Wondrous Pitiful

January 9, 2010 § Leave a comment


The Collected Works of William Shakespeare – The Tragedies

What can you learn from Shakespeare’s tragedies?

That to divide him inventorially would dizzy the arithmetic of memory.

That the play’s the thing! The purpose of playing, was and is, to hold, as it were, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature: for virtue itself turns into vice, being misapplied; and vice is sometimes by action dignified: the wheel is come full circle, fair is foul, and foul is fair (the Prince of Darkness is a gentleman; Modo he’s called, and Mahu). Nothing is but what is not.

That violent delights have violent ends, and in their triumph, die. So shall you hear of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts; of accidental judgments, casual slaughters; of deaths put on by cunning and forc’d cause, and … purposes mistook fallen on inventors’ heads. On horror’s head, horrors accumulate (in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange; ’twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful).

That life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player that struts and frets his stuff upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.

That there is a divinity that shapes our ends – as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods; they kill us for their sport.

But that men at times are the masters of their fates; the fault … is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings. We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion. There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.

That the worst is not, so long as we can say, “this is the worst.”

And this above all: to thine own self be true. Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law my services are bound.

Let your own discretion be your tutor. Demand me nothing; what you know, you know.

Brevity is the soul of wit: the rest is silence .

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