Thursday, September 22, 2011

"[Hamlet] didn't say that. That Polonius guy did…"

As a self-professed, permanently inked Shakespeare nerd it comes as no surprise to anyone that I have quite a few, very specific Bard-related pet peeves. I was going to do a multi-part series of my top five, building up to number one, but this week made me jump straight to number three*: People who quote Polonius as a philosophical role model.
The feelings of rage surfaced this week as I was looking through the archives of fyeahtattoos, because I'm unemployed at the moment and spend far too much time looking at the internet. I started noticing an unhealthy number of people walking around sporting a line from a wholly unlikeable character in an attempt to seem deep and introspective. Two thing Polonius is not.
Polonius is a political animal through and through. He passes his devotion to whomever can give him the most power. He is a professional toady, willing to sacrifice his daughter to help a murderous king get rid of his pesky nephew (and rightful heir to the throne). He gets killed while eavesdropping on a conversation between Hamlet and his mother, which Polonius set up to chastise Hamlet into good behavior. So really people, this is the guy you turn to for your life's philosophy? I'm not saying Hamlet's a much better option, because he's kind of unstable and for a thirty-three year old, acts rather immature at times. Really only Horatio and the Ghost seem to be stable enough to really take direction from. (Laertes has been poisoned by being raised by Polonius, and Fortinbras doesn't really have enough lines to base any life choices on. Though I imagine Elsinore became much more stable and less bloody after he took over.)
Polonius is best known and referenced for the scene in which he is giving advice to his son, Laertes, as he leaves to study abroad. The entire thrust of Polonius' advice is to be selfish, look out for number one, and never let anybody know too much about the real you. Excellent advice for a future sycophantic courtier, but unless you want to become a ruthless CEO (or ruthless CEO's butt-kissing underling), it's maybe not the best advice to follow in your day-to-day life in the modern age.

So- before you throw down at least a hundred bucks to get “To thine own self be true” permanently and prominently placed on your body, consider the source. You're not actually proclaiming to be the most real and honest version of yourself, you're saying I'm always going to put myself first. And that I don't understand what my tattoo actually means, or where it's from, but so many other people have it, it has to be all deep and stuff. (I also have a pet peeve about people getting stupid, generic, flash tattoos.) Anyone with a basic understanding of Shakespeare, Hamlet, or the Queen's English will not be impressed with your professed philosophy. I personally would back away with great haste.
I'll leave all of you with a different option to express a desire to be true to your own morals, philosophies and ideals: go with the Oracle of Delphi and “Know Thyself.” Still classic (in fact it pre-dates Shakespeare), still uses that fancy English, and doesn't reference a nattering buffoon of a character.

Edited to add- I found this tattoo a few days ago.  Misspelled, HUGE, and quoting Polonius.  That is a truly hideous waste of your time and money, and it's there forever. My brain hurts.

*I'll probably go back to four and five, and you will DEFINITLY hear about one and two...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Imaginary, My Dear Watson?

Way back at the beginning of this blog I mentioned that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may, in fact, be the greatest author ever. Now, I'm not saying this as a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. I enjoy the stories, I love the new BBC series , I enjoy the Robert Downey Jr. version and I like the show House (House/Holmes, Wilson/Watson- connect the dots and you end up back on Baker Street), but it's not one of my personal literary obsessions. I still posit that Doyle is an amazing author because of how many people are unaware he exists.
I have spoken to a significant number of people who truly believe that Sherlock Holmes was a real detective, and that either he or Dr. Watson merely transcribed their cases into a narrative format. Much like when an actor loses themself so completely into a role you don't even recognize them from movie to movie, so Doyle loses himself in Holmes. Doyle has managed to imbue his character with so much depth and personality that people forget he's a fictional character.
I even helped one customer who refused to believe that he was fictional, and then looked at me liked I kicked his puppy when I showed him the wikipedia entry talking about Doyle and the character he created. The poor kid was writing a report on Scotland Yard and wanted a biography of their most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. So, not only did I have to explain that people don't really write biographies of fictional characters (and what fictional means), but also that that character was more of an independent contractor than a permanent member of staff at Scotland Yard. It was a long night for both of us.
I also had another customer get mad when she couldn't find any of the books shelved under Holmes in the mystery section. When I explained that we kept the books under the author's name, not the main character's, she informed me that Sherlock Holmes was the author. In fact, Sherlock Holmes was her favorite author. She seemed very subdued when I showed her to the Ds and pointed out the actual author's name. I don't if she was sad because she had to find a new favorite author, or because she was thinking about how many people she had told that her favorite author was a fictional character. I imagine there were some awkward pauses in conversations as people tried to process that information.
So, on that note, I commend Sir Arthur and the amazing longevity and power of his character. Since the public outcry that forced him to resurrect the character from death through the (literally) hundred years of film and TV versions, Sherlock Holmes has never been out of the collective public knowledge. I highly recommend taking a literary trip to Baker Street and revisit an amazing character and his faithful friend. (Then go watch Benedict Cumberbatch bring Holmes to the modern age, because it's amazing.)

BookWench is currently reading Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher. If you're a SciFi fan and you haven't read his Harry Dresden series I cannot recommend them enough.