Thursday, July 2, 2015

Aspiring to Laertes

This week, I've been thinking about Hamlet. A few reasons: as I mentioned, I've been corresponding with my senior year English teacher, and the Hamlet essay I wrote senior fall was one of the first essays in which I actually got value out of analyzing literature. Also, at some point in the week or so that I've been in Jakarta, I heard the song "Fix You", by Coldplay, which I associate with the play's eponymous character.



The paper I wrote in autumn 2013 analyzed Laertes through the metaphor of waves (as in, ripple effect, ocean, Claudius introducing interference to bring Laertes down to a lower frequency). I was wondering, because I am self centered, why Laertes? Undoubtedly he is the character who resonates the most with me. But why? It seems fairly obvious that I'd relate to the younger characters, but why not Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Ophelia, Horatio, Hamlet himself?

The issue with Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Ophelia is that they are powerless. I am far too arrogant to imagine having something in common with them.

What about Horatio? He is not entirely powerless, and certainly commands more respect than the three characters I dismissed in the previous paragraph. Horatio even gets to survive. Any rational person would want to be Horatio. For all that, he is defined in terms of whom he serves, and is far too patient for me to feel kinship with him.

Assuming that I am irrational, why not Hamlet? He's the main character, after all.

The issue with Hamlet is that he is indecisive and makes excuses. I am kind of like this; I have a tendency to overthink things, to philosophize. But at the same time, when I look at myself--when most people look at themselves--I see myself not as I am but as I want to be, as I think I could be, and that is not the brooding and whiny Prince of Denmark.

Which brings me to Laertes. Laertes is a man of action, who storms home from college and raises a mob as just his first step toward avenging his father's death. He joins forces with Claudius to get his revenge, entering the partnership on more or less equal terms--forcing the king's hand through his rage.

This does not sound much like me, I'll admit. But it sounds like what I want to be: the kind of person who makes things happen, who will achieve the extraordinary in defense of honor and of the people who matter. The kind of person whom others cannot ignore or laugh away.

Laertes dies and causes many deaths in turn. (Maybe if Fortinbras made more of an appearance, I'd identify with him. I'd rather not die when I win.) But so does Hamlet, and had it not been for Hamlet's dithering, Laertes would not have had act.

I am eighteen, so every journey I take is one of self-discovery and development. I am changing, growing, becoming someone I was not before or, taking the view that there exists a self which needs only to unfold, becoming someone I always could have become. I don't believe in fate but I do believe in patterns.

Right now, I have a strong, if somewhat unfocused, image of who I am "meant" to be. The paper I wrote almost two years ago about Laertes interests me because it is evidence from before college (before I crossed the singularity, remember?) that the image I carry of my unfolded, as yet only aspirational self is not something the new person I became in college invented. The roots go back farther.

Perhaps I am being too teleological. Laertes is a strong example of someone whose honor is tied to the well-being of those important to him, but the landscape of characters I've identified with throughout time is widespread.

One can see the connection between Laertes, Kazul, Mulan, Patroclus, Reyna, and Kingsley Shacklebolt. Where do Yassen Gregorovich, Sailor Mercury, and Bolin fit in?

The pattern isn't absolute. On the other hand, it's probably significant that I am not drawn to characters who are structurally vulnerable. Kazul was kidnapped but she is also the King of Dragons. Mulan is my favorite Disney princess and it surprised me when a friend said she identified with Megara because why would anyone want to identify with someone who doesn't own her own soul?*

Also, I took a lot longer to come up with the second, shorter list of incongruous names than I did to generate the first, to which I could add a whole lot more. Maybe I'm not deluding myself. Maybe, in my journey toward the person I see when I see myself, I am heading in the right direction.

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*One could argue that Mulan also exists in a vulnerable state where she could be found out as a woman, but her way of protecting the ones she loves isn't to sell her soul, it's to throw away her family's definition of what she should be and become a soldier.

While we're talking about essays I wrote in high school, once in Italian I wrote about why Mulan is my favorite because her way of satisfying filial duty also enables her liberation and self-determinance. The next time I saw my Italian teacher she said, "Buon giorno! È la nostra Mulan!"

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Of course I know my arc in broad strokes is: Octavian -> Augustus. But what does it mean, to be an Augustus? A system builder. But what systems, and how?

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