Now this is sheer guesswork, of course. Perhaps Melville had everything comfortably worked out before he began, though I doubt it.
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The point to remember is the same that Faulkner once reminded his critics of: that they see a finished work and do not dream of the chaos of trial and error and torment from which it has somehow emerged. No matter what your plan for a novel—and we know Melville was inspired by the account of an actual whaling disaster the destruction of the ship Essex in and we know whaling was a subject he could speak of with authority of personal experience, and we know he understood as well as the most commercial practitioner of the craft, that a writer begins with an advantage who can report on a kind of life or profession out of the ken of the ordinary reader-nevertheless, I say that no matter what your plan or inspiration, or trembling recognition for an idea that you know belongs to you, the strange endowment you set loose by the act of writing is never entirely under your control.
It cannot be a matter solely of willed expression. Somewhere, from the depths of your being you find a voice: it is the first and most mysterious moment of the creative act. There is no book without it. If it takes off it appears to you to be self-governed. To some degree you will write to find out what you are writing.
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And you have no sense of possession for what comes onto the pages—what you have is a sense of discovery. So let us propose that having done his first hundred or so pages of almost entirely land-based writing, Melville stopped to read what he had written. What have I got here? He is entirely confident of holding my attention whatever he writes about, and whatever he writes about, he takes his time.
With this Ishmael, I have a hundred or so land-based pages, so if I am to keep the proportion of the thing, I will need five hundred at sea. And if the encounter with the Whale is my climax it will need—what? His sentences had a texture that could conceivably leave his book wallowing with limp sails in a becalmed narrative sea.
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In any event he would for his salvation have to discover that his pages manifested not one but two principles of composition. First, a conventional use of chronological time and a narrator, Ishmael, whose integrity was maintained. And that in this extended opening or land prelude there was dutiful attendance to the dramatic necessities of conventional fiction—e.
Perhaps the least of the things Shakespeare taught Melville was the value of tangential humor to the bloodiest stories: it establishes the hierarchy of human souls that brings the few at the top into tragic distinction. All well and good. Melville could project from these traditional storytelling observances a whole series of narrative tropes.
Ahab would have to allow the crew the hunting of other whales. So there was that action. Bad weather and worse could reasonably be invoked.
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There might be the threat of piracy. Other whalers were abroad around the world. They could be met and inquired of. As indeed there are what? Given this pattern, a habitual recourse of the narrative, we readers today can make a case for Moby-Dick as a road novel. This is not a misnomer when we constantly find through the text equivalences between sea and land, the representation of the one by means of the other.
When Ishmael takes up the Town Ho story of Steelkilt and Radney, he steps out of the time of the 59 This content downloaded from It would come to Melville incipiently as a sense of dissatisfaction with his earlier books, and their gift for nautical adventure. While we may know that there is nobody, before or since, who has written better descriptions of the sea and its infinite natures and the wrathful occasions it can deliver, to Melville himself this talent would be of no consequence as he contemplated the requirements of his Moby-Dick , and felt the aching need to do this book, to bring it to fruition out of the depths of his consciousness—to resolve into a finished visionary work, everything he knew.
So he looks again at his Ishmael. But look how he does it. He breaks time up into places, things, like someone planting the stones of a mosaic one by one. He has read his Shakespeare. He knows European history. He is conversant with biblical scholarship, philosophy, ancient history, classical myth, English poetry, lands and empires, geography.
Why stop there? See when he finally gives me some action on the schooner from New Bedford to Nantucket—when Queequeg first roughs up a mocking passenger and then saves him from drowning—and this is nautical adventure despite all—see how when he finally allows a physical action, Ishmael hurries through it to get back to his contemplative ways. My Ishmael was born to be a tactless writer of footnotes—yes, I will make him the inexhaustible author of my water world.
I know this to be true: Herman Melville may have been theologically a skeptic, philosophically an Existentialist, personally an Isolato, with a desolation of spirit as deep as any sea dingle—but as a writer he is exuberant. Even if my scenario is false, and Melville did not need to stop and read what he had written at the point the Pequod goes to sea, even so, at a hundred or so pages into a book that is working, it begins to give things back to you, it begins to generate itself from itself, a matter, say, of its stem cells differentiating into the total organism.
Ishmael is treated with great love but scant respect—he is Ishmael all right in being so easily cast out, and if he is called back, it is only to be cast out again. In any event what Ishmael certainly knows about is whaling—despite his greenhorn status aboard the Pequod.
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He represents himself as having been new to the practice at the time, but by way of compensation, has become well-versed in the scientific literature. Like E. Poe, he has a habit of citing extraliterary sources. Now let me talk about Poe, for a moment. He would give his tale then the authority of borrowed fact.
Poe likes to argue his way into his stories. And as such it is a fatally defensive move. He cites authorities for the existence of albino whales. This sort of nonnarrative case-making to justify the telling of the tale would be as much of a mistake as it is in Poe—if that was as far as Melville took it. It is indisputable in my mind that excess in literature is its own justification. It is a sign of genius, and in this case, turns the world on its head so that just what is a weakness when done in modest proportion is transformative as a consistent recourse and persuades the reader finally into the realm so nakedly proselytized.
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At any point in the text, you can hover your cursor over a bracket for more information. Events before the start of Hamlet set the stage for tragedy. Hamlet, now free to act, mistakenly kills Polonius, thinking he is Claudius. Claudius sends Hamlet away as part of a deadly plot. At the match, Claudius prepares poisoned wine for Hamlet, which Gertrude unknowingly drinks; as she dies, she accuses Claudius, whom Hamlet kills.
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Characters in the Play. The Ghost. Queen Gertrude , widow of King Hamlet, now married to Claudius. King Claudius , brother to the late King Hamlet. Polonius , father of Ophelia and Laertes, councillor to King Claudius.
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Danish soldiers. Fortinbras , Prince of Norway. Ambassadors to Denmark from England.