Wordy Wednesday – “Foregone conclusion”

Othello: O monstrous! Monstrous!
Iago: Nay, this was but his dream.
Othello: But this denoted a foregone conclusion:
‘Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be but a dream.
Othello, III.iii.2109-12

A foregone conclusion is an ending that you can already see coming, but not do anything about. Shakespeare’s tragedies, his plays of death and disaster like MacbethKing LearHamlet and Othello, all show that even if you can predict the future, that doesn’t mean you can change it – the conclusion can be ‘foregone’, gone ahead to wait for you to catch up to it.

In the tragedies, this occurs for three reasons. One is practical – the plays are written to end badly. It is being advertised as a tragedy, after all, and people would complain if Hamlet threw Claudius down a well after ten minutes, married Ophelia, and lived happily ever after.

Even if this wasn’t true, however, people in Elizabethan times were huge believers in Fate, or Destiny, or Fortune – the idea that one’s future was set in stone. Devout Christians, they never doubted that God controlled every aspect of their lives if He wanted to. Personified by godlike beings like the Fates, or Moirae, three sisters – interesting to think of Macbeth, hmm? – who spun, wove and cut the threads of Destiny for all people, Fate knew everything you’d ever do – or not do –  from the minute you were born.

Fate was inescapable. If you tried to change your fate, you did exactly what you had to to make sure it happened. Macbeth tries to safeguard himself by killing Macduff, and only makes an enemy of the one man who can kill him, being “from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped.” Juliet trying to fake her own death causes Romeo to despair and causes their real suicides.

But tragedies – as defined by the ever-brainy Aristotle in ancient Greece – are plays where every event logically leads by small steps to a terrible conclusion. They’re so brilliant, especially in Shakespeare, because EVEN IF the ending didn’t have to be sad to call it a tragedy and EVEN IF Destiny wasn’t at work, the plays would still end up where they are anyway. King Lear is too proud and foolish not to banish Cordelia and leave himself at her sisters’ mercy; Hamlet is too indecisive to kill Claudius in time; Macbeth is too hungry for power to think of what he’s doing.

All of them are led by their personality’s worst, fatal flaw straight into doing what they shouldn’t. Tragically, this is also their best feature – Hamlet’s indecisiveness is linked to his mercy and wisdom and compassion; Macbeth’s ambition draws on his confidence and courage and love for his wife; and Lear’s pride is part of his dignity, his majesty, his charisma.

The cruelest aspect of a foregone conclusion in Shakespeare is that we can’t change it, because taking away the flaws that ruin these characters would be taking away the things we love about them. In a word, “as flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods” – in the world of tragedy, life dangles by a thread of fate that inevitably, sorrowfully, snaps.


Wordy Wednesday – “That way madness lies”

In Act III.iv of King Lear, Lear, Kent, and the Fool find themselves on a heath before a hovel.  It is stormy.  Kent urges Lear to enter the derelict little dwelling, believing that the “tyranny of the open night’s too rough / For nature to endure.”   Lear refuses to enter:

Thou think’st ’tis much that this contentious storm
Invades us to the skin: so ’tis to thee;
But where the greater malady is fix’d,
The lesser is scarce felt. Thou’ldst shun a bear;
But if thy flight lay toward the raging sea,
Thou’ldst meet the bear i’ the mouth. When the mind’s free,
The body’s delicate: the tempest in my mind
Doth from my senses take all feeling else
Save what beats there. Filial ingratitude!
Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand
For lifting food to’t? But I will punish home:
No, I will weep no more. In such a night
To shut me out! Pour on; I will endure.
In such a night as this! O Regan, Goneril!
Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all,–
O, that way madness lies; let me shun that;
No more of that.

Have you ever been really upset?  So upset that you can’t stop thinking about the distressing situation?

King Lear feels that the greatest storm is in his mind, in his ruminations.  He argues that one would not run away from a bear only to run towards a raging sea.  Similarly, Lear would not run away from an outdoor storm only to “run towards” an “indoor storm” – that is, the madness within.  He does not want to lose his mind.

Instead, Lear hopes that nature’s storm will distract him from his tempestuous thoughts, thoughts about how Regan and Goneril betrayed him.

Image from ClipArt ETC.

Wordy Wednesday – “Every inch a king”

Isn’t it just one of those days that you wish people will randomly break out in song? Better yet, in Shakespeare related song?

You are probably aware of Shakespeare’s legacy on Broadway. Where would “West Side Story” be without Romeo and Juliet? And Cole Porter would be at a loss without Taming of the Shrew inspiring “Kiss Me Kate!” But the Bard has had his lines slipped more subtly into another great Broadway hit, in fact one of the most successful Broadway hits: “The Lion King”.

I was listening to “The Lion King” the other day and (not) singing along to my favourite song “The Madness of King Scar”. Of course there is the nod to Hamlet in Scar’s lament:

“Nobody loved me, there’s the rub, not even as a cub”

but Tim Rice also managed to slip a little bit of King Lear into the song that I hadn’t noticed before.

The song beings:

“I am that rare and awesome thing.

I’m every inch a king…”

which is a reference to Shakespeare’s lines:

The trick of that voice I do well remember;
Is’t not the King?

Ay, every inch a king! (Iv.vi)

How seamlessly Shakespeare’s words and phrases melt into our world!

Happy Wednesday!

Valeo amici.

Wordy Wednesday – “Hot-blooded”

“I’m hot-blooded, check it and see/ I got a fever of a hundred and three/ Come on baby do you do more than dance/ I’m hot blooded, I’m hot blooded”

… And now that I have this Foreigner song stuck in your head I will disappoint you by telling you that the phrase “hot blooded” was actually coined by Shakespeare!

The phrase “hot blooded” or “hot bloodied” appears in two of  Shakespeare’s plays, and describes a person or persons who have a passionate nature, or are quick-tempered.

In King Lear Act II Scene iv Lear says:

Return with her?
Why the hot-blooded France, that dowerless took
Our youngest borne, I could as well be brought
To knee his Throne, and Squire-like pension beg,
To keep base life a foot; return with her?

And in The Merry Wives of Windsor Act V Scene v Falstaff says:

The Windsor-bell hath stroke twelve: the Minute
draws-on: Now the hot-bloodied-Gods assist me:
Remember Jove, thou was’t a Bull for thy Europa, Love set on thy horns.

Do you know anyone you would describe as hot-blooded? Do you know any other songs that use phrases from Shakespeare? Post them here, and maybe you’ll see them in a future Wordy Wednesday post!