“Make you to ravel all this matter out”: Solving the riddle of Hamlet Imagine a man 450 years ago who perceives a cosmic threat and writes a riddle about it for future generations to solve. It may be possible for you to imagine such a thing. Riddles are written and their mystery may persist a while, even centuries. But now imagine that this riddle is the most famous play in the history of the world, and that millions of people have read it. And then, imagine that he encodes the very act of the riddle being solved inside this riddle/play: Queen: What shall I do? Hamlet: Not this, by no means, that I bid you do: Let the bloat King tempt you again to bed; Pinch wanton on your cheek; call you his mouse; And let him, for a pair of reechy kisses, Or paddling in your neck with his damn'd fingers, Make you to ravel all this matter out, That I essentially am not in madness, But mad in craft. 'Twere good you let him know; For who that's but a queen, fair, sober, wise, Would from a paddock, from a bat, a gib Such dear concernings hide? Who would do so? No, in despite of sense and secrecy, Unpeg the basket on the house's top, Let the birds fly, and like the famous ape, To try conclusions, in the basket creep And break your own neck down. Queen: Be thou assured, if words be made of breath, And breath of life, I have no life to breathe what thou hast said to me. (III.iv.180-199)
I have made the claim that Shakespeare wrote against fossil fuels and in support of an economy sustained by the sun, and that he used allegory to do this.1 In the allegory in Hamlet, Shakespeare himself is Hamlet, Gertrude is British society turning toward coal and away from the sun economy (Britain was the first nation, though not the last, to adopt fossil fuels as its main fuel; the transition putting coal in first place (surpassing wood) was complete by 1603, two years after Hamlet was published.) Claudius is coal. Ophelia, (“of Helios”), is the rural landscape based on the sun. The key to solving the riddle lies in these words: “Let the bloat King tempt you again to bed; /Pinch wanton on your cheek;/ call you his mouse; / And let him, for a pair of reechy kisses, Or paddling in your neck with his damn'd fingers, / make you to ravel all this matter out.” That is, we wouldn’t be able to see the solution to the riddle until fossil fuels became as unpleasant and negative and horrible to us as a disgusting sex partner, someone who forces himself sexually on us. An unsatisfying relationship. No love, just lust. 1 “’Stand and Unfold Yourself’: Prince Hamlet Unmasked”—published in Area Studies Journal of Tsukuba University, March 2014. See also “’Stand and Unfold Yourself’: Who is Prince Hamlet?” my presentation at Shakespeare 450 given in Paris on April 26, 2014.