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?


...in 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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