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TOPIC: "Nay, come, let's go together."

"Nay, come, let's go together." 5 years 1 month ago #4905

  • Justin Scalise
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Why do you suppose Shakespeare decides to end Act I, scene v, with this short line, rather than the rhyming couplet before it? (as he so often uses to "cap" a scene)

"The time is out of joint—O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!"
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"Nay, come, let's go together." 5 years 1 month ago #4909

This is a complex question, with some obvious answers and some not-so-obvious ones.

In the first instance, there is Shakespeare's predilection for the rhyming couplet as a way of "rounding off" a scene, to give it a feeling of completion. The couplet often has an overtone of "sententiousness"-- the thought expressed generalizes the action of the scene or the character's state of mind as the scene ends, and the rhyme seems to be a way of "imprinting" the idea on the audience's mind in the necessary pause that follows it, as the actors get off stage to clear for another group of characters entering. This feature of sententiousness (my own term; I can't think of a better one, unless you called them "homiletic") can be glimpsed in lines like Claudius' "Madness in great ones must not unwatched go" (end 3,1) and "Words without thoughts never to heaven go" (end 3,3) and become very common in Webster's plays in particular (half the scenes in The Duchess of Malfi seem to end with couplets like "Though lust do mask in ne'er so strange disguise,/She's oft found witty, but is never wise" or "They pass through whirlpools and deep woes do shun/Who the event weigh ere the action's done," etc. etc.).

This effect is always easy to create when a character is on stage alone. The couplet gives his or her speech a sense of completion and s/he is free to leave the stage without further ado, leaving the rhyme to chime in the audience's ears. But Shakespeare is always thinking, like any good playwright, of his character's motivations; and even in so simple a problem as getting characters offstage, it seems unnatural for people to just walk off without some plausible reason for doing so. The question is further complicated by social stratification: Hamlet is above all the others in station, so they need to look for him for cues to their proper behavior. It's instructive to look at the endings of 1,2, 1,4 and 1,5 to see how the playwright manages to get essentially the same group of characters (Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus, and in one instance Bernardo) off the stage. In 1,2, Hamlet dismisses the other three ("So, fare you well... Farewell") to give himself the stage alone for a mini-soliloquy that he can end with the homiletic couplet "Foul deeds will rise/Though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes"-- a rhyme that hangs in the air as he leaves the stage and Laertes and Ophelia begin their entrance. In 1,4, there's no time for rumination-- Hamlet tears off in pursuit of the Ghost, expressly forbidding them to follow him, and it takes them a few lines of fragmented verse to decide to disobey the order and go after him anyway. 1,5 ends, after the solemn swearing of the oath to secrecy, with a couplet which is probably meant as a semi-aside, not necessarily clearly heard by Horatio and Marcellus: "O cursed spite/That ever I was born to set it right"-- before he remembers himself and speaks the decidedly unpoetic "Nay come, let's go together" to get them moving offstage with him. To leave without including them, especially just after enlisting them in a conspiracy, would be odd and churlish; and they can't leave his presence, even out on the chilly battlements, without being dismissed. So it seems as if Shakespeare is trying to have it both ways, giving H. his private moment and still motivating the group exit. (The editor of the edition I'm using, David Bevington, helpfully supplies the S.D. "They wait for him to leave first." before the final half-line.)

There's also possibly another factor, which might be best illustrated by the last words of the play's final scene. It would be easy for Sh. to have ended the play with Fortinbras' couplet "Such a sight as this/Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss," but he adds the half-line "Go, bid the soldiers shoot." This may be simply to cue the "peal of ordnance shot off" with which the play may be intended to end; but it may have another function as well. Shakespeare may be aware of the comforting sense of stability that a scene-ending or play-ending rhymed couplet can provide us, and be actively depriving us of that small comfort-- to suggest (if this isn't reaching too far) that the apparent stability that Fortinbras' timely arrival promises for Denmark's immediate future may be illusory and opportunistic. Maybe the playwright doesn't want us to feel comfortable.
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"Nay, come, let's go together." 5 years 1 month ago #4914

I saw a wonderful take on that very line at the production at Indiana Rep in the 1990's. As Marcellus and Horatio are exiting upstage center down through a trap with Hamlet trailing them, the actor playing Hamlet stopped in his tracks, sprinted downstage center and, to the audience, delivered the line "Nay, come, let's go together." From that point on, through no obvious choices of his own, it seemed the actor playing Hamlet was almost guiding us, the audience, through his story with him. Quite a nice choice!
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Re: "Nay, come, let's go together." 4 years 2 months ago #5173

I like Julian's answer. I learned a lot from that, but I have an additional perspective on "the time is out of joint."

This above all: to thine own self be true,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Conversely, if day follows night, somebody is being untrue to himself. Just after he has been false to himself by erasing himself from the book of his own brain, as the day is following the night, Hamlet says: "The time is out of joint."
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