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Thread: Fine Revolution

  1. #1
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    Fine Revolution

    Hamlet
    Why, e'en so: and now my Lady Worm's; chapless, and knocked about the mazzard with a sexton's spade: here's fine revolution, an we had the trick to see't.

    Within its immediate context this is a rather shallow pun about the turning (revolution) of the fine dirt in a grave, which is also the final revolution of the wheel of fortune. But it becomes more exciting when we take it as a challenge to unearth the subtle motif of wheel puns spun throughout the play.

    Hamlet
    There's ne'er a villain dwelling in all Denmark
    But he's an arrant knave.
    Horatio
    There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave
    To tell us this.
    Hamlet
    Why, right, you are i th'right,
    And so without more circumstance at all
    I hold it fit that we shake hands and part,
    You as your business and desires shall point you-
    For every man has business and desire,
    Such as it is - and for mine own poor part,
    Look you, I'll go pray.
    Horatio
    These are but wild and whirling words, my lord.

    These are indeed "whirling words." Shakespeare often wrote of madness but he only used the word "whirling" one other time, and then it didn’t refer to madness: "To calm this tempest whirling in the court" (Titus Andronicus,IV,2). He used "whirling" here to alert us to the "fine revolution" of Hamlet’s words.

    In addition to the usual meaning of "bad guy," "villain" means a person of low birth, as in "I am no villain; I am the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys." (As You Like It, I,1) A villain would not live in a palace – he would typically dwell in a village or hamlet. Thus a "villain dwelling" is a Hamlet. (Ever wonder why Shakespeare never punned on Hamlet/hamlet? Here’s the missing pun.) So Hamlet and his father (Hamlet Sr) were knaves – or naves. One definition of "nave" is the nave of a church. This definition is implicitly used when Hamlet says "and for mine own poor part, Look you, I'll go pray" "Nave" can also be the nave (hub) of a wheel, as in the speech that Hamlet requested from the First Player:

    1st Player
    Out, out, thou strumpet fortune! All you gods,
    In general synod, take away her power;
    Brake all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,
    And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,
    As low as to the fiends.

    King’s are bound by fortune (fate, birth) to determine the fates of their subjects:

    Rosencrantz
    The cease of majesty
    Dies not alone, but like a gulf doth draw
    What's near it with it. It is a massy wheel,
    Fixed on the summit of the highest mount,
    To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things
    Are mortic'd and adjoin'd; which when it falls,
    Each small annexment, petty consequence,
    Attends the boist'rous ruin. Never alone
    Did the king sigh, but with a general groan.

    Bernardo
    It would be spoke to.
    {The ghost wants more spokes on his nave as he rolls down to hell]

    Putting all this together, we see Hamlet cryptically likening himself (as a prince and potential king) to the nave of a wheel. His friends are his spokes, which are perpendicular ("i' the right") to the nave. Before his wheel of fortune (his fate) turns anymore ("without more circumstance"), he wants to "break all the spokes…from her wheel" so that they won’t be carried "down the hill of heaven" with him. (In the original staging, it is likely that Hamlet spun around as he shook hands with Horatio and flung him outward.) He wants to sigh alone (in contrast to Laertes, who brought along a mob when he confronted the king). However, Hamlet is not only the nave of a wheel; he is also the nave of a church. He cannot escape death, but he will avoid damnation.

    Polonius, with his meddling, put himself where Hamlet expected to find a king (behind the arras) and thus metaphorically imitated the nave (center) of a wheel.

    Polonius
    ...I went round to work,

    Polonius
    If circumstances lead me, I will find
    Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed
    Within the centre.

    Hamlet
    Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
    I took thee for thy better: take thy fortune

    Hamlet
    Mother, good night. Indeed this counsellor
    Is now most still, most secret and most grave,
    Who was in life a foolish prating knave.

    Proverbs 10:8
    ...a prating fool shall fall.

    Ophelia (IV,5,166)
    You must sing 'A-down, adown', an you call him a-down-a.
    O, how the wheel becomes it!

    First Player
    Out, out, thou strumpet fortune! All you gods,
    In general synod, take away her power;
    Brake all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,
    And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,
    As low as to the fiends.
    ...
    Polonius
    This is too long.
    Hamlet
    It shall to the barber's, with your beard.

    Ophelia
    They bore him barefaced on the bier;

    (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also lived "in the middle"...In the secret parts of fortune... she is a strumpet." Thus, they met a similar fate to Polonius. Polonius was killed in place of the nave Claudius – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were killed in place of the nave Hamlet.)

  2. #2
    Registered User Beewulf's Avatar
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    Hi Ray,

    That image of Hamlet as the symbolic center of the wheel of the play is apt. One thing to add to your argument is that Hamlet is the protagonist of the play, and so is at the center of the play's central action. Something else--of all the characters in the play, Hamlet appears to have travel the most, coming from Witttenburg, leaving for his sea voyage, journeying to see the battle between Fortinbras and the Poles, and then coming back to Denmark.

    Speaking of spokes, you might explore the idea that the death of Hamlet's father represents the breaking of the first spoke, and that one by one, the remaining spokes are removed as friends prove to be false, until only Horatio is left. Ironically, it is only when Hamlet's wheel is almost broken that he ultimately finds spiritual serenity and acceptance. To extend the metaphor into the real of Buddhist theology, only by breaking the spokes that bind him to the wheel of life can Hamlet find release.

    As usual, I find many of your textual references too subjective, but the essential image you present is compelling. Thanks for you ideas!

  3. #3
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    Hi Beewulf,

    The wheel metaphor is so all-encompassing, it's hard to know where to stop. (A wheel doesn't end, it just goes round and round.) The Buddhist metaphor is clearly outside Shakespeare's intent, yet I think Shakespeare would have liked Buddhism if he ever heard of it. Buddha's birth name was Shaka. Maybe Shakespeare was a reincarnation of Buddha (at least in one of the worlds postulated by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics).

  4. #4
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beewulf View Post
    As usual, I find many of your textual references too subjective, but the essential image you present is compelling.
    Initially I also was sceptical, but having looked up each of Ray's references without faulting them, Beewulf, I would be interested to learn which you deem 'too subjective'.

    Is Shakespeare punning for his own amusement or would he expect some in his audience to understand these references in performance?

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