UPW #2: Most Compelling Line In Hamlet: “The Readiness is All”
Hamlet is a story of transition: life to death, corpse to rot, virgin to whore, sanity to madness, old to new. Although he initially resists these changes, Hamlet, too, transitions from an indecisive student, paralyzed by doubt, to a man who is able to carry through on his promises. Despite the extremely unique circumstances of the play, audiences have connected with Hamlet for centuries through this universal coming-of-age story. It is therefore fitting that the most important line of the play is not part of a grandiose soliloquy about the meaning of life or death, but an understated moment in which play’s tragic hero reflects on how much he has grown: “… If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ‘t to leave betimes?” (V. ii. 234-238). Hamlet says this to his confidant Horatio in the lull just before his final confrontation with Claudius, quietly piecing together all that he has learned throughout the play.
This line incorporates the theme of mortality that has been tied to Hamlet since his first appearance in Act I, scene ii. In it, he refuses to take off his mourning clothes after the traditional mourning period for his father is over, saying, “’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother… / Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief, / That can denote me truly” (I.ii.80-86). Hamlet refuses to accept that death is a natural transition after life, and so refuses to accept that moving on is the natural transition after death. He willfully remains trapped in his grief, and resents his mother for not doing the same. However, by the end of the play, Hamlet declares that he is ready for whatever changes may come, even his own death at Laertes’ hands. “The readiness is all”, he says, indicating that he has accepted that death comes to everyone, and all he can do is be ready when it comes to him and to those close to him. The death of his father, initially an obstacle for him, now motivates him to move on in his own way.
Hamlet faces no small number of obstacles. Perhaps his greatest was his fear of the consequences of his actions. His most famous instance of self-doubt begins, “To be or not to be – that is the question…” (III. i. 64). In the soliloquy that follows, he reflects that both courses of action he has set out for himself – killing Claudius or killing himself – would lead to consequences in the afterlife. His line in Act V proves that he has moved past this fear. The repetition of the word “be” calls to mind “To be or not to be”, but the sentiment is the exact opposite of what he expressed in the earlier scene. Rather than avoid action in this life for fear of consequences in the next, Hamlet knows he must do what he believes is right, without necessarily knowing that it is right, while he still has time. Hamlet has stopped hesitating in a purely theoretical world and resolves to do his part in the real world.
The play’s great epiphany that comes when Hamlet holds Yorrick’s skull is also echoed in the line from Act V. Hamlet has learned to accept failure because failure and success all look the same after death. When Hamlet asks, “Dost thou think Alexander looked o’ this fashion i’ the earth?” (V. i. 204-205), he realizes that no matter how great or how insignificant they were to the world, all people return to being nothing in the end. It is a comforting thought for the man who fears he has failed to avenge his father’s death. He makes peace with the fact that he may never be an Alexander because, when they are both buried in the ground, they will be indistinguishable. He repeats this idea when he says, “Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ‘t to leave betimes?” (V. ii. 238). By accepting his own mortality, Hamlet overcomes his paralyzing fear of failure.
Hamlet’s line in Act V may not be a particularly dramatic moment, but it quietly and concisely brings Hamlet’s emotional journey to a satisfying close. Now that he no longer fears death, consequence, or failure, Hamlet is ready to complete his destiny and change Denmark – and literature – forever.
“As the nucleus of Les Misérables, the story of Jean Valjean has dominated many abridged versions of the novel as well as most film renditions. To exclude the historical commentaries; of the digressions on argot, religious faith, and the sewers; or passages concerning Cosette’s early enslavement by the Thénardiers, Marius’s penurious circumstances, and the band of young revolutionaries who die on the barricades is to rip the hero’s moral struggles out of the context that gives them meaning. It is to transform Les Misérables into something like Le Misérable, to reduce a vast fresco of individual and collective destinies into the relatively trite tale of an ex-convict on the run. Hugo’s poetic imagination ceaselessly weaves analogies between Jean Valjean’s spiritual progress and humanity’s striving toward freedom, harmony, and social justice. What we lose, then, through external abridgment or our own impatience to get on with “the story” is the highly uncommon interconnectedness of the whole. Les Misérables did not originally strike critics as dangerous because of its outlaw protagonist, nor was it initially banned by the Vatican for its plot. Even today, it continues to press for radical social reform, for national and international concord, by appealing for direct popular action that would bypass established institutions.” — Kathryn M. Grossman, Les Misérables: Conversion, Revolution, Redemption.
Les Misérables has been published many times, and over the years it has been illustrated many times. Here are some of my favourites. Click the images for better resolution.
Illustrations were found here.
You know what? I’m done. I’m so done. I give up.
When my dog ate my first copy of Les Misérables, I decided to buy myself a copy with what I thought was a very pretty bird motif on the front.
(Pictured: Not a joke.)
LITTLE DID I KNOW that the people who sit around me would not be able to handle this new cover. They would need to know why there would ever be birds on the cover of a book. They asked me if the book was about birds. Birds in France? Did I get it at the bird store? Birds.It must be about birds. Why birds?
Fine. Here are some of the uses of birds as a motif in Les Misérables. I hope you’re happy, Jess, Laura and Montana. Here are the mysteries of “The Bird Book”.
“It is a charming quality of the happiness we inspire in others that, far from being diminished like a reflection, it comes back to us enhanced.” — Les Misérables, 487
Away In A Hospital Bed (Christmas Story)
When Joe was a little kid, he always had trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve. The idea of Santa coming to his house by reindeer laden with gifts had been too exciting. Every year, he would lie awake in bed in giddy anticipation, much to his parents’ exasperation. This December 24th, as he and Gabe trekked through blowing snow to make his 10 o’clock curfew, he knew he would not be sleeping this Christmas Eve, either. This year, though it had more to do with dread than anticipation, if the feeling in his chest was anything to go by – and certainly nothing to do with a jolly fat man.
Joe winced as his phone went off for the third time that hour. The chorus of I Was Made For Loving You had seemed like an appropriate choice of custom ring tone at the time. Now, it just made Gabe raise an eyebrow at him critically.
“Pick it up,” he said, and reached for the phone when Joe put his head down and walked faster down the sidewalk instead.
"Les Misérables" 2012 film shooting script
The shooting script for the film reveals some elements that were intended to be in the movie, but were cut in post-production.
Some of these cut scenes include characters from the novel who do not appear in the musical adaption, such as Monsieur Mabeuf.
“'Father, what are those men?'
‘Felons condemned to hard labour,’ said Valjean.
‘Where are they going?’
‘To the galleys.’
At this moment the lashing and the cudgelling reached its climax, with the flat of swords now being used. The prisoners, yielding to punishment, fell silent, glaring about them like captive wolves. Cosette was trembling. She asked:
‘Father, are they still human?’
‘Sometimes,’ the wretched man replied.” — Les Misérables, Tome IV, II.viii
Change of medium: novel vs. (musical) film
Les Misérables 2012 is an interesting film adaption of Hugo’s novel because it has gone through two stages of adaptation. This film is based on the musical which was adapted from the novel. I have chosen this version because it is the most recent, and because it reincorporates elements from the novel into the musical adaption, creating one of the most complete, if unconventional, English-language adaptions of Les Misérables.
The musical format complements the novel incredibly well. One prominent feature of Hugo’s work is his lengthy digressions on social issues. Normally, it would be difficult to show these essays-within-a-novel on film. However, some of the most important discussions are adapted into songs in the film. “At the End of the Day” and “Do You Hear the People Sing” present topics that add context and depth to the novel, in this case the hardships facing the poor and the importance of revolution. The songs are not exact replicas of Hugo’s social commentary, but they communicate the same message to the audience by engaging their emotions through the music.
The problem that arises is that a storyline in a musical is only as strong as the songs that carry it. Marius and Cosette’s romance suffers in the transition from page to screen because their interactions in the movie lack the depth of Hugo’s descriptions. Their duet, which is supposed to convince the audience of their love, comes off as a “filler” song stuck between more exciting numbers. A film’s audience can not delve into the character’s minds in the same way the readers of a book can, and in the case of Marius and Cosette the film fails to use its greatest tool for showing emotional depth – the music – to make up for that. This is problematic because the story of Les Misérables is built on love in all its forms. If the audience is not invested in the romantic storyline, the message of the movie seems weaker overall.
Otherwise, the movie succeeds in getting the same emotional response from the audience as the novel, although the methods used are different. Imagery that would be too distracting or technically complicated to show in a visual medium is removed, such as the heavy-handed use of light as a symbol for good (the more iconic or subtle symbols, like Valjean’s silver candlesticks, are present). Many of the songs contain metaphors to help the audience connect with the characters, but they don’t always match with descriptions from the novel. Javert’s songs are filled with Biblical imagery, but Hugo describes Javert as a man who “… had given no thought to that higher superior, which is God.” (1106). Portraying Javert as a man who believed he was doing God’s work is the movie’s “shorthand” method to make the audience pity Javert without delving into a discussion of his inner psyche. The movie uses many visual cues in this manner, such as flags prominently bearing the word “mort” (death) in the ill-fated barricade, to quickly tell the viewer information about the atmosphere, theme and mood. Although some of the depth is lost, these changes help the filmmakers fit the intricacies of a dense novel into a reasonable running time.
The biggest changes made in the transfer of Les Misérables from page to film were not changes to the story, but changes to the techniques used to tell it. The success of the film lies in its adherence to the plot and message of Hugo’s novel, while changing some of the format, emotional weight, and symbolism to bring the aspects that make Les Misérables a classic novel into sharper focus in a visual and musical medium.