Wednesday, November 6, 2013

HAMLET (Remix Feat. Curren$y, Wu-Tang Clan, and J.L. Austin)

What is "performative utterance"?

The rapper Curren$y put it best:
. There has been a long-held belief that actions and words are not mutually interchangeable; words are not as solid as actions after all. But according to the theory of performative utterance (a term coined by British philosopher J. L. Austin),                                                         (This guy)
certain sentences change the reality they are describing rather than simply passively describing said reality. Essentially, by saying something out loud, it becomes reality and sets an expectation, much like a judge saying "I sentence this criminal to death" 
or a priest saying "I pronounce you man and wife".

 Their words constitute an action instead of simply being words. The reasoning behind this theory is evident in Shakespeare's play Hamlet 
as well as in our own daily lives. While Hamlet spends the majority of the play contemplating suicide and debating whether he should kill King Claudius or not, his words themselves represent action.

When Hamlet sees his father's ghost
 in scene five of Act 1, he learns of the true reason behind his father's death: Claudius poured poison in his ear. This itself is symbolic of how Claudius is lying to the state of Denmark and to everyone in the play, this his words are like poison. Hamlet vows to his father that he will avenge him by killing his uncle. As soon as he says that, his word becomes bond; Hamlet can no longer turn back. He must get revenge and kill Claudius. 
Hamlet's use of self-overhearing plays a vital role in the development of the plot and the characterization of Hamlet. The reader is able to see how calculating and intelligent he really is  Hamlet is perhaps the greatest actor/deceiver in the history of humanity for this reason. He is able to flawlessly execute various fronts; from the crazy love drunk in front of Ophelia and Polonious, to the cold calculating genius when by himself. The reader might at first believe that Hamlet is a psychopath, but through indirect characterization and hearing Hamlet speak, it becomes apparent that he is not in fact a psychopath. By definition  a psychopath has very shallow emotions, inability to plan for the future, overconfidence, and are typically selfish. Hamlet is actually the polar opposite of all these traits. He shows a wide range of emotions, as seen by the various fronts he puts up. He plans ahead for the future, as seen by  the fact that he did not kill Claudius even when he had the golden opportunity (because Claudius was praying and if he was killed, would have gone to heaven). He is often very critical of himself and beats himself up more often than not. Lastly, he is not selfish because he went out of his way to avenge his father and to do what was right for the state of Denmark.

“Self-overhearing" is essentially thinking about your own thinking, or metacognition. 
Hamlet often speaks outloud to himself through various points throughout the play. By doing so, Hamlet is able to have epiphanies and learn about himself, his emotions, and his actions (or lack of). One of the most evident moments of this is the "To be or not to be" soliloquy in Act three.
 In this soliloquy, he is asking one of the most basic, yet most mysterious questions that have plagued humans since the dawn of time: why live? What is the purpose  of life? Life is so full of misery ("the whips and scorns of time, the oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, the pangs of despised love")
 why doesn't one just end it all and escape the misery ("to die, to sleep, no more, and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to")? By asking himself these seemingly rhetorical questions, he comes to the conclusion that it is the fear of the great unknown (what happens after death) that prevents us from doing so. 
He has a revelation here when he says "conscience makes cowards of us all"; the more you think about it, the less likely you are to carry it out. He has an epiphany and discovers that the reason he has yet to kill his uncle is because he thinks instead of action. From that moment on, Hamlet is dedicated with carrying out his revenge at any and all costs necessary.

Hamlet has another epiphany when the acting troupe comes and tries to cheer him up. He asks one of the actors to recite a soliloquy from the play they’re supposed to perform. Hamlet is disgusted at himself when he sees the actor moved to tears by his performance over a piece of fiction when he himself cannot muster even the slightest bit of emotion for his father’s death. Here he has another revelation; he has yet to get his revenge because he is too much of a coward.

Hamlet’s use of self-overhearing and performative utterance is quite evident in everyday life. Sometimes when we do not understand something, we find ourselves either repeating the thing over and over out loud or in our mind, much like our memorization of “To be or not to be”. After repeating it a certain number of times, you reach a point where it actually resonates with you and you finally understand what Hamlet is trying to say.
Wu-Tang Clan had a now widely-recognized phrase (at least within 5%ers and hip hop aficionados), which went “Word Is Bond”.
What this phrase meant was that your word is true and without reproach; their word is promise. This is an example of perfomative utterance in our contemporary society. Another such example would be kids who get suspended or expelled by threatening others. They may have not actually done their words, but their words carry enough weight to be taken seriously.

Hamlet learned more about himself simply by talking out loud and listening to himself speak then he would have if he went to a therapist. Words carry just as much, if not more, weight as actions. By listening to ourselves speak, we are able to gain a deeper insight on our motives and thoughts that are constantly traversing our minds.  

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