Shakespearean Noise or the Creative Act

An anonymous gentleman, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, describes Ophelia’s madness in the following terms:

She hears

There’s tricks i’th’ world…

Speaks things in doubt

That carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing,

Yet the unshaped use of it doth move

The hearers to collection. They aim at it,

And botch the words up to fit their own thoughts.

The focus here is on Ophelia’s language use, speech in which undifferentiated signs accumulate, not entirely without sense but disordered nonetheless. Ophelia’s words are thus, in the gentleman’s terms, “nothing,” but it is a nothing that is also something and might, in more modern terms, be described as noise. Later in the same scene, we find that this nothing/something is analogous to the material of creation, chaos in classical terms, and is that with which Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, will form, another messenger informs us, his rebellious head, “as the world were now but to begin,” and attempt to re-create Denmark in his own image, the head being the head of a newly fashioned Danish body politic, which in Elizabethan thought was also equivalent to the monarch’s body.

The messenger who tells us about Laertes activity metaphorically locates it at the Creation, establishing an analogy between original chaos, and it is through his use of that metaphor that Shakespeare offers his audience a paradigm for creativity, one that imagines a narrative that begins with order and descends into to disorder only to be formed anew. The return to chaos is a vital stage in this act of creation. After all, it is the amorphousness of Ophelia’s language, not the lack of it, that makes it “nothing” and provides the new creator with the ability to form something new. Despite being couched in Classical/Christian[1] terms, Shakespeare paradigm offers us a fresh tool for reading more recent literary works, and next time we will apply it to modern classic literature when we discuss Thomas Pynchon’s short story “Entropy.

[1] Shakespeare is conflating Christian thought, which taught that the universe was created out of nothing, with classical thought, which taught that the universe was created out of Chaos.

-Albert Rolls

Look- Free Essay similarity checker!