Thursday, May 11, 2006

Polonius May Not Have Been Perfect, But At Least Laertes Had a Father

At a recent library book sale, I picked up some old magazines, including an Oxford American that listed "Drunk on Shakespeare: A Family Drama" on its cover. This personal essay by an Eric Ormsby turned out to be a not-very-interesting account of how his dysfunctional household communicated (or not) by hurling quotes at each other. But there was one bit that struck me. At ten or eleven the author was taken to see his first performance of Hamlet and found himself fascinated, not just by the familiar words put into action on stage, but by the actor playing Hamlet. "Coming as I did from a house dominated by women, I had a frank curiosity about men," he says, and he found himself wanting to imitate everything about--in fact, to become--that man. He says,

"A boy without a father is supremely vulnerable. He has
inexhaustible resources of love and loyalty and devotion. And he aches to bestow
these on some man who shows him what he might, if he is lucky, become. The heart
of such a boy hangs on the smallest of tokens and is to be had for the slightest
expression of regard; is to be had, I mean, passionately, irrevocably, and for
life. And for what? For a glance of interest, a question, an autograph on a

I don't care for the way the writer expresses this, but I think he's telling the truth here. Boys need fathers. Boys without fathers are vulnerable, because they are looking for any man who will give them some attention, some evidence of concern. Grown women can say children don't need fathers as much as they want, but the boys themselves are apt to feel differently. If I were a single woman with a son, I'd be asking myself what kind of men my son is being exposed to, both in real life and in the media, and if I'd want him to grow up imitating any of them.

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