Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hamlet & The Psalmist: What Is Man?

One cannot understand Shakespeare without the Bible.

The Psalmist writes, in Psalm 8:

    לַמְנַצֵּחַ עַל-הַגִּתִּית, מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד.1 For the Leader; upon the Gittith. A Psalm of David.

    ב יְהוָה אֲדֹנֵינוּ-- מָה-אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ, בְּכָל-הָאָרֶץ;
    אֲשֶׁר תְּנָה הוֹדְךָ, עַל-הַשָּׁמָיִם. 2
    O LORD, our Lord, how glorious is Thy name in all the earth! {N}
    whose majesty is rehearsed above the heavens.

    ג מִפִּי עוֹלְלִים, וְיֹנְקִים-- יִסַּדְתָּ-עֹז:
    לְמַעַן צוֹרְרֶיךָ; לְהַשְׁבִּית אוֹיֵב, וּמִתְנַקֵּם. 3
    Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou founded strength, {N}
    because of Thine adversaries; that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

    ד כִּי-אֶרְאֶה שָׁמֶיךָ, מַעֲשֵׂה אֶצְבְּעֹתֶיךָ--
    יָרֵחַ וְכוֹכָבִים, אֲשֶׁר כּוֹנָנְתָּה. 4
    When I behold Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, {N}
    the moon and the stars, which Thou hast established;

    ה מָה-אֱנוֹשׁ כִּי-תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ; וּבֶן-אָדָם, כִּי תִפְקְדֶנּוּ. 5
    What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou thinkest of him?

    ו וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְּעַט, מֵאֱלֹהִים; וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ. 6
    Yet Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

    ז תַּמְשִׁילֵהוּ, בְּמַעֲשֵׂי יָדֶיךָ; כֹּל, שַׁתָּה תַחַת-רַגְלָיו. 7
    Thou hast made him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet:

    ח צֹנֶה וַאֲלָפִים כֻּלָּם; וְגַם, בַּהֲמוֹת שָׂדָי. 8
    Sheep and oxen, all of them, yea, and the beasts of the field;

    ט צִפּוֹר שָׁמַיִם, וּדְגֵי הַיָּם; עֹבֵר, אָרְחוֹת יַמִּים. 9
    The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea; whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

    י יְהוָה אֲדֹנֵינוּ: מָה-אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ, בְּכָל-הָאָרֶץ. 10
    O LORD, our Lord, how glorious is Thy name in all the earth!
And then you see in "Hamlet," probably the most tragic play on earth, the exact same thoughts are expressed in Act II, Scene 2:
    I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
    prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
    and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
    wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
    custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
    with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
    earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
    excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
    o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
    with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
    me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
    What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
    how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
    express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
    in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
    world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
    what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
    me: no, nor woman neither
    though by your smiling
    you seem to say so.
Ah, Shakespeare, the Bible is your lens.


Walter Sobchak said...

Ah, Hair, Shakespeare is your lens :)

Chana said...


Entertaining equation. Bible > Shakespeare > Hair.

Better question: Why are you channelling The Big Lebowski/ what's your story.

Walter Sobchak said...

Not really much of a story... I think you mentioned White Russians in some post a while back, and that got me thinking about The Dude, which got me thinking about Walter (we both don't roll on Shabbos) and I thought it would make an interesting handle for me to use.

Chana said...

Okay, that makes sense. Yeah, White Russians and Champagne and Black Muscat are my favorite drinks.

And I suppose I hear Sobchak vs. Gedaliah from the Uncle Moishy Tape re: not rolling on Shabbat.

Walter Sobchak said...

If you like Moscato wines, you would probably really enjoy a Tokaji Aszu. I think they sell some in Hungarian...

Chana said...


Thanks for the recommendation! Super-appreciated. *smile*