My Verse In Time To Come: The Case for a Modern English Shakespeare

By A.Z. Foreman

      Ye knowe eek, that in forme of speche is chaunge
      Withinne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
      That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
      Us thinketh hem; and yet they spake hem so,
      And spedde as wel in love as men now do;
      Eek for to winne love in sondry ages,
      In sondry landes, sondry ben usages.
      -Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde 2.22-28.    

You also know the forms of language change
In a millennium, words that used to be
In use, now seem unusual and strange
To us, and yet they spoke thus normally
As deft and eloquent in love as we, 
And likewise to win love in different times
Usage has differed with the differing climes. 
-Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde 2.22-28. Translated by A.Z. Foreman

'It's not a Star Trek joke: Shakespeare probably is a better experience in Klingon if you're a Klingon-speaker. Though I haven't verified. It's difficult to imagine that it wouldn't be better than in English.

Years ago, I watched a performance of Hamlet in Russian in Yerevan, Armenia - a place where knowledge of Russian is far more common than ignorance of it, much like knowledge of English in Copenhagen. Not only was it a great experience, not only was it fun, but it was extremely entertaining. I doubt anybody in the theater that night was bored for a moment during the performance. The audience laughed at the comedic and raunchy bits, such as Hamlet's innuendo-laden conversations with Ophelia. As we were leaving, I heard a woman say in Russian "that was awesome! I can only imagine how amazing it would have been in the original English." I don't think I had the heart to break the sad news to her that the original English isn't nearly as much fun for most English-speakers as the translated Russian had been for her (well, that and the fact that it would have probably been a bit weird for her to have some random foreigner inflicting on her an unsolicited lecture about the diachronic development of a language she didn't know.)

Speakers of Russian, Arabic or German are given to express a sense of enjoyment and excitement about Shakespeare damn near unheard-of among English-speakers who aren't also English-majors (and even half of those seemed like they were faking it just a bit.)

It is a remarkable fact, all the more so for how seldom it is remarked on. Although Shakespeare's influence on English idiom is second only to that of English Bible translations, today this most canonical of all English poets is less accessible to English speakers than to speakers of any other European language. Ours is an age where we often take for granted the notion that the translation never quite measures up to the original, assuming a translation to be by definition an ersatz creation like fat-free ice cream, to be partaken of only if you can't have the Real Thing. Yet we take small notice that when it comes to the ostensible greatest poet of the English language, it is the original which fails to measure up to the translation.

A further sign of how inaccessible Shakespeare has become in English is that Anglophones have developed a tradition around Shakespeare of what is basically a form of non-linguistic translation (though certainly it is much more than that) in which versions of the plays for stage and screen are dressed up with inventive and increasingly strange settings that verge on the surreal. Indeed often absolutely everything is changed save the language, with the intent of making the unchanged language of the Bard speak afresh by remaking a transient world around his eternal word. It's worth noting how anomalous this is. At least to me. I know of no cinematic sub-genre even remotely like this in any literary tradition.

One could be forgiven for thinking that nobody had ever even considered a point of staggering banality: that the language itself is the chief source of inaccessibility, and that changing it would make Shakespeare "speak again" as no high production values or inventive costume design ever could. But this surely must have occurred to people. We humans are usually nowhere near as stupid as we often make each other out to be. Some of the directors of some of the more playful Shakespeare films must have wished they could change at least a word or two, but found themselves unwilling to risk such sacrilege. Given how regularly directors seem driven to legitimate their endeavors through praise heaped in interviews upon the pure true text in all its multifaceted glory, this is hardly surprising.

We do adapt and modify the dialogue of other works for performance today. The multitude of versions of the Major General's song from Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance attests to how it can even become a tradition to completely rewrite a particular passage to suit the time and clime of performance (though I myself prefer the Song of the Biblical Philologist). Indeed before the 20th century not only did it seem at least tolerable to alter the text to suit taste (even to one such as Alexander Pope) but popular productions of Shakespeare, which were geared more toward the unwashed (sometimes illiterate) masses themselves than the elites who scorned them, were routinely adapted far more than propriety would ever have permitted.

But no, English-seakers don't like touching the Bard's plays, now, let alone actually altering the words.

Profanation of the Sacred

No, it would be unthinkable to alter Shakespeare's wondrous language, which gatekeepers of tradition have ritually accorded a perfection approaching that of Holy Writ. Indeed like Holy Writ, failures to do right by the eternal text are heresy, departing from the true path. Accidental modification or misquoting of the eternal text is a sin to be detected, confessed and pardoned. But the actual suggestion that perhaps the text need not be eternal, and might do with a rewrite to keep pace with a changing world or a changing language, would be for its greatest devotees sheer blasphemy and heathenism. Surely only a benighted infidel would dare think such a thing. Indeed, the word "bardolatry" was coined in 1901 to describe the phenomenon giving rise to extreme textual fetishism in search of a non-existent Platonic ideal True Shakespeare. Bardolatry decades ago was put to well-deserved death in serious Shakespeare scholarship, and even criticism. It is by now even admitted in some quarters that some of what Shakespeare wrote is rather mediocre.

But in the staging, filming, and most non-specialist reading of Shakespeare it continues, with mixed results.

Elise Walker, in "Back to Shakespeare: Whose Film is it Anyway?" hits the nail on the head:
the desire to harness or rediscover the power of Shakespeare’s words implicitly, ironically suggests the fear that they recede from us. This becomes more resonant considering that even those making the most self-consciously postmodern Shakespeare films speak of the restorative power of the endlessly enduring, immediate, and relevant Shakespearean text.
Of this schizoid anxiety is born a version of a Midsummer Night's Dream in the Victorian countryside. Romeo and Juliet on motorcycles, or the antebellum south, or prohibition-era Chicago. Hamlet set in Denmark under Nazi-occupation (when I saw that one in London, not many in the audience laughed at the funny bits.) And legions more. All faithfully in the same 16th century English pronounced with a modern accent. There is a whole sub-genre of Shakespeare films in which the artistry lies in what settings, contexts and implications can be built around Shakespeare's words. Some of it is surreal, some of it even is gentle parody of Shakespeare. Much of it is brilliant. In a major sense this really works to imbue the text with new resonance, and is a successful translation via transposition of a kind. But such accessibility, when achieved, in fact often comes at the expense of the text, which is relegated to sacred linguistic window-dressing for the real show, which sometimes does its best to pretend to repudiate the sanctity which justifies its existence. Meanwhile, the fetishism of "true" Shakespeare continues, an assumption (and often anxiety) about the essential value of the fixity of the words themselves (though not necessarily their meaning) and often a need to perceive some sort of fixity of "spirit" coeval with a fixed text, such that the greatest fidelity and reverence is accorded to what in fact is often merely an excuse to do One's Own Thang, a bare foundation on which someone comes along and builds a monument to their own vision.

This in itself is not a bad thing. A constant search for the new in the old is a key mechanism of any literary tradition, and the cinematic renewals of Shakespeare have resulted in some splendid films. Still there is much dishonesty in the idea that we are somehow "making Shakespeare speak" more directly and purely, being true to the "spirit" by being true to the text.

There really is nothing miraculous about the 16th century London dialect of the English language, even as used by a great poet, and were we to hear it spoken naturally by a resurrected native, it would above all else just sound really odd, often hard and occasionally impossible to understand (probably the more so as the language got complex and abstract.)

There is, however, something quite extraordinary about this currency, among film and stage directors, of the idea that gangsters with Tommy-guns addressing one another as "Thou" somehow make Shakespeare's words feel "alive", or that this is "relatable" to modern English-speakers in any way that isn't the least bit alienating (at least to those who aren't already Shakespeare-lovers.) Such a surreal mass-delusion can usually only be caused either by somebody spraying LSD from a crop-duster over Wonderland, or by the equally mind-rending taboo of sanctity. Of the ludicrous taboos surrounding sanctity in any given culture, the most tenacious are often those which it would be impossible to violate without exposing the commonness of what we hold most dear and precious, unable to accept that what we hold dear need not necessarily be rare, unique or beyond compare. Shakespeare, and the veneration of his words, is a refraction of the same phenomenon into the domain of literature among Anglophones.

There is a place for attempting to understand the text in the context of its earliest reception, for the reconstructive task of inductively teasing out what meaning, what effect the author likely intended behind a given word, passage or work. There is a place, too, for the project of apprehending just what it is (if indeed it is any one thing) about a text that has so stood the test of time. That place is scholarship, which treats the original text as its focus, but not as eternal, let alone perfect.

There is also a place for the fruit of that scholarship to be applied in the adaptation of a work for greater accessibility. Sometimes, it takes the form of footnoted commentary. At other times, it takes the form of translation.

We already translate literary English into literary English. We have modern translations of not only Beowulf, but also the Gawain poet and Chaucer - even though the latter can still be made reasonably intelligible to an educated modern speaker willing to read enough footnoted glosses. It is my contention that the growing remove between current English and Elizabethan English is at or near the point where modern adaptations or translations of Shakespeare become sensible as well.

What Makes Your Willy So Hard

At the risk of belaboring what should be obvious: the chiefest issue with English-speakers appreciating what Shakespeare actually wrote, outside of a movie where it is essentially window-dressing for visuals, is that the English language has by now changed just enough to make it impractical for most speakers of the modern language to read (let alone watch) Shakespeare and be entertained, so much as studying him (which is a shame, as he is quite entertaining in German and Russian.) Absent the non-linguistic translation of an inventive new setting and directional atmosphere, it is often more frustration than fun for most to watch a play of Shakespeare performed onstage if they haven't read it recently.

The nature of the language gap (when not either played down to emphasize how "Shakespeare is for everyone" or played up to emphasize what "everyone" could get from Shakespeare if only they mastered the secrets of his matchless language) is easy to misunderstand as well. This is for two reasons.

First, unlike the case of Middle or Old English, the changes of syntax and morphology between the standard English of the16th century and that of the 21st are nowhere near major enough to seriously impede comprehension for a modern speaker, and there's nothing really unmanageable about even the scrambled word-order typical of what was until a hundred years ago the normal poetic register of the English language. The language's structure is that of the English we know, if not for all intents and purposes then at least for mine.

Second, while a lot of the vocabulary in Shakespeare has become archaic, the proportion of words like “fardel” or “orison” or “espial” which an educated English-speaker ignorant of Elizabethan and Jacobean usage would have scant chance of either guessing from Shakespeare's context, or recalling from some other context is relatively low, and not the major issue even if it is a bit of a hurdle. Though because the type of linguistic difference most readily obvious to speakers (apart from things irrelevant for our purpose such as pronunciation or orthography) is usually lexical difference, there is a habit of reducing (or over-attributing) the challenge of difficult language to that of difficult words, thereby concealing from us, and preventing us from tackling, the less obvious differences and difficulties.

Three features of English have undergone significant refashioning since poor Will's skull went the way of Yorick's: idiom, semantics and pragmatics. The result of the immense turnover in usage, combined with the stability of structure and lexeme, is that modern English speakers will often think they understand at least the gist of a difficult passage, which they arrive at by shoehorning Shakespeare's English into the English they know, without realizing that much of their understanding, beyond the very vaguest generalities, is often misunderstanding. Many passages are for the most part quite transparent (and frequent enough that at least the narrative of a play can mostly be followed with ease) but others are rarely possible for a non-specialist English speaker to understand correctly without a lot of good guesses (and there is of course a range of opacity between the two extremes.)

As a sample of how unreasonably hard Shakespeare can sometimes be to understand in real detail, take the following advice of the windbag Polonius to Hamlet, and see how much you understand at single reading:
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg’d comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel but, being in't,
Bear't that th' opposèd may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!
Now take this paraphrase/translation of mine into modern American English, which I have composed solely to express the meaning of what these words would have meant to an educated user of 16th century English. Compare it with the parts of the above passage which you thought you understood:
Be sure you make a note of these precepts in your memory. Don't show your hand, and don't execute your plans till they're well thought-out. Be sociable, but by no means indiscriminate about it. What friends you have, and whose friendship you have tested well, grab and bind them to your soul with hoops of steel. Don't wear your hand numb with handshakes by hosting every new, half-baked acquaintance. Be wary of entering an argument, but if you find yourself in one then argue so skillfully as to make your opponents wary of you. Listen to what everybody has to say, but be sparing in whom you voice support for. Size every man up, but reserve judgement. Let your wardrobe be costly as your purse can buy, but not so as to make you look absurd; high-end, not flamboyant; for what one wears often shows one's station in life. And when it comes to that, the French are of a most fastidious and high-born caste. Be neither a borrower nor a lender, for loan often costs the money loaned and the friend loaned to, and borrowing dulls one's acumen for thriftiness. This above all: be true to yourself, and it must follow as the night the day that you will then be true to others. Farewell, may my blessing impress this upon you.
As I said, some passages will require more work than others to be brought within the easy reach of intelligibility to a modern non-specialist English-speaker. Parts of Polonius' advice to Hamlet above would need significant rewriting, in my view, to be reliably comprehensible. But compare Juliet's words on her balcony:
'Tis but thy name that is mine enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part  
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself."
This is largely transparent, and not simply because it is well-known. Here, only one word ("owes" with the sense "owns") has changed its meaning so completely as to be irretrievably lost in the modern language, and in any case it is likely that most members of an audience will be able to repair the sense by guessing from context.  "To doff" in the sense "to take off an article of clothing" is still in use in the modern language, as in Wodehouse' Jeeves in the Offing: "She had doffed the shirt and Bermuda-shorts which she had been wearing." But it is a rare verb nowadays, unlikely to actually be part of the passive vocabulary of most theater-goers, and in editions of Shakespeare intended for highschool students, "doff" here has to be glossed in a note. The general meaning of course would easily be guessed from context, but not the nuance of Juliet's subtle metaphorical treatment of Romeo's family name as something superficial and incidental, like the clothes one happens to be wearing (and can therefore "doff"), rather than essential as the body parts she lists seven lines earlier. What would the translator (or "adapter" if you prefer) need to do if anything at all? That would depend on where the priorities lay, and how much creative talent they had and felt at liberty to deploy.

There are other issues, too. One would be the question of how to handle phrases (such as all of a sudden, strange bedfellows, one fell swoop among hundreds of others, including the word weird) which are original to Shakespeare and became part of English usage due to his influence. All of a sudden is normal English, and so one might think preserving it in modern adaptation would be a no-brainer. But in Shakespeare's own time all of a sudden was actually not standard, and forms with the sudden were the norm. The word weird, though it is Shakespeare who introduced the word from Scots, now means something very different from what he intended.

Another issue would be, as it ever is, how much creative liberty is to be taken. The reason why a literary adaptation of Shakespeare into modern English would be at all appealing, I think, is the idea of fuller (if less "authentic") linguistic access to Shakespeare, what his words really meant, and what he meant by them. So a guiding principle, I would hazard, might be that as non-linguistic cinematic translation has fetishized the true text with at least the implied idea of tapping into some sort of true "spirit" (whether Shakespeare's or not) by extra-linguistic means, then this kind of adaptive linguistic translation must profane the true text in the search of a different kind of spirit, in a sense more fully Shakespeare's for a modern world, even if embodied in "untrue" words adulterated with translation.

Regardless, the hour is near to hand when Shakespeare in English will have to join Chaucer and the rest as one of the great mere mortals, acknowledged as products of a place and time we can never retrieve, but can perhaps more meaningfully approach through translation than through a cult of authenticity that in fact obscures more than it transmits. Though, really, there's no reason why translations/adaptations into modern English with literary aspirations couldn't be printed alongside the original on facing pages (exactly as is often done with translations from other languages.) There would be no sense in replacing the original Elizabethan English with an adaptation wholesale. Originals and adaptive translations would have different uses, as they ever and everywhere do. But the sun will still rise, and life go on.

Perhaps you think we're not quite there, that the difference is not yet so great. You may even think English-speakers who can't sit through a production of Titus without getting bored have nobody but their own unletterèd selves to blame. But you cannot possibly dispute the inevitable reality of such an insurmountable gap. You cannot seriously and honestly entertain the notion that English-speakers might never have a need English translations of Shakespeare, unless you are deluded enough to think that speakers of the English language (if it still exists, and is still called English) in 1500 years will be able to effortlessly understand the speech of anybody alive today without being trained in what will be by then a dead or "classical" language.

At present, if only at first for the stage and screen, where the audience hasn’t the option of pausing to ponder a line, nor directors the option of footnoting visual performance effectively, we would, I think, be doing Shakespeare a good turn by adapting the plays to modern English in a way that might further transmit, not traduce, his accomplishment. If nothing else, the ensuing contentiousness could be sure to get at least a few more people interested in Shakespeare (and his English.)

Now a point on the popular mirage of The Real Shakespeare.

Will The Real Slim Shakespeare Ever Stand Up? 

There is a sense in which the name Shakespeare could often be placed in quotation marks, especially when discussions of original genius or textual integrity come up. The charge that a modern translation wouldn't be "the real Shakespeare" due to lexical change is just as applicable to a considerable portion of the words we assign him credit for, and in a very important sense, such a charge would be essentially meaningless. Shakespeare was not writing his plays with any concern for what was to become of them, did not treat (or at least did not require others to treat) his plays as fixed works to remain unaltered, did not work alone and in many cases the text we have is clearly significantly removed from whatever "the original" was.

Thanks to centuries of Shakespeare scholarship, historical research, as well as increasingly sophisticated techniques of textual statistical analysis, it is well-established by now that Shakespeare, like other playwrights, collaborated heavily with others, and the amount of content that was either revised or written by other parties is clearly considerable. We do not know the exact extent of this, as Shakespeare was far less concerned with the distillation of His Original Genius than any of his posthumous fetishists. Moreover, some of the texts we have have been garbled and even truncated. There is evidence here and there of lost lines, and entire lost scenes. Many passages where a particular word or phrase cannot be shown to make sense in context (and these passages are surprisingly many) are in at least some cases likely adulterated or influenced by divergent versions of the same passage which were in circulation, and in some few other cases it may indeed be due to creative lapse. The word "conscience" in Hamlet's soliloquy, for example, may be an accrual from a different version in circulation of the same passage in which Hamlet has a far different idea of what lies beyond the grave. What was the original? I really don't know. I know I'm not the only one who can't quite puzzle out, for example, the way Hamlet speaks of death as something terrifyingly unfathomable that nobody can return from, not long after seeing his own father's ghost literally speak from beyond the grave.

By way of more extreme example, Macbeth as we have it is manifestly not "original Shakespeare" but an adaptation from Shakespeare. The playwright Thomas Middleton is proven to have inserted chunks of his own material (including one entire scene), and it is for other reasons hard to deny now that the text we have is an abridged version where heavy cuts were made for the exigencies of a particular performance, much as directors of Shakespeare for film sometimes cut lines to fit a runtime limit (and are ironically sometimes castigated by purists for infidelity!) How much was cut from Macbeth as we have it we do not know, but to judge from the places of unusual pacing, and the degree of overall brevity in comparison to Shakespeare's other tragedies, a safe guess might be something on the order of a thousand lines or so.

The phrase borrowed for the title of this essay "my verse in time to come" comes from one of the sonnets, and its referent is not to the plays. Shakespeare would be quite surprised to learn that in centuries to come his theatrical work would retain such astronomical currency, yet more and more in contexts deracinated from the original popular one to the point where now the value often accorded the plays is everything but that of entertainment.

Shakespeare did not write plays for philologists, for scholars, for a tradition or anything even remotely resembling a Learnèd Few. The lower and upper classes both saw the same productions of the same plays in Elizabethan theaters. When Shakespeare wanted to write for the few, he used other forms such as the sonnet. (Incidentally, the modernization of his non-theatrical pieces, for now, seems rather pointless.)

The high number of coinages found in the plays is due to the open-ended nature of English at the time. The fact that the lexicon was not fully standardized meant that coinages, as well as ad hoc lexical and morphemic borrowings from French and Latin, were not unusual. No English-speaker during the reign of Elizabeth would have said "I don't think that's a real word" as we would be prone to today were we to encounter a text containing something like animaling, hibernality or crazify. Even though Shakespeare seems to have pushed the possibilities somewhat farther than the norm (and he seems to have had a particular fondness for certain types of coinages such as a compound with a verbalized second element e.g. strange-faced) he was not a huge outlier, let alone unique. The vast influence he ended up having on English idiom is the result of canonization more than anything else, as well as the relative near-oblivion to which almost all of his contemporaries were consigned even by lexicographers. If the OED were as thoroughly informed by some of the more of the more unknown and minor writers of the period (especially in neglected genres and non-literary writing) as it is by Shakespeare and a handful of others, we would likely find that he doesn't quite deserve quite as much credit as we commonly give him as a singular lexical innovator.

His plays were for a theater audience that found entertainment in skillful weaving of language and story,  at a time when the theater had about the same level and range of cultural prestige as TV and Film do today. He assuredly did not think of them as Serious Literature for Serious Men anymore than scriptwriters (for whom uncredited rewrites are also commonplace) do now - even though you could read, say, Monsters are Due on Maple Street as a work of accomplished literature. It is only because most of us encounter these plays in Serious Contexts such as that of the schoolroom or the modern theater, and because the type of artful linguistic manipulation found in them is now associated with consumption by the learnèd, that we have so completely effaced the slightly composite creator of stellar-quality entertainment and transmuted him into the weirdness that is The Bard.

Those who insist "Shakespeare is for everyone" are not wrong. They simply haven't gotten over the cult of the word. Shakespeare himself, truly, would probably not have minded what I propose. Nor would any of his half-dozen coauthors. In fact, were he to come back to see what he had become of him I imagine upon discovering that many found the plays linguistically opaque and remote, he'd probably wonder himself why nobody has fixed that. He'd also be quite perplexed people read his scripts more often than they see his work performed.

Here, Let Me Try

Below, I have tried to refashion a famous passage into something instantiating what I had in mind. There are other ways of re-Englishing Shakespeare, of course, as he was re-Englished in his own lifetime. Indeed once one opens oneself to the notion of creative meddling, the possibilities seem without horizon. What I have produced here lies at an interstice between the past and present. Between me and Shakespeare. It is clearly Shakespeare, and also clearly not. Like many films threading the maze of one of Shakespeare's "unadulterated" texts, it is a mediation and does not pretend not to be. This mediation, however, is intended not so much as a grasp at the essence of an eternal text evermore receding from reach, but a reconstitution in language, an artist's sketch from scholarly memory of a temporal text with the hope of giving you some idea what the now-agèd soliloquy looked like when it was younger. Like all sketches, however, it bears some signature of the one holding the pencil. But then, there is also a sense in which it is as much Shakespeare as anything else. Many other hands than just Shakespeare's went into producing the texts we now have. Is one more revisory collaborator 400 years after the fact really that big a deal?

Added note: as I get feedback, and as I revise my understanding, I think of other possibilities for lines. This passage will change as my ideas evolve.

To be, or not to be. That is the question:
Is it more noble inwardly to suffer
The blows and arrows of Berserker Fate,
Or take up arms against a sea of troubles
And in resistance end them? To die, to sleep
And nothing more. By "sleep" we mean the end
Of heartache and the thousand natural clashes
Our flesh inherits. It’s a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep-- perhaps to dream: yes, there's the catch,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have skirted off this mortal mayhem,
Must give us pause. That’s the consideration
That leads a life so long in misery.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The tyrant’s wrongs, the prideful man's abasements,
Pangs of rejected love, delay of justice,
Insolence of officials, and the rebuff
Deserving men must take from the unworthy,
When he himself might take his own acquittance
With just a dagger? Who would shoulder burdens,
Grunting and sweating under weary life,
Save that the dread of something after death,
That undiscovered country, from whose bounds
No traveller returns, flusters the will,
And makes us sooner bear those ills we have
Than flee to others that we know not of?
So conscience makes a coward of us all,
As the natural complexion of resolve
Takes the sick yellow tinge of contemplation
And enterprises in full force on target  
Are by this point blown clear off course to lose
Potential as action. Just a minute, 
It's fair Ophelia! -- Gorgeous nymph, remember
All my sins in your prayers. 

Verse Addendum

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, 
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Angels are waiting over Elsinore
For real now. Hamlet is on track to die
For good. Time's worm is gnawing toward his core.
He can't fight Time. But let me help him try.

Or else respect the dead, in joyless duty
Pay reverent homage at Prince Hamlet's tomb.
Find your beatitude and call it beauty,
Bowing as he rots silent in the gloom

Of a cold grave less visited each year,
Degrading quietly as ages pass
Till none outside a caste of scholars care
To dig the dude's skull up and sigh Alas

Pity the world, or else this glutton be
To eat the world's due, by the grave and Thee.

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