So it will come to nobody’s surprise that I’m exceptionally excited for the Shakespeare Association of America conference that’s taking place in my hometown, Toronto, later this week. I’m looking forward to using the hashtag, #shakeass13. I’m looking forward to meeting other people who care about what I care about and want to talk about it with no shame or self-deprecation. I also am ready to learn more about Shakespeare, more about how to talk about his work, and get a rush of creative energy that I can put into my dissertation, which I have really started to enjoy working on, and hope never to have it feel like a burden. Like any cat owner who hears the endless thunking sound of a cat’s head hitting a closed door, I like to think of it as another baby that I can nurture.
So in the spirit of nurturing that baby with gusto, I decided to brush some of the dust off my Shakesmarts. I was thinking about Hamlet, not the person but the play, and rather uncle/father Claudius. I was thinking about what makes him so great and I forgot the word, and frantically emailed a friend in England to ask him what that word is…his signature rhetorical device and he reminded me : hendiadys! What an excellent word! Say it out loud! It sounds like a mountain range somewhere!
But what does he do? How does he use it? Claudius is a diplomat, which means that he understands the necessity for verbal economy, and tries to add that extra bit of detail, complexity, irony, sincerity…into that sentence.
Take, for example: “But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son–”, he manages to link the two with that and, but also using that little ampersand to divide two things that aren’t one and the same. He embodies Facebook’s need for “It’s complicated” relationship statuses, as we can also see when he sums up the opening plot of the play in these two lines of hendiadys:
“With an auspicious, and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage…”
Wonderful. I love it. Here he adds an extra iamb for effect, but for the most part, Shakespeare fits these almost Mr. Collins-like additions into the iambic pentameter that his stage royalty speak. Claudius, of course, makes a big mistake in this sarcastically “gentle and unforc’d accord of Hamlet”, who then stays home from university long enough to kill his stepdad. Bad call, Claudius. Bad call.