Saturday, October 7, 2023

Three interruptions

I think Shakespeare, in the early seventeenth century, was thinking (or noticing) acts of self-interruption, and what they could do. When a speaker interrupts themselves, we realize that they're hearing just what we're hearing. So Hamlet interrupts his performance of Aeneas's tale to Dido:
The rugged Pyrrhus, like th’ Hyrcanian beast—
’tis not so; it begins with Pyrrhus:
The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose, did the night resemble
When he lay couchèd in th’ ominous horse,
Hath now this dread and black complexion smeared
With heraldry more dismal. Head to foot,
Now is he total gules, horridly tricked
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,
Baked and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and a damnèd light
To their lord’s murder. Roasted in wrath and fire,
And thus o’ersizèd with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks.
The interruption comes to a speech which considers others, those in an extreme condition, those the speaker -- Aeneas or Hamlet -- ie forever separated from, and yet who represent a universe one might live in, if one could. Not long ago I commented on this speech in Macbeth:
Seyton!--I am sick at heart,
When I behold--Seyton, I say!--This push
Will cheer me ever, or disseat me now.
I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not. Seyton!
I was haunted by the way Macbeth has a set piece in mind, but is also alert to the world around him, to the fact of another person, even as he is aware of the encroaching limits of the world: the bourn that life sets on how far to be beloved, the bourn that no traveler returns from once they've crossed it. Somehow, despite a note comparing (and contrasting) Seyton as the last residual figure still loyal to the Macbeth to Lear's Fool, I don't think I'd ever put it together with a very similar moment in King Lear which I also love, and which may have been the play Shakespeare wrote right before Macbeth:
Prithee, go in thyself. Seek thine own ease.
This tempest will not give me leave to ponder
On things would hurt me more. But I’ll go in.—
In, boy; go first.—You houseless poverty—
Nay, get thee in. I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.
Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you
From seasons such as these?
Each interrupts himself and begins again after a kind of anacoluthon. They make a sort of gesture outwards to another, and then return to themselves, but after populating the emptiness around them with the possibilities of others: "troops of friends" or "you houseless poverty," "poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are." There's a fundamental loneliness that this evocation of others makes us feel: the loneliness of the others and not only of the soliloquist, a kind of sense, then of the fundamentality of loneliness.

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