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14: The Four Groans

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - 08:00 PM

Window Window (geezaweezer/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Another meditation on what happens after the moment of death, this time as Shakespeare envisions it. 

Ron Rosenbaum, author of The Shakespeare Wars, tells us about a very small variation in the text of Hamlet that makes a huge difference about how Shakespeare envisioned Hamlet’s dying moment. Then we pay a visit to Tony Award-winning actor Mark Rylance to get his take on encountering the edge of consciousness.


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Comments [12]

William Ray from Willits California USA

To these textual and interpretive suggestions, I would add the autobiographical concept that four (vier) O's is a compressed signal, a pun upon 'Vere', also appeared at Lear's death. Vier, four in German, sounds close to Vere, the proposed author. 'O' corresponds to (O)xford, the title of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. One sees confirmation visually for this pun in the Droeshout Portrait. There are two (deux in French) spears on our left of the collar and four (vier in German) on our right. Hence, deux-vier or de Vere. It was typical puzzle nomenclature for the time, during which print was new to an oral culture and sound-play typified the culture's amusements and covert communication. The hidden author thus left his signature in the work. 'Worm' in A&C and 'ring' in MofV are other instances. Worm is 'ver' in French. Ring is an O shape, and in Italian the 'vero' is the truing ring around the top of a well.

Jul. 03 2014 11:34 AM
Jane O from noneofyodamnbusiness

But what IIII'mmmm sayin is I like my interpretation the best.
You may keep yours, to each his own.

Jun. 10 2014 03:15 PM
l w calhoun from Atlanta

Hamlet’s four ‘O’s in his death scene were not ‘O’s; they were grunts or groans [“ugh”].

He was in the throes of death. Rather than a quick death as from a single blow that dispatches him immediately, his was painful death and lingering for a minute or more. He may have wanted to speak but lacked the strength to produce any words. The most he could muster was a series of groans, each one coming weaker and weaker… “UGH… UGh… Ugh… ugh…”, the silence.

Jun. 09 2014 05:41 PM
Jane O from noneofyodamnbusiness

The Four O,O,O,O might simply be Shakespeare dies 4 times and the energy dissapates in 4 directions of east, west, north and south. Then complete silence outside of this Universe. Whatever comes out of that dissapation if there is anything left at all is anybody's guess, maybe it beginning another Universe or that was the final end and get over it.

Jun. 08 2014 03:14 PM
yeshara pryor from G.H.S philadelphia

The difference in suggestion of the "O,o,o,o" as Hamlet's last words are quite interesting. I especially like the idea that as Hamlet was dying, he saw 4 ghosts in his view and uttered an "O" for every ghost he saw. Thought Shakespeare didn't write those words, it does seem like his style, to use simple words or phrases that carry a great amount of detail within them. This reminds me of Act 5 Scene 1 when the Clown says; "if I drown myself wittingly, it argues an act, and an act hath three branches - it is tom act, to do, to perform". Might not be the same exact thing as "O,o,o,o" but it shows how Shakespeare has hidden meanings in his use of words and phrases.

Jan. 13 2014 07:21 PM

If Shakespeare didn't add "O, o, o, o" to the end of Hamlet, and the thinking is that it was an actor or folio editor, why are we having the argument?

The moans represent the possibility that it isn't silent afterall; but if Shakespeare ended it in a particular fashion, no moans, then perhaps that was his message to the audience. Silence.

Mar. 01 2012 01:12 PM

So.... this seemed related. Steve Jobs' last words:

Oct. 31 2011 12:11 PM

Gooseflesh-inducing. You guys consistently amaze me.

Aug. 26 2009 11:18 AM
Lulu Bee

Radio Lab rocks my soul. Thanks guys...thanks.

Aug. 25 2009 10:56 AM
The Guvnor

The actor is too literal. The four O's should not pronounced as such, but as one groan. Look to other Shakespeare plays and see a series of O's are shorthand for some audible grunt. Whether it be a roar or sigh, these were contextual cues of emotion.

Example from Macbeth, Act 4, in which Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and being watched by a doctor and a servant:

Here's the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. O, O, O.

Here it is a sigh.

Now an example from Othello, Act 5, when Othello discovers his terrible error:

O! O! O!

Nay, lay thee down and roar
For thou hast killed the sweetest innocent
That e'er did lift up eye.

As Emilia says, roar. Othello does not yodel "oh oh oh!"-- the O's are the equivalent to modern times onomatopoeia of grunts and exclamations like "Grahhh!" left to the actors interpretation.

Hearing Rylance's whimpering "oh... oh... oh... oh..." is like listening to a fundamentalist Christian rant about a 5,000-year-old Earth -- it is simply an uniformed artifact that should be corrected, not whimsically speculated about.

For more O,O,O,O info, here's a great essay by Martin Coyle (of which I base most of my post's argument) :

Aug. 21 2009 04:27 PM

This meditation, and the ones before it, are stunning. That's all there is to say

Aug. 14 2009 10:47 PM

oh, uh, ai, ow

Aug. 14 2009 02:57 AM

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