Scrambled Shakespeare | Letters | Chicago Reader

Scrambled Shakespeare 

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Dear editor,

Though I haven't seen the current production of the musical Hair, it is interesting that Mr. Williams's quotation from a Shakespeare text is most likely a mistaken alteration: "What a piece of work is man" [August 9]. The line should probably read: "What a piece of work is a man." The alteration is also found inscribed on the base of the Shakespeare statue next to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Perhaps the authors of Hair thought the alteration an interesting one (see act two, scene two of Hamlet).

Easily overlooked, if one hasn't read Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet lately, are other passages from Shakespeare in the musical. The "hymn of mourning" to which Mr. Williams refers is mostly taken from Romeo's last speech. When the chorus reaches the part that figuratively corresponds to the female part in copulation, they instead finish by singing Hamlet's last line: "The rest is silence."

The quotations from Shakespeare may have affected audiences in the late 60s in some small way whether or not they were cognizant of them. Romeo says this to Juliet: "If I profane with my unworthiest hand / This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this." It seems that Romeo meant to say "fine" instead of "sin" but, without being aware of it, had heard Tybalt say: "Now, by the stock and honor of my kin, / To strike him dead I hold it not a sin."

Incidentally, Shakespeare's son died and was buried in Stratford on August 11, 1596. As he may have written Hamlet after the death of his father, he probably wrote Romeo and Juliet soon after the earlier loss.

John Koch


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