Posts Tagged ‘Hamlet’
Like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child. And his name is David Copperfield.
Wrote Charles Dickens.
Where does that phrase “heart of hearts” come from?
It’s a perversion of Shakespeare’s heart of heart, which appears in Hamlet (Act 3, scene 2, 71-74):
Hamlet: Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, aye, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.
Shakespeare — a breathtakingly levelheaded fellow whose similes and metaphors are almost always grounded in reality — coined the phrase “heart of heart” and meant it to be essentially synonymous with “heart’s core.”
Like the heart of an artichoke — like my heart — the “heart of heart” is the most tender part. And this most tender part is the part that Hamlet reserves for those who are ruled by reason, like his friend Horatio, and not by passion, as the melancholy Dane is himself, perhaps.
The bastardization of Shakespeare’s delicately rendered phrase probably comes from the equally delicate “vanity of vanities,” which we find in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
Ecclesiastes, however, a very beautiful and Pagan-like book, lists a number of different vanities from which negative things flow — whereas, conversely, one does not in reality possess a number of hearts.
Shakespeare always preferred the apposite metaphor to the inapposite, and that is one of the primary reasons “the verbal poetical texture of Shakespeare is the greatest the world has ever known“:
He anchored his abstractions in concretes, a lead we as writers would do well to follow.
William Shakespeare — who’s remarkable for so many things that it’s easy to forget the thing he’s perhaps most remarkable for: the fact that he doesn’t reveal himself in any of his plays — was born in 1564, in Stratford, a tiny village which at that time had a population of approximately 1,500 people.
In the summer of 1579, when Shakespeare was fifteen-years-old, a young woman named Katherine Hamlet fell into the river Avon and drowned, an incident the young William Shakespeare would have for certain known about.
It’s not much, but it’s something.
Here’s Queen Gertrude’s poetic description of Ophelia’s muddy death:
Gertrude: There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
Hamlet Act IV, scene vii
In the previous post, I said that to create convincing characters, the writer must first understand what motivates the people she or he is creating.
This means that the writer must understand what moves the actions of his or her characters.
Plot is a sequence of purposeful conflicts that culminate in climax.
“If they aren’t in interesting situations, characters cannot be major characters, not even if everyone else is talking about them,” said P.G. Wodehouse.
When the writer understands what motivates the actions of his or her characters, the reader can then, in turn, discover what is the foundational motive and psychology of the characters.
This depth of characterization, achieved by means of good plotting, is what takes literature from mediocre to serious.
Characters in literature, just as humans in real life, can have conflicting motives. But even contradictions within the character must be consistent to the specific framework that the writer has created for that character. So that, for example, the reader doesn’t say “This is out of character: Hamlet [who incidentally possesses multitudinous contradictions] would never behave this way.”
Staying consistent — which is to say, integrating a character’s conflicting motives and desires — is simply part of creating realistic characters.
If Shakespeare were to have had Prince Hamlet express genuine love out-of-the-blue for his uncle Claudius, the reader would have been right to say “This is out of character, and Hamlet would never have done that. It is a flaw in the writing.”