13 March 2012

Business and Desires

Having spoken to the Ghost and received his charge, Hamlet dismisses the inquiry of his dear friend Horatio:
And so, without circumstance at all,
I hold it fit that we shake hands and part;
You as your business and desire shall point you,
For every man hath business and desire,
Such as it is . . .
I’ve been thinking about business and desire.
So that he can plot and plan, Hamlet demands solitude from Horatio: Hamlet has, as do all men he claims, business and desires. He would engage. Of course, Hamlet has been not without desire: “I have that within that passes show . . .” he tells his mother who has chastised him for the persistent mourning at the death of his father. He has, however, been for some time inactive. He came from Wittenburg where he studied and lived the life of the student to Elsinore to attend his father’s funeral and his mother’s o’er hasty re-marriage. He has since abandoned any engagement in business. The ghost’s charge to revenge his foul and most unnatural murder energizes Hamlet and demands that he attend to business that derives from his desire, to engage in a business that would give to desire some body and direction.
At Elsinore, Hamlet has been thus far incapable of action though I think he is not without desire: “Methinks I see my father . . . in my mind’s eye.” And though Hamlet will become busy, he will not finally enact his pointed business. And perhaps that is the rub: in his obsession with his desire Hamlet neglects his business. When the ghost returns he admonishes Hamlet not for his lack of desire but for his failure to fulfill his business: “I come to whet thy almost blunted purpose.” In his passion he stabs through the arras killing Polonius hoping it were the king but in a moment’s reflection should have known it could not be having just passed the King in apparent prayer. I think that Hamlet has been so consumed with desire that he has forgotten his resolve. He may appear busy but he cannot effect his purpose. The pale cast of thought has distracted Hamlet. In his consuming desire to set the world right, Hamlet has forgotten his business in his distracted busyness.
I’ve been thinking that there may be little in our lives but business and desire, and that our lives are a seeking for some balance between the two.  In his urgings to Horatio, Hamlet expresses a desire to return to life even as Hamlet demands that Horatio go back to life. He has from the play’s beginnings lacked purpose but not desire. His depression, or melancholy, may be understood as a loss of balance between his engagement in business and desire. Hamlet has suffered not from too much desire but from an insufficient engagement in business. When the audience first sees him, Hamlet is seated in a chair. Or he is wandering somewhat aimlessly, carelessly and inattentively amidst the crowd gathered before Claudius who acts decisively upon his business and desire. Hamlet’s problem is not necessarily that he has no desire, but that he has no business. Hamlet is immobilized by his inability to engage in business.
Dylan expresses this despair. In “Not Dark Yet” he sings, “I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from.” The narrator appears to have lost all sense of business and desire, though he does remember that his present situation in which he presently finds himself resulted from some desire to get away from something. He recalls business and desire, but experiences neither. Though I think now that the creation of the song expresses this melancholia derives from business and desire. The song expresses emotional lassitude but its having been written denies that depression. The creation of art derives in part, I suppose, from pointing toward business and desire even if the art itself describes the failures of business and desire. Shakespeare may have suffered much desire, but in writing  Hamlet he has done much business.
As Hamlet fumblingly attempts to fulfill the charge of his father’s ghost, he forgets what it was he came here to get away from. “Yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal peak/Like John-a-dreams unpregnant of my cause and can say nothing!” Hamlet accuses himself of indolence, but of course, Hamlet has been not at all lethargic; indeed, he has been very busy. The problem is that he discounts the reality of all action save the one act he intends and cannotperhaps will noteffect: the death of Claudius. The execution of that act may be confounded by his complex desire. I think that never was there a man so beset by desire as is Hamlet: I am not surprised that he cannot direct his business. Hamlet’s problem may be that his desire and his business are at cross-purposes, or that his desire confounds the execution of his business.
The separation of desire from business and business from desire makes cowards of us all. Dylan’s narrator may not hear the murmur of a prayer, but in the song Dylan has created one. Alas, Hamlet’s last words decree silence.


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