20 January 2011

Hamlet and the State of the Union

I believe tonight is the State of the Union Message. I have some sense of that state and will head instead to a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I’ve been thinking lately of Ophelia’s conversation with Hamlet in Act II. In his antic mood he has abused Ophelia whom he loved and she, innocent and hurt, approaches him. She has been set up by her father and the King and Queen in an attempt to learn the cause of Hamlet’s madness. Polonius, mindful of her social status, has cautioned Ophelia to be wary of Hamlet’s advances, and dutiful daughter that she is, she has been coy with him.  Everyone assumes Hamlet’s madness has resulted from her rejection. While she engages Hamlet, the King and Polonius eavesdrop from behind the curtain on the conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia.
Ophelia approaches Hamlet with these words: “My lord/I have remembrances of yours/That I have longed long to redeliver./I pray you now, receive them.” It is a plaintive and unhappy moment. Ophelia, alone, frightened and abandoned by Hamlet, is also being used to spy on her lover. I have great affection for Ophelia at this moment.
And what I love especially in her lines is the rhythm of the language: the word ‘longèd’ is here pronounced with two syllables, and the mellifluous quality of her words mirror the beauty and innocence of her character. I love the rhythm of languagethe sound of English in discourseand Hamlet is filled with this beauty.
I hope the State of the Union Message is significant, but I cannot imagine it will be beautiful. And I hope the Senator from South Carolina, at least, will keep his rude and racist mouth shut.


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