Friday, September 12, 2008

What a Piece of Work is Man

Don't Feed the Pixies left a comment after my post yesterday (Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Walt Whitman) saying that when he read the poem he was reminded of a Star Trek episode in which Captain Picard quotes Hamlet, What a piece of work is a man, and that, although Hamlet was being sarcastic, the point of the ST episode was that the words could be taken as positive.

Afterward What a Piece of Work is Man from HAIR was stuck in my mind, which was fine because it's my favorite song from the rock musical. Wanting to tie all this together I searched YouTube videos for the song, but also came upon Hamlet's soliloquy in the words of another character (with subtle variation). Richard E. Grant played the alcoholic, drug-crazed Withnail in the 1986 movie Withnail and I, a film I never heard of but now hope to see after viewing this scene...

Hamlet, Act II, scene 2

I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

I'm following the Withnail video with the version of the song that tapped me deep in my heart and light in my head. An accompanying description at YouTube says only: Andrew and Laura singing "What a Piece of Work is Man" at Laura's senior recital (in June 2008), but tags refer to Laura Hoover and Andrew Leonard. I think she has a positively beautiful voice, and, sung by this duo the words do sound positive. We, man and woman, need all the positivity that we can introduce into our lives and great performances sure do the trick for me.

- Hair Lyrics


distracted by shiny objects said...

Thought provoking. I admit, though, the Withnail version suits my mood more today. Perhaps it's the heat. Wasn't much of a Hair groupie back in the day, although it was certainly playing in the background. Will take another listen to it and with fresh, though wiser, ears:>)

Lydia said...

The Withnail version makes more sense to me today. I love the way he delivers the line "What a piece of work is a man."
I had Hair on 8-track and loved the musical so much. Then in first year of college my boyfriend's fraternity chartered a bus after securing tickets for all of us who could make the trip to San Francisco to see Hair. I was so excited (!) and it's a night I won't forget.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Glad my left-field meanderings were of use to you!

I have to admit to being aware of Withnail but never having watched it.

The play was good though :)

Lydia said...

It's on my list, along with Brazil!



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