Passage for emphasis (Mary P)

To be or not to be—that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep—
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.—Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia.—Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

(3.1.64 – 98)

I hesitated to offer up this too, too familiar passage for emphasis. Yet, because its familiarity makes it so easy to skim, the syntactic resources we read for today provide an opportunity to think about it in a new way. In class, I hope we’ll break these sentences down and try to determine what work is being done on a syntactic level—and why it matters. Here are some thoughts to get us started.

Mueller points out that it is often difficult to distinguish between the coordinate, disjunctive “or” and appositive, connective “or,” in which alternative names are given for the same referent (33). In this most famous of all Shakespearean sentences, “To be, or not to be?” it may seem simple to determine which of the two is relevant. Every high school student will tell you what this soliloquy is about—should Hamlet commit suicide, or shouldn’t he? There is no overlap between the two options, and no ambiguity. Yet Hamlet has already shown a perverse delight in linking words and phrases that ought to remain opposed. He calls Claudius is his “uncle-father” (2.2.400) and his mother, and directly following this speech he will tell Ophelia “I did love you once,” and then “I loved you not” (3.1.125, 129). In this soliloquy, Hamlet’s most seeming-simple question of course propels us into one of the English language’s most profound reflections on the painfully unknown relationship between life, death, and what comes after. Hamlet does not know whether the neat binary structuring his first question holds up in the face of such uncertainty, and it shows in the shape of his stunning, “running” sentences, with all their “twistings and turnings of the syntax [that] represent twistings and turnings of the mind” (Lanham 53 – 6), and all of their parenthetical qualification. Parataxis abounds here (To die, to sleep—/To sleep, perchance to dream), because Hamlet has no idea how to “rank” these kinds of action in Lanhamian fashion. Yet, it’s clear he’s thought about these questions quite a lot, and we’ve seen him at it for the better part of two acts. So, while I’ve tentatively labeled much of this soliloquy as a series of running sentences, how closely do these sentences resemble the periodic style? All of the periodic elements are here—suspension, parallelism, balance, climax, and virtuoso display. Is there anything significant about how Shakespeare makes the two forms look so similar? Getting back to a question raised last class, to whom is this virtuoso performance of thinking-in-action directed? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


“Dost thou speak like a king?”: Henry IV, Part I Passage (Mary P)

Act 2, Scene 4

Weep not, sweet queen, for trickling tears are vain.

HOSTESS O the Father, how he holds his countenance!

For God’s sake, lords, convey my tristful queen,
For tears do stop the floodgates of her eyes.

HOSTESS O Jesu, he doth it as like one of these harlotry
players as ever I see.

FALSTAFF Peace, good pint-pot. Peace, good tickle-brain.—
As King. Harry, I do not only marvel
where thou spendest thy time, but also how thou
art accompanied. For though the camomile, the
more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, so youth,
the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears. That
thou art my son I have partly thy mother’s word,
partly my own opinion, but chiefly a villainous
trick of thine eye and a foolish hanging of thy
nether lip that doth warrant me. If then thou be
son to me, here lies the point: why, being son to
me, art thou so pointed at? Shall the blessed sun of
heaven prove a micher and eat blackberries? A
question not to be asked. Shall the son of England
prove a thief and take purses? A question to be
asked. There is a thing, Harry, which thou hast
often heard of, and it is known to many in our land
by the name of pitch. This pitch, as ancient writers
do report, doth defile; so doth the company thou
keepest. For, Harry, now I do not speak to thee in
drink, but in tears; not in pleasure, but in passion;
not in words only, but in woes also. And yet there is
a virtuous man whom I have often noted in thy
company, but I know not his name.

PRINCE What manner of man, an it like your Majesty?

FALSTAFF, as King A goodly portly man, i’ faith, and a
corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a
most noble carriage, and, as I think, his age some
fifty, or, by ’r Lady, inclining to threescore; and now
I remember me, his name is Falstaff. If that man
should be lewdly given, he deceiveth me, for, Harry,
I see virtue in his looks. If then the tree may be
known by the fruit, as the fruit by the tree, then
peremptorily I speak it: there is virtue in that
Falstaff; him keep with, the rest banish. And tell me
now, thou naughty varlet, tell me where hast thou
been this month?

PRINCE Dost thou speak like a king? Do thou stand for
me, and I’ll play my father.

FALSTAFF, rising Depose me? If thou dost it half so
gravely, so majestically, both in word and matter,
hang me up by the heels for a rabbit-sucker or a
poulter’s hare.

PRINCE, sitting down Well, here I am set.

FALSTAFF And here I stand.—Judge, my masters.

PRINCE, as King Now, Harry, whence come you?

FALSTAFF, as Prince My noble lord, from Eastcheap.

PRINCE, as King The complaints I hear of thee are

FALSTAFF, as Prince ’Sblood, my lord, they are false.
—Nay, I’ll tickle you for a young prince, i’ faith.
PRINCE, as King Swearest thou? Ungracious boy,
henceforth ne’er look on me. Thou art violently
carried away from grace. There is a devil haunts
thee in the likeness of an old fat man. A tun of man
is thy companion. Why dost thou converse with that
trunk of humors, that bolting-hutch of beastliness,
that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard
of sack, that stuffed cloakbag of guts, that roasted
Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that
reverend Vice, that gray iniquity, that father ruffian,
that vanity in years? Wherein is he good, but to taste
sack and drink it? Wherein neat and cleanly but to
carve a capon and eat it? Wherein cunning but in
craft? Wherein crafty but in villainy? Wherein villainous
but in all things? Wherein worthy but in

FALSTAFF, as Prince I would your Grace would take
me with you. Whom means your Grace?

PRINCE, as King That villainous abominable misleader
of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan.

FALSTAFF, as Prince My lord, the man I know.

PRINCE, as King I know thou dost.

FALSTAFF, as Prince But to say I know more harm in
him than in myself were to say more than I know.
That he is old, the more the pity; his white hairs do
witness it. But that he is, saving your reverence, a
whoremaster, that I utterly deny. If sack and sugar
be a fault, God help the wicked. If to be old and
merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is
damned. If to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s
lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord,
banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for
sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack
Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more
valiant being as he is old Jack Falstaff, banish not
him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy
Harry’s company. Banish plump Jack, and banish
all the world.

PRINCE I do, I will.


Halfway through the passage quoted above, Hal asks Falstaff, “Dost thou speak like a king?” Given this week’s focus on the language of character, we would do well to ask the same question. What must one character do in order to “speak like” another? Do Falstaff and Hal succeed in sounding like the king? On the level of meter, it is clear that Hal and Falstaff fail. Henry IV speaks almost always in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter. Here, both men speak in prose.

Of course, this passage has little to do with any real attempt to sound like King Henry IV. Hal may be the only one in the room who has heard the king speak. So, the humor must be predicated on something other than the similarities and differences between their patterns of speech. It is humorous, first, because Hal and Falstaff are offering their best, over-exaggerated king-speech in order to insult each other. The humor is based, too, on how well Falstaff and Hal mock Henry’s social roles—or his “social persons,” as Fowler would call them. At play here are the social persons of father and sovereign. We laugh to hear Falstaff use archaic, highbrow phrases like “tristful queen” (2.4.406). (For the record, the true king uses the more common “sad” to convey the same emotion (1.1.77).) We laugh because there is a disjunction between Falstaff’s tavern chair, dagger, and ratty cushion, and the high dignity of the throne, scepter, and crown they represent. We laugh to hear Hal chastised like a child. I wonder where else we might locate the humor of this scene? I wonder, too, whether anyone spots any moments in which either Hal or Falstaff do sound particularly kingly? In content, for example, they do join the true king in expressing disappointment in Hal.

The passage also plays into Henry IV’s concern with role-playing. King Henry makes it clear in Act 1 that Hotspur has played the part of heir to the throne far better than Hal has done. In the final battle, a number of characters run around disguised as the king. When the disguised Walter Blunt speaks with Douglas, the latter believes he is about to fight the king. Earlier, the king himself claims his formerly “smooth” behavior toward Northumberland and Hotspur was unbecoming, and that he “will from henceforth rather be myself” in taking them to task (1.3.5). The true prince, if he is to believed, is only disguising himself as a lowlife, promising to re-claim his proper role and very “self” when the time is ripe (“I shall hereafter, my thrice gracious lord, be more myself” (3.2.95)). As we think more about the play in class, I hope we’ll continue to ask what work is done when language points toward a character’s coherent, interior self. After all, as Mieke Bal writes, “characters don’t have an unconscious; only people do” (121).