rough notes

To lie in cold obstruction / The undiscovered country

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So the prof who I TA for lost a couple of the essays that were to be returned today. Since he’s flying to Mexico City for a conference on the Gothic (I know, I know), he’s asked me to mark the copies that the students will graciously email me this evening. I could be an ass and decline to help, since this extra work is technically outside the bounds of my union contract, but I told him I’d do it anyhow. My plan of attack, however, is not to complete them until the day he returns from his junket. Glorious.

Who out there has read Measure for Measure? In case you’ve forgotten, this is the Shakespeare play that might otherwise be called “Hot and Bothered For Catholic Girls, 1605”. It stars Angelo as the under-sexed Puritan who is hot and bothered at the idea of getting his kinks out on Isabella, the would-be nun, in return for a stay of execution against her brother. It also stars The Duke, who is also hot and bothered for Isabella, but we’re not suppossed to notice that until the very end of the drama. Oh you crafty dramatist, Willy Shakespeare – you nearly fooled us! We never would have guessed that the Duke of Vienna would right ALL the wrongs, and also convince the good Catholic girl to not live the rest of the days in a convent, but marry him instead? Certainly not us, that’s for sure.

There’s a great little moment in Measure for Measure, a moment which others have noted, I’m sure, but a moment that needs to be recalled again and again. Claudio, Isabella’s brother, is condemned to death for having sex before marriage (this is not a drama about chastity, though – this is a drama about sex). While begging his sister to sleep with the Governor, Angelo, in order to stay his execution, the prisoner imagines how awful death might be. Claudio’s speech is reminiscent, I believe, of Hamlet’s “To Be Or Not To Be” speech. But while Hamlet’s speech is purposely ambiguous on the nature of existence and death (literature lesson of the day: Hamlet is not considering suicide but rather the nature of conscious existences versus an unknowing death), Claudio gets straight to the point on how terrible that Undiscovered Country must really be:

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where,
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot,
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbèd ice,
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world, or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling — ’tis too horrible.
The weariest and most loathèd worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death. (3.1.121-135)

Now that’s a speech about death we should all take to heart! Roll over Hamlet and your quivering, ambivalent, fence-sitting nature – the world, and its English students, needs to hear more from Claudio. This guy gets straight to the point, and tells it for what it is – “it” being death, and death being some kind of Dante-ian inferno. Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure a couple years after Hamlet, so its safe to assume that Hamlet’s To Be Or Not To Be speech informed Claudio’s words here. Whether or not Shakey was in the mood, however, to revise his own thoughts on that which follows after we have shuffled off this mortal coil is a debate that others can hold (it really doesn’t matter much to what Shakey thought, so much as what he wrote).. I’m just saying that Claudio’s speech is a damn good speech which can hold its own against pouty Hamlet’s words.

I would like to give a few final words on Claudio, though. Let’s not allow his own words here cloud our judgment of his character. Some people are rather sympathetic toward Claudio’s predicament in Measure for Measure – he is, after all, to be executed for merely sleeping with the woman he is engaged to marry, if not already married to (the plot of the drama rides on an interpretation of an unclear law and custom). Remember, though, this guy has just asked his sister, who is otherwise ready to enter a convent, to effectively whore herself out to save his skin. Isabella might save his life in the process, but she’d surely condemn her soul. Claudio is not a good person by any means. He doesn’t deserve death, of course, but neither does he deserve our total sympathy, either. Just because he shouldn’t be executed doesn’t mean that he’s a nice guy. Any dude willing to ask his sister to sleep with the governor to save his own ass is not a dude you can count on in a pinch.

Written by mitchellirons

March 27, 2008 at 10:05 pm

One Response

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  1. Claudio the contemplative pimp. I like it.


    March 30, 2008 at 12:02 pm

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