apostles, and one would assume that eleven of them were admitted into heaven, hence the ringing of the eleven bells. Judas was sent to hell, for betraying Christ and for committing suicide. The riddle implies that it is time to forgive Judas for his sins and allow his soul access to heaven. I think Joyce dropped a little hint to the riddle in the text, because on page 29, he mentions the twelve apostles.

The image of the fox reappears, but now it seems to be a symbol for a historian, a sly and intelligent creature who is obsessed with digging up the past, with scraping away the debris of time to uncover the history buried below the surface.

A poor soul gone to heaven: and on a heath beneath winking stars a fox, red reek of rapine in his fur, with merciless bright eyes scraped in the earth, listened, scraped up the earth, listened, scraped and scraped.

(p. 28)

The second half of this episode focuses on Stephen’s interactions with Mr. Deasy, the schoolmaster. I personally found Deasy to be a most disdainful character and he could easily be called Mr. Queasy, since he kind of made me feel sick. He is self-righteous, obsessed with money, brazenly anti-Semitic, and misogynistic.

Deasy lectures Stephen on the importance of money, emphasizing that money is power. He then tosses in a quote by Shakespeare to back up his assertion, but Stephen catches the irony of the fact that it was Iago who Deasy quoted, and Iago is not a model character.

—Because you don’t save, Mr Deasy said, pointing his finger. You don’t know what money is. Money is power, when you have lived as long as I have. I know, I know. If youth but knew. But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.

—Iago, Stephen murmured.

(p. 30)

Shortly afterward, Deasy launches into an anti-Semitic rant. He employs the same inane arguments that have fueled anti-Jewish sentiment for years: that the Jews control the government, the banks, the press, and so forth. He then accuses the Jews of being the cause of society’s decline.

—Mark my words, Mr Dedalus, he said. England is in the hands of the jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation’s decay. Wherever they gather they eat up the nation’s vital strength. I have seen it coming these years. As sure as we are standing here the jew merchants are already at their work of destruction. Old England is dying.

(p. 33)

After Stephen attempts to defend the Jews against Deasy’s accusations, he says something that really struck a nerve with me:

—History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

(p. 34)

On one level, this is an expression of the connection between memory and history. Stephen’s past haunts and torments him, and try as he may, he cannot free himself from his personal history. But there is also a larger issue here. Our society is formed based upon human history. Whether we remember the past or forget it collectively, it doesn’t matter all that much. We are still the products of our collective past. If you wanted to apply a Jungian analysis, you could also argue that our collective consciousness is tied to our collective history, and we are bound to it, unable to free ourselves. It’s kind of a dark rabbit hole to start going down, and for one who has always viewed history in a positive light, this casts a shroud over my long-standing views on the value of history and memory.

Next, Deasy launches into his tirade against women. During his rant, he mentions Helen of Troy, which serves to tie the scene in with the Homeric motif.

—I am happier than you are, he said. We have committed many errors and many sins. A woman brought sin into the world. For a woman who was no better than she should be, Helen, the runaway wife of Menelaus, ten years the Greeks make war on troy. A faithless wife first brought strangers to our shore here. MacMurrough’s wife and her leman O’Rourke, prince of Breffini. A woman too brought Parnell low. Many errors, many failures but not one sin. I am a struggler now at the end of my days. But I will fight for the right till the end.

(pp. 34 – 35)

As I read this again, I couldn’t help wondering how Stephen felt hearing this, especially with the pain of his mother’s death still fresh. He does not react to it, other than signaling he is ready to leave. I suspect he is hurt and angry, but because he is financially broke and struggling, and needs the work, he is afraid to speak out. I feel for Stephen. He is in a terrible place.

The episode concludes with Deasy making a joke about the Jews.

—I just wanted to say, he said. Ireland, they say, has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No. And do you know why?

He frowned sternly on the bright air.

—Why, sir? Stephen asked, beginning to smile.

—Because she never let them in, Mr Deasy said solemnly.

A coughball of laughter leaped from his throat dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm. He turned back quickly, coughing, laughing, his lifted arms waving to the air.

(p. 36)

For me, this is the key setup for what is to come. There is a similarity between the Jews wandering in the desert and Odysseus traveling the seas. Both are wanderers attempting to return home, but can’t. It is also important to note that Leopold Bloom (who correlates to Odysseus and will appear soon in the story) is Jewish.

The next episode concludes the first part of the book. If you are reading along, I expect to have my thoughts on Episode 3 to be up in about a week. Read on!

22 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Orphic Reform” by Harold R. Wiloughby

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I recently read an article on the Symbol Reader blog about Orpheus. If you are not familiar with this blog, I suggest you check it out. It is my favorite blog out there. Anyway, I inquired about a suggestion to read that would give me some more information about Orpheus, since I was not very familiar with the mythology. She pointed me to the following page.

Sacred Texts

This is actually a chapter from a larger work called Pagan Regeneration. It is a very good piece and gave me a lot of information regarding Orpheus and the mystery cult that developed from the myth.

Wiloughby explains that it is not clear whether Orpheus actually existed or not. What is clear is that Orpheus seems to balance the Dionysian frenzy by adding a sober and calming view. He is credited with teaching the mystical arts to humans. Essentially, he was a reformer.

It is not possible to pronounce with certainty whether such a man as Orpheus ever really existed or not. He may have been a purely mythical figure. If he was a real man he was a religious leader of mark and deserving of admiration: a prophet, reformer, and martyr. Whether mythical or real, Orpheus was the antitype of the flushed and maddening wine-god Dionysus. He was a sober and gentle musician who charmed savage men and beasts with his music, an exact theologian, the prophet of reform in religion, who was martyred for his efforts.

The Orphic teachings passed down through the cult include instructions for the afterlife, not dissimilar to Egyptian writings.

Quite as revealing as these literary references, however, are the so-called Orphic tablets from tombs in southern Italy and Crete. They are eight in number and are all of very thin gold. According to a consensus of scholarly opinion, they contain the mutilated fragments of a ritual hymn composed for members of the Orphic sect as early as the fifth century B.C. In their present form they may be dated roughly from the fourth century B.C. to the second century of our era. Their purpose is self-evident. Buried with the dead they were intended to give instructions concerning conduct in the next world, formularies and confessionals to be repeated, and directions as to postmortem ceremonial observances. Their ritualistic character and the tone of conviction that pervades them give them peculiar value as sources of information concerning Orphic experience and practice. These remarkable tablets, though they are few in number, constitute our most valuable source materials for the Orphic cult.

One aspect of the Orphic philosophy that I found fascinating was the doctrine of the transmigration of the soul, something that has always interested me. Essentially, initiates into the cult believed that the soul passed through a series of reincarnations until it was purified to the point that it became godlike again.

In its first analysis, therefore, the Orphic process of salvation was a process of purification from bodily taint. The problem, however, was not such a simple one as these words would indicate. It was not merely from the evils of a single existence that the Orphic sought deliverance, but from the evils of a long series of bodily existences. The Orphic first, and the Pythagorean later, believed in the transmigration of souls from body to body. On leaving the corpse at death, the soul was normally doomed to inhabit the bodies of other men or of animals even, passing on through a chain of physical existences until finally purified. An Orphic fragment preserved by Proclus reads: “Therefore the soul of man changing in the cycles of time enters into various creatures; now it enters a horse, again it becomes a sheep . . . . or as one of the tribe of chill serpents creeps on the sacred ground.” Reincarnation, like dualism, was an important item in Orphic theology.

Wiloughby points out the similarities between a Bacchanalia and the Orphic rites, but notes that there are also differences. While both include the consumption of raw flesh (it appears to be that of a sacrificial bull), the Orphic rites are much less savage and view the eating of the bull’s flesh as both communion and a reenactment of what happened to god Dionysus.

In general the prescribed Orphic ritual was a modification of the rude Bacchic rites we have already examined. The persistent representation of Orpheus in antiquity was that of a reformer of Dionysiac rites. Diodorus affirmed that “Orpheus being a man highly gifted by nature and highly trained above all others, made many modifications in the orgiastic rites; hence they call Orphic those rites that took their rise from Dionysus.” From the standpoint of ritualistic observance, therefore, there was much in common between Dionysian and Orphic practices. On the very threshold to the Orphic cult stood the omophagy, or feast of raw flesh, which was so prominent a Dionysian rite. In the remaining fragment of Euripides’ Cretans an initiate tells of certain ritual acts which he performed in the process of becoming a “Bacchus” and the one he stresses particularly is the eating of raw flesh.

The last thing I wanted to point out was the Orphic doctrine against suicide. Since the soul must go through the series of reincarnations to purify itself, it is offensive to God to kill yourself without going through the necessary suffering needed to help cleanse the spirit.

At one point especially the moral influence of Orphism was clear and indubitable: that was in its protest against suicide. Since the body was the soul’s place of penance a man had no right to take his own life. If he did he was a fugitive prisoner trying to escape before God had released him. Here Plato found Orphic thought peculiarly congenial to his own. In the Phaedo he represented Socrates as saying, shortly before his death, “There is a doctrine whispered in secret that a man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away; this is a great mystery which I do not quite understand. Yet I too believe that the gods are our guardians and that we are a possession of theirs.”

The whole chapter is very good and worth taking the time to read. I want to thank Symbol Reader again for the suggestion. I really got a lot out of reading this. I hope you do as well.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Dagon” by H.P. Lovecraft: The Surfacing of the Subconscious Mind

DagonA while back I picked up an anthology of stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Last night, I decided to read one before going to sleep. I opted for Dagon, only because it was short and I was already a little tired. Unfortunately, it took me a little while to fall asleep after I finished reading the tale.

The story is about a man who is addicted to morphine and considering suicide because he is no longer able to deal with the memories of something he experienced as a sailor years back. He was adrift and came to a place where the ocean floor had risen to the surface and exposed dark and hideous things, among them a giant creature from the depths. These images haunted him since.

I immediately interpreted this story as an allegory for the dark recesses of the subconscious mind surfacing and driving a person into the realm of insanity. The boat on which he was adrift represents his mind in a state of isolation as he drifts through reality, until he reaches the point where the dark depths of his subconscious mind are forced to the surface, exposing the horrors that lay hidden below.

Though one might well imagine that my first sensation would be of wonder at so prodigious and unexpected a transformation of scenery, I was in reality more horrified than astonished; for there was in the air and in the rotting soil a sinister quality that chilled me to the core. The region was putrid with the carcasses of decaying fish, and of other less describable things which I saw protruding from the nasty mud of the unending plain. Perhaps I should not hope to convey in mere words the unutterable hideousness that can dwell in absolute silence and barren immensity.

As the protagonist recounts his tale, he recalls wandering the desolation until he comes to an obelisk engraved with carvings of strange fish-like creatures. He makes the connection that these creatures are symbolic of early man, possibly from the stage where life emerged from the ocean. These symbols, then, represent the earliest stages of our subconscious minds that are linked to our prehistoric selves which crawled from the ocean’s slime.

I think these things were supposed to depict men–at least, a certain sort of men; though the creatures were shewn disporting like fishes in the waters of some marine grotto, or paying homage to some monolithic shrine which appeared to be under the waves as well. Of their faces and forms I date not speak in detail; for the mere remembrance makes me grow faint.

He then questions whether everything he experienced was just fantasy, but concludes that it was real. He recognizes that within each human lies a dark subconscious, which at any moment may surface. Although he tries to bury this part of him through the use of drugs, he is unable to keep the dark side of himself from surfacing again, which drives him to the point where he sees suicide as the only escape.

Often I ask myself if it could not all have been a pure phantasm–a mere freak of fever as I lay sun-stricken and raving in the open boat after my escape from the German man-of-war. This I ask myself, but ever does there come before me a hideously vivid vision in reply. I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed, worshipping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind–of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium.

It’s a pretty dark vision of the future of humanity and one that has haunted my thoughts on occasion. It is not difficult to envision a world where our baser instincts gain control over our reason, resulting in the collapse of humanity. I think the key, though, is to acknowledge that part of ourselves and be aware of it. It’s only through awareness and acceptance that we keep the mire below the surface and continue to progress as a society.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare: Analysis of Hamlet’s First Soliloquy

HamletI decided to start on a bucket list item, which is to read everything by the great William Shakespeare. This includes re-reading plays that I have read before. It’s therefore fitting that I start with Hamlet, arguably the greatest play ever written. Although I have read it more times than I can remember, I knew I would gain new insights from another close reading.

The play is so rich that one could write volumes analyzing the text and the nuances. So, rather than trying to write a summary of the entire play, I decided to share my thoughts on Hamlet’s first soliloquy, and also the play’s ending. Here is the first soliloquy, which appears in Act I, Scene ii.

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month–
Let me not think on’t–Frailty, thy name is woman!–
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow’d my poor father’s body,
Like Niobe, all tears:–why she, even she–
O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn’d longer–married with my uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month:
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good:
But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.

What I find fascinating about this passage is the amount of foreshadowing that takes place. Obviously, there is the existential questioning of whether life is worth living, which is revisited in the more well-known “To be or not to be” section. But the question of suicide is also tackled during the burial of Ophelia, where the fact that she may have been responsible for her own death results in the denial of certain burial rites.

Another really interesting bit of foreshadowing appears in the second line with the words “a dew,” which spoken sound like “adieu.” The word “adieu” appears often throughout the rest of the text, and always at key points. Here are a couple of examples. When the ghost of Hamlet’s father takes its leave, it uses the word three times: “Adieu, adieu, adieu! Remember me.” As Hamlet is dying, he speaks: “I am dead, Horatio. Wretched Queen, adieu.” And there are other examples. I encourage you to pay attention to this the next time you read the play.

At the end of the soliloquy, Hamlet mentions that he must hold his tongue, or in other words, hide his thoughts. He then makes Horatio and Marcellus swear an oath of silence regarding the encounter with the ghost on the platform. Hamlet continues holding his tongue as he feigns insanity to hide his thoughts.

Finally, I want to talk about the play’s ending. I had never noticed until this reading, but it seems to me that the ending suggests a circle, a return to the beginning of the play. Horatio states: “But let this same be presently performed/ Even while men’s minds are wild, lest more mischance/ On plots and errors happen.” Fortinbras then responds: “Let four captains/ Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage.” It is like the play is asking to be performed again, in an eternal loop, over and over. Hamlet then becomes a play within a play, within a play, and on and on, for all eternity. As I sit here now, I feel that this may be the most brilliant ending ever constructed.

I could certainly write more about this masterpiece, but I will stop and encourage you to read it again. Please feel free to share your thoughts. Thanks, and keep reading!!

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature