Comments by Bob Corbett
General Note: In January 2009 I decided that I’d like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadn’t read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play I’ve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeare’s play’s I’ve read and commented on
This play is just a joy to read. Not “joy” in the sense of happiness, but “joy” in the sense of inner delight at the writing, the complexity of characters, the richness of the thought produced in the reader by the insights into human existence by Shakespeare in constructing this marvelous drama.
Hamlet’s father, also Hamlet, has been murdered by his own brother, who then marries Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet is actually told this by the ghost of his father, and it nearly destroys his mind, driving him toward madness. Ah, but there is ambiguity in my sentence. Once he gets this information about the murder and incestuous relationship between his mother and his uncle, is he really mad, as the other characters readily assume, or is he just devastated, but carefully planning his revenge? I think Shakespeare has left it open, he may well be mad, he may be playing on the fact that others read his actions that way to be able to better ready his revenge.
There is also a great deal of ambiguity about his mother’s views. She seems to allow that she is very naïve and doesn’t really know what’s going on, yet one gets the strong textual clues that she knows quite well what her new husband has done, and she’s trying very hard to not know.
In any case, Shakespeare bears to us the depths of human emotions. So many become involved. The king, Hamlet’s uncle, is fully in the know of his past actions, the danger he is in, and the threat Hamlet poses, mad or not mad. Thus he plots to remove Hamlet, but would rather just exile him rather than kill him if possible.
Hamlet’s two student-days friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, blithely betray Hamlet and conspire with his father. The minister of state, Polonius, plots with the king against Hamlet, but again, would prefer to understand Hamlet as mad and to just exile him. Polonius’s daughter, Ophelia is pursued by Hamlet, but is throughout suspicious of him, but attracted at the same time. Later in the play Laertes, son of Polonius and Ophelia’s brother, plays a role of avenger after Hamlet kills Polonius.
In the end the entire mess comes crashing down in tragic deaths of nearly everyone within several blocks of the theater!
This play, in addition to being gripping from the first to the last lines, is also just filled with famous lines and speeches, slices of Shakespeare’s writing that are well worthy of the fame they have achieved from the most famous “To be of not to be” speech to one-liners of great significance.
One of those famous set of lines is advice which, early in the play, Polonius gives to his son, Laertes, before he sets off to live in France. This is the famous “Never a borrower or lender be.” I was really taken in this return to Shakespeare to see how utterly timely and powerful that bit of advice is here in 2010 when borrowing run amuck has threatened the well being of the entire planet. It’s worth looking back on this awesome advice from Polonius:
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.
It wasn’t Shakespeare who impressed that view on me. It was my family and the working class neighborhood I grew up in during the WWII years. In later life I took one loan in 1970 to buy a home, and paid that off within 8 years. That’s the only loan I ever undertook, and now, in my older and retired years, I find myself living without much economic fear since, as Polonius puts it, I didn’t borrow, I didn’t lend, and I did act with a “husbandry” on the salary I earned.
It make take our current times a full generation or more to recover from the madness of an entire planet which acted nearly the exact opposite of that marvelous Polonian advice.Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com