Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros13Horatio’s ‘mote’: mining a metaph...

Horatio’s ‘mote’: mining a metaphor in Q2 Hamlet

Brian Walsh

Résumés

Horatio compare le Fantôme à un « grain de poussière » qui « trouble l’œil de l’esprit » dans la première scène d’Hamlet, dans un discours propre au deuxième in-quarto (1604). Dans cet exercice de micro-analyse d’un seul vers d’Hamlet, cet article évalue la façon dont cette métaphore contribue à créer la texture de la scène d'ouverture du deuxième in-quarto (Q2). Défaire le travail des éditeurs modernes en évitant de juxtaposer les diverses versions de la scène permet de se rendre compte que la scène d’ouverture dans Q2 met davantage l’accent sur l’introspection et l’intériorité en tant que thèmes majeurs de la pièce que les scènes d’ouverture du premier in-quarto (Q1) ou de l’in-folio (F). De plus, cette comparaison d’Horatio rend la figure du vieil Hamlet moralement ambiguë dès le départ en associant son apparence à un sentiment de culpabilité.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

  • 1 Lars Engle, ‘How is Horatio Just? How Just is Horatio?’, pp. 256–62; Karen Newman, ‘Two Lines, Thre (...)

1A 2011 issue of Shakespeare Quarterly featured a series of brief articles devoted to two lines from Hamlet.1 These pieces elegantly demonstrate the value of strong close reading, at the micro level, of a richly encrusted text. Such focus on individual lines reminds us that the big conclusions we draw from landmarks of literature like Hamlet rest upon a foundation of carefully crafted moments, and that the pleasure we draw from these texts derives from recognizing the ingenuity of authors, like Shakespeare, who can render such moments dense with significance.

  • 2 All quotations, unless otherwise indicated, taken from William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Prince of Denma (...)

2There is a single line early in Hamlet that has long arrested my attention, and that I wish to subject to the kind of micro-analysis practiced in the Shakespeare Quarterly issue. It is Horatio’s comment after his initial encounter with the Ghost: ‘A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye’ (1.1.112).2 Each time I teach, see a performance of, or simply reread Hamlet, even as I progress through the thickening plot and encounter the more famous phrases, I come back again and again to Horatio’s ‘mote’, seeing, in William Blake’s phrase, ‘a world in a grain of sand’ (Auguries of Innocence, c.1803). This essay close reads Horatio’s line in hopes of illuminating, if not an entire world, at least the deft authorial moves in this one single, arguably under-evaluated line. The fundamental close reading question I put to any textual detail is ‘What is this doing here’? I mean ‘doing’ in two senses. First, what does it add to the work? Or what does it make happen by being here? Second, when possible, I want to consider how it did get here. Is it an allusion, an imitation, a revision, a parody? This article thus investigates the question of what ‘a mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye’ is doing in Hamlet. To be more precise, it examines what it is doing in the Second Quarto (Q2) of Hamlet, published in 1604/5. Hamlet, of course, comes down to us in three texts: the 1603 First Quarto (Q1), Q2, and the 1623 First Folio (F). I do not have a new argument that accounts for why this line is only in Q2. My interest is in the effects of this utterance that is unique to the Q2 text. So, by asking what this line is doing here, I am also asking a more specific question: how do these words inflect the opening of Q2 Hamlet?

  • 3 Leah Marcus, Unediting the Renaissance: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton (New York: Routledge, 1996).
  • 4 Zachary Lesser, Hamlet after Q1: An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text (Philadelphia: Univer (...)

3The line in question has featured in most published versions of Hamlet since Nicholas Rowe began the practice of conflating the texts in 1709. Given this long tradition of conflated texts, Horatio’s ‘mote’ can be said to have inflected all post-1709 editions of the play that include the line. In this brief, exploratory essay, I align my work with what Leah Marcus and others have called ‘un-editing’ Shakespeare.3 That is, I am concentrating on a single instance of a multi-text play to determine its unique shape. As Zachary Lesser puts it in his book on Q1 Hamlet, ‘bracketing the question of [the three early Hamlet editions’] bibliographic relationship enables us to see aspects of these texts that we have tended to miss while we have been busy searching for their textual origins’.4 In what follows, I offer a series of observations that I hope demonstrate the rewards of patient micro reading and that also demonstrate an instance where Shakespeare layers a line with meaning through an allusion that both invokes, but also repurposes, a sacred text (the Gospels) as well as, perhaps, a political one (Livy’s Roman history). I argue that Q2 uses this line to inaugurate some of Hamlet’s most prominent themes, and that its inclusion means that this version of the opening scene does more than the initial scenes in Q1 or F. It establishes the delicate, nuanced sympathy between Horatio and Hamlet, interiority and self-reflection as major themes of the play, and the moral ambiguity of Old King Hamlet. Un-editing — or, more properly here, un-conflating — can help us focus on this pithy nine-word statement and through it realize some valuable things about the texture of Q2 Hamlet within the tripartite Hamlet text cluster.

4To appreciate what Horatio’s mote is doing, we must first remember the precise context in which he speaks that line. It follows from another set of lines that are unique to Q2, and consideration of them will set the stage for my main object of analysis. Just a few moments after Horatio blithely dismisses his friends’ ghost stories — ‘Tush, tush, ’twill not appear’ (1.1.30) — a figure that the men all agree resembles Denmark’s recently deceased king stalks across the stage, and refuses Horatio’s injunction to speak. Marcellus then abruptly changes the subject from the Ghost to question why Denmark is in a frenzied preparation for military action. Horatio answers, and so displays his deep knowledge of recent Danish history and how it relates to the current situation in the kingdom. As he recalls, the previous King, ‘Old’ Hamlet, killed ‘Old’ Fortinbras, the King of Norway, in a duel, on which the two had wagered a significant amount of territory, so that Denmark acquired Norwegian land. Horatio claims that the deceased Norwegian King’s son, ‘young Fortinbras’ (95), has raised a menacing army and seeks to recover by force the lands his father lost, hence Denmark’s own preparations.

5It is Barnardo who first links the current military build-up with the Ghost. He replies to Horatio’s information by noting that ‘well may it sort that this portentous figure / Comes armed through our watch so like the King / That was and is the question of these wars’ (109–11). Critics rarely credit Barnardo as an interesting speaker, but we should note that he is the first person in the play to meditate on the verb ‘to be’. Old Hamlet ‘was and is the question of these wars’. The present, Horatio and Barnardo both understand, must be read as the culmination of the past, through the evolving equation of how what was relates to what is, and it is evident that what is — the military build-up — is a result of what was Old Hamlet’s warring.

6Barnardo’s striking phrase — unique to Q2 — that Old Hamlet ‘was and is the question of these wars’, sits adjacent to Horatio’s account of the back story, the duel between Old Hamlet and Old Norway. Horatio’s explanation that Old Hamlet wagered a portion of his nation’s territory on the outcome of his single combat, a speech that is present in all three texts, implicitly highlights the king’s chivalric derring-do. It has an unmistakable ring of nostalgia, and it initiates the idealization of Old King Hamlet that Prince Hamlet will later take up. Yet, when Q2 has Barnardo note that Old Hamlet, and now Old Hamlet’s legacy, is the issue in the Norwegian plans to invade, we see a different side to the duel as a pivotal historical event, one that appears, in hindsight, a bit reckless even as it is also dashing and charismatic. Barnardo’s words allow us to see more clearly that the actions of Old Hamlet have led to Denmark facing an existential threat to its sovereignty. His past commitment to an ethos of warfare and international rivalry, tinged with an apparent desire for personal one-upmanship through a hand-to-hand duel and wager of territory, are inextricably tied to his country’s present, portentous moment. Fortinbras is not invading because Old Hamlet is a restless Ghost, or because he was murdered, or because Claudius is a regicide, an adulterer, or an illegitimate tyrant. Horatio and Barnardo understand the external threat to Denmark is brewing because Old Hamlet’s past wars were part of an ongoing cycle of retribution and retaliation between nations that have helped to create the present crisis. As we will see, this awareness lends more of a sting to Horatio’s musing that Old Hamlet’s Ghost ‘troubles the mind’s eye’.

7It is immediately after Barnardo’s words about was and is that Horatio delivers a fourteen-line speech interrupted by the Ghost’s second appearance. He says, in response to Barnardo’s point that the apparition heralds something ominous about the current crisis:

A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;
As stars with trains of fire, and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star,
Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands,
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
And even the like precurse of feared events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.
Enter Ghost (1.1.112–25)

  • 5 See the discussion of the allusion to Julius Caesar in Yan Brailowsky’s article in this issue.

8The speech can be divided into three parts. The first is the single, self-contained line I am interested in, a ten-syllable, mostly iambic line of verse (‘mind’s eye’ scans as a spondee). The next part consists of the description of omens around the assassination of Julius Caesar in ancient Rome. The last lines assert that a similar supernatural display of prodigies has occurred in Denmark. This entire speech is unique to Q2. To pursue my goal to delve deeply into a single, pithy line, I will confine my discussion to that first part. Questions about its relationship to the rest of the speech — is the mote line a non-sequitur or is it organically connected to the other two parts? What is the allusion to ancient Rome doing? — are worth further attention in the future.5 Yet, for now, we turn to the first line, and begin with its ‘mote’.

  • 6 See the editors’ glosses on the line in William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, ed. John Do (...)

9Commonly spelled ‘moth’ in Shakespeare’s time, as it is in Q2, a ‘mote’ usually — albeit not always — refers to a speck of dust. There is some critical debate over the true implication of Horatio’s comparison of the Ghost to a ‘mote’ in ‘the mind’s eye’. Some critics see it as a figure that depreciates the Ghost. Wilson, in 1934, argues that ‘Hor[atio], recovering his balance, belittles the Ghost; the apparition, he says, is nothing [emphasis mine] to what happened before Caesar’s death or to more recent portents’. Thompson and Taylor in 2006 claim instead that ‘Horatio presumably doesn’t mean to underestimate the significance of the Ghost but to see it as a serious cause for concern’. That ‘concern’ is nicely articulated by Deighton who, in 1912, glossed the line thusly: ‘it (the apparition) [is] like a mote in the eye, which, minute as it is, causes that organ infinite pain, perplexes and molests our mental sight’.6 This is the correct reading, in my view. Shakespeare emphasises the extraordinary pain-sensitivity of the eye elsewhere in his work. In King John, for instance, he used ‘mote’ for precisely this purpose. When the child Arthur pleads with Hubert not to go through with his orders to put out the boy’s eyes, he argues:

O God, that there were but a mote in yours, [eyes]
A grain, a dust, a gnat, a wandering hair,
Any annoyance in that precious sense,
Then, feeling what small things are boisterous there,
Your vile intent must needs seem horrible. (4.1.91–5)

  • 7 In As You Like It, Phoebe notes that ‘eyes…are the frail’st and softest things, / Who shut their co (...)

10This desperate appeal to a universal aspect of human frailty — the eye’s vulnerability — supports reading Horatio’s metaphor as one that implies gravity: when Shakespeare pairs a mote with an eye in Hamlet, he means to signify the mote’s potency.7 If we read Horatio’s mote in line with these sentiments, we understand that he sees the Ghost as an extreme, even debilitating irritant. We should pay attention to the verb tenses here: ‘a mote it is…’ implies the painful effect of the Ghost is now present and ongoing, just as Old Hamlet is the cause of the present war. This raises the question of why Horatio understands the Ghost in this way. In what way, or for what particular reasons, does the Ghost irritate the mind’s eye?

  • 8 On Horatio’s innovation in saying mind’s eye, as well as for information of the OED citation, see W (...)

11This ‘eye’ that is being irritated in Hamlet is, of course, itself metaphorical. Horatio does not direct us to contemplate a fleshly organ of sight, but a ‘mind’s eye.’ The OED cites this as the first recorded instance of the exact phrase ‘mind’s eye’ to indicate something like human consciousness or imagination, although variations of this concept can be found as far back as Chaucer.8 Importantly, Hamlet himself uses it not long after this first scene, in an exchange with Horatio:

Hamlet. My father, methinks I see my father.
Horatio. Where my Lord?
Hamlet In my mind’s eye, Horatio. (1.1.184–5)

12Hamlet’s use of ‘mind’s eye’ appears in all three Hamlet texts. It is only in Q2, then, that Hamlet’s expression ‘rhymes’ with Horatio’s use of the same phrase. This establishes intellectual sympathy between them, or at least some shared reference point, perhaps gained from being fellow students. This is important because that apparent symmetry simultaneously reveals their differences. Hamlet uses ‘mind’s eye’ to mean his memory or his imagination, while Horatio seems to mean something more like conscience. Noting how, in Q2, this shared phrase is both a point of continuity and difference makes the relationship between Hamlet and Horatio over the course of the play more complex and poignant. They diverge from each other intellectually once Hamlet encounters the Ghost. Or, at least, Hamlet claims they do. It is in Q2 (as well as in Q1) that Hamlet refers to ‘your philosophy’, as opposed to F’s ‘our philosophy’ (1.5.166). Horatio differentiates himself from Hamlet in the graveyard scene when (in Q2 and F) he cautions Hamlet that his musings there are ‘too curiou[s]’ (5.1.174). Yet, they pledge their mutual regard for each other elsewhere in the play. As Horatio’s role as loyal confidante, and his moving elegy at the end makes clear, they remain devoted friends despite those differences in outlook. Their use of the same striking, yet unusual, figure of speech ‒ ‘mind’s eye’ ‒ to different ends is only in Q2: in that text, it establishes from the start this subtle dance of affiliation and difference.

13Horatio’s early invocation of the mind’s eye is significant, too, for helping to establish, early in Q2, the play’s interest in interiority. Francisco had noted in the opening exchange that he is happy to be relieved of duty not merely because he is cold, but also that he is ‘sick at heart’ (1.1.9) (in Q2 and F). This does much to set the play’s melancholy, reflective tone. For Horatio, ‘the mind’s eye’ appears to go even deeper as a figure for human consciousness. His particular meaning is that the mind’s eye is an instrument of self-reflection; something like conscience.

  • 9 It is a character name in Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where in both it sign (...)

14To appreciate that, we must return to tracking ‘mote’ and the way Shakespeare uses it elsewhere in his work. Shakespeare uses the word ‘mote’ a handful of times, and other uses, in dialogue anyway, can help us wring more significance from Horatio’s.9 In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Berowne chides his three fellows for breaking their pledge about courting the French princesses: ‘All three of you, to be thus much o’ershot? / You found his mote; the king your mote did see; / But I a beam do find in each of three’ (4.3.156–8).

15Berowne obviously alludes to a quotation from Jesus that appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The Luke version in the 1599 Geneva Bible reads this way:

And why seest thou a mote in thy brothers eye, and considerest not the beame that is in thine owne eye? Either howe canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou seest not the beame that is in thine owne eye?  Hypocrite, first cast out that beame out of thine owne eye, and then shalt thou see clearely to cast out the mote out of thy brothers eye. (Luke 6:41–3)10

  • 11 Morris Palmer Tilley, A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Cent (...)

16This verse was well known, and oft quoted, in Shakespeare’s world.11 As the final verse makes clear, it emphasizes hypocrisy. Hamlet abounds with hypocrites, but of different varieties than the class of sinners Jesus apostrophises here. Claudius is the self-conscious hypocrite, the one who, as Hamlet puts it, can ‘smile, and smile and be a villain’ (1.5.108). Jesus associates the hypocrite here more with spiritual blindness than dissembling per se. The Biblical injunction points to the human tendency to see fault in others, but not admit it in oneself. It thus illustrates the need to look inwardly and awaken oneself to the realisation of being guilty of sin before judging others: take care of your own eye, and what afflicts it, before you go after someone else’s. When Berowne admonishes his fellows, he is accusing them of dissembling about the fact they, too, have become illicit wooers, and the fact that they self-righteously judge the others for doing so with no thought of their own culpability. (The audience, of course, knows the same is true of Berowne himself). For Berowne, the mote in the eye is a ready-made aphorism with an immediately obvious application to the situation. Horatio alludes to Jesus’ words, but the effect is more ambiguous. They inevitably maintain a sense of sinfulness and the need for individuals to acknowledge their own faults. However, Horatio does not invoke the scriptural maxim to critique others directly. The phrase about the mote in the eye in Hamlet is a more complex admission that there is something sinful that must be recognised, something that is unsettling to the men who just witnessed the Ghost, and perhaps to all of Denmark. Unlike when Berowne uses it, the hypocritical sinner’s own fault is not readily apparent. ‘The mote in the eye’ here derives from, but also develops, the scriptural maxim, so that the emphasis is on the ‘mind’s eye’ searching inward for the source of a nagging wound, rather than seeing some sin that is obvious to everyone. Horatio’s ‘troubled’ feeling is a prompt to reflect and probe his and his fellows’ consciences to acknowledge their own deep-seated, even obscure, faults and complicities.

  • 12 William Shakespeare, Henry V, ed. T.W. Craik, Arden Shakespeare 3 (London: Bloomsbury, 1995).

17Shakespeare previously signified a ‘mote’ as an irritant to conscience in the history play Henry V, performed in 1599, shortly before Hamlet was likely composed. The lead up phrasing is slightly different in the Quarto and Folio editions of Henry V, but in both the King says that a soldier, in order to die in battle in a state of grace, must ‘wash every mote out of his conscience’ before heading to battle (4.1.166‒7). The 2008 Norton Shakespeare editors of Henry V gloss mote as a ‘speck’ while the third Arden edition glosses it as a ‘spot’, or ‘blemish’, another accepted Elizabethan meaning recorded by the OED, and which makes sense with the action of washing.12 In any case, it clearly means something that is not supposed to be in the ‘conscience’ and that needs to be flushed out for the sake of the soul’s health and cleanliness. Mote here is associated with a blotch to be washed clean through sincere regret and repentance. That blemish is not physical of course; it is the degradation that sin leaves on the soul, and the implied metaphor here is that the soul is like a piece of clothing that can be washed clean.

18In Hamlet, the mote as speck of dust is compared to something very painful, so that the Ghost produces mental anguish akin to dust in one’s eye. In Henry V, Henry prescribes that soldiers can do something about this stain on their souls: wash them clean. Horatio does not suggest how or even whether one can get the Ghost as mote out of the mind’s eye, he only states that the Ghost is a mote in the mind’s eye.

19The metaphors in Henry V and Hamlet are united in that they both describe guilt. In Henry V, this is more explicit. I want to suggest that this understanding lies behind Horatio’s expression, which pushes his use of ‘mind’s eye’ to mean something akin to conscience. It is Horatio who, after the Ghost’s second appearance, will describe it as moving like ‘a guilty thing / upon a fearful summons’ (1.1.148–9). That the Ghost is guilty, and guilt-inducing, can be heard already in his mote line.

  • 13 The idea that Old Hamlet was far from an ideal husband, father, and king, and was perhaps even brut (...)

20If the Ghost is a mote, and the mote is guilt that stings the mind’s eye/conscience, what is it guilty of? We might respond, ‘nothing. By that logic, the trouble is the unknown truth of Old Hamlet’s demise, and the irritant is there to tell Denmark something is unsettled about the King’s death, namely that the new King is a murderer. Yet given the understanding at Elsinore, at this point, that their heroic king died by accident, for Horatio, at this stage, it is also an irritant that, in the moment, awakens a repressed nagging truth about Old Hamlet. Q2 subtly begins to unravel Old Hamlet’s legend even as it establishes it. It is the beginning of suggestions that old Hamlet is far from morally upright. The Ghost speaks of the ‘foul crimes done in my days of nature’ (1.5.12) which sounds more elaborate and sinister than standard pieties that we are all sinners, while his demand that Hamlet damn his own soul, and commit himself to certain death through attempting to kill the King, has long raised ethical questions about the Ghost’s moral authority.13 For Horatio, the point of the metaphor is that the Ghost is a bane to his conscience. If we pair this with my argument about Barnardo’s words in Q2 about Old Hamlet being the cause of the current wars, we can begin to see how Shakespeare condenses and repurposes the Gospel metaphor of eye obstructions. Horatio, I argue, is critically reflecting here on his own ‒ and his country’s ‒ admiration for Old Hamlet by looking inward and acknowledging that this figure’s ostensible heroism is tainted by his questionable actions and thus aggrieves the mind’s eye, or conscience, of those who admire him. The mote here is a proverbial gadfly, which stings Horatio out of his complacent understanding of recent Danish history.

  • 14 Livy, History of Rome, Volume I: Books 1–2, trans. B. O. Foster (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University (...)
  • 15 Livy, The Romane Historie Vvritten by T. Livius of Padua. also, the Breviaries of L. Florus: With a (...)
  • 16 Livy, History of Rome, p. 163.

21One final point, disconnected from the previous argument, is nonetheless suggestive about how the language of the mote in the eye was circulating around the time of Hamlet’s composition. Livy’s History of Rome tells the story of the assassination of Servius Tullius, reputed to be the sixth King of Rome. Livy describes how, prior to the killing of Tullius, his two daughters were married to a pair of brothers, the older of the sisters being married to Tarquin the Proud, Tullius’ successor and the infamous last king before the establishment of the Republic. The younger daughter then fell in love with this same Tarquin, her own brother-in-law. Together with Tarquin, she successfully plotted to kill her husband (Tarquin’s brother) and his wife, her own sister, so they could marry. Livy describes how, once Tullius’ daughter had managed to marry her true love, Tarquin the Proud, the new, fiercely ambitious couple, came increasingly to despise her father, the old King. He writes: ‘tum vero in dies infestior Tulli senectus, infestius coepit regnum esse’.14 Philemon Holland introduced a peculiar turn of phrase for this line in his 1600 translation of Livy. Holland renders it: ‘then everyday more than other began Tullius to be a continual mote in their eyes, his old age hateful and his reign more odious’ (emphasis added).15 This is an idiosyncratic translation of the Latin, as we can see by comparing it with the Loeb Classics edition’s more literal one: ‘From that moment the insecurity of the aged Tullius and the menace to his authority increased with each succeeding day’.16

  • 17 The Norton Shakespeare, p. 669.
  • 18 Peter Culhane, ‘Philemon Holland’s Livy: Peritexts and Contexts’, Translation and Literature 13.2 ( (...)
  • 19 On the date of Hamlet see, for instance, E. A. J. Honigmann, ‘The Date of Hamlet’, Shakespeare Surv (...)
  • 20 Edward Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554-1640 A.D. (...)

22Shakespeare was well acquainted with the story of Tullius’ fall, which he mentions in ‘The Argument’ to The Rape of Lucrece (1594), and he almost certainly consulted Livy directly for material for that poem.17 Shakespeare probably knew Holland’s translation of Livy by the time he composed Coriolanus, circa 1607/8.18 Whether he would have known Holland’s peculiar translation of this line when he wrote Hamlet is unknown. The possible influence of Holland’s translation, published in 1600, on the composition of Hamlet, probably done between 1599 and 1601, is impossible to pin down.19 We can note that Holland’s printer, Adam Islip, did enter an English translation of Livy with the Stationers’ Register in 1598, raising the possibility that the work was ready and perhaps circulating in manuscript that early.20 Or, if Hamlet was on stage by 1599 or early 1600, could Holland have heard the line and incorporated it into his work before it was printed? Regardless of whether there was influence one way or the other, or it is parallel thinking, the verbal echo of the mote in the eye is worth pausing over. Horatio uses the mote in the mind’s eye as a figure for a guilty conscience, wherein one is left to search out what from the past weighs on the present. Holland uses it quite differently. It is less ambiguous and more about restless power craving as a physical ailment, as, for the young couple, waiting to inherit a throne is like a mote in the physical eye. Interestingly enough, Holland’s use does resonate with the plot of Hamlet. The situation in Livy is a sordid story of fratricide, murder, and hasty remarriage tinged with incest, while the irritant is a figure for a king who is an annoyance and who blocks a would-be tyrant’s ambitions. Although used in different ways, in both Horatio’s and Holland’s formulations, an old king, and perhaps what he represents, is the offending mote.

  • 21 Ward Farnsworth, Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor (Boston: Godine Press, 2016), p. XII.

23Ward Farnsworth writes that ‘A metaphor tries to create a little event in the mind of the reader ‒ a mental picture, a surprise, a new idea, or all these at once’.21 Horatio’s metaphor of the ‘mote’ in the ‘mind’s eye’ creates an engaging ‘event’ through the surprise of a glancing allusion that feints toward a transparent Biblical lesson about hypocrisy. It then veers into more opaque territory of guilt and conscience; it highlights interiority as one of the play’s most prominent and impactful themes; and it associates Old Hamlet with guilt and a troubled conscience over his responsibility for incurring threats to Danish sovereignty. That it possibly echoes or even influenced Holland’s version of a sordid episode from Livy adds to a sense that there is something fundamentally base about the whole situation. Marcellus’ eventual claim that ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark’ (1.4.90) implicates more than just Claudius’ undiscovered crime but suggests also an undiscovered blight in the hearts of Danish subjects like Horatio, through idealised memory of its fallen king.

Haut de page

Notes

1 Lars Engle, ‘How is Horatio Just? How Just is Horatio?’, pp. 256–62; Karen Newman, ‘Two Lines, Three Readers: Hamlet, TLN 1904–5’, pp. 263–70; Jonathan Crewe, ‘Reading Horatio’, pp. 271–8. These essays appear in Shakespeare Quarterly 62:2 (2011).

2 All quotations, unless otherwise indicated, taken from William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, New Cambridge Shakespeare, 3rd ed., eds. Heather Hirschfeld and Philip Edwards (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). All quotations from other Shakespeare plays are taken from The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd ed., eds. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008).

3 Leah Marcus, Unediting the Renaissance: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton (New York: Routledge, 1996).

4 Zachary Lesser, Hamlet after Q1: An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), p. 22.

5 See the discussion of the allusion to Julius Caesar in Yan Brailowsky’s article in this issue.

6 See the editors’ glosses on the line in William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, ed. John Dover Wilson, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934), p. 144; William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, Arden Shakespeare 3 (London: Cengage Learning, 2006), p. 159; William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, ed. K. Deighton (London: Macmillan and Co., 1912), p. 129. These and other notes on this line, listed as TLN 124+5, can be found through hamletworks.org, an online compendium of the editorial commentary for nearly every line of the play. Accessed 9 August 2023.

7 In As You Like It, Phoebe notes that ‘eyes…are the frail’st and softest things, / Who shut their coward gates on atomies’ (3.5.12–13), where ‘atomies’ means specks of dust.

8 On Horatio’s innovation in saying mind’s eye, as well as for information of the OED citation, see William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. G. R. Hibbard (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 355–6.

On Chaucer and other early manifestations of the concept of an inner eye, see Alwin Thayer, ‘In My Mind’s Eye, Horatio’, Shakespeare Quarterly 7.4 (1956), pp. 351–4, 351.

9 It is a character name in Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where in both it signifies a diminutive being, one fairy and one human.

10 ‘Textus Receptus Bibles’, https://textusreceptusbibles.com/Geneva/42/6 (accessed 16 June 2023). In Matthew the verses read: ‘And why seest thou the mote, that is in thy brothers eye, and perceiuest not the beame that is in thine owne eye? / Or howe sayest thou to thy brother, Suffer me to cast out the mote out of thine eye, and beholde, a beame is in thine owne eye? / Hypocrite, first cast out that beame out of thine owne eye, and then shalt thou see clearely to cast out the mote out of thy brothers eye’ (Matthew 7:3–5).

11 Morris Palmer Tilley, A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; a Collection of the Proverbs Found in English Literature and the Dictionaries of the Period (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1950), pp. 476–7.

12 William Shakespeare, Henry V, ed. T.W. Craik, Arden Shakespeare 3 (London: Bloomsbury, 1995).

13 The idea that Old Hamlet was far from an ideal husband, father, and king, and was perhaps even brutish, is taken up in modern reimaginings of Hamlet such as the novels Ophelia (Lisa M. Klein) and Gertrude and Claudius (John Updike).

14 Livy, History of Rome, Volume I: Books 1–2, trans. B. O. Foster (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1919), Book I: XLVII, p. 162.

15 Livy, The Romane Historie Vvritten by T. Livius of Padua. also, the Breviaries of L. Florus: With a Chronologie to the Whole Historie: And the Topographie of Rome in Old Time. Translated Out of Latine into English, by Philemon Holland, Doctor in Physicke (London: 1600), p. 32. ProQuest. Web. Accessed 16 June 2023.

16 Livy, History of Rome, p. 163.

17 The Norton Shakespeare, p. 669.

18 Peter Culhane, ‘Philemon Holland’s Livy: Peritexts and Contexts’, Translation and Literature 13.2 (2004), pp. 268–86, 272.

19 On the date of Hamlet see, for instance, E. A. J. Honigmann, ‘The Date of Hamlet’, Shakespeare Survey 9 (1956), pp. 24–34.

20 Edward Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554-1640 A.D. Vol III (London, 1876), p. 43.

21 Ward Farnsworth, Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor (Boston: Godine Press, 2016), p. XII.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Brian Walsh, « Horatio’s ‘mote’: mining a metaphor in Q2 Hamlet »Arrêt sur scène / Scene Focus [En ligne], 13 | 2024, mis en ligne le 24 avril 2024, consulté le 20 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/asf/7968 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/11njc

Haut de page

Auteur

Brian Walsh

Brian Walsh is a Senior Lecturer at Boston University, where he is the Assistant Director of the Core Curriculum. He is the author of Shakespeare, the Queen’s Men, and the Elizabethan Performance of History (2009), Unsettled Toleration: Religious Difference on the Shakespearean Stage (2016), and is the editor of The Revenger’s Tragedy: A Critical Reader (2016). He has recently published articles on film adaptations of Shakespeare, as well as on film adaptations of the plays of August Wilson.

Brian Walsh est Maître de Conférences à Boston University. Il est l’auteur de deux monographies, Shakespeare, the Queen’s Men, and the Elizabethan Performance of History (2009), Unsettled Toleration: Religious Difference on the Shakespearean Stage (2016), et le directeur de l’ouvrage collectif, The Revenger’s Tragedy: A Critical Reader (2016). Ses derniers articles portent sur les adaptations filmiques de Shakespeare ainsi que sur celles des pièces d’August Wilson.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

CC-BY-SA-4.0

Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-SA 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search