Sunday, September 16, 2007

A bit more from a great seventeenth-century crime writer.

I don't want to carry this Shakespeare thing too far, but Act III, Scene iii of Hamlet is like a noir novel with the characters viewed inside out, or maybe through a fluoroscope. They think out loud classic noir patterns of guilt and doom.

Here's Claudius:

"O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven"

And, even better:

"'Forgive me my foul murder'?
That cannot be; since I am still possess'd
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon'd and retain the offence?
In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law: but 'tis not so above"

Modernize the language a bit, and you could slip that seamlessly into a 1950s pulp novel called The Haunted Killer.

And how about this, from Hamlet himself, plotting not just to kill, but to kill when the killing will have the greatest impact:

"Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I'll do't. ...
... am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season'd for his passage?
Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent:
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At gaming, swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in't;"

Hamlet thinks at the same time like a contemporary crime-fiction psycho who plots a killing so it will have the greatest symbolic meaning, and a cool, professional killer, who plans the hit for when the target is most vulnerable, that is, not praying.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Linkmeister said...

Hamlet thinks at the same time like a contemporary crime-fiction psycho who plots a killing so it will have the greatest symbolic meaning

Or, dare I say, like a political terrorist.

September 17, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not sure he thinks like a terrorist in this passage, but the question of politics has occurred to me, as it would to any reader of Shakespeare's tragedies. You know what happens in these plays: a leader has some flaw, and a state falls apart. The notion that a leader's character flaws could bring down a state is almost impossible to imagine today, in the age of the nation-state.

If this were a political-science rather than a crime-fiction blog, I might be writing about Coriolanus rather than Hamlet and Macbeth.

September 17, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

On second thought, you could be right. Terrorists have been known to attack the sites of what they believe to be symbols of great sin, be those symbols ancient Buddhas or Twin Towers. Hamlet talks of killing Claudius during the king's own impious acts.

September 17, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

The symbolism is what I had in mind, whether of sin or power. Think of Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears, in which the Super Bowl stadium is attacked, or his Debt of Honor, which has the US Capitol in ruins, both as the result of terrorist attacks.

The Red Brigades, Baader-Meinhof and the Weathermen all had similar ideas.

September 17, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Contemporary terrorists and armies also do not take the power of prayer as seriously as Hamlet does. They attack on the opponents' holiest day, as in the Yom Kippur War, and blow up one another's mosques. Unlike Hamlet,they have little trouble making up their minds.

September 17, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I noticed this item in the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms.

Hamlet without the prince....

The phrase comes from an account given in the Morning Post of September 1775. The member of a theatrical company who was to play Hamlet ran off with an innkeeper's daughter before the performance.
The audience were told "the part of Hamlet was to be left out for that night."

It must have been a short play that night!

September 18, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And Hamlet, wherever he was, was probably less melancholy that usual.

September 18, 2007  

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