Archive for February, 2009

Observation on The Third Act

February 25, 2009

Untried Hypothesis. In Shakespeare, frequently mentioned words tend to appear most frequently in the third act.

The other day in an idle moment I made a graph of where words frequently mentioned in Hamlet most occured: I took the most frequently mentioned piece of apparel (the crown), the most frequently mentioned furnishing (the bed) and the most frequently mentioned plant (the rose) and “nothing”, and saw in which act each word appeared the most frequently. The answer was –pretty much– the third. I can’t reproduce the graph here but this is the data I collected. (The numbers are the number of mentions in each act).

ROSE (four mentions): 0; 0; 3; 1; 0.
CROWN (eleven mentions): 2; 1; 3; 2; 3.
NOTHING (thirty-two mentions): 2; 6; 10; 9; 5.
BED (16 mentions): 4; 0; 8; 3; 1.

There are some complications because, questions of text aside, the word may mean different things in different passages (see “crown”); and there are some exceptions immediately visible — the oft mentioned “table”, for example, is mentioned everywhere but the third act; yet I found the coincidence strange (but perhaps the word “frequent” is the problem) and thought to mention it.

Hamlet Rose Mentions

February 23, 2009

For separate consideration, here are the mentions of roses in Hamlet:

[3.1.153-154]; [3.2.287-290]; [3.4.40-46]; [4.5.156-162]. And then of course “Rosencranz”.

I took a stab here at comparing the rose and violet in the play, saying, a bit awkwardly, that the rose indicates the virtues of those in power (royalty, the beloved), while the violet indicates the virtues of those who are in a subordinate role (courtesans, the lover) and concluding with the unlikely but lively idea, not very well expressed, that the 3.2 rose mention evokes somewhat the idea of having a romantic love for one’s feet.

But what can be said of the rose here with certainty? –That it indicates something positive, maybe something perfect (true of all mentions except 3.2); that it is mentioned mainly in the third act (none in the first, second, or fifth, and just one in the fourth); that it is mentioned more frequently than any other plant in Hamlet yet absent from the two passages most dense with plant mentions [in 4.5 and 4.7]; and that it is mentioned only in the abstract (no actual rose appears in the play)… Anything else?

(By the way, the Olivier version of Hamlet is a bit of a dud insofar as thinking about the relevance of the rose in “Rosencranz” is concerned, as Rosencranz and Guildenstern have been written out of the script and make no appearance at all).

Hamlet Rennovation

February 16, 2009

I tidied up the Hamlet concordance this past week and have found myself thinking of the word “Rosencrantz” –roseencrantz. Wikipedia says that it, along with Guildenstern, was a common Danish name in the 1500’s, yet it is peculiar that the word crants (if the Johnson reading is right) is, in all of Shakespeare, mentioned only here, in Hamlet, and that this name Rosencranz evokes both it and the rose, which is so significant in Shakespeare and, arguably, in Hamlet as well…. I don’t suspect it’s a question with an answer and yet all the same a curious thing to ponder: what if there were a rose in Ophelia’s virgin crants, what would it mean? What would it have to do with the character of Rosencranz?

Fanned and Winnowed

February 16, 2009

Hamlet [5.2.186-193]. Hamlet. “‘A did comply, sir, with his dug, before ‘a suck’d it. Thus has he — and many more of the same breed that I know the drossy age dotes on– only got the tune of the time and, out of an habit of encounter, a kind of yesty collection, which carries them through and through the most fann’d and winnow’d opinions; and do but blow them to their trial, the buttles are out.”


February 16, 2009

Hamlet, [5.1.26-31]. First Clown. “Why, there thou say’st. And the more pity that great folk should have count’nance in this world to drown or hang themselves, more than their even-Christen. Come, my spade. There is no ancient gentlemen but gard’ners, ditchers, and grave-makers. They hold up Adam’s profession.”