Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Classic English Mysteries

Theoretically, mysteries needn't center on crime, but most pure mysteries do.

In fact they typically center on the crime of murder, because it's the perfect crime for this type of story. For one thing, since dead men tell no tales, murder is inherently mysterious. It's also simple and economical. All you need is a dead body, no other action and explanations to distract from real story. Moreover, murder gives the main character, the enigma buster, the strongest reason to solve the mystery. Since the victim cannot seek justice, society must. The victim's "blood cries out to heaven for justice," and letting somebody get away with murder is as bad as murder, for it amounts to participation in the crime through consent to it. So, murder insures suspension of disbelief by putting the protagonist in a crucible with the unknown antagonist — especially when the police screw up, give up, or ignore evidence to pin the wrap on somebody, regardless of whether he's really guilty. For, the only worse thing than murder is convicting an innocent person of murder so that he takes the fall for somebody else's sin.

Here are some examples of classic English mystery:
  • "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (a collection of stories)
  • The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen (a locked-room mystery)
  • Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie (a locked-room mystery)
The classic English mystery has quite a few characters, because there's a whole group of suspects. But each hardly needs much characterization, because the typical puzzle or locked-room mystery is a whodunnit game, and the reader is interested only in what is relevant — the clues. So, most authors just spice up the characters (especially the detective) with some eccentricities that give you a picture of them and bring them to life. The detective has a scientific attitude toward the other characters involved as pieces of the puzzle.

Since the main character in a mystery is dealing with somebody else's problem, and since her character doesn't grow, it can be reused. Examples of such recycled characters are:
  • Sir Authur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes
  • Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple
  • Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey
These stories have no plot in the usual sense of the word. The murder in the beginning and the discovery of whodunit in the end may be the only real events that occur. The rest of the "plot" is just the steps the detective takes to solve the crime, and, though there are twists and turns, those steps needn't be consequential or opposed.

In fact, the classic English mystery plot parallels the complications and twists of a comedy plot. It's essentially a comedy of manners with a good deal of tension relieving but quiet humor toward soft society in it. Unfortunately, that humor is missed by many critics and readers on both sides of the Atlantic. Which makes it less enjoyable to Americans, so...

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Reading Level for the American Audience

There's a misconception that would-be writers should rid themselves of. It's that the reading level of the average American is very low.

While there has been some truth this among younger people since the 1990's, too much has been attributed to it. Moreover, the No Child Left Behind Act has already brought first-through-fourth graders up to par with European students of the same age. Now, as the focus shifts to grades 5 through 8, we can expect the same there soon.

And American universities are still, as always, the best in the world.

Nonetheless, to write for an American audience, you had better aim for a low reading level. No matter what age-group you write for. Why?

It's mainly due to the sheer size of the United States. It has 390 million people, and every adult with a novel manuscript tucked away in some drawer. (No joke. That's the real "American Dream," getting that novel of yours published.) In other words, the competition for publication is extremely high here. So, unless you're famous, or know "somebody," you had better be a writer that Americans will read.

Because the competition is so strong here, the bar is high here. And Americans are spoiled on high quality writing that aims to do what all successful commercial products do -- be user friendly.

Americans are used to writing so clear and readable it practically reads itself. That's the art that conceals art. Good, clear, concise writing. Writing that communicates effectively. Writing unclouded with the fog of excess verbiage. Writing that doesn't distract you by calling attention to itself to show off. Plain English. Writing that never throws you overboard with stuff like Major Hoolihan went to get married to Japan, so you never have to go back and re-read a sentence your brain parsed some way other than the author intended. Writing that doesn't tax you with abstractions and unnecessarily big or uncommon words. Writing that doesn't entangle you in complex sentences that make you forget its subject by the time your hit a verb.

Americans are also very busy. They haven't the time or the patience to slog through dense writing.

Studies show that the more frequently the reader must stop to reread or figure out what the author means, the more likely the reader is to tire, stop making an effort to understand, lose interest, and eventually put down the book. Ask them what they got from it afterwards, and the answer isn't much.

Yet Americans will and do read at a 10th or 12th grade level if the subject matter is something they are deeply interested in (such as a nonfiction book that provides them with medical or health information for some disease they have).

What does this mean? It means that it's not that Americans CAN'T comprehend writing beyond the 8th-grade level, it's that they probably WON'T.

Why? Because Americans have come to expect smooth, quality, reader-friendly writing, and they consequently have little patience for anything less. If reading your book is like slogging through a salt marsh with a machete, they'll just buy the competing book of an author more considerate of the reader.

So, aim for an 8th grade level (except in the case of technical subjects, like the health books I mentioned above, where the vocabulary alone boosts the reading level to 10th grade). In fiction, the lower the better. Ernest Hemingway's fiction is written at a 4th-6th grade level.

In fiction that's crucial, because you never want the Fictive Dream interrupted by the reader having to stop and reread a sentence. That dissolves the magic spell of fiction.

As for academics, well, if they feel they MUST write at a 14-16th grade level, fine. But only people who MUST read that stuff do.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Subtle Conflict 6: Counterattack

In the five previous posts, we've been walking through Act III, scene i of Hamlet, in which conflict between Hamlet and Ophelia mounts. Remember the mood Hamlet was in at the begining of this scene. Remember also that he was debating with himself whether to force the core conflict with Claudius to it's crisis.

Now look at what this meeting with Ophelia has done. Hamlet knows she's been put up to this to spy on him, to get him to say something that will cost him his head. Put yourself in his shoes. How would you feel about your lover trying to trap you like that?

Deeply hurt a moment agon, now he's furious. Hamlet let's her have it. He lays into her with searing double entendre:

Hamlet: God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another. You jig, you amble, and you lisp; you nickname God's creatures and make your wantonness your ignorance.

At face value, he's expressing disgust with her coquetry: She paints on a false face, jiggles, sashays around to show herself off, talks cute baby talk, gives people God made a bad name and makes her wantonness out to be not knowing any better. In other words, she's no "nymph" in his eyes anymore. This could also describe her spiritual conduct: She's a fraud who makes phony faces (i.e., puts on acts), is tricky, sidles (or sidewinds, beats around the bush), talks childishly, gives people God made a bad name and makes her amorality out to be not knowing any better.

He tells her to get out of there, because he's had all he can take.

Hamlet: It hath made me mad!

He's playing on both meanings of the word mad here, and is being extremely sarcastic. Ophelia is silent, presumably because she's taken aback. This is the second time Hamlet has sarcastically responded this way to people treating him like he's crazy. The first time was to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, when he made the crack, "My wit's diseased." They too fell silent.

Why? Presumably because the remark surprises them. But, if they think Hamlet is crazy, why should a remark to that effect surprise them? If these courtiers really thought Hamlet is mad, they wouldn't dare treat him the way they do! Maybe they should stop driving him crazy. Somebody could get hurt.

Yet again, Ophelia she shows great disrespect by disobeying this direct order from the Prince. Unlike most princes, who would have had her hauled off, Hamlet just decides to leave himself. While doing so, he adds...

Hamlet: I say, we will have no more marriages. Those that are married already -- all but one -- shall live; the rest shall keep as they are.

He doesn't dare literally say what he means. But here again he's talking as though he is the king. Clearly speaking for the benefit of Polonius and Claudius, Hamlet uses veiled language. The terms he uses reflect what must be on his mind though.

First, there's the "all-men-are-predators" thing. Okay, then nobody should wed. But Hamlet doesn't use the words wedding or wed. Marriages can mean any close relationships, connections, or alliances, including mere romances or the network of alliances in the court. He must also be marrying the facts: what his mother did to his father and what Ophelia has done to him. At his age, you can bet he is tempted to think all women are like them. Also, at his age, you can bet that he is swearing off love. The we in "we will have no more marriages" can be the royal "we" used by a king or pope (instead of "I") when speaking officially. He must also feel like a fool for thinking any woman would love a prince for the kind of person he is. All Ophelia wanted was a chance to be queen. So, it's no wonder that he couches this statement in these terms.

But through that veil, we can see that he is saying much more.

As for the "marriages" in the network of alliances among the court, they shall stay as they are: everybody has chosen sides, and it's too late to get on his.

In this, his third act of kingship, he utters a thinly veiled promise that somebody whose marriage is on his mind will fall. This is a measured threat, because it shouldn't frighten eavesdropping Polonius that Hamlet will require as many heads as most kings would under the circumstances. Just one. Claudius'.

Hamlet's words echo a Letter of St. Paul (Cor. 7, 25), in which Paul states that Doomsday (Judgement Day) is at hand and that anybody not yet married to (read "in bed with") somebody should "stay as they are." In this context the statement that "all but one shall live" takes on new meaning. On Doomsday the "living" are those who "stand" before the Seat of Justice, and the rest are those who "fall." In this sense, it's a judicial term, as when we say that a fall guy takes the fall for somebody else's crime. So, here again Hamlet is behaving as the true king, by assuming the king's role as the Seat of Justice and highest judge in the land.

Of course Claudius' crime is treason, a capital offense. So the threat is of both trial and death.

When Hamlet is gone, the drama queen erupts again, presumably louder yet this time.

Ophelia: O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!

Now that she's talking behind his back, her "Hamlet-is-crazy" act goes on for 12 lines. But we shall spare ourselves the melodrama in the climax of her Academy-Award performance. Even Claudius and Polonius pay no attention to it as they come out of hiding. They are shaken at Hamlet's assertion of kingly authority and announcement of Doomsday.

Claudius has already decided to get rid of Hamlet, prefacing his remarks with...

Claudius: Love? his affections do not that way tend;
Nor what he spake, though it lack'd form a little,
Was not like madness.

And so, the subtle conflict in this scene has built into volcanic conflict. A seismic event has occurred. Hamlet has made a decision. He began this scene in a state of uncertainty, debating with himself whether "to be or not to be" (what he is = the real (legal) king of Denmark, obliged by law to bring the usurper to justice). He ends in revolt. He began in tenderness, he ends in apocalyptic fury. In other words, motivated by conflict he has grown from pole to pole. Ready to now, he assumes the seat of justice and is about to put Claudius on trial.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Subtle Conflict 5: Counterattack

In Act III, scene 1, we left off at the point Hamlet finds that he can make Ophelia think whatever he wants, that she is a mental whore, so to speak, who has no mind of her own.

Then whose mind is behind her suddenly changing her policy and deciding to speak with him today? Thus, Hamlet realizes this encounter with Ophelia is a setup -- an attempt to get him to say something "treasonous" and that he's being spied upon.

Hamlet needs no supernatural perceptiveness to realize this, because spying on prisoners and courtiers in castles was common. Moreover, throughout the story, people have been following Hamlet around like the scribes and pharisees followed Jesus of Nazareth around, and for the same purpose -- to catch him out so they could run back to Claudius and tattle on something he says. For his part, Claudius wants nothing more than an excuse to kill or imprison Hamlet, because Hamlet is obviously plagued by a desire to do justice for the murder of his father the king and the disgrace of his mother the queen.

Not to mention seizing a crown that should have gone to Hamlet. Claudius may well think this is Hamlet's main reason, but we know that, though it is a reason, it is the last one on Hamlet's list. Indeed, if all he cared about was the crown, he would have got it the usual way -- by collecting followers and starting a civil war.

So, from this point on, what Hamlet says is for the benefit of whoever is eavesdropping. He's furious and starts talking like a king. That is, he talks exactly as though he is the king of Denmark.

Why? By law, since Claudius is a usurper, Hamlet is legally the true king and seat of justice, obliged to try Claudius. Every courtier is a member of the king's household, so the king has the authority of a father over them.

In his first act of kingship, Hamlet orders Ophelia to a nunnery, something only the king could do. (Or her real father could do it with the king's permission.)

This is the impeccable judgement of a mind sound as a bell, too sound because it's exceptionally sound: Since she didn't get Hamlet's sarcasm and accepted the rationale that he wanted nothing but to deflower her — just because he is a young man and all young men are like that — a nunnery is where she belongs for safekeeping.

She's to go immediately, and now where's her father?

When she lies, saying that Polonius is at home and Polonius doesn't step forward, Hamlet passes judgement on him in absentia. In this, his second act of kingship, Hamlet decrees that her father is to play the fool only in his own house (Elsinore is the king's house) and stay there. In other words, he banishes Polonius from the court — the fate worse than death for a career politician.

I can imagine the audiences in Shakespeare's day gasping at what Hamlet is doing. I can imagine Claudius' and Polonius' eyes getting big behind the arras.

Ophelia is so shocked and upset by this ominous behavior of Hamlet's that she suddenly decides to pray for him after all. She cries out...

Ophelia: O, help him, you sweet heavens!

Does this give a new meaning to melodrama? Or, again, did we miss something? Is she in a worm hole seeing some anti-Hamlet in an anti-universe acting crazy? Yes, he's angry. But lady, do you always get so shook up over somebody getting angry that you think they're crazy?

In other words, her "Hamlet-is-crazy" act is an outrage. It's gaslighting and calumny. She just imagines that he's crazy because that's the line on him. In other words, her conduct is a mockery, whether she allows herself to realize that or not. Note how diabolical she is: Ophelia, the agent provocateur provokes him and then -- gotcha -- acts like his anger is madness. Anybody in his shoes would have all he could do not to strangle her before she ruins his whole life by yelling stuff like that around there.

But Hamlet's response is again antic: instead of doing what she's tempting him to, he just seethes that, by the way, if she does marry, the dowry he'll provide will be this plague (curse):

Hamlet: Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.

In other words, no matter how chaste and pure you are, you won't escape getting dirtied by the people around here. Then again he tells her to get lost. By law, she must obey the prince. And this isn't public property, it's his home. But, again she acts like he didn't just give her a direct order to leave him alone.

Hamlet's fuming "plague" expresses his outrage at what she and everybody else is ganging up on him to do — discredit him with calumny. Calumny that's a joke on top of it all. All his years keeping an orderly mind of his own given to great thoughts were just annulled by this woman with a disordered and promiscuous mind that she uses for a garbage can. She just erased them all with a breath of hot air that makes him the one with the disordered mind.

TIME OUT: This farce is a pattern, showing that Shakespeare's great knowledge of human behavior included projection and other psychological defense mechanisms. Hamlet's detractors never hit one of his real faults, which he enumerates as pride, revengefulness, and ambition. Instead, like Ophelia, they smear themselves off on his clean spots — his virtues — by projecting their faults onto him while attributing his virtues to themselves. Another way Shakespeare shows his great knowledge of human behavior is in the obduracy of the courtiers. Nothing ever makes them give up their charade and get real. That's true to life. Only when outsiders arrive on the scene as Fortinbras enters at the end, when the courtiers see the doors and windows of their closed environment opened so the outside world can see what they're doing — only then do they notice they're naked and check back into their senses.

TIME IN: Like a three-year-old, Ophelia replies by acting as though making her lie bigger, yelling it louder, and repeating it one more time somehow makes it the truth. Again she disobeys a direct order by acting as though the prince didn't just order her out of his presence. Again she tries to make things be the way she wants by acting as though they are. That is, again she acts as though Hamlet is the one acting crazy. Presumably louder this time, because his next line makes a crack about the volume.

Ophelia: O heavenly powers, restore him!

But why? She deliberately made him mad. Let's hope God is as stupid as she thinks He is, or she's in big trouble for mocking Him.

Again Hamlet resists the temptation to wring her neck and does the unexpected instead, blowing her off.

Hamlet: I have heard of your prattlings too well. Enough!

In other words, "Shut up!"

We'll finish this volcanic scene in the next post.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Subtle Conflict 4: Counterattack

Starting at line 103 (Act III, Scene 1) we continue with this encounter between Hamlet and Ophelia. Now he's angry.

Speaking in prose from now on (instead of verse), Hamlet gives Ophelia a sarcastic dose of her own medicine, playing words. She didn't understand "Are you honest?" so he puts the question another way.

Hamlet: Are you fair?

Ophelia: What means your lordship?

Ouch. She most certainly is! But it would be politically incorrect for her to say that. So, she punts, again pretending she doesn't understand.

Though he might as well be speaking a foreign language to her, Hamlet's next words do make sense to Shakespeare's audience. In fact, they made much more sense to Shakespeare's audience than they do to us. Hamlet says he means that...

Hamlet: That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.

This is a test to see if there's anything between Ophelia's ears. He's playing on the words honesty and beauty, referring to their essence (and root meaning) as "good faith" (moral purity, honor) and "good looks," or "appearances." He says that if she were honest, her honor wouldn't allow her to taint herself to look good (to the king and his court).

Ophelia: Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?

Since beauty and honesty are just words to her — buzzwords — she doesn't get it. So, now the addle-brain honestly doesn't understand him, which is what she deserves for pretending to not understand him.

Hamlet: Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. This was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof.

An easier test. He warns that the power of appearances is greater than the strength of purity and therefore is more apt to corrupt than the strength of purity is apt to withstand this corrupting influence. This philosophy comes from the Grail Legend, which even the illiterate knew and understood: Just as a pure solution is "strong," moral purity is one hundred percent strength — virtue itself, resistance to corruption. That's because the simple, the single-hearted, aren't already "weakened" (i.e., polluted/adulterated) by outside influences and ulterior motives. Sexual purity was viewed as secondary and just analogous to purity itself. Virginity was viewed as just a stronger state of chastity than faithful marriage, not a cleaner one. This philosophy should have been familiar to Ophelia, but she doesn't even recognize it.

Hamlet: I did love you once.

But not anymore. This is a natural thing for him to say and a way to end the conversation. Remember that she has just shoved his love letters and love poems to her back in his face. He stands there with them in his hands, his heart breaking. So he thus denies the accusation that he was lying in them, maintaining that these "perfumy" professions of love were sincere.

Ophelia: Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

Like all irrational people, she resorts to confusing the issue. Let's cut through the cloudiness.

"Indeed" expresses strong agreement with his statement. But he didn't say he said he loved her; he said he did love her. Does she agree that he loved her and say she believed it? Or does she agree only that he made her think he loved her?

Let's take the first interpretation: She still gives no reason why she should have changed her mind. So she must have rejected his love believing it was true. Then why did she just call his professions of love "perfumy/insincere" and accuse him of being mean? Was she lying then? Or is she lying now?

Now for the second interpretation: "Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so" is a left-handed way of disagreeing with him. In plain English it says, "My lord, you're lying. You never loved me."

So, she sneaks in the accusation that he's a liar under cover of fog.

But he doesn't take the bait.

Hamlet: You should not have believ'd me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not.

Hamlet sarcastically echoes Laertes, who told Ophelia to disbelieve Hamlet's professions of love, that they were just his hormones trying to deceive her, that Hamlet just wanted to deflower her. Because Hamlet is a young man and all young men are like that.

Here Hamlet sarcastically takes that assertion to its logical conclusion, showing that it contradicts the most fundamental Christian doctrine: If no young man can help but try to deflower women, baptism doesn't work.

According to Christian doctrine, our "old stock" is "fallen human nature." Original Sin left us, by nature, incapable of doing/being good and pleasing God. Baptism "inoculates" fallen human nature with grace, the strength (virtue) to resist temptation and be good.

Somehow coupled with this, the foundation of Christian doctrine, is another fundamental doctrine, that of free will. Known as the heresy of "fatalism," denying free will was considered flagrant misbelief.

Thus Hamlet shows that this belief is heresy. People were burned for minor errors it took a theologian to spot, but this misbelief cracks the very foundation of her professed Christianity. So, who's she to be calling Hamlet insincere? She — standing there with that big prayer book, which a moment ago she was pretending to pray from.

Ophelia: I was the more deceived.

But she just implied that he lied in saying he had loved her. So, this means that now he wasn't lying two seconds ago. Somebody should tell Ophelia that she can't have it both ways: he was either lying two seconds ago when he said "I loved you," or he is lying now when he says, "I loved you not."

No matter how you cut her foggy talk, Ophelia is just a liar blurting whatever seems convenient at the moment, without the slightest regard for whether it's true. She lies so fast and furiously that she can't keep her lies straight and avoid contradicting herself every time she opens her mouth.

She has also flunked a test of the purity/integrity of her mind. Hamlet has done what her father and brother do — tell her what to think. She is such a mental prostitute that he can inseminate her head with any idea he wants. It doesn't even matter if he contradicts himself by saying "I loved you" one minute and "I loved you not" the next. She just flip-flops on demand.

He becomes furious, for a mind like hers had to be put up to this. Now he knows this is a setup and that he is therefore being spied on again. By her father, Polonius, for sure and probably Claudius too. So, he talks like a king.

I'll continue with that on Monday.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Subtle Conflict 3

Hamlet: Ha, ha! Are you honest?

You can almost see his head spinning. He's probably pinching himself. Shakespeare again shows his great knowledge of human behavior. Rational people are stunned and perplexed by perverted reactions to things. They strike us as seeing an apple fall UP from a tree would strike us. These are the moments (in encounters with the twisted) when we can't believe our eyes and ears. So, till we catch on to what that person is doing, we are disarmed and offer no reaction, as though "it" isn't really happening.

But one thing is clear to Hamlet: Ophelia's assertion that she has long been carrying his love letters around with her, looking for a chance to give them back, cannot be true. For, she has long refused to let him near her, and she didn't give them back yesterday. She's up to something. Switching to prose, his reply translates to "Are you kidding?" or "You cannot be serious."

Ophelia: My lord?

Cheeky. What part of "Are you honest?" does she not understand?

Ophelia just made the Big Mistake, the one every snake in this pit makes. She mocks inability to understand him. And her mockery is an insult to his intelligence. He's supposed to take this bait and ask her what she's trying to do, calumniate him? Then she will say, "Why would anybody want to calumniate you?" Then he's supposed to accuse Claudius of being out to get him. Then everybody gets to raise the hue and cry that evil Hamlet is calumniating the king.

This is an example of dialog Hamlet responds to by putting on his antic disposition. That is, when he catches somebody being dishonest with him, he yanks the conversation off track to avoid the trap ahead. People dealing treacherously with Hamlet have no right to plain talk from him, and they get none. As Claudius notes, at such times his talk "lacks form a little," but not substance. He puts things in odd ways. He avoids the common idiom and the standard cliches. His diction plays on words. In this thinly veiled language he mocks the mocky-mock by delivering some marvelous ripostes. Before she knows it, the baiter will be the one being baited, and she won't like that.

So, though Hamlet is exceptionally polite and gracious to people of every class, he is about to become his sarcastic opposite. For, just as Jesus of Nazareth condemned always and only the condemners, Hamlet the Dane mocks always and only the mockers.

And so, the subtle conflict in this exchange has advanced the plot and grows the characters. Hamlet began in tenderness and now is at the point of lashing out in deeply hurt anger. Ophelia began in the cloak of decency and now is nakedly mean.

Why is she mean? Because Claudius and her father are watching. She doesn't want them worrying what she thinks like they worry what Hamlet thinks. Sympathy for him wouldn't be self-serving. So, it's open season on Hamlet, and she just does what narcissists do whenever they can get away with it.

The rest of this explosive scene continues at line 103. I'll continue with it on Friday.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Subtle Conflict 2

Continuing where we left off...

Hamlet: Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins rememb'red.

Ophelia: Good my lord,
How does your honour for this many a day? Act III, scene 1, around line 88.

Hamlet: I humbly thank you; well, well, well.

Hamlet starts giving the natural reply (Thank you) to what Ophelia should have said. But, by the middle of the line, he sees that she hasn't honored his request to pray for him and that he therefore has nothing to thank her for. He is dumbfounded. The story question for him is: Is she crazy? Or is the talk about me so hideous that she won't even pray for me?

Of course, he knows it's the talk. That must blow a hole through him. Such moments leave a person without words, wanting to turn their face to the wall and just die. Hamlet's repetitions of the word well indicate that he is in this state and unable to break the silence. What can he say about the condition of his honor? Though it's intact, putting Claudius on the throne has dishonored him as the rightful heir, the talk about him at court dishonors him daily, and she herself has just dishonored his sacred request to pray for him. So, her ridiculous greeting was a conversation stopper.

Ophelia's next words, "My lord," indicate that she is calling after him.

Ophelia: My lord, I have remembrances of yours
That I have longed long to re-deliver.
I pray you, now receive them.

Digging for something in her purse, she has an excuse to continue the conversation and salvage her botched mission. Playing off the word remember, she calls this thing what it ain't (though we don't know that yet) as if in an oblique reply to his request that she "remember" his sins in her prayers.

Thus she betrays herself as lying a moment earlier, when she pretended she didn't hear that request to "remember" his sins in her prayers. She says she just happens to have some "remembrances" of his. "Mementos" in other words.

By "remembrances" Ophelia obviously means "keepsakes as souvenirs." But again her diction is a painful play on his words. "Mementos," or "Remembrances" are also the names of two prayers at the heart of the mass. The first began "Memento Domine," that is, "Remember O Lord." It prayed for the salvation and deliverance from all harm of present company. The second began "Memento etiam Domine," that is "Remember also, O Lord." It prayed for the dead.

Hamlet: No, not I!
I never gave you aught.

That stops Hamlet in his tracks. He is mortified. He has no idea what "mementos" she's talking about, but they must be jewelry if she has kept them in her purse. The implication is that he has given her gifts to remember certain occasions by. No honorable man in his position would give any expensive gift (let alone an alleged "memento" of something) to a lady in her position. Doing so would be a crass insult. (That's what knaves who pay for sexual favors from mistresses do.) He naturally thinks somebody "delivered" such gifts to her in his name to break them up. That must be why she's behaving like a bitch.

Ophelia: My honour'd lord, you know right well you did,
And with them words of so sweet breath compos'd
As made the things more rich. Their perfume lost,
Take these again; for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
There, my lord.

So much for that theory. Hamlet's next line begins with "Ha" indicating that he pauses to think about this speech, perplexed.

How can she call him "my honored lord," when, in the same breath, she dishonored him with this allegation? And why is she beating that word honor like a tom-tom?

How can she award herself a "noble mind?" Hamlet is the one with the noble mind; Ophelia is so thoughtless she just offended Hamlet twice and God twice in less than fifty words. Indeed, though Hamlet doesn't know it yet, we know she's a mindless tool. Also, despite how rudely she dumped him, he still thinks highly of her till he has good reason not to; Ophelia's mind is in the gutter about him and thinks badly of him without good reason. What is she doing by attributing the "noble mind" to herself? helping herself to one of his virtues?

If Ophelia thought Hamlet had insulted her, she should have confronted him about it like an adult. Instead she's posturing and retaliating like a child. Yet suddenly now, she changes tone and says, "Come on now, you know you did that." That's how we talk to children below the Age of Reason and crazy people. Thus, she talks down to him as though to a child. What is she doing by attributing the childishness to him? smearing off one of her flaws on him?

And why is she talking patronizingly to him as though to a crazy person? She is the crazy one, the one who replies to "Pray for me" by saying, "Hi, how are ya?" Again the irony is too perfect. Come on now, you know you did that is gaslighting him.

Furthermore, in those words this politician's daughter is also condescending to none other than the son of a king and the heir apparent. So Ophelia is batting 1,000 in the irony department, and the disrespect is all to Hamlet, not her.

Then she talks like a politician, giving the impression that the alleged mementos were "expensive" by describing them as "rich gifts." When she then produces his love letters and love poems, we finally see what "mementos" she is talking about. Love letters and poems aren't mementos. Let alone expensive. It's inappropriate and wantonly cruel to return them.

To make sure we notice who the spaghetti-brain is, Shakespeare has her then utter absurdities that make stuff composed of hot air valuable, make richness "wax" poor, and mix the metaphors of his sweet breath and the perfume on his love letters. In this babble they are confused so that we can't tell which no longer smells good to her. But, the next thing you know, she is saying that the fading perfume in words (that which makes them phony) is the only thing that gives them value.

These "remembrances" are Hamlet's professions of love. She devalues them as worthless and drives them like a spear through his heart in leveling another accusation at him — that his words were perfumy (and therefore insincere).

Then why did she accept so many of them? What she doesn't say here thunders: she gives no reason why she should have changed her mind about them. So, she either should still believe them or should never have believed them.

The last word she throws at him, unkind, is a brick. He surely has gathered that she wants nothing to do with him for the same reason everybody else does. That makes him sad, but it's understandable and is better for her. Yet here she's announcing that she dumped him because he was mean to her. Why? He never asked her to justify dumping him. She needs no trumped up excuse. So why is she leveling this accusation at him?

Hamlet never showed anything but love toward her, which is the antithesis of meanness. So, it's both absurd and perverse to accuse him of being mean. Yet, in her reaction to it, his love rebounds back in his face as (of all things) meanness. That's enough to make the head spin. What is she reacting to? Did we miss something? What does she think happened? Is she hallucinating? Does she have some false memory? Or is she just play-acting?

She is projecting her meanness in the very act of committing it. That is, again she accuses Hamlet of what she herself is doing! (Presumably, since she perverts everything a full 180 degrees, he can get a charitable reaction from her only by being mean to her.) She's the one being unkind, very unkind. And she gives the knife a twist of extreme perversity by making herself the abused one and Hamlet the abuser. That's an outrage.

Hamlet: Ha, ha! Are you honest?

to be continued...

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