I do hope you have had a lovely week filled with crafty goodness and satisfying challenges. This week, we have a well-known legend, a bit of cosy knitting, and some book stuff.
The Apple of the Week:
I have been listening to the ChopBard podcast, ‘the cure for boring Shakespeare’, this time the Hamlet episodes. As ever, Ehren Ziegler does a great job of explaining, commenting, clarifying, de-mystifying, and in general making the text of the play that much more approachable. Not that I personally suffer from Shakespeare-phobia: having never been pushed into reading any of it at school, I am not traumatised by homework and paper-writing in this context. (The reason why I didn’t read Shakespeare in school is that when I went to high school / gymnasium, I did Latin & Greek, and in those days that meant no English – or German, for that matter – after the first year. Just the classical languages, and French. Bit of a waste, really – but I digress.)
But, if you are at all interested in Shakespeare, I highly recommend this podcast; you can find it on iTunes.
Anyway, Hamlet: I listened to the episodes, read the text, and made Victor watch the Royal Shakespeare Company film version, a.k.a. the David Tennant & Patrick Stewart version, with me.
After all this, I got out Saxo to re-read his take on the story. This is the first history of Denmark, written by Saxo Grammaticus (‘the learned’) who may have lived 1150-1220; the book was written in Latin and titled Gesta Danorum, The Deeds of the Danes. His story of Amled bears many resemblances to Shakespeare’s play; and I decided to render it into English for your pleasure, with a few comments here & there.
My text is not a scholarly translation: it is based on the scholarly translation into Danish by Peter Zeeberg, published in 2000 (so, a translation of a translation without referral to the original text: this is almost as shameful as marrying your husband’s brother). I will be assuming throughout that you know Shakespeare’s Hamlet and/or have a copy of his text at hand; if you have never read or seen the play, stop reading right now, and go do that. I’ll wait.
... Ready? Great, let’s to it.
The whole text of the chapter about Amled and his uncle runs to somewhere between 5000 and 6000 words; so I will chop it up into several parts to not make one huge post. Also, I’ve cut out a couple of paragraphs in the beginning; for this purpose, we do not need the whole of Amled’s father’s speech to the Norwegian king before their duel.
SAXO: The Deeds of the Danes (Gesta Danorum)
Book 3, chapter 6
1 At that time, [king] Rørik appointed Ørvendel and Fenge, whose father Gervendel had been earl of the Jutes, as his successors in Jutland. But when Ørvendel had ruled for three years and during that time with brilliant success had embarked into piracy, king Koller of Norway wanted to show that he could equal him in fame and great deeds, and he found that it would look good if he could defeat him in battle and thus cast a shadow over his shining reputation as a pirate. He then searched the seas far and wide to find his fleet, and found it at last. There was an island in the middle of the ocean, and here the pirates put in with their ships, each on either side. The beauty of the beaches lured the chieftains ashore, and the outer charm of the place made them want to look inside to the inner freshness of the spring glade, stroll through meadows and thickets and wander about in the secretive deep of the forest. At some point along their way, Koller and Ørvendel suddenly faced each other alone without any other witnesses.
2-3 Ørvendel and Koller agree on a duel to avoid unnecessary bloodshed; Ørvendel kills Koller and gives him a lavish funeral, out of respect. He then sets after Koller’s sister, Sæla, an accomplished pirate and warrior, and kills her, too.
4 Now he spent three years at war with many great deeds, and during those years he set aside the grandest trophies and a choice part of his bounty for Rørik to gain a better friendship with him. This turned into a close relationship which enabled him to marry the king’s daughter Gerud, and by her he had a son, Amled.
5 All this prosperity made Fenge so envious that he decided to backstab him. Not even from those closest to him can a good man know himself to be secure. As soon as he found an opportunity to murder his brother, he satisfied his murderous urges with a bloody hand. And to the fratricide he added incest, for he also took over his dead brother’s wife. Having allowed himself one misdeed, a man rushes headlong into the next: the one bears in it the seed of the other. And he was so brazen as to lay a cunning veil over his gruesome act and think up an excuse for his crime that made it look like a good deed, and masked the murder as a sacred duty. For he said that Gerud, who in truth was so mild and good of heart that she had never done the slightest harm to any person, had been the victim of a violent hatred on her husband’s part. It was to save her that he had killed his brother, for he believed it unworthy that such a uniquely gentle woman who harboured no evil, should suffer rude behaviour from her husband. And he succeeded in convincing everybody of this. For at court, where sometimes jesters are favoured and slanderers honoured, there a lie is readily believed. And Fenge was not afraid to use his murderer’s hands in sinful embraces and commit a double sacrilege with a single misdeed.
6 When Amled saw this, he was afraid to awake his uncle’s suspicion should he behave too sensibly, so instead he began to act dumb: he pretended that his mind had suffered grievous harm, and in this cunning way he managed to not only hide his good sense, but also to save his life. Day after day he lay, languid and lazy, by his mother’s filthy hearth and rolled about in the most horrible dirt and waste on the floor. His dirty, smeared face was an image of madness and ridiculous stupidity. Everything he said seemed insane, everything he did showed profound torpor. In short: you would not call him a man, but a farcical miscreant sprung from a mad fate. Often, he sat by the fireplace, rooting around in the embers with his hands while he fashioned wooden hooks and hardened them in the fire. At the end, he gave them a kind of barbs so that they would better hold on. When asked what he was doing, he answered that he was making pointy weapons to revenge his father. That reply caused quite a lot of mirth, for nobody cared about his laughable, useless occupation – although that one did indeed later on help him to fulfil his plans.
7 But this artful work caused some of the more quick-witted of those who saw it, to harbour a first suspicion that he was more sly at that. For his diligence at this humble work did indeed point at a hidden talent for crafting, and nobody could really believe that a man who worked so elegantly with his hands could lack for faculties. To this was added that he had made a habit of gathering these sticks with their scorched points in a pile that he guarded with the utmost care. So, there were those who maintained that nothing was amiss as to his mind, and imagined that he concealed his good sense behind an assumed simplicity and hid his deeper intentions and plans underneath this cunning smokescreen. The safest way to discover him would be to set a stunningly beautiful woman upon him in some remote place and let her seduce him. For man has from nature such violent erotic urges that no cunning tricks can keep them hidden. And in this case, too, the need would be too great for him to hold it back by any wily means, so if his dullness was assumed, he would immediately when the opportunity presented itself, follow his desires. So they got hold of some men who would take him far into the woods and present him with such a temptation.
8 Among these men was, by coincidence, a foster brother to Amled, who had not forgotten how they had been brought up together. For him, the memory of their shared childhood weighed heavier than the order he was here given, so when he now came out as one of the chosen escorts for Amled, he did it rather hoping to warn him than intending to entrap him. For he had no shadow of a doubt that if Amled betrayed the merest hint of reason – and particularly if he openly slept with a girl – he would be done for. Amled himself was very well aware of this, too, so when he was told to mount a horse, he purposefully placed himself with his back to the horse’s head and facing the tail. And the reins he laid around the tail as if he intended to steer the horse at that end when it ran off. With this kind of artful invention he managed to evade his uncle’s wiles and disturb his devious schemes. It was quite a risible sight, the horse galloping along with no reins and the rider steering it by the tail.
9 Along the way, Amled met a wolf in a thicket, and when his companions claimed it to have been a young horse, he let fall a remark that there weren’t too many of those in the employ of Fenge – a subtle but witty criticism of how his uncle spent his fortune. When the others exclaimed that this was rather a sensible reply, he declared that he has spoken thus on purpose so that it couldn’t be said of him that he lied. He wanted people to think of him that he would never lie, and so he mingled his slyness with truth in such a way that he kept to the truth when speaking, without the true things he said revealing how clearly he thought.
10 Later, when they were walking along the beach, his companions came across the rudder from a stranded ship, and when they told him it was a giant knife they had found, he answered: ‘Yes, that one can cut a huge ham!’ – By which of course he meant the immeasurable sea to which the immense rudder fitted well. Something similar happened when they passed some dunes: here, they tried to convince him that the sand was flour, to which he replied that it was ground when the storms whipped up the sea. The others praised his answers, and he himself assured them that it was very cleverly spoken.
To be certain that he would dare give his desires free rein, they on purpose left him in a deserted spot, where then he met the girl – it seemed that she appeared by coincidence, but in reality she was sent by his uncle. He would indeed have ravished her then, had not his foster brother with a silent sign indicated to him that it was a trap. For when he considered how he could send a secret warning and restrain the young man’s risky desires, he found a straw on the ground and stuck it into the behind of a horsefly coming by. He then sent it off in the direction where he knew Amled to be – by which he did the oblivious young man a great favour. And the sign was received with an acumen equal to the one with which it was sent. For when Amled saw the horsefly and on closer inspection spotted the straw that it bore in the rear, he realised that this was a silent warning of treason. The suspicion that he was headed into a trap frightened him, and to be able to pursue his intentions without any risk, he took the girl up in his arms and carried her far off into a trackless marsh. When he had had intercourse with her, he entreated her not to tell anybody about it. She promised this as eagerly as he asked it of her. The girl, namely, felt a deep affection for Amled since days gone by, for they had been childhood friends and had as children had the same minders.
11 They then escorted him back home, and when they started making jokes with him and asked if he had slept with the girl, he admitted to have ravished her. They asked next where he had done it and what he had had to lie on, and to that he replied that he had lain on the hoof of a horse, the crest of a cock and the roof of a house. When he was going out to be tested, he had brought bits of each of these things to avoid having to lie. Those words caused great mirth among those surrounding him – despite that his witticism had not removed him one bit from the truth. The girl, too, was questioned about the matter, but she claimed that he had done nothing of the sort, and they believed that answer, especially because none of the companions had seen what happened.
At this time, the man who had placed the marker on the horsefly wanted to show Amled that he was the one whom he had to thank for the ruse that had saved his life, and so he said that he had recently done him a great service. And the reply of the young man was not stupid at all: to reassure his helper that he appreciated the effort, he said that he had seen something flying by at great speed with a straw and with chaff behind. This reply made the others roar with laughter, while Amled felt smug because it was so clever.
So. We have the basic premises: the two brothers, the duel against the Norwegian king, the one brother having the good fortune and the girl.
The names of the characters are, of course, different from the ones Shakespeare uses – apart from Amled/Hamlet. While the names of Gertrude and Osric – and let’s not forget poor Yorick – are Nordic/ Germanic, and Rosenkrans & Gyldenstjerne are Danish (even though they have been slightly Germanised), names like Claudius, Laertes, Polonius, Horatio, &c are obviously taken from the Greco-Roman tradition. This is not surprising, when it comes to Shakespeare.
Never mind about that, the story itself is very recognisable.
We may note, in §5, that Saxo does absolutely not condone the marriage of Fenge and Gerud; according to ecclesiastical law since the 7th century, the blood-relatives of a deceased spouse were prohibited just as if they were your own (from the Catholic Encyclopedia, newadvent.org). And Rørik is supposed to have ruled precisely in the 7th century; so we may here be seeing a conflict between old laws and new laws, Fenge adhering to the old rules under which it was normal and legal to marry your dead brother’s widow.
§6: Amled’s madness, presenting itself much as one would expect: a lack of personal hygiene, odd behaviour and seemingly random speech that conceals the truth.
§7: And how often is the failure to restrain sexual desire taken as proof of sanity and a rational mind?
I have no idea how to explain the sign devised by our proto-Horatio in §1o; I mean, seriously, a horsefly with a piece of straw up its arse?? Good thing it worked, though.
§11: So, Amled tricked the would-be trickers, and got the girl. At least, this proto-Ophelia gets out of the deal unscathed (and not, apparently, worried about keeping her virginity). There seems to be a fundamental flaw in this plan to prove Amled’s sanity, as evidenced by its failure: if he was supposed to be alone with the girl, how could they ever know what happened? These people are obviously not as clever spies as Polonius and Claudius – of course, the surroundings make it somewhat difficult, but again, they were the ones to lead him into the forest. And the girl happily lies for Amled (no pun intended); maybe they were relying on her to tell the truth. More fools them, in that case.
So far, so good. Next week, there will be more deviousnesses, while both sides try to outmanoeuvre the other.
I haven’t got all that much knitting talk this week – I have been knitting quite a lot, but most of it has been on a shawl design in progress. Last week, I mentioned planning to make a Bitterroot Shawl for my mother and ordering the yarn for it; well, while waiting for this yarn, it occurred to me that designing a shawl would be more fun than knitting from a pattern. So, I got out some of my Arwetta Classic in another colour, off-white, and started swatching, trying out, checking to see if what I imagined actually came to look like I wanted it to – you know, the whole initial knitting, frogging, and re-knitting process. And when the wine red yarn finally arrived on Thursday, I dove into that. If all goes well, there will be a pattern out at some point.
There was a slight hitch when I tipped a cup of coffee over the off-white yarn I was working with ... I soaked and rinsed the yarn, still in the balls (they are not ball-shaped, the Arwettas, quite oblong, but still) and left them to dry in the windowsill, hoping that the sun would take care of the remaining discolouration. It hasn’t so far; I may knit the thing up anyway and wash it thoroughly – and then dye it, if it still refuses to be white. We’ll see.
In the meantime, between the soaked yarn and the arrival of the new, I got around to finishing the second cafetière cosy; so now my coffee pots have matching overcoats.
The print copies of WeWMDfK? came out this week – I had held off reading the essays because I prefer reading on a page to reading on a screen (there is some irony in that, somewhere); so now, I’ve read and enjoyed them all. And, of course, faved and queued (even more) patterns on Ravelry.
Well, naturally, I’ve been mostly in Hamlet mode this week; but there is always time for more books :o)
The final chapter of Jane Eyre was on CraftLit this week; so now, that is all done. It is a bit melancholy to close a book that you have enjoyed reading – or, as in this case, listened to; it is like saying goodbye to friends.
One of the many brilliant things about books, though, is that they are not gone when they are done: you devour a book and thus keep it with you forever. Like the New Guinean cannibals who used to eat their ancestors to keep them in the family – not that reading books will give you spongiform encephalitis, of course.
Even though they can infect your brain, in a way, with new ideas and thoughts that take hold and alter your mind. But that’s really the point, isn’t it – the mind-altering factor is a huge part of the reason for reading books in the first place.
And it’s a lot safer than having a secret branch of the CIA try out spiked LSD on you to awaken psychic powers, leading to mental domination, telekinesis, and pyrokinesis. That is what goes on in Firestarter by Stephen King; a lot can happen in the modern-day America according to King, of course, with his blending of realism and the supernatural.
There is a poll going on Goodreads in the MCT (Mystery, Crime, Thrillers) group on whether you prefer your plots to be believable, partly believable, or completely unbelievable; I was unable to choose an answer to this, partly because of books like Firestarter. In my quotidian frame of mind, I do not think that a little girl can start a fire with her mind – but within the framework set up by the book, it does seem believable; and what is more important, the actions & reactions of the characters in the book are completely realistic.
My take on this may be influenced by my extensive reading of myths and legends, historical texts, fantasy, sci-fi &c: the willing suspension of disbelief comes easily to me, and I accept the parameters of the world I am dealing with at the moment, be it the ‘real’ world in a different age or a completely fictional world. Within those parameters I do want coherence and reason, creating what J.R.R. Tolkien called secondary belief: the acceptance of the world presented in this particular story. Only when this fails, he said, does the reader need to play along, to willingly – and consciously – suspend his/her disbelief.
Reading old sci-fi can be quite an exercise in this playing along: I listened to Upon the Dull Earth (and other stories) by Philip K. Dick, in which, for one thing, robots are a feature of the 22nd century. No surprise there; the funny thing is how humanoid these robots are: a car is driven by a robot driver, a humanoid device moving and speaking like a person – in another story, a robot doctor is recognisable as a robot only by his tinny voice. This seems very far from the incorporeal and omnipresent Jarvis of Tony Stark, very old-fashioned. On the opposite end of the spectrum of viability are the space travels: in the story with the robot doctor, a man travels to and from Proxima Centauri where he works, a distance of 4-point-something light years, in three weeks of travel time.
The stories are interesting, both as museum pieces, in a sense, and for their rather bleak ponderings on the human condition.
That’s about it for this week; my running (well, run-walking, you know what I mean) started off well, until I caught a cold on Thursday. I had a slight scratchiness in my throat that I put down to hay fever, so I went out anyway – and then later in the day, I was slammed. Sore throat, runny nose, headache, slight fever: the whole shebang. So, no running on Friday or today; I hope to be ready to resume my schedule on Tuesday. This will mean a repetition of week 1 in the plan, but so be it.
Bye for now, then – I hope you have a fabulous week; stay happy, stay healthy, and keep those needles moving!