Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who's There? The Platypus Reads Part XLV

My students have passed on from Beowulf to the wonderful world of Shakespeare. This year's offering from the bard features the mad prince of Denmark, Hamlet. As an axis of analysis for the text, I've chosen the opening line "Who's there." I remember hearing that this was significant, but not an explaination of why. Reading the play through with the students has driven home to me that this is really the central question of the play.

"Hamlet" is awash in ambiguity. For every read you could give of a character or a situation, there are at least two or three others that are just as likely. A character's self-presentation often conflict with his or her actions, or what other characters in the play say about them. Unlike "Othello," the motives of the characters in "Hamlet" are increadably opaque. Even Hamlet, whose silioquies offer us the greatest window into the mental world of any of the characters is difficult to nail down. After all, his main interest seems to be acting, and he appeares to live much of life in the nutshell of his own head. The mad prince often presents himself as nothing so much as the main character in a drama of his own invention.

Even the end of the play is confused. Hamlet and the other characters take their motives with them to their graves. As the prince himself concludes: "the rest is silence." Horatio proports to be able to tell Fortinbras all that has occured, but just how much of the drama has he actually been privy to? Fortinbras, himself, is an enigma. Does he stumble onto the scene of murder to claim his crown, or does he enter at the head of an invasion force only to discover that his work has been done for him?

A final point of interst: "Hamlet" begins with a question and ends with a command. The Danish guard open with "who's there" and Fortinbras, also a soldier, ends with "go, bid the soldiers shoot." Whoever may be there throughout the play, one thing is sure in the end: the confusion has cost Denmark its autonomy, and the "strong-armed" Fortinbras takes control.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

First and Last Platypi:The Platypus Reads Part LXIV

A friend loaned me a copy of the 1931 sci-fi epic "First and Last Men," by British Philosopher Olaf Stapledon. I knew Lewis had read and disagreed with Stapledon so, naturally, I was intrigued. A look at the work, however, points me in the dirrection that Lewis not only disagreed with him, he wrote his Ransom Trilogy, in part, as a sort of refutation of Stapledon. Perhaps that's not news, but it makes a read of "First and Last Men" fascinating. If you've already read the Ransom Trilogy, then you can almost here Lewis dailoging with the author as you read the book.

As an odd end note, I attended a debate on bioethics last friday. Listening to the speakers, it seems as if, after almost eighty years, the debate hasn't changed.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Webbed Flippers and a Keyboard: The Platypus Writes

I just finished the first draft of my novel. It's been a long time since I've actually finished one.