Archive for the ‘Notes’ Category

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?


November 7, 2008

I redid the concordance for plants in Romeo and Juliet this morning (here) and it reminded me of a regret I had with the project. In Shakespeare, the word “weeds” was a word for clothing as well as a word for unwanted vegetation; but, generally, I only made mention of it in my lists when Shakespeare was clearly referring to the latter. This is a shame because there are times when the two meanings are intended to play off each other. Further, clothing and weeds share a negative connotation in the symbolism of Shakespeare’s plays, but in slightly different ways: clothing represents the (often false) outward show of things; while weeds are the chokers of life, youth and the beautiful… It would have been interesting to have gotten a sense for the interplay of these two negative symbols.

‘Purple’ in Venus and Adonis

April 6, 2007

Six random observations about ‘purple’ in ‘Venus and Adonis’:

1. The word occurs three times in the poem, each time in conjunction with Adonis, and each time with a mention of, or reference to, the colors red or white, or both together. (The colors red and white are mentioned with great frequency and may be found listed here.)

2. In the first mention, a purple sun is looking down on ‘rosy cheeked’ Adonis; in the second, purple blood from the wound of Adonis is flowing onto his ‘lily white skin’; in the third, a purple flower has sprung up in the place of Adonis, which has white petals dappled with red. Purple thus appears first with red, then with white, and finally with red and white together.

3. A corollary to the foregoing is that each time purple is mentioned, the ‘red and/or white’ term that it is mentioned with is associated with a flower: in the first instance, ‘rosy cheeked’; in the second, ‘lily white’; in the third, “purple flower” (with red and white leaves).

4. In chromatics, purple is composed of the colors red and blue, and in one part of the text you perhaps see this alluded to: for Adonis is said to give the ‘gloss’ to the rose and the scent to violet. But Adonis, as we’ve said, is associated with purple; while the rose is associated with red, and the violet with blue. (The violet is mentioned only twice in the poem and in the first instance it is called ‘blue-viened’, which may also be the poem’s only mention of blue). Thus, the un-named purple flower of the poem’s close, when decocted to its ‘primary flowers’, so to speak, appears to be comprised of the red rose and blue violet. [It combines them.]

5. Related, if blue and red may be said to equal purple, there is also a sense in which purple and white may be said to equal red: for if purple is the color of blood, and white the color of skin, and red the color of blush; and if, further, blushing is the color of blood seen through the skin; then it may be said also that in this certain sense purple plus white equals red. [Purple appears red when seen through the skin.]

6. Thus far I’ve only come across one other purple flower in Shakespeare, the ‘Long purples’ of Hamlet, which are among those Ophelia was found carrying when she died. ‘Long purple’ is said to be the common name for the purple orchid and seems to be used as a phallic/ death symbol in the context of that play.

Update. See sonnet [99] for three roses: one white, one red, one niether white nor red; a pale lily; and a purple violet. Here, the first rose is red with shame, the second white with despair and the third absorbs these colors and steals also for itself the beloved’s breath, for which crime it earns itself a canker and death. The violet in this sonnet is also said to have taken its fragrance from the beloved, as was also the case in Venus and Adonis, although there the rose had not to do with the scent of the beloved; rather, it was the rose’s gloss that had come from him.