Brevity=Wit Entry #2

October 12th, 2009 by Wordsman

Today in our ongoing quest to ensure that nothing is longer than it absolutely has to be, we consider the source of this new project’s title, Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Young Prince Hamlet does not seem to take to heart Polonius’ comment that “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  The statement was not addressed to him specifically, but we all know that Hamlet was skulking all over the castle in his real-again, fictional-again madness, so I’m sure that he heard it, and he appears to ignore it (to be fair, so does Polonius).

For example, let us look at Hamlet’s famous soliloquy from Act III.  Hamlet sets up a problem (whether or not he should kill himself), considers all possible aspects of the two sides, and then comes to a vague, unsatisfying conclusion.  He just goes on and on, without any consideration for the audience, or even for poor Ophelia, who has to stand there on the side of the stage and pretend she can’t hear him.  You’d think if all he was going to accomplish was to demonstrate his indecisiveness that he could at least be quick about it, but no, he drones on for nearly fifteen hundred characters!  Here’s what the speech would have sounded like if someone had had the good sense to cut him off after one hundred forty:

“To be, or not to be?  That is the question—
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take a”

“Take a chill pill,” I think, is the only suitable ending to that last phrase.

These days we already have a standard abbreviation for this speech: we just say “To be or not to be?  That is the question,” and we forget that the rest of the soliloquy even exists.  This solution may be fine for everyday use, but if I were writing for Shakespeare and wanted to include a few more ideas from the original speech (such as, for example, the fact that “To be or not to be?” refers to living or dying, which is often lost today) while still keeping it within a sensible character limit, I would probably say something like this:

“Should I die?  Tough question.  Life is hard, and I can put a stop to that.  Then again, death’s a mystery.  Who knows what happens?  I guess that’s why people like me hesitate.”

There.  We know the problem, we know there’s not going to be any resolution on it any time soon, and we get it all without having to sit there for minute after minute listening to him talk about contumely, bare bodkins, and fardels.

This allows plenty of time for Ophelia to come over and strike up a conversation:

Ophelia: hey ham. sup?
Hamlet: *shrug* thinkin bout death
Ophelia: 😛 geez emo kid. y dont u b a litle more emo?
Hamlet: i dunno. what comes after death? if only I knew . . .
Ophelia: w/e. u can stay here and write some crappy poems or somthing. im gonna go hang out w/rosey and guild. u know, have some actual fun for a change

For there are no slings and arrows more outrageous than the whims of a woman’s heart.

If you readers have any suggestions of famous speeches, poems, or excerpts of literary works that you would like to see covered in this project, please let me know.

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