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Dearest Gabfest,


Knowing that I am something of a Shakespeare "megageek" (her words), my sister tuned me into this week's podcast, highlighting your discussion of Hamlet's first lines.


I really enjoyed your conversation around "Who's there?", and thought that I might add a few additional thoughts for whatever they were worth.


I wholeheartedly agree the first lines do a lot to set mood and tone, though another interesting fact about the first line in particular is that it's also a breach of protocol: Bernardo is coming to relieve Francisco, and not vice-versa. 


Violations of context and of expectation is something of a running theme in Hamlet, all the way from this stunner of an opener to the last lines of the play, where Fortinbras comments something to the effect of "Hey, if this was on a battlefield, this kind of brutality would make sense, but this is in a royal court so wtf it's kind of nuts." 


He then says "Go, bid the soldiers shoot," which is totally amazing because it's both 1. a sudden reminder that the sensitive soul offering this last set of lines in disbelief is literally only in Elsinore in the first place to lay siege upon the royal family, and 2. a demonstration of the malleability of context, because the same guns that would have presumably been used to do said sieging work are now being used to solemnly salute the fallen.


IMO, Fortinbras' final appearance is also salient to the play's first line because he is arguably the "who" in question. The play takes like 100 lines to explain, and has a series of detours through both discussion and demonstration of King Hamlet's ghost, but the reason that the sentries are on watch in the first place is because they're worried about Fortinbras' armies. The ghost's visitation in the scene is an important but additional source of anxiety. 


Lastly, and I really do apologize for the raw, unfiltered geekery on display in this paragraph, but this opening line between these two lone characters is also the first of many, many doubles in the play, which scale from "too, too solid flesh," to speeches like "neither a borrower nor a lender be" / "look upon this picture and on this" / "to be or not to be" / etc., to the play's extended joke on the interchangeability of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.


So yeah, it's a totally hot opener. 


Also, I really wanted to thank you -- I'm slapping my forehead at the fact that I also somehow never noticed that "who's there" also has deep thematic implications for concepts of identity that are also at the heart of Hamlet. That's totally on point.


Oh, and the first line of Charlotte's Web made me drop my jaw at my desk; I'll also be buying a copy of Red Wind.


Keep it real,

AGM

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