Saturday, February 9, 2013

hamlet's dresser

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Hamlets Dresser

Hamlets Dresser, by Bob Smith, explores the theme of human loneliness with eloquence and offers a passionate appeal that the arts can be used as a healing tool to overcome the emotional ravages of loneliness. From reading Smiths book, one comes to understand that loneliness is many things, but learns that above all it is a feeling of despair that one is isolated and all alone in the world. This mistaken perspective is destructive, for it instills a profound sense of alienation and increases the suffering of lonely people.

Loneliness is a feeling of helpless vulnerability shaped by rejection from authority figures and society. Loneliness can have terrible consequences, for as a young, vulnerable boy, Smith felt profound rejection when he discovered that his teacher, Miss Shumaker, didn’t like him. His reaction was understandable but tragic, for, “it was right after I stopped pleasing everybody.” (Smith 1)

This reaction shows how loneliness is self-defeating, for its emergence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sadly, many people who are lonely come to believe that they deserve to be lonely and that they are isolated because they are inferior in some way. They feel that no one else shares their interests and become alienated from others, despite the reality that many people do in fact share their interests. Loneliness is also contagious, for when people become lonely as a result of rejection, many of them instinctively respond by rejecting others, which increases the level of loneliness in society instead of reducing it.

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In exploring what it means in Hamlets Dresser when Smith begins to hear, “ . . . the language of my incredible loneliness,” (Smith 14) it becomes evident that he discovers that he can ease his alienation and loneliness by involving himself in Shakespeare plays. He joins the American Shakespeare Theater as the character Hamlets dresser, and then dresser other characters, performs in minor roles, and teaches Shakespeare-appreciation courses to senior citizens.

These tools and the defining process of language, enable him to relate to other people who share his love of Shakespeare and help him share his passion about art as a healing tool. His belief that, “art can be a brutal thing, not just some decoration placed over the truth, but the truth itself,” (Smith 157) demonstrates that he has made a profound personal discovery about how art relates to the human condition.

Examining the use of the these tools by Bob Smith in more detail, such as the painting and drawing, and taking part in various Shakespeare productions and watching them, demonstrates how effective they can be and how valuable they are for everyone who is lonely, for they are tools of unification, not alienation. Painting, drawing, acting, and watching allow people to share their passions and relate to one another on an active and emotionally unifying level. Smith is saying that even though we enter this world alone and depart it alone, while we are here we are surrounded by people just like us and are here to reach out to them through language and the arts.

Literary artists understand this better than most people and devote their lives to reaching out to their audiences. They use the language and the visual arts to communicate their themes, and everyone who participates in plays shares in the noble task of uniting humanity. Smith misunderstood the value of the arts at first, for he initially valued poetry as, “ . . .a beautiful place to hide from my life and my parents, a place I knew they’d never follow me to.” (Smith 11) It was only later that he learned to use it not as a refuge from other people but as a bridge to them. In Hamlets Dresser he is appealing to people to avoid his mistakes and discover the healing nature of language and the arts.

In order to accomplish his goals Smith uses the perpetual shifting of time in his book narrative and presents Shakespeare’s plays as connective tissue. His unordered presentation of events shows how the pervasive nature of loneliness is timeless and powerful, and can only be overcome through reaching out to other human beings through art and language.

In other words, Smith is saying that the inherent process of loneliness is destructive and that this destruction cannot be stopped by wallowing helplessly in ones loneliness. Ones life cannot be started until one reaches out to other people through the connective tissue of the arts, for the arts unite people and show them how much they have in common. Because his works rank among the greatest in the history of Western civilization, Shakespeare can be used as a tool to help lonely people explore their common humanity with others.

Smith is saying that the themes of Shakespeare unite people, for they are universal and timeless. Through his plays Shakespeare reveals the vulnerability of human beings, their reliance upon love as a unifying force, and the consequences of the darker side of human nature. Everyone who has ever drawn a breath in this world can relate to the characters in Shakespeare, for they are you and I. They are the men and women trying to relate to one another and find meaning in life, and the lessons they learn are the lessons we all must learn.

In terms of loneliness, Smith is telling his readers that it is the admission and verbalizing of loneliness that defines it and enables people to deal successfully with it. Essentially, understanding loneliness and overcoming it is like the process of sculpting, for it is the act of sculpting that reveals the hidden truth and beauty in a lifeless block of marble. In the same way, the truth and beauty of human life can only be achieved through the application of language, for language is the only tool people have to bond together as human beings and understand that we are all alike.

Throughout Hamlets Dresser, Bob Smith uses personal and narrative tools to express and support his themes. His use of his own life adds power, bonds his audience to him, and emphasizes the consequences of loneliness and the redeeming power of the arts. His narrative style is powerful, for it not only involves symbolism related to his personal experiences, it universalizes the message.

In Hamlets Dresser, Bob Smith expresses his conviction that ideas are tools that can be used to heal and transform peoples lives regardless of how much heartache and pain they are experiencing. In specific terms, he demonstrates in this book how his own discovery of and love for Shakespeare enabled him to overcome a difficult childhood and become a productive adult. The larger message is that everyone can use the same tools he used to overcome their loneliness and alienation, and can become productive adults as well.

Works Cited

Smith, Bob. Hamlets Dresser A Memoir. New York Simon

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