Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Best Things To Say Before Killing Somebody

[ From the archives.  Originally posted March 12, 2008. ]

I saw a post recently on the most badass things to say before you take someone's life.  I thought, "Aw come on, Shakespeare cornered that market 400 years ago!"  So I present the 5 best lines in Shakespeare spoken by someone just before killing someone else.

Honorable Mention : The list would not be complete without Henry V's "St. Crispin's Day" speech (Act IV, Scene 3).  It is quite possibly the greatest motivational speech in all of Shakespeare.  Since they're going into battle, it is technically something cool to say before you go kill somebody.  But since he's not actually in the process of killing somebody, and saying it to that person, I couldn't count it in my list.

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

#5) Othello, Act V Scene 2

"O perjured woman!  thou dost stone my heart, And makest me call what I intend to do A murder, which I thought a sacrifice."

Translation?  "I'm planning on killing you, but please stop making me feel bad about it. "

The context for this one is just great.  Othello has convinced himself that Desdemona, his supposedly unfaithful wife, has to die.  He's worked up the courage, and even then he can't bring himself to mar her beautiful skin (so he decides to smother her with a pillow).  He then interrogates her to get her to confess her sin.  "Have you prayed tonight?" is an earlier line, which if you think about it is a great way to start a murder as well.  How do you ask someone that without having them ask, "Why...what exactly are you planning to do with that pillow?"

To her credit, Desdemona doesn't even turn her husband in.  When asked who did it, she replies before dying, "Nobody, I myself.  Farewell.  Commend me to my kind lord."  If Othello was already feeling guilty about it, that must have really kicked it up a notch.

#4)  Hamlet, Act V Scene 2

"Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, Drink off this potion. Is thy union here? Follow my mother."

The entire play up to this point has supposedly been about Hamlet's revenge for his father's death at the hands of Claudius.  For three hours we've been waited for him to "revenge the foul and most unnatural murder", which Hamlet has promised to do "with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love."  Along the way he kills his girlfriend's father (which at least in part causes her to lose her mind and kill herself), and is sent away to London where he escapes on a pirate ship, arranging to have two of his former friends from college killed in his place.   So what causes him to finally snap?  His mom drops dead, poisoned by Claudius.  Now it's on, bitches.  In front of the entire court he not only stabs Claudius (who is the king, don't forget), but when Claudius yells that he is only wounded, Hamlet pours the rest of the poison down his throat.  At this moment is he thinking "Here's revenge for my dad"?  Nope, our dear Hamlet is thinking about mom.  You can even tell by the way he says it -- "incestuous" is a worse sin than "murderous."  It's hard to tell what is the worse crime in Hamlet's eyes, the fact that Claudius killed him mom, or that he slept with her.

#3)  Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 1

"Now, Tybalt, take the villain back again, That late thou gavest me; for Mercutio's soul Is but a little way above our heads, Staying for thine to keep him company: Either thou, or I, or both, must go with him."

Ok, your best friend Mercutio is dead.  Technically it's your fault, you held him back and allowed Tybalt to sneak in a cheap shot.  And now the bad guy's come back to gloat.  You're pissed off.  Here's the thing, though - you don't know if you're as good a swordsman as he is.  Quite frankly you're a bit worried about that.  Mercutio was the only one in the play with the guts to take him on, and he's dead now.  So what do you do?  You challenge the bad guy on the spot (that's what that "take the villain back again that late you gavest me" thing is all about, by the way).  And then you tell him, "Mercutio's not dying alone, not today.  Either you, or I, or both of us are going with him."  The image of Mercutio's soul watching the battle is a particularly powerful one, giving Romeo that extra motivation he needs to do what must be done.

It might not be the most badass way to launch yourself at your enemy, what with the whole "I might be the one who dies now" thing, but it is a pretty awesome way to get some revenge for your fallen friend.

#2) Titus Andronicus, Act V Scene 3

"Why, there they are both, baked in that pie; Whereof their mother daintily hath fed, Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred. 'Tis true, 'tis true; witness my knife's sharp point."

Titus Andronicus is not well known among folks who don't study Shakespeare's entire works.  It is, to put it bluntly, a horror show.  There's rape, mutilation, and plenty of murder.  But perhaps what Titus is most infamous for is this moment, when Titus has actually cooked Tamora's sons and fed them to her!  They were the ones who raped and mutilated Titus' daughter, you see.  So that's how he gets his revenge.  "Looking for the boys?  Yeah, they're in the pie that their mother is eating."  Then, without even giving them time to say "Ok, gonna be sick!" he follows up with "Witness my knife's sharp point!" stab stab stab.    A fairly modern movie adapation of Titus had Anthony Hopkins in the lead role. That's right, the man who made Hannibal The Cannibal Lecter famous, took on the role of Shakespeare's cannibal as well.  (Ok, technically Titus didn't actually do any of the flesh eating, cut me some slack.)

#1)  Macbeth, Act V, Scene x

"I will not yield, To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,  And to be baited with the rabble's curse. Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, And thou opposed, being of no woman born, Yet I will try the last. Before my body I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff, And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'"

When it comes to being a badass, Macbeth gets the trophy for the best final words in all of Shakespeare.  Throughout the entire play, everything the witches have told him has come true.  They told him he'd be king, and he is.  They told him that Birnam wood would come to Dunsinane, and it did.  They told him that "no man of woman born" could harm him, and until now, he's believed it.  That is, until he learned that MacDuff, who stands before him, was "from his mother's womb untimely ripped."    He's got no reason to doubt that the man standing in front of him is the one who is going to kill him.

Does he back down?  Does he "yield"?  Macduff has even given him the opportunity to do so, to "yield, coward, and live to be the show and gaze o' the time."  Oh hell no.  Macbeth raises himself up, throws down his shield and tells him, in no uncertain terms, to f*ck off.  If Macbeth is going down, he's going down fighting.  "I will try the last," he says, and then offers a challenge of his own:  "Damned be him that first cries Hold, enough!"  If you're Macduff right now, even with the prophecy on your side, you're quaking in your boots just a little bit.

Of course, Macbeth ends up dead, which does seem a bit anti-climactic.  But it's still a great thing to say before launching yourself at the guy.  "You know, there's a 99.99999% chance that you're gonna win this one, but you know what?  You're still getting my best game, bitch.  Bring it."


JM said...

Duane, I agree with you about Hamlet's lines being "killers". It's where the sources are for your conclusions on them I don't quite understand. How can anyone "tell" anything by "the way he says it" --the word "incestuous" ?

Duane said...

Really JM? I'd have thought in a world where we count syllables as a way of guessing character emotion, this one would have been obvious -- which word does Hamlet say first?

I didn't mean "the way he says it" like literally, how the line is delivered - I meant the phrasing that he chooses to use at the time.

I suppose we could debate word order and whether the more powerful word is the one he starts with, or the one he ends on. Dramatically, probably the last (although if that were the case, ending on murderous would better make the point). Psychologically, though, I go with the first.

JM said...

Which word does Hamlet's Father use "first"? And how many times does he use or refer to "incestuous", and his disgust and horror at the abomination it is to him, in his conversation with his son?
And that "world" you speak of is the world of the play--Shakespeare's play; and one of the ways HE determined emotional expressiveness within the lines--same as in the sonnets.Ask the "experts"--folks like McKellen, Dench, Branagh, Peter Hall, John Barton, Stewart, Holm--PS. it's also their world--the people who know what they're doing with the lines. They're not "guessing".

And the "syllable count" disproves any legitimate over-emphasis being laid on the word "incestuous"--no "guessing" involved.
It's simply not Freud's, Ernest Jones', or Oedipus' psycho-sexual world.
It seems that most of the "guessing" lies elsewhere, other than in the lines themselves.

If you prefer the more popular Oedipus idea, so be it. Of course the play Hamlet is universal in the way it can be interpreted, since Hamlet himself has aspects of Every man within his character. But as with any theory, it has to be able to stand up to scrutiny, and bear some proof other than mere opinion, "feel", or the examples of those who choose portray it that way, offering mere repetition of the same thing as "proof" for the validity of perpetuating the opinion.

Duane said...

Oy vey, why must everything be an argument?

To the first point, the Ghost actually mentions the murder (and loss of crown) first, which if anything I'd think only strengthens my point. Hamlet's given the task of avenging the foul and most unnatural murder of his father and we end up with him telling the incestuous murderous damned Dane to follow his mother.

To the latter, I think you jump to quickly on my use of words like "guess". Would you prefer "interpret"? As far as I know there's nothing in text that told Jacobi's Hamlet to laugh himself silly when first confronting Ophelia. Why, then, does he do it? With no such instruction? Somebody somewhere had to look at whatever evidence they have (and yes, clearly those in the profession can see more evidence than the casual observer such as myself). But at the end of it all, after weighing everything you've got to work with, you're still left with questions unanswered, where you have to decide for yourself how to go. No? Is any part of that inaccurate? I don't know that calling that interpretation versus guessing is relevant one way or the other, the end result is the same.

Am I of the Freud school? No, I don't think so, not in the sense that I think he wanted to climb into an Oedipal bed with her. I do think he sees his mother as a sexual creature, certainly. And I do think he's closer to his mother than his dead father, yes.

I think where we ultimately disagree is in your last argument, that the repetition of examples does not constitute proof (I'm summarizing, please don't spend all day dissecting every word I use there). I mean, you're right, it's not proof - but I think that's ok. I most definitely do think that there's something greater than the sum of the parts when it comes to Shakespeare, and that you can not extract everything from the page. So yes, there will certainly be things, many things, that I *feel* are right, that I cannot prove by counting syllables. I feel that they are right because I'm human, and because while Shakespeare may have come closer than anybody else to actually putting humans in his plays, even he couldn't get it perfect. And I'm ok with it.

JM said...

Oy vey, why must everything be an argument?
Because you sometimes make arguable 'nutshell" statements. These aren't simple questions you raise. The reams of paper spent discussing them without definite conclusions have already used up several forests. They aren't able to be discussed in 50 words or less.
But it's your blog. If you prefer to drop comments without any "extended" discussion on them,just say so (or maybe you just did). If so, my fault. A retroactive apology for the trouble it's taken you to defend what I disagree with.
If you happen to be interested in more complete ideas I've had on this subject, you can find them on my blog
As I had so often felt here, you're always welcome to discuss things at length there.

Duane said...

I think your points, JM, get to the heart of why I have this blog. It's true that for any Shakespearean issue that we want to talk about, several forests have been dedicated to the task. The question I asked some 5 years ago was how to approach that.

There are people who will have spent a serious portion of their lives attempting to read as much of it as possible.

This will be a very small portion compared to the number of people who have read a neglible amount. Some will have read more than others, sure, but there will always be something of an expotential gap between the people who do it for a living and those who do it casually.

It is when somebody says "If you are not familiar with the forest of books dedicated to question X that you do not get an opinion on question X" that I had issue, and why I started the blog. That ivory tower aspect, the "If you can't prove it in the literature than don't bring it up" argument. I find that nonsense. I really and truly believe, without a forest of books and research to back me up, that exposure to Shakespeare will make your life better. Period. And that's a good thing.

Anybody who says "I want to learn more about Shakespeare" is welcome here. Sometimes they will learn from others who, like them, are just guessing based on what little they know. Other times they will learn from experts. The more you know, of course, the harder it is for you to learn new things - but it's not impossible. In our years here I've seen several cases where experts teach each other new things.

Those who say, "I am an expert in this subject and I'm here to tell you that your opinion is wrong" will find this blog somewhat boring. I'm not interested in being perfectly right 100% of the time. Nor am I interested in swapping footnotes. I'm interested in enriching my life. If my interpretation of Macbeth is "wrong", then sure maybe I'll be curious about why it is wrong, but I won't lose sleep over it, nor will I attempt for long to prove that I am right.

But when somebody who does not understand Macbeth asks me to give them my interpretation, that is exactly what I'll do - whether it is "wrong" or not. Because I'm speaking from the "How it changed my life" position, and how can that be wrong? Here's what Macbeth means *to me*. That is implied in everything that I say. I think that Hamlet's got a mom thing not because I can back it up in syllable counts and pauses, but because it's how I feel based on my overall experience with the play -and that includes the text, commentary on the text, and multiple performances. I'm not interested in debating whether my opinion is of different value than someone else's, and that sort of gets back to why the blog exists. There are many people out there who, consciously or otherwise, think "I will never be academically competent in the Shakespeare realm, therefore my opinion will never matter." Those are the people that I like to talk to, and say "Damn straight your opinion matters."

Want a good example? You know why I like Carl? Because I have felt free, in all the time I've known he's hanging out, to pick a sonnet and say "Here's my interpretation." Never has he said "Wow, that's way off, you're completely wrong." (Not saying that you JM have used those words, just using an example). Instead he tends to say things like "Interesting analysis, here's what I had to say on the subject..." before launching into a cut-and-paste fest from his book and its 300 years of research. The man is clearly head and shoulders above me when it comes to speaking authoritatively on sonnet interpretation, but that doesn't trouble me.

I enjoy your input, JM, and I hope you'll hang out and continue to give it. Just please forgive me, and don't take it personal, if I don't always jump into a debate with you on things. You will almost certainly "win" all of them, if that word has any meaning in this context.

JM said...

It's not about "winning" at all, Duane. I'm not trying to best anyone at their knowledge or expertise. That would be a very shallow victory, even if it were the case. I am, however, trying to disseminate whatever knowledge I've gleaned from devoting those years of practice and study I've spent in attempting to understand how best to approach and scale the mountain that is Shakespeare's work. I feel it's my duty to share what I've found out. And in anything I've written, honestly, I think you might see that it's not just about "counting syllables". It's about a holistic approach that only takes counting syllables into account for what the exercise might be worth. And I'm not "cutting and pasting" from anywhere, but from the depths of thought I've had and what occurs to me about what I've learned relative to the issue at hand. This is no mere trip down the hallowed halls of stuffy holier-than-thous. Most of THEM, refusing to be more informed, disagree with me. But there was a case of a former head of a reputable university English dept.up north who said to me, "I never knew this kind of an approach to an understanding about Shakespeare's work even existed. It helps to reveal what he might have been up to. Wish I'd known this earlier." --In places other than the good ole USA, they've known about it for decades.

And sure, I have something you could call "formulaic" as part of my analyzing and theorizing. But that's necessary, because so did Shakespeare.There was a discipline he followed (and re-defined with his genius) that jumps off the page when you know where to look. And understanding how he assembled his work is an integral first step to understanding anything about what could be going on in it.

Most people are resistant to the idea because it might at first resemble what someone tried to force-feed to them in high school or college. But it has little, if anything, to do with being "academically competent" in the realm of "Shakespeare studies". I doubt that one of the greatest Shakespeare "interpreters" of all time, Richard Burbage, considered himself "academically competent" when it came to playing Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Bassanio, Henry V, and on...for the first time ever. But his depth of range and understanding about what Shakespeare was doing On the Page is STILL THERE for us. Why would we choose to ignore it? This is why I'm so insistent. And this isn't "theoretical". It's meat and potatoes; stuff we can actually put our hands on; stuff that Shakespeare left right there in front of us. It can help to defeat the idea of the dissuading and confusing "mystery" everyone makes Shakespeare out to be. Do you think MY life hasn't been enriched by this?

But it's only a first step toward being more informed when we do begin to ask the questions and make decisions on how we might be able to "interpret" his work--further. It's not a be-all-and-end-all. But if it isn't taken into account at all, we get Ethan Hawke's version. And the more that happens, the more we're conditioned to accept it as legitimate--as Shakespeare--which it most certainly, I'll think you'll agree, is NOT. (cont.)

JM said...

And PS, Academia be damned! This isn't AT ALL about THEM. It's about understanding Shakespeare-The Thespian-- Actor/Director/Poet.

But I am a teacher. And one who believes, more than very strongly, in what, and how, I teach what I teach. I've seen it work wonders with those who THOUGHT they were "seriously impaired" when it came to Shakespeare. I've seen it do the enriching you speak of, turning dullards into seekers of truth; Shakespeare nay-sayers into disciples of his work and messages.

I realize that at times I can be didactic--I don't mean to be, and please excuse me if I have seemed as though I'm condescending. I know you said I haven't done that, but it could very well be that it might appear that way. And, to be completely honest with myself, and you, it probably has seemed that way more than once. Speaking of honesty, Shakespeare is all about Truth. With so much of it to try to get out there, and Time being what it zealotry will get the better of me.

On the other hand, we seriously limit the possibility of enlightenment and truth, about anything, when we pull punches.
You said.."There are many people out there who, consciously or otherwise, think "I will never be academically competent in the Shakespeare realm, therefore my opinion will never matter." Those are the people that I like to talk to, and say "Damn straight your opinion matters."
Damn Straight. Now let's INFORM that opinion, so that it matters even more than they ever thought, in their wildest dreams, that it could. And along the way, as I have, maybe they'll understand it from an additional, more aware, vantage point--one that was provided by someone else, for me. If nothing else, at least the option to do so will have been available.

Opinions change in the light of new information, but never in the darkness of ignorance.

Thank you Duane, for taking the time to write what you did. I only hope you realize, in your gracious and admirable humility, what kind of an effect your opinion can possibly have on someone. And your opinion has always mattered to me--otherwise, we wouldn't have come anywhere near the possibility of this kind of exchange between us.

Sincerely spoken AS it was written,

Gedaly said...

"And PS, Academia be damned!"

AMEN! :-p