I have seen and read Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Hamlet, more than any other work by the playwright. We are all familiar with the play to some degree or another; or at least heard it quoted: “To be or not to be” might be the most famous line from any play in the English language. After the story of Cinderella, it’s the second most filmed story in the world. I read someplace that Hamlet is being performed somewhere in the world every minute of every day. If you don’t know the plot? Well… Watch Disney’s The Lion King and you’ll get most of the story. Except in Hamlet everybody dies at the end, except for poor Horatio (Hamlet’s best college buddy), who walks onto stage and has his Elizabethan equivalent of a WTF moment.
My favorite character is Polonius, a conniving old counselor to the king, and father of both Hamlet’s best eventual killer Laertes, and his love interest Ophelia. Polonius is given to fits of rambling, and in his famous speech to Laertes, who is headed off to France, he spouts a dozen or so proverbs while Laertes is trying to escape. Good advice from a bad person, maybe? You’ve surely heard someone say “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” or “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice,” or “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
Anyway, the whole reason to the first couple paragraphs is the quote above: “give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” It is somewhat ironically opposed to Polonius’s modus operandi but still great advice.
There is a verse from the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes (chapter 5, verse 2, if you’re following along in your own copies):
Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
The key point I’m staring at is “let thy words be few.”
I’ve never been good at this. I tend to spout off and say the most ridiculous things, my mouth finishing the marathon before my head has even laced its shoes. I’m sure I’m not alone.
In college, every Friday night, six to a dozen of my friends would gather at one of the big round tables in the Dining Commons to play canasta. We would pair up with a partner and happily throw red threes onto the table. We would often drink coffee and eat snacks, and laugh and play until dawn. We also gave one another nicknames, usually from inside jokes that happened around the table. I was Harf. We also had Cynner, and Tregg, and Grimm, and Bo-Lynn, and Cruise Ship, and Monsta, and… anyway… I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is, we all loved Canasta Night. But toward the end of 10 hours of card playing, it gets very difficult to focus on counting your score. I remember several of us urging Grimm to count his cards faster, because he was wasting everyone’s time. We started chanting and pelting him with snacks, and finally, thoroughly oppressed, he shouted “Cut it out! I can’t talk and think at the same time!”
Well, anyone who knew Grimm knew he couldn’t do that. I’m sure he meant to say “I can’t talk and count at the same time.” but his misspeak became legendary.
I can’t talk and think at the same time ever. It’s better if I just try the thinking bit.
A few years ago, I was thinking of a fantasy novel revolving around the idea of a religious order who could speak a word once, and only once, and then the word is erased from his/her speaking vocabulary. So, a monk, descending the stairs for breakfast and says “Ham and eggs?” would never be able to say “ham” and “and” and “eggs” again. So a monk who chose to speak would indeed have certain heft. It eventually became too difficult to manage such a project, so I put it on the back burner. Maybe as something in a larger work? I don’t know. I haven’t written fiction in a few years now.
Anyway. Now I’m unhoarding my words, and spilling forth nonsense like so much verbal diarrhea. It’s called logorrhea by the way, diarrhea of the mouth. And it’s for words like that, I have come love ancient Greek.
And it’s the best I can do to pray I don’t spread it around at work today, like a thick oozing paste, all over my customers and fellow employees.
On that thought, I need to go take a shower.