Episode 97 - As Easy As Lying


Re-enter Players with recorders

O, the recorders! let me see one. To withdraw with
you:--why do you go about to recover the wind of me,
as if you would drive me into a toil?

O, my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too

I do not well understand that. Will you play upon
this pipe?

My lord, I cannot.

I pray you.

Believe me, I cannot.

I do beseech you.

I know no touch of it, my lord.

'Tis as easy as lying: govern these ventages with
your lingers and thumb, give it breath with your
mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music.
Look you, these are the stops.

But these cannot I command to any utterance of
harmony; I have not the skill.

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of
me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know
my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my
mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to
the top of my compass: and there is much music,
excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot
you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me.

Minced Oaths
A minced oath is an expression formed by adapting a blasphemous or taboo word or phrase, in order to reduce the offence it might cause. Since Shakespeare was writing under the watchful eye of a censor, in a time when Puritans were gaining influence, he couldn't write the full versions of any curses or swearwords or expletives. As a result we have various items - sblood, zounds, and the very common 'Marry' - which is a contraction of 'By the Virgin Mary'. There's even an argument that the word 'bloody' as a curse word came into use as a contraction of 'By Our Lady'!  Likewise in episode 68 we have ‘God’s bodykins’ - a rather cute way for Hamlet to swear at Polonius.

Rhodri Lewis’ recent book Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness has a spectacularly good chapter all about imagery of hunting in the play. It’s an extraordinary new interpretation and very much worth a look. (Good news is that Prof. Lewis is completing a paperback version of the text, hopefully available very soon.

Musical Instruments
We have tantalisingly little information about the use of music in Shakespeare’s theatre. There’s a great variety of songs in the plays, and we’re led to believe that most (or even all) performances ended with a jig - a tradition that has been revived at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. The standard stage band could have included recognisable Elizabethan instruments like the lute, but also ones that are less familiar, including the viol (bass or treble), the citterne, the bandora or even the flute. Less commonly mentioned is the recorder - it’s entirely possible that Shakespeare weaves it into this corner of Hamlet because it is was then (as it is now) such a simple instrument to play, and it gives Hamlet a chance to mock Guildenstern even more savagely. As mentioned within this episode, there’s also a connection with hunting, as the recorder is quite similar to the kinds of simple pipes used to hunt and trap birds. For more information on music in Shakespeare’s theatre, click here.