Day: September 18, 2020

Kill the Body and the Head will Die

After I read the Ghost of King Hamlet recounting his demise to his son Hamlet, I begin to analyze the strategic nature of the symbolism of his murder at the hands of Claudius,

“With juice of cursed hebona in a vial and in the porches of my ears did pour the leprous distilment.” (1.5.62-64)

After the poison went into his ear, his whole body was plagued with leprosy and its “loathsome crust.” King Hamlet’s whole body being destroyed from the disease reminded me of the phrase,

“kill the body and head will die.”

I remembered reading the phrase in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, but did not understand the context or meaning due to reading it at too young of an age. When I researched the quote, I discovered the famed boxer Joe Frazier utilized the quote in his training, and proved it when he defeated Muhammad Ali in 1971 at Madison Square Garden. What I aim to do in this blog is to compare and contrast the strategic validity of the quote “kill the body and the head will die”, how Joe Frazier can bring a popular context to the Ghost of King Hamlet in Hamlet, and ultimately how two separate and deeply unrelated events can both operate under the same context.

 Frazier vs. Ali (Picture by Larry Morris, 1971)

Joe Frazier utilized the phrase “kill the body and the head will die” as a promise to Muhammad Ali in their 1971 bout,

“Frazier was literally laughing in Ali’s face now and he was in command. When the bell ended the fifth round, Frazier cuffed Ali across the top of the head. In the tremendous tempo, Frazier was fulfilling his strategy to “kill the body and the head will die.” (Anderson, 1971)

 Louis vs. Carnera (Picture by Unknown, 1955)

The etymology of “kill the body and the head will die” goes further back than Joe Frazier, and the more literal meaning of the phrase can also be seen. In 1935, when questioned on his plan to fight Primo Carnera, the boxer Joe Louis said,

“I will concentrate my attack on the mid-section for the first three rounds and then switch to the head.” (Louis, 1935)

Louis’ plan, much like Frazier’s, was to weaken their opponent with constant blows to the midsection, in order to get an unprotected punch for a knockout hopefully. “Kill the body” means weakening the foundation, the cornerstone of a person, or family in the case of the murder of King Hamlet. The “head will die” is the consequential lose of the fighter due to the strategy of the victor, or the unraveling of King Hamlet’s family and kingdom after his death.

 

This phrase has a deeper logical meaning in agriculture, where it is further applied. Agricultural workers for decades had been saying “kill the root and the head will die” (Daley 1935) meaning the head of the plant. Without removing the foundation of life, the plant will continue to exist. The subtle truth from this quote that can be scene in all it examples;  “the body” ie the weak point, is protected and hidden. While Claudius’ did intentionally kill his brother to take the crown, he had no idea that one death would cause a collapse of a kingdom of lives. Claudius sealed the destruction of his kingdom, “the head” when he again utilizes poison in Act 5. Joe Frazier and Joe Louis both knew the quicker you can get to a knockout the better, but attacking the head directly is a wasted effort against a fighter who is blocking, so you make them vulnerable. Claudius weakened “the body” by murdering his brother, but by nature of him doing so, he made his kingdom, “the head”, so vulnerable, he easily sealed its fate with his own treachery.

Claudius’ intention was to murder his brother in order to take the throne, so in contrast to Joe Frazier entire intentional strategy to defeat Mohammed Ali, Claudius’ unintentionally “killed the head” by destabilizing his whole Kingdom. The meaning of the quote can still be seen in King Hamlet’s death however.   Even though King Hamlet is the head of his kingdom, due to how Hamlet unfolds, he was clearly “the body” and his death was the impetus for the fall of his kingdom. His role of “the body” is illustrated by his whole being succumbing to leprosy due to the poison, “And a most instant tetter barked about, most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust all my smooth body. Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched.” (1.5. 71-75) The body of “the body” was quite literally killed by a disease that eats away at it. King Hamlet was “smooth” but he became a scaly, crumbling, and vulnerable body. The “killing of the body” started with death of King Hamlet, which gave way to the “death of the head” which was the joined deaths of Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes, Gertrude, and Ophelia, ending their line and kingdom.

The irony of the plan is that Laertes proposes using poison on his sword against the a dual against Hamlet,

“I’ll touch my point with this contagion that if I gall him slightly it may death.” (4.4.145-147)

Claudius sealed his fate by the treacherous nature of the dual he was Laertes and Hamlet to engage in, “Or with a little shuffling, you may choose a sword unbated, and in a pass of practice requite him for your father.” (4.4.136-138) Claudius intended to propose an innocent dual for both of them, but planned on Laertes kill Hamlet with an undulled sword. Claudius putting this plan into motion, allowed Laertes to introduce poison, which led to the accidental death of Gertrude,

“It is the poisoned cup; it is too late! (5.2.269)

The same poison killed Laertes, Hamlet, and Claudius himself.

If Claudius intentionally adhered to “kill the body and the head will die” like Joe Frazier did, well he was the “Joe Frazier” of ending family lines in this case. Seeing as that is not the case however, he is a consequential but deserved victim to his own tyrannical mentality. The core of the phrase “kill the body and the will die” is simply the universal truth that damaging or affecting the foundation of a structure, person, or group of people will likely lead to the end of them. What furthers the effect of the phrase is that it’s not tied to time, it can either be a slow or quick process, and affective either way. It’s such a truth that even if applied intentionally by a boxer or unintentionally by power hungry man, the outcome is the same and unrelated to scale. My view of the historical and cultural context for both Claudius’ murder of King Hamlet and Joe Frazier pummeling Muhammad Ali’s midsection in 1971 at Madison Square Garden, is that they both represent the same catalyst at their core. Those actions lead to larger consequences that lead to definitive moments in fictional and nonfictional history.

Frazier vs. Ali (Picture by Larry Morris, 1971)

 

Sources:

Anderson, Dave. (1971, March) Joe Frazier Beats Muhammad Ali in ‘Fight of Century’. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/11/sports/joe-frazier-beats-muhammad-ali-in-fight-of-century.html

Cowans, Russell J.Louis in Tip-Top Form on Eve of Carnera Bout”. The Afro American. (May 11, 1935) pg. 20, col. 2 https://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/kill_the_body_and_the_head_will_die_boxing_adage

Daley, Arthur. “Sports of The Times”. New York Times. (December 2, 1955), pg. 33 https://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/kill_the_body_and_the_head_will_die_boxing_adage

King Hamlet Being Poisoned Image Link: https://simanaitissays.com/2020/08/12/who-doth-dunit-part-2/

Root Killer Image Link: https://www.warrenpipe.com/product/rooto-copper-sulfateroot-killer-32oz/

Mental Illness in Hamlet

When reading Hamlet, I could not help but notice Hamlet’s drastic mood swings between depression and mania and his inconsistent sense of time. These happen to be signs of Bipolar disorder. It made me want to look deeper at the mental history within some to the characters in the play. The show begins with Hamlet in a depressive state with Claudius commenting that “The clouds still hang on” him (1.2.66). When he describes to Gertrude the details of his mourning he says “But I have that within which passeth show/These but the trappings and the suits of woe” (1.2.85-86). Hamlet is saying that he is not simply in mourning, but that his grief is something still a deeper, heavier depression. In Hamlet’s soliloquy at 129 of this same scene, he tells the audience that he is suicidal.

In 1.4 his energy changes. At the entrance of the Ghost of his father, he bursts into action (this, of course, could be due to the fact that he is seeing his father’s ghost). Suddenly everything is rushed, there is an extreme sense of importance. He says at 29 “Haste, haste me to know it, that with wings as swift/As meditation or the thoughts of love/May sweep to my revenge.” Hamlet finds himself ready to avenge his father’s death, he starts planning rapidly, making sure that the witnesses do not give his cause away. He uses it to trick Polonius, Ophelia, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern into thinking that he has lost his mind. This episode of productivity and sense of importance lasts until after the First Player’s ‘for Hecuba’ speech. After this, he becomes unsure again. Though still resolved to plan the players’s part in his revenge scheme, he is now slower again, he ruminates more on each action. He thinks everything through much more, almost to the point of inaction.

Hamlet in Eight Memes

During this depressive episode is when he has his famous “to be or not to be” speech, where he once again weighs the value of continuing life against the presence of death. He then somewhat accidentally throws himself into another manic episode when he needs to fake his insanity again when Ophelia approaches him. This episode takes him through the planning of the play, the play itself, and right up to when he is standing behind Claudius, ready to strike. For one brief moment, he seems to level out, being able to stop his impulsivity and back that decision up with reason. He does not kill Claudius because he does not want him to go to heaven when he should rightfully go to purgatory, as his father’s ghost wished. This manic episode continues throughout the closet scene, leading him to his impulsive murder of Polonius. He is able to finish hiding the body and goad Claudius before he is sent to England.

Polonius behind the curtain Is this a rat? Hamlet - Meme Generator

The next time we see him, in 4.4, he gives a long monologue sulking in his depressive episodes and the inaction that they cause. He resolves to action once again, but remains in his depression through the beginning of 5.1, when he gives the “alas poor Yorick” speech, he is highlighting the unimportance of man’s impact on the world. Suddenly, upon seeing Ophelia’s body, he is thrown back into a manic episode, and she is the most important thing in the world to him. So much so that he is ready to be buried with her.

In 5.2 he explains to Horatio the actions of an episode of mania that he had while on the way to England. He says “Ere I could make the prologue to my brains, / They had begun the play,” meaning that he acted before he consciously thought it through (5.2.31-32). This was a serious impulse, as it lead to the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He also recognizes that his bout with Laertes at Ophelia’s grave was another like moment, saying the the “bravery of his grief” put him “Into a tow’ring passion” (5.2.80-82). He also starts the scene saying that “in [his] heart there was a kind of fighting/That would not let [him]sleep.” A decreased need for sleep is a symptom of mania, but also of hypomania, a less extreme episode of mania, which Hamlet might be experiencing here. But after Laertes wounds him, and he wounds Laertes back, he enters another episode of full-blown mania. He quickly disposes of Claudius before collapsing into Horatio’s arms. His last moments could be of mania or depression, though I tend to think depression, it could be interpreted either way.

One other thing that stood out to me constantly was Hamlet’s inconsistent sense of time. Many people diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder experience the speeding or slowing of time, or feel like they experience time differently than others seem to. The example that most stands out to me is lines 3.2.113-117. Hamlet tells Ophelia that his father has died a mere two hours before and Ophelia states that it has actually been two months. Hamlet is shocked by this passing of time.

During this time, mental illness was not understood very well. His illness would have likely been immediately diagnosed as melancholy or despair. The symptoms of Shakespeare’s characters are evidence of a common misunderstanding of mental health problems.

Eight Spicy Hamlet Memes

 

Who the Glip Glorp is Hamlet?

Greetings from the Sol System! This message is intended to introduce all life forms to the Galaxy’s most interesting but still wildly misunderstood race: Humanity. To do this, we will use the only surviving (complete) artifact from these people: Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

Now, most of you have heard of Hamlet the play because of Gelpy Nermin’s famous production of Shakespeare’s finest works on Grebulon-5 (staring the impeccable Kervel H’Tan and introducing Lux Vandergraff), but none of us know the human Hamlet, until now! This broadcast will dive into the inner workings of this melancholic hominid and examine him as a representative of the Human race.

Hamlet

It is important to know that when Hamlet is introduced in the second scene of act one, he is performing an ancient Human custom called “lying,” a concept that will seem alien to some of our more advanced neighbors (looking at you Droxians!), but just think of Hamlet as saying the opposite of how he feels. What makes this more interesting and a lot more complicated for our anthropologists to decode is that Hamlet isn’t lying outright: he is being passive-aggressive, or facetious. When the new King, Claudius, calls him his “cousin” and “my son,” and Hamlet responds with “A little more than kin and less than kind” (Norton, pg. 1200), his response is meant to be a jab at Claudius. His new relationship with Claudius and his mother is not kind and it also suggests a comment on the odd family dynamic Claudius has made by marrying his brother’s wife. Hamlet responds with more subtle, passive-aggressive retorts in the next line. The king asks why “clouds still hang” on him and he responds with “Not so much, my lord; I am too much in the sun” (Norton, pg. 1200). Hamlet is comparing Claudius’ favor to sunshine, and the word “sun” is a homophone! A tricky human invention where different words can sound the same: “sun” is a star, while “son” is also a title given to a male child by his parents. This is deceitful writing because he doesn’t want to be in the sunlight that is Claudius’ favor (unlike most humans who lived on the surface of their planet), and he again remarks on their new family arrangement with the homophone.

Once Hamlet is left alone, he breaks down and laments his entire existence. He says, “Oh, that this too, too sallied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into dew” (Norton pg. 1202) meaning he wishes he could melt into nothing or kill himself; “Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self slaughter” (Norton 1202). For those who are confused, his God (referred to as “Everlasting”) forbade suicide. So, Hamlet is seen as a “quippy” and passive-aggressive when talking to others but he falls apart to his own grieving and sadness when there is no one around. To a novice anthropologist this his evidence suggests that all Humans were like this, but what if another character in the play showed real happiness? Is that possible to find in this depressing play?

Ophelia

While it is true that there is little happiness in this play (aside from the fake happiness Claudius shows) I think there is still a glimmer of it to be found in the character of Ophelia. Ophelia’s fist scene has her brother Laertes doing what we know to be called “mansplaining,” or explaining something easy to understand to someone else (usually not a man). He has a long speech about how Ophelia should not trust Hamlet’s advances in courtship and Ophelia responds with “I shall the effect of this good lesson keep / As watchman to my heart” (Norton pg. 1206). This means she will remember his words, but then she compares him to a preacher who “himself the primrose path of dalliance treads  / And recks not his own rede” (Norton pg. 1206). Here she says he won’t follow his own advice and may also fall in love with someone he should not. This retort is interesting in the play because it is clever like Hamlet’s jabs but it comes from a place of love. It is hard to derive emotion from a play’s written dialogue because it is designed for an actor to portray, but not impossible. Reading the exchange between the two characters leaves a smile on most faces who are good and discerning Human speak, meaning that the dialogue has some hint of being a tender moment. If their is happiness in the play, then that must mean Humans were not just sad all the time! So, why is Hamlet depressed?

Growth

When we take the entire play and view Hamlet’s trajectory through it, there is a remarkable dip in personal growth the second the play starts. Personal growth, as we understand it today, was very important to the Humans. This can be seen in Laertes going to school to gain knowledge and in Claudius killing his brother to gain power. Humans, evidently, wanted to grow, so why does Hamlet stop going to school, stop treating the court seriously and stop courting Ophelia? He stops doing all of these things because he is depressed after his father’s death. Hamlet is young in the eyes of those around him to the point of being called “youth.” His youth is mentioned throughout the play, most notably by Claudius: “And sith so neighbour’d to [Hamlet’s] youth and havior” (Act 2 scene 2). This means that Hamlet never continues to grow after his father’s death. What does this mean for Humanity?

Conclusion

Who is Hamlet? Who was Humanity? By looking at the only complete surviving artifact available to us we can discern that Humans were a very emotionally complicated and cognitively rich species, despite what  some experts argue. The theory with the most weight today is that Humans evolved from a race of monkeys or apes, with some smaller ideas suggesting lizards or a small race of cave dwellers called “Republicans,” but does it really matter how these impressive life forms started? It is obvious to anyone who analyzes Hamlet that Humans loved, hated, scorned, laughed, got depressed and had the capacity to feel these complicated emotions all at once. Humans were also talented enough to create things that could be enjoyed by everyone, even life forms from strange stars.

We should stop thinking of this ancient species as “inept apes” to quote Verdy Werdy, the leading Human Denier of our time. Humans did exist, and this play is proof of their deep understanding of life.

Thank you for reading.

Images

H, Brenda. “400+ Best Alien vs Predator Images.” Pintrest, 2020, www.pinterest.com/brendezzy/alien-vs-predator/.

 

This message has been approved by the Galactic Senate, Department of Anthropology and Human Studies, Department of Alien Affairs and Department of Alien Education.

Electronically signed by Gerif Haldertren (Department of Anthropology and Human Studies), Elta Stuvvax (Department of Alien Affairs) and Trovun Brut’oix (Department of Alien Education).

Long Live the Alliance.