Selected Essays and Squibs by Joseph Suglia: Table of Contents

SELECTED ESSAYS AND SQUIBS by Joseph Suglia

My novel TABLE 41

My Guide to English Usage

My YouTube Channel

VIDEO ESSAYS

VIDEO: Lecturing on Nietzsche’s BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL and Reading My WHOLE Translation

VIDEO: Jacques Derrida Is Overrated

VIDEO: My Neighbors Are Bothering Me

VIDEO: Reading My ENTIRE Novel TABLE 41 for You

Table of Contents

SQUIBS

I Renounce All My Early Books and Writings

Aphorisms on Art

Aphorisms on Consumerism and Genius

Aphorisms on Racism, Cultural Studies, and Kim Jong-un

Aphorisms on Libertarianism, Criticism, and Psychoanalysis

My Favorite Writers, My Favorite Music, My Favorite Films

Three Aperçus: On DEADPOOL (2016), David Foster Wallace, and Beauty

Three Aperçus: THE NEON DEMON (2016) and Envy

Bob Dylan Is Overrated: On Bob Dylan Being Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016

The Red Pig Asian Kitchen: BANNED by Yelp

Happy Father’s Day: Or, Chopo Chicken: BANNED by Yelp

Analogy Blindness: I Invented a Linguistic Term

Polyptoton: Greg Gutfeld

Two Haiku

David Foster Wallace and Macaulay Culkin: Two Aperçus

On the Distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

Ordering a Pizza at the Standard Market Grill in Lincoln Park: BANNED by Yelp

Jimmy Carter

Emo Island

Coronavirus Poem and Cruise Ship Poem

THE NIETZSCHE COMMENTARIES

HUMAN, ALL-TOO-HUMAN / MENSCHLICHES, ALLZUMENSCHLICHES

DAYBREAK / MORGENRÖTHE: GEDANKEN ÜBER DIE MORALISCHEN VORURTHEILE

THE GAY SCIENCE / DIE FRÖHLICHES WISSENSCHAFT

THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA / ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA

Was Nietzsche an Atheist?  Was Nietzsche a Misogynist?  Sam Harris’s Unspoken Indebtedness to Nietzsche

What  Does This Mean?: “God is dead”

What Does This Mean?: “What does not kill me makes me stronger”

What Is the Eternal Recurrence of the Same?

What Is the Will-to-Power?

Was Nietzsche a Sexist?

Was Nietzsche a Fascist?

Was Nietzsche a Proto-Nazi?

Schopenhauer and Nietzsche

Jordan Peterson Does Not Understand Nietzsche

A Readable English Translation of Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche: Translated by Joseph Suglia

OVERESTIMATING / UNDERESTIMATING SHAKESPEARE

VOLUME ONE: THE COMEDIES AND PROBLEM PLAYS

THE TEMPEST

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

MEASURE FOR MEASURE

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

AS YOU LIKE IT

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL

TWELFTH NIGHT, OR, WHAT YOU WILL

THE WINTER’S TALE

VOLUME TWO: THE TRAGEDIES

THE TRAGEDY OF OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE

THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR

THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK

THE UNREADABILITY OF HAMLET

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH

THE TRAGEDY OF CORIOLANUS

TROILUS AND CRESSIDA

THE MOST LAMENTABLE ROMAN TRAGEDY OF TITUS ANDRONICUS

THE MOST EXCELLENT AND LAMENTABLE TRAGEDY OF ROMEO AND JULIET

TIMON OF ATHENS

CAESAR ANTI-TRUMP

KING LEAR

Racism and Shakespeare: Was Shakespeare a Racist?

What, If Anything, Does Donald Trump Have in Common with Julius Caesar?

Was Shakespeare a Sexist?

Transgenderism in Shakespeare

PHILIPPICS

Jordan Peterson Is Overrated

Mark Z. Danielewski Is a Bad Writer: Part One: When Did Writing Stop Having to Do with Writing?: Mark Z. Danielewski’s THE HOUSE OF LEAVES

Mark Z. Danielewski Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On ONLY REVOLUTIONS by Mark Z. Danielewski

Mark Z. Danielewski Is a Bad Writer: Part Three: On THE FIFTY-YEAR SWORD by Mark Z. Danielewski

Quentin Tarantino Is an Anti-Black Racist

California Über Alles: Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Against “Bizarro” Fiction

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part One: On FIGHT CLUB by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On STRANGER THAN FICTION by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Three: On RANT by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Four: On SNUFF by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Five: On TELL-ALL by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Six: On DAMNED by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Seven: Fifty Shades of Error: “Chuck” Palahniuk’s BEAUTIFUL YOU

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Eight: Slap Something Together: “Chuck” Palahniuk’s MAKE SOMETHING UP: STORIES YOU CAN’T UNREAD

On THE HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss

On THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST by Mel Gibson

On THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy

On EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer: Jonathan Safran Foer Is a Bad Writer, Part One

On EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE by Jonathan Safran Foer: Jonathan Safran Foer Is a Bad Writer, Part Two

On EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer: Jonathan Safran Foer Is a Bad Writer, Part Three

Writing with Scissors: Jonathan Safran Foer’s TREE OF CODES: Jonathan Safran Foer Is a Bad Writer, Part Four

On CHRONIC CITY by Jonathan Lethem

Malcolm Gladwell Is a Bad Writer: Part One: On BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell

Dave Eggers Is a Bad Writer: Part One: On A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING by Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On YOUR FATHERS, WHERE ARE THEY? AND YOUR PROPHETS, DO THEY LIVE FOREVER? by Dave Eggers

Karl Ove Knausgaard Is a Bad Writer: On MIN KAMP / MY STRUGGLE, Volume One by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard Is a Bad Writer: On MIN KAMP / MY STRUGGLE, Volume Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part One: OBLIVION

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING THAT I WILL NEVER DO AGAIN

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part Three: BOTH FLESH AND NOT

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part Four: CONSIDER THE LOBSTER

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part Five: INFINITE JEST

Jonathan Franzen Is a Bad Writer: On FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

On WHY YOU SHOULD READ KAFKA BEFORE YOU WASTE YOUR LIFE by James Hawes

On THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold

Craig Clevenger Is a Bad Writer: Part One: On DERMAPHORIA by Craig Clevenger

HOW NOT TO WRITE A SENTENCE: Craig Clevenger Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On THE CONTORTIONIST’S HANDBOOK by Craig Clevenger

Girl Gone Rogue: Concerning Sarah Palin

MORE LITERARY AND CINEMATIC CRITICISM

Corregidora / Corrigenda

I Prefer Not to Misinterpret: Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street”

So Long, Planet Earth!: Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”

Keats and the Power of the Negative: On “La Belle Dame sans Merci”

On “Eveline” by James Joyce

On “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” by D.H. Lawrence

Why I Can’t Stand Georges Bataille

On WOMEN by Charles Bukowski

On FAT GIRL / A MA SOEUR by Catherine Breillat

On NOSFERATU by Werner Herzog

On CORREGIDORA by Gayl Jones

On ROBERTE CE SOIR and THE REVOCATION OF THE EDICT OF NANTES by Pierre Klossowski

Escape from Utopia: Bret Easton Ellis

On GILES GOAT-BOY by John Barth

On LIPSTICK JUNGLE by Candace Bushnell

On IRREVERSIBLE by Gaspar Noe

On IN MEMORIAM TO IDENTITY by Kathy Acker

On O, DEMOCRACY! by Kathleen Rooney

On STUCK by Steve Balderson

On THE CASSEROLE CLUB by Steve Balderson

On THE YELLOW WALLPAPER by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Trace of the Father

On VICTOR/VICTORIA by Blake Edwards

On STEPS by Jerzy Kosinski

On EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES by Tom Robbins

On V. by Thomas Pynchon

On A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF LOVE by Anaïs Nin

On MAO II by Don DeLillo

On ROBINSON ALONE by Kathleen Rooney

Dennis Cooper and the Demystification of Love

On THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson

On AUCH ZWERGE HABEN KLEIN ANGEFANGEN by Werner Herzog

On CRASH by J.G. Ballard

On A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion

The Impossible Liberty of Macbeth / An Analysis of THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH by Shakespeare

THE IMPOSSIBLE LIBERTY OF MACBETH

by Joseph Suglia

 

************************************

************************************

************************************

************************************

 

Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth signifies nothing if it does not signify the absence of the freedom of the will.[i]  Macbeth is not free, and his commitment to evil is not a self-chosen commitment.  And if Macbeth’s commitment to evil is involuntary, and surely it is, could he even be said to be evil?  Macbeth overpowers his reluctance to kill the King of Scotland only with difficulty, much in the way that Brutus only with difficulty overcomes his reluctance to kill Julius Caesar.  Surely, no one would call Brutus “evil.”  Why, then, should anyone characterize Macbeth as “evil”?  Perhaps because one thinks of Macbeth as someone who kills for power, whereas one thinks of Brutus as someone who kills in order to prevent power from growing tyrannical.  After killing Duncan, the King of Scotland, Macbeth finds himself entangled in an ever-enmeshing net.  He is impelled to kill and kill again in order to maintain the role in which he finds himself.  Macbeth does not abrogate himself of any responsibility, as some commentators claim.  Macbeth has no responsibility.  He is blameless from the beginning of this rapidly escalatory play until the end, a play that accelerates toward its terminus without allowing the spectator or reader to catch one’s breath.

 

WHERE IT WAS, THERE I SHALL BE

Macbeth has a moral feeling for his king.  He recognizes Duncan’s decency, acknowledges with gratitude that he owes his newly anointed title of Thane of Cawdor entirely to Duncan.  Duncan lavishes praise on Macbeth, and Macbeth appears grateful for this praise.

After he kills his beloved King, Macbeth is rattled by spasms at night and by paroxysms during the day.  He is nauseated by what he did.  He is aghast at the murder that his hands committed, sickened by the deaths that he suborns.[ii]

It is an “air-drawn dagger” [III:iv] that leads Macbeth to regicide.  Led on by the floating dagger—a phosphorescent dagger in Polanski’s cinematic interpretation—Macbeth is entrained to Duncan’s bedchamber where he will murder the King and his sleepy grooms, the King’s minions, the chamberlains.  The dagger which virtualizes before him spouts blood from itself.  It is as if the metal itself contained blood vessels, blood vessels that are venesected.  The dagger is ascribed human agency and a kind of moral responsibility that is denied to Macbeth.  The handle of the dagger beckons to him: “Is this a dagger which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand?” [II:i].  It is the dagger which commands Macbeth to kill, it is the dagger which seems to marshal Macbeth: “Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going, / And such an instrument I was to use” [Ibid.].  It is not the user who wields the instrument; it is the instrument which wields the user.

The hand that takes precedence over the mind, in this play; the doing takes precedence over the doer.  Practice supersedes the practitioner; usage supersedes the user.  “What hands are here?” [II:ii], Macbeth asks in wonderment.  It is as if his own hands were disembodied, self-sufficient, and self-active:

The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see [I:iv].

“Wink at,” here, means “not to see.”  Translation: “Let the eye not see what the hand does (i.e. murder Duncan), but let the hand do what the eye is afraid of looking at.”  The hands are performing the action, which is disconnected from Macbeth’s consciousness (metonymically represented by the eye).  It is not that Macbeth is exculpating himself, not that he is absolving himself of blame, but that, the play is suggesting, he is blameless to begin with.  His own hands seem to belong to a strange executioner, not to himself.  They are not his hands, but “these hangman’s hands” [II:ii].  “Go, get some water / And wash this filthy witness from your hands” [Ibid.]: When Lady Macbeth, who thinks that guilt can be abluted away with water, utters these words, she is ignoring the stranger thought that Macbeth is fundamentally guiltless.  The dagger is doing the work, the hand is performing the action, not the I.

Hence, the play’s superabundant proliferation of hands and deeds and doings and dids:

“Hand,” “hands,” or “-handed” appears in the text thirty-seven times.

“Deed,” “deeds,” “indeed,” or “undeeded” appears in the text twenty-four times.

“Do,” “doth,” “doing,” “dost,” “done,” or “does” appears in the text 142 times.

“Did” and “didst” appear in the text forty times.

Macbeth vows (to Lady Macbeth) to kill the King: “I go, and it is done” [II:i].  He does not say, “I go to do the deed.”  The “It” supersedes the “I.”  The “It” is acting, not the “I.”[iii]  The subject is not the one who intends to do something; the action is asubjective.  The actions that are performed by Macbeth are done without the intervention of his subjective will.

Shakespeare’s play suggests the opposite: that deeds are done without a doer.  There is only a pure doing without a self.  “To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself” [II:ii], Macbeth says after the deed is done.[iv]  This experience of self-estrangement is the reversal of the Delphic injunction to “Know thyself!”  The deed is depersonalized, as if the deed were done by someone else, someone other than Macbeth.  The idea to kill Duncan is someone else’s thought:

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is, but what is not [I:iii].

Macbeth is suggesting that it is not he who is thinking of murder; his thought has a life of its own.  He is seized by a thought that is disembodied, by a thought that shakes his individuated humanity, his “single state of man.”  The thought in his brain has supremacy over him; he does not have supremacy over this thought.  He is gripped by the thought and dominated by it.  The paradox that “nothing is, but what is not” means that absence is phenomenalized and presence turns into absence.  Nothing is (reality disappears) but what is not (the hallucinatory nightmarishness, the terrifying hallucination of the dagger).

It is as if Macbeth’s actions were governed by thoughts that have been transplanted into his mind: “Strange things I have in head, that will to hand, / Which must be acted, ere they may be scanned.”  To translate: “Thoughts that are not my own shall be translated into actions (‘will to hand,’ ‘must be acted’) before I will become conscious of them.”

The disembodiment of the deed from the doer: Such is the reason that all of Macbeth’s direct killings are invisible, occurring offstage, before the final act.  We do not see the killing of Duncan, and the killing of Banquo and the killing of Macduff’s wife and children are performed by mercenaries.  The effect upon the spectator or reader, whether “intentional” or “unintentional,” is that s/he will be unlikely to judge the character of Macbeth from a moral point of view.  Shakespeare is subtly exculpating Macbeth, emancipating him from responsibility, liberating him from liberty.

 

************************************************************************

************************************************************************

Macbeth encounters on the heath three women who will tell him his future.  In Holinshed, Shakespeare’s sole primary source for the play, the women of the heath are either the weïrd sisters or “nymphs of feiries.”  In Shakespeare, the three women are certainly the weïrd sisters.

Weird is the favorite insult of the unintelligent-insecure and is usually applied to anyone who falls too far outside of the common herd (“You are, like, sooooooooo weiiiiiird…”).  Most English-language users have forgotten that weird originally meant “magical” and “relating to fate or destiny.”  To be “weird” etymologically means to be “fated,” to be drifting away from one’s self-chosen path by the compulsions of fate.  It is derived from the Old English word for “fate,” which is wyrd.  Scottish writers in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries used the phrase werd sisteris to describe the Fates of Ancient Greek mythology, those female divinities who determine our futures.  The phrase werd sisteris can be found in The Asloan Manuscript, an anthology of Scottish prose and verse that was assembled by John Asloan.  “The weird sisters” always means “The Fates.”  Shakespeare’s witches are the forces of fate, of moira.  To translate Holinshed into contemporary English, they are “the goddesses of destiny, imbued with the knowledge of prophecy by their necromantical science because everything came to pass as they had spoken.”[v]  Everything came to pass as they had spoken: By speaking of events in the future, they bring those very things about.  The weïrd sisters generate the events that they foretell.[vi]

Macbeth is deeply impressed by the witches’ soothsaying, by their fortunetelling.  The witches make oracular pronouncements—Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor, no longer the Thane of Glamis, and then the King of Scotland.  Macbeth will remain childless, Banquo will be prolific and generate an entire dynasty.  Banquo shall “[b]ring forth men-children only…  Nothing but males” [I:vii].  Banquo’s children “shall be kings” [I:iii].  Banquo will be progenitive, producing a lineage.  He shall be “[l]esser than Macbeth, and greater… Not so happy [as Macbeth], yet much happier” [Ibid.].  In other words: Macbeth will become King, but he will not become a progenitive King.  Macbeth will become King, but he will spawn no Kings.  The witches’ oracular pronouncements impel Macbeth to kill Duncan and, later, Macduff and to suborn the murders of Banquo and Macduff’s wife and children.  Both Banquo and Macduff are generative.  Macbeth and Macduff have similar names because Macduff is the double of Macbeth.[vii]  As if to suggest what?  Macbeth is barren—as Macduff says, “He has no children” [IV:iii]—but he has no problem suborning the murder of Macduff’s children.  He has no problem slaughtering the children of his double for he bears no children of his own.  Macbeth is the sterile double of Macduff, Macduff is the fertile double of Macbeth.  Childless Macbeth kills off his child-producing double Macduff, as childed Macduff will assassinate his infertile double Macbeth.  All of this was set in motion by the witches’ prophecy that Macbeth will have no sons and Banquo will be generative of a dynasty (the Roman Catholic, French-sympathizing dynasty of the Stuarts).  The regicide of Duncan—as well as the murders that were designed to cover up that regicide—was propelled by the oraculizations of the weïrd sisters.  The witches do more than read Macbeth’s future; their “great prediction[s]” [I:iii], their “prophetic greeting[s]” [Ibid.], their fatidic pronouncements create his future.  The epicene witches prophesy Macbeth’s coronation—but this prophecy means that the future has already occurred.

Notice that the first thing that Macbeth says in the play, his opening statement, is a resaying, is the mindless repetition of what the weïrd sisters have said already: Macbeth’s observation “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” [I:iii] is an echoing of the witches’ earlier paradoxical statement “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” [I:i].[viii]  Macbeth is will-less—even “his” language ventriloquizes the language of those who marionette him.  This does not mean that there is a hidden sympathism or synchronicity between the witches and Macbeth.  It means that Macbeth’s words are not his own, his desires are not his own.  His mind, as his language, is molded, shaped, formed by the witches.

******************************************

******************************************

******************************************

******************************************

******************************************

The wizardesses are chaos agents.  They form a terrorist cell that projects its gales against Macbeth, who is borne by its winds.

The witches prophesize Macbeth’s downfall by speaking through the Three Apparitions.  I will ascribe the prophetic remarks to the weïrd sisters for the purposes of convenience.

The weïrd sisters issue literal statements, and Macbeth will metaphorize them.  Macbeth metaphorizes literal statements, wrongly believing taking such statements literally would be the literalizing of metaphors.  The witches literally mean that the forest of Birnam will be deforested and reforested.  They are not speaking in hyperbole.  The witches’ statement is ambiguous only because it is straightforward—Macbeth reads the statement as hyperbole, not as a literal assertion, much as he hyperbolizes their other statement that only a man not of woman born could slaughter him (I will return to this point below).  Macbeth believes that he is safe in Dunsinane only because the witches have told him that only the deforestation and reforestation of Birnam Wood would undo him.  The witches through the Third Apparition: “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him” [IV:i].  Immured in his fortress, Macbeth assumes, falsely, that mobile trees are not things that could ever exist.

When they say through the Second Apparition that “none of woman born / [s]hall harm Macbeth” [IV:i], the witches intend the statement literally.  They mean that Macbeth’s killer will have been birthed by way of a Caesarian operation.  They are saying that Macbeth’s slaughterer will not have come from a birth canal; they are not intending that Macduff’s genesis was without the intervention of a mother.

Because Macduff never was expelled from a birth canal, he is able to send Macbeth down the death canal.

The emphasis, then, should be placed not upon “woman,” but upon “born.”  Macduff did indeed come from a woman; however, he was not born from a woman.  He was “from his mother’s womb / [u]ntimely ripped” [V:viii].  Macduff was from woman born, just not naturally born.  It is likely that the juggling fields know well that Macbeth will accentuate the word “woman” and not the word “born.”  And yet they mean what they say!  The weïrd sisters are not liars—everything that they say is the literal truth.  The point is that the weïrd sisters know that their words will be misinterpreted.  They make plain statements that they know will be interpreted ambiguously.

Fascinating “juggling fields… [t]hat palter with us in a double sense” [V:viii]!  The weïrd sisters make clear, literal statements, which Macbeth then either interprets metaphorically or places the emphasis on the wrong word in the sentence, thus distorting its meaning.[xiii]  Of course, it is likely that the juggling fiends know what they are doing: They know the tendency of human beings to overinterpret or to falsely embellish literal statements.  The trick of language of the weïrd sisters is not that it is opaque—the trick is that their language is limpidly transparent.

The witches have tricked Macbeth with the equivocality of their speech.  Their speech is equivocal because it means precisely what it says.  Such is the diabolism, such is the mummery of the triad of wizardesses.  Language is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing unequivocal.[xiv]

*****************************************************

*****************************************************

*****************************************************

*****************************************************

*****************************************************

*****************************************************

Lady Macbeth arranges the killing of the King.  She says to her husband:

…you shall put
This night’s great business into my dispatch,
Which shall to all our nights and days to come,
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom [I:v].

“Dispatch” here means “management.”  Translation: “You shall, my husband, let me govern tonight’s event (the killing of the King)—an event that shall dominate all of our nights and days in the future.”[xvi]

When her husband expresses reservations about killing the man who promoted him, who made him Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth calls her husband, in essence, a sissy: “When you durst do it, then you were a man; / And to be more than what you were, you would / Be so much more than the man” [I:vii].  In other words: “You will not become a man unless you kill the King; otherwise, you will remain a boy, perhaps a ladyboy.  And if you do it, then you will be more than just a man.”  Any hesitancy on Macbeth’s part is written off as weakness: Macbeth’s spasms, his paroxysms, his anxieties would “well become / [a] woman’s story at a winter’s fire / [a]uthorized by her grandam” [III:iv].  She is here taunting, assaulting his masculinity, undermining the presumption of his manliness.  “Are you a man?” [Ibid.], she asks him, rhetorically, after the deed is done.  She belittles her husband by questioning his masculinity, infantilizing Macbeth, for he is indeed the child of Lady Macbeth.  Lady Macbeth mothers—produces—her own husband, who would only become a man by doing her bidding.  Lady Macbeth says of her husband’s face:

Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men
May read strange matters… [I:v].

This is an ambiguous statement.  What, precisely, does Lady Macbeth mean by strange?  Lady Macbeth might mean that her husband’s face is expressive—men may read strange matters therein.  “Strange” would mean “unsettling,” “grotesque,” “horrific.”  Men may read eerie, disturbing things in her husband’s face, things that are on Macbeth’s mind, things that should remain hidden.  Or she might mean that Macbeth’s face shows things that are foreign to his cast of mind.  “Strange,” then, would mean “alien,” “foreign,” “incommensurate,” not part of him, outside of his consciousness.  In other words, men may read things in Macbeth’s face that Macbeth is not actually thinking.  Macbeth’s face, then, would be inexpressive.  The fundamental point, for my argument, is that Lady Macbeth acts as the official interpreter of the book of Macbeth’s face.[xvii]

Despite all of her aggressiveness, so guilt-afflicted is Lady Macbeth post-deed that she becomes vegetabilized and then takes her life.  After the suicide of his wife, Macbeth does what any husband would do in the same situation.  He philosophizes.  He philosophizes in a sequence of metaleptic substitutions: “Life” becomes a “brief candle,” which becomes a “walking shadow,” which becomes a “poor player,” which becomes “a tale / [t]old by an idiot, full of sound and fury / [s]ignifying nothing” [V:v].  Metalepsis, in the rhetorical sense, is the substitution of one metonym for another.

Childless Macbeth is as a child to Lady Macbeth.  I see Macbeth’s childlessness as an abdication of the parently role and as the continuation of childlikeness.  Unable to procreate, he is infantilized.  For Macbeth is indeed a child—he is powerless, which in the deepest sense is what a child is.

 

*******************************************

*******************************************

*******************************************

*******************************************

*******************************************

*******************************************

*******************************************

*******************************************

*******************************************

*******************************************

*******************************************

The play begins with a decapitation (that of Macdonald) and ends with a decapitation (that of Macbeth), suggesting that the actions that we assign to subjects are acephalic actions.  Macdonald’s “head is fixed upon [the Scottish army’s] battlements” [I:ii], and Macduff “enter[s]… with Macbeth’s head” [V:ix].  Not fortuitously, the First Apparition is a disembodied, weaponized head [IV:i], foretelling the coming beheading of Macbeth.  Decapitation is the key to understanding The Tragedy of Macbeth.

Roman Polanski’s 1971 cinematic interpretation of the play culminates in a spectacular decapitation.  I am filled with shuddering admiration for the hallucinatory lugubriousness of Polanski’s film, which is indeed a great Roman Polanski film.  However, it has to be stated: Polanski’s Macbeth is a magnificent work of cinema that has absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare.

In his magisterial Daybreak: Thoughts on Moral Prejudices, Nietzsche sees in Macbeth a vigorous, daemonically attractive figure who is appealing because of his impassioned commitment to evil.  Nietzsche cosmeticizes Macbeth as a “hero-villain” or a “villain-hero” (without using these terms).

Instead of regarding Macbeth as a villain-hero or an anti-hero, as he often is, I see Macbeth as a process and the recipient of forces that are constantly acting upon him.  If there is no free will, and both the tragedies of Hamlet and Macbeth suggest that there is none, there are neither villains nor even heroes, even in time of plague.  Nor is there such a thing as a Self that would be the changeless center of consciousness, as if the subject were the captain of a ship—in charge of the deeds that the body does.  The play suggests that human beings are not self-conscious agents but fleshly puppets or “walking shadow[s]” [V:v].[xix]  Drivenness is what marks Macbeth—he is not an auto-mobile, not a self-driven vehicle.  He is being driven.

Immediately after the suicide of his wife, Macbeth acknowledges that life of the human species is temporary.  He acknowledges that the life of the human animal is nothing more than a “poor player” who “struts and frets his hour upon a stage” [V:v].  He acknowledges that human life is a “brief candle” [Ibid.] that flares up only to be extinguished.  Macbeth assumes finitude and refuses finitude at the same time.  He assumes mortality and refuses mortality.  When he says, “At least we’ll die with harness on our back” [Ibid.], Macbeth appears to be suggesting that he does not have a speckle of a scintilla of a modicum of a tincture of a jot of a hope of surviving yet rushes headlong to his death and oblivion.  He appears to be suggesting: Even though we know that we are going to die, even though we know that we are going to be forgotten (we are hurtling toward oblivion, which is forgottenness), “[a]t least we’ll die with harness on our back” [Ibid.].  This great, triumphal statement is an assertion of the human in the face of nothingness.

The play suggests that all actions are involuntary, that everything is necessary.[xx]  Macbeth is provoked to murder involuntarily, by forces beyond his control, in the same way that alcohol involuntarily provokes nose-painting, sleep, and urine [II:iii].  The acceptance of necessity is determinism, as is the short-lived stoical resignation of Lady Macbeth: “What’s done is done” [III:ii], and “What’s done, cannot be undone” [V:i].  Yes, and what will have been done will have been done.

There is no redemption or forgiveness or apology at the end of the play, only an impassioned refusal and assumption of necessity, a fighting-in-vain against necessity unto the end, “with harness on our back.”  The Tragedy of Macbeth is, relevantly, Shakespeare’s briefest tragedy.  As if to remind us of the ephemerality of life, the play itself is ephemeral.  Time is all-annihilating, the life of humankind is a “brief candle,” and Macbeth is an agent of all-annihilating time.

Joseph Suglia

 

 

[i] Date of composition: 1606, terminus post quem.

 

[ii] Macbeth is not equal to the deed that he has committed (the murder of Duncan).

 

[iii] Macbeth is deploying a similar distancing technique when he says, “If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well / It were done quickly” [I:vii].  Note that he does not say, “If I were to do it.”  The “It” takes the place of the “I.”

 

[iv] It would be unpresumptuous to say that this experience is not one of self-knowledge, but one of self-misknowledge.

 

[v] The original text of Holinshed: “These women were either the weird sisters, that is (as ye would say) the goddesses of destinie, or else some nymphs or feiries, indued with knowledge of prophesie by their necromanticall science, bicause euerie thing came to passe as they had spoken.”

 

[vi] Appearances of the supernatural or of aberrant nature protrude and obtrude throughout the text of the play—a mousing owl hawking and killing a towering falcon, two horses cannibalizing each other [II:iv], the banqueting ghost of Banquo [III:iv], the apparitions of an armed head, a bloody child, and a child crowned, with a tree in his hand, the show of eight kings [IV:i].

 

[vii] The names are similar, fortuitously, for these are the names given in the historical record (Holinshed).  Macbeth, Macduff, and Macdonald are the three Big Macs.  There are instances of parechesis throughout the play: “banquet” and “Banquo,” “thane” and “thine,” as well as “Macbeth,” “Macduff,” and “Macdonald.”

 

[viii] The weïrd sisters often speak in paradoxes: “Greater than Macbeth, and lesser”; “When the battle’s lost, and won” [I:i].  Macbeth, whose speech imitates the speech of the witches, also occasionally speaks paradoxically: “This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill; cannot be good” [I:iii].  Malcolm, too, is paradoxical when he says: “We have met with foes / That strike beside us” [V:vii].  He might mean: “We have encountered enemies who are on our side,” perhaps alluding to the kerns (Irish guerilla soldiers), against whom the Scots fought at the beginning of the play and who might now be Scottish allies.  The entire play contains a paradoxology.

 

[ix] “I’ll do, I’ll do, I’ll do” gives the illusion of subjectivity.

 

[x] “I’ll do, I’ll do, I’ll do” is what rhetoricians call “epizeuxis”: the repetition of a word in close succession.  Epizeuxis is the least intelligent form of rhetorical repetition, but it would be unfair to blame Shakespeare for this, since the repetition is purposely mindless.  Perhaps the clearest example of epizeuxis: “No, no, no, no.”

 

[xi] Macbeth to the witches: “[Y]ou untie the winds and let them fight / Against the churches…” [IV:i].

 

[xii] “Though his bark cannot be lost, / Yet it shall be tempest-tossed” [I:iii].

 

[xiii] To think that words only have a metaphorical significance is to have a slender understanding of how words work.

 

[xiv] Babbling language, signifying nothing—language is a text in which the signifier supersedes the signified.

 

[xv] The original text of Holinshed: “The woords of the thrée weird sisters… greatlie incouraged him herevunto [to kill Duncan], but speciallie his wife lay sore vpon him to attempt the thing, as she that was verie ambitious, burning in vnquenchable desire to beare the name of a quéene.”

 

[xvi] And she continues: “To alter favour ever is to fear. / Leave all the rest to me” [I:v].

 

[xvii] What Lady Macbeth is saying sounds uncannily resemblant of what King Duncan says in the fourth scene of the first act: “There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face.”  He is alluding to the traitorous quondam Thane of Cawdor.  In a masterly feat of Shakespearean cosmic irony, the King then turns to speak to someone he misestimates: Macbeth!

 

[xix] The play subtly weakens the idea that a human being could be autogenously produced; it criticizes the myth of autogeny.  That idea is blown up into flinders.  To use the language of psychology: The play suggests that the formation of the human being could be explained by alloplasticity, not autoplasticity.  Not by the mind’s capacity for dealing with the external world, but by the mind’s capacity for being affected by the external world.

 

[xx] The play humanizes the tyrant Macbeth.  He is impelled, necessitated to kill.

 

 

Coronavirus Poem and Cruise Ship Poem

I am not a lyrical poet, but for some reason, these two lyrical poems surfaced in my mind recently.  If you like them, you will love my novel TABLE 41, the novel which predicted the novel Coronavirus.–Joseph Suglia

 

CORONAVIRUS POEM
by Joseph Suglia

Quiet city
The zoogenic and zoonotic pestilence is encoiling and ensnaring the quiet city
Encoiling and ensnaring
The plan-disruptive plague

Quiet city
There are pigs in the alley
These pigs do not squeal; they screech
There is a screeching outside in the quiet city

 

 

CRUISE SHIP POEM
by Joseph Suglia

A scintilla of space
in a sea of time

A worldship
not fixed to any place

A migratory, nomadic space
with an affinity to the flows of water

 

The Unreadability of Hamlet

 

 

 

THE UNREADABILITY OF HAMLET

by Joseph Suglia

 

“No wavering mind, infected with Hamletism, was ever pernicious: the principle of evil lies in the will’s tension, in the incapacity for quietism, in the Promethean megalomania of a race that bursts with ideals, that explodes with convictions…”

—Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay

 

“O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent”

—T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

 

Hamlet is not killed by Laertes, nor is he killed by Claudius; he is killed again and again by consumer culture, which is incrementally becoming the only culture on the Planet Earth.  That is to say: The text entitled The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which is attributed to a person named William Shakespeare, has been distilled to a compound of popular-cultural clichés.  The text has been zombified.  I do not mean that the language of the text is obsolete or irrelevant.  I mean that the play “lives on” in the deathful form of clichés, for clichés are dead language.

Nearly every line of the play has become a platitude, a slogan, a title of a song or a film, a song lyric.  Most have an at least sedimentary understanding of the play—in the form of the clichés that the play has generated.  You might not have read Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark, but Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark has read you.

It is nearly impossible to read the words of the text in their original context, since the text now appears porous to any culturally literate person.  It is not an open-source text; it is an open-sore text.  It is leachy, pervious, permeable to the outside.  That is to say, the text constantly refers to popular-cultural detritus, to bastardized commercializations of the play that Shakespeare was fortunate enough never to have seen or to have heard.  Or, proleptically, to other works of literature; I have read about half of these lines in other works of literature.  When I read “sweets to the sweet,” “ay, very like a whale,” or “beetles over his base into the sea,” I think not of Hamlet (or of the play of which he is the eponym), but of Joyce’s Ulysses, wherein these same phrases reappear.  I am forcibly extricated from the initial text and redirected to another, much later work of literature.

It is not that my mobile telephone is pulling me out of the text.  Staying alone with the text, without the buzzing and shrilling of our telephones, without the compulsive need to check one’s e-mail is a persistent challenge for most, it is true.  Yet this argument is not so much incorrect as it is banal.  It is an argument has been too easily and too often made before (most notably, by Nicolas Carr in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”).  My argument is not that the webware of our minds has been redesigned and redrawn—something that I have accepted as an immovable fact long ago.  Yes, I know that most are distractible.  I have known this for years.  My argument is different.

What is pulling me out of the text is a set of exophoric references that has come long after the fact of the text’s composition.

I am arguing that the play is unreadable independently of its multiple references to consumerist culture.  I do not mean that the text cannot be read (it is as compulsively readable as any text in the Shakespearean canon).  Again, this is not my argument.  I am suggesting something else.  I mean that the text cannot be read as a text, so englutted is it with post-date media clichés and references to other works of literature.  The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a multiply linked polytext.

In an age in which Google is the New God, it is even less probable that one could read a text in its nudity.  We have reached the point at which many of us cannot read a text as text, assuming that such a thing were even ever possible.  As Nietzsche writes in the late notebooks, “To able to read off a text as text, without interposing an interpretation between the lines, is the latest form of ‘inner experience’—perhaps one that is scarcely possible,” einen Text als Text ablesen können, ohne eine Interpretation dazwischen zu mengen, ist die späteste Form der “inneren Erfahrung,”— vielleicht eine kaum mögliche…  One would require an innocent mind to be able to read a text that is unalloyed.

And yet there are no innocent minds any longer—if there ever were!  So supersaturated is the play with after-the-fact media clichés, so embedded is the play with alluvial deposits, so thoroughly is the play encrusted with post-date media messages that it is pre-contaminated.  It is pre-inscribed, paradoxically, by cultural references that were superimposed on the text 400 years after the fact.  Cultural references that have been superimposed to the extent that they are have become part of the text “itself.”  The clichés are not extricable from the text “itself.”

The play cannot be ensiled, protected from the intrusion of clichés.  To ensile means to prepare and store fodder (such as hay or corn) so that it is conduced into silage (succulent feed for livestock).

The lines of the play have taken on lives of their own outside of the play.  Many of them have fallen into the flabbiness of ordinary language.  Popular culture has engulfed the text and debased it.

 

* * * * *

 

Here is a partial list of popular-cultural vandalizations and vulgarizations of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  I will be citing the Second Quarto (1604-1605) exclusively, for it is the most expansive version of the play:

“’Tis bitter cold / And I am sick at heart” [I:i] is now the language of the weather report.  Squalls and flurries are routinely described by meteorologists as “bitter cold.”  Supporters of politicians are said to wait for their candidates in the “bitter cold.”  “Bitter cold” is said to be the climate of beautiful Rochester, New York.  Poeticism has been deflated, fallen into the stupidity of ordinary language.

“Not a mouse stirring” is now a verse in “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore.  Moore defamiliarized and rescrambled the cliché: It has now become “Not a creature was stirring / not even a mouse.”  And yet that itself has become a cliché.  Readers and spectators of the play will call the Christmas favorite to mind—and digress from the text of the play into yuletide musings.

The stage direction Exit Ghost is now the title of a 2007 novel by Philip Roth.

“Stay, Illusion” is now the title of the book of poetry by Lucie Brock-Broido.

“A little more than kin, and less than kind” [I:ii]: Hamlet’s reproving words to his adulterous, fratricidal stepfather is now a Canadian television series called Less Than Kind (2008-2013).

“I shall not look upon his like again”: Whenever someone dies and the eulogist at the obsequy wants to sound literate, s/he will say, “We’ll not see his/her like again.”  In their eulogies to David Bowie and John McCain, Will Self and Joe Biden, respectively, change the “I” to “we”—a common misremembrance, a common misrecollection of the line.  It is originally Hamlet’s manner of saying that his father—his only father, his real father, his bio-dad—is irreplaceable and certainly may never be replaced by an incestuous, fratricidal drunkard and idiot.

“This above all, to thine own self be true” [I:iii]: These words no longer are counsel given by the unbrilliant Polonius to his son Laertes before the latter is dispatched to France to study at university.  They now form an inscription tattooed on the faceless arms of hundreds of thousands of “social-media” mystics and cybernetic insta-priests (the words before the colon are usually deleted).

I place “social media” in quotation marks because there is nothing social about “social media.”

I suspect that the tattoo exists in order to be photographed and “shared” for the benefit of “Likes.”  I wonder how many carve, chisel, these words into their flesh in order to display the insignia / imprint to their shadowy internet “friends” and “followers.”  This is a good example of denaturing the body in order to receive approval from hollow cybernetic effigies.

In the twenty-first century: We do not experience and then represent; we represent and then experience.

But to my mind, though I am native here / And to the manner born, it is a custom / More honoured in the breach than the observance” [I:iv]: As Philip B. Corbett illuminates in his The New York Times article “Mangled Shakespeare,” “to the manner born” is often misheard and misremembered as “to the manor born.”

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” [I:iv]: Once Marcellus’s baleful diagnosis of his country upon seeing the ghost of the dead king, the statement is now a cliché that can be found almost everywhere.

No longer the admonition of Claudius to his son to leave the boy’s mother unpunished by worldly vengeance, “leave her to heaven” [I:v] is now a 1945 film noir directed by John M. Stahl.

Once Horatio’s words of astonishment upon seeing the ghost of his friend’s father, “wondrous strange” is now the title of a young-adult fantasy novel by Lesley Livingston.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”: This was originally Hamlet’s gentle rebuke to Horatio for his Epicureanism (Epicurus denied the supernatural) after both characters see the ghost of Hamlet’s father.  The “your” is often changed to “our,” Horatio’s name is almost always deleted, and this is now the favorite weasel sentence of agnostics who condescendingly allow the probabilism of the supreme deity.

“The time is out of joint”: This is now the resaying of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who uses the quotation to explain what Kant means by the universal form of sensibility, which is time.  Deleuze is unaware that “[t]he time” refers to the unspecified age in which the play is set, not to temporality itself.  Though he is no marketer, Deleuze belongs on this list.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire” [II:ii] has been curdled into a line that can be heard in the films Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Letters to Juliet (2010).

“Thou this be madness yet there is method in’t”: The original context (Polonius’s interlude of lucidity) has been forgotten, since it is now a thought-annihilating platitude, with neither method nor madness therein.  It is also the 2019 cinematic comedy Madness in the Method, directed by Jason Mewes.

“What a piece of work is man!” is no longer Hamlet’s ejaculatory paean to the intricate elegance and elegant intricacy of humanity.  It is now “You’re a real piece of work!” which is a favorite insult of the insecure, one which is sometimes applied to a person who steps too far outside of the herd.  Urban Dictionary makes the interesting point that a “piece of work” is someone who is needlessly difficult.

“The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”  One of the most stupid lines in the whole of Shakespeare has become an episode of the seventh season of SpongeBob SquarePants, “The Play’s the Thing.”

“To be, or not to be—that is the question” [III:i] has been transmuted into a 1983 film by Mel Brooks entitled To Be or Not to Be (superseding an earlier film with the same title which has been largely forgotten).  It is also a 1965 song by the Bee Gees.

“Slings and arrows” is now a Canadian television series (2003-2006).

“Outrageous fortune” has been transformed into a 1987 film comedy starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long.

“Perchance to dream” is the twenty-sixth episode of the animated series Batman (1992).

“What dreams may come” has become a 1998 film drama starring Robin Williams.  Few seem to remember that the film is based on a novel by the great Richard Matheson that was published two decades earlier.

“The undiscovered country” is no longer Hamlet’s metaphor for death.  It is now the 1991 film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

“Get thee to a nunnery”: Hamlet’s vicious insult to Ophelia, after he declares his non-love for her (and perhaps his lovelessness in general, his possible inability to love anyone), has been reduced to a meme, to an ironic, internet cliché.  “Nunnery” might signify “brothel,” but it more probably signifies “convent,” since, in tandem with his To-Be-Or-Not-To-Be soliloquy, Hamlet seems to be pursuing the antinatalist argument that it is better for humankind to stop breeding, that it is better never to have been born (following Sophocles and anticipating the philosophies of Schopenhauer and Cioran).  What thwarts Hamlet’s suicide is his fear of the afterworld, of afterwordliness—this fear is the “conscience [that] does make cowards of us all.”  There is no reason to breed, then.  It is better never to give birth, for suicide is too dicey.

“[T]he mirror [held] up to Nature to show Virtue her feature” [III:ii] is now an infantile short story by David Foster Wallace called “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” (which, in turn, was based on a work of philosophy by Richard Rorty).

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”: Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark, means that the Player Queen is affirming too much, she is over-emphatic in her declarations of love for her second husband.  Protesting does not mean, here, negating.  It is not an instance of Freudian Verneinung, as if a husband were to say to his wife, unprompted, “I am not saying that I’m attracted to the waitress.”  Nor does it mean “to disagree with someone vehemently, in a suspiciously egregious manner.”  In Shakespeare’s England, “to protest” meant to give repeated affirmations, “to over-assert,” “to pronounce a statement vigorously and forcefully.”  In an interesting example of the Mandela Effect, there has been a collective misremembrance of the line as “Methinks you protest too much.”

“I must be cruel only to be kind” [III:iv] are no longer the self-exculpatory words of Hamlet, defending the very cruel words that he says to his mother, Queen Gertrude.  It is now the advice of Nick Lowe, given in his 1979 hit song “Cruel to Be Kind,” a song that is sometimes cited by cruel people who claim to be honest.

“Hoist with his own petard” doesn’t mean lifting oneself by one’s own crane, despite what a number of political cartoons and political commentators suggest.  “To hoist with one’s own petard” means “to blow oneself up with one’s own bomb.”

“This man shall set me packing” means “This man will provoke me into action.”  It has nothing to do with eviction, with kicking someone out of an apartment, with expulsion, which is what it has come to mean colloquially or when Joe Biden says, “We will send Trump packing and keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.”  Or when current Prime Minister of Great Britain Boris Johnson says that he is “absolutely confident that [the Britons] can send the Coronavirus packing in this country.”

“Goodnight, ladies, goodnight.  Sweet ladies, goodnight, goodnight” [IV:v] has been demoted to the final song on Transformer (1972), Lou Reed’s worst album, which is really a bad David Bowie album (Bowie was its producer).  The line does also reappear in intentionally, floridly bastardized form in “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot—a poem that concerns the cheapening, the coarsening, of literary values in the mass culture of the European twentieth century.

“A fellow of infinite jest” [V:i] is no longer a phrase that Hamlet uses to praise his father’s jester Yorick, who is now dead and whose skull Hamlet is holding.  It is now the title of one of the most execrably written books ever published, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

“[T]he quick and dead” is now the 1995 film The Quick and the Dead, directed by Sam Raimi.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” [V:ii] is now the title of Tom Stoppard’s not-always-bracing postmodernist, auto-reflexive play.  It has also been resurrected as the 2009 American independent film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.

 

* * * * *

 

As the snapshots of popular culture above demonstrate, popular culture has vulgarized and continues to vulgarize the play, for popular culture vulgarizes all art, degrading it until it becomes something other than art, something baser than art.

Each popular-cultural citation leaves a residue.  Of course, there would be no “pure” text beneath the accrual of sedimentation.  However, I am arguing something else: The text is even less pure than it would be otherwise, so buried is it under a mountain of kitsch, a garbage mountain of clichés in an ever-compounding media landfill.

We deviate from the text at hand.  We are force-fed bowls of fuzz-word salad.

If I were able to approach the text in its “nudity”: My own approach to the text would be to examine it through the speculum of the question of the free will.  Multiple essays have already discussed the question of free will in Hamlet, but none, as far as I know, have argued that the play is suggesting that free will is a delusion from which we would do well to disabuse ourselves.  If the play is about anything at all, it is about the impossibility of anything like a free will.

The crux of the play, its pivotal question, is why does Hamlet delay?  Why is Laertes a swift avenger whereas Hamlet is a sluggardly avenger?  Whereas Laertes is undiscouraged and rushes headlong toward vengeance—Laertes, who all but breaks down the door to slaughter Hamlet, whom he blames for his father Polonius’ death—Hamlet is unnimble and delays the exaction of revenge for the murder of his father.  Hamlet’s hesitancy, his hesitantism, has nothing to do with will, for Hamlet is consciously committed to exacting revenge for his father’s death “with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love” [I:v].

The answer is that Hamlet’s will is not his own, as Laertes himself says in the third scene of the first act to Laertes’ sister Ophelia.  He has no free will for no one has freedom of will.  Our decisions emerge from the abysses of the unconscious mind.  The source of decisions is not consciousness; we are only free to choose what our unconscious minds have chosen for us.

We see that Hamlet believes in the mirage of the free will when he commands, “About, my brains!” in the all-important soliloquy of Act Two: Scene Two, a soliloquy that is far more significant than the To-Be-Or-Not-To-Be soliloquy.  “About, my brains!” means “Get to work, my mind!”  Or: “Activate, my mind!  Impel me into action!”  Hamlet (his consciousness and the Ego which is the nucleus of his consciousness) is commanding his brain (his unconscious mind, the hinterbrain) to prompt him to action.  And yet Hamlet’s “I” (the Ego, the idealized and self-preserving representation of the Self) remains unprovokable.  The “I” commands the brain to act—Hamlet apostrophizes his brains.  It is a dialogue or a duologue between consciousness and the unconscious mind.  Hamlet is both talking-to-himself and listening-to-himself-speak.  The play is suggesting that action does not issue directly from the “I” but from the unconscious sources of human cognition and activity.  Hence, it is a critique, in dramatic form, of the misbegotten concept of the free will.

It is only within the final scene of the play that Hamlet learns that all human thinking and acting is necessary, involuntary, inadvertent, unwitting: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will” [V:ii].  He learns to leave things as they are, in a manner similar to stoicism or Heideggerean Gelassenheit: “Let be,” Hamlet says.  “Let be”: Let things be in their being.  Accept things as they are, instead of tyrannizing nature and expecting life to follow according to one’s subjective volition.  Adjust to the swirl of experience, which is beyond anyone’s conscious control.

None of this will appear to readers and spectators of the play, so dumbed down has the text become by ordinary language and the stupiditarians of the entertainment industry.  Language does change over time, as the descriptivists repeatedly claim to justify their unreflective assertion that language speakers do not need to be told what the rules of that language are.  It is as if the descriptivists were calling out: “Let chaos reign!” and “All hail disorder!”  I would say, in rejoinder: Language becomes more and more stupid over time.

Ultimately, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark has become a cliché-manufacturing factory—generative of clichés that are more enduring than the Prince of Denmark’s sweaty vacillations and testy temporizations.

Joseph Suglia