To be or not to be: the question never asked in Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day”

“We’ve already found one correlation no one could have thought of who wasn’t looking for a connection.”

A.S.Byatt Possession


Hamlet is probably Shakespeare´s most popular play and has exhaustively been studied over the centuries, being subject to an infinite range of interpretations. In very general terms, it deals with the issue of revenge and Hamlet’s hesitance to proceed with it. However, it is a much more complex work, as a great variety of side motifs enriches its dramatic purpose. Some of these are: metatheatricality; liminality; the problem of the division between the natural body and the body politic as related to the moral corruption of the State; sexual issues such as lust, fidelity, virginity, and adultery; the discordance between reality and appearance; and the nature of man and his duality: Beast and God, a topic which links with the Renaissance concept of man in the light of the writings of Montaigne and Pico de la Mirandola.

The Remains of the Day might seem falling wide off the mark from all these issues. Nevertheless, the aim of this paper is to show how Ishiguro has situated Stevens, his complex and fascinating main character, faced to a situation closely related to Hamlet’s, though a more intimate and ultimately desperate one. This situation is the aftermath of all possible action. For, what if Hamlet had finally not done anything, had chosen “not to be” and merely let things stand? What if he had preferred the deep and dreamless sleep? Would it indeed have been, as he suspected, dreamless after all? How much of himself would he have had to annihilate and thoroughly suffocate in order not to have any dreams? As Harold Bloom says “Si Hamlet hubiera permanecido pasivo después de la visita del Espectro, entonces Polonio, Ofelia, Laertes, Rosencratz, Guildenstern, Claudio, Gertrud y el propio Hamlet no hubieran muerto de muerte violenta. Todo en la obra depende de la respuesta de Hamlet al Espectro”. Another very different spectre from the past turns up in Stevens’ life to draw a response. Miss Kenton. And Stevens is spurred into undertaking a journey.

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Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as a game of mirrors

During the year 1599 Shakespeare was to bring forth two high comedies, Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It, the last of his plays dedicated to English sovereigns, Henry V, and a roman play, Julius Caesar, while probably preparing Hamlet. Though the shortest of them all and considered simple and straightforward enough so as to be chosen a typical high school reading, Julius Caesar gives rise to a series of questions that cannot easily be answered. These range from trying to decide who the true hero of the play is, Brutus or Julius Caesar, to whether the hero is a tragic one in the classic sense or not, in what way Shakespeare followed suit or fruitfully betrayed his sources, how to make a historically contextualized reading of the play in order to draw the supposedly many parallels between Rome and Elizabethan England, or the making of a comparative reading between Julius Caesar and Hamlet, as both portray the story of a victim and its killer. Furthermore, as H. Bloom points out, Brutus is difficult to characterize. In fact, his ambiguity is such that some critics have considered it to be the real theme of the play, while others have said that it is “a play about a problem: the difficulty – perhaps the impossibility – of knowing the truth of men and of history”[1]

The aim of this paper is to offer possible answers from the starting point of Shakespeare’s sources. The process is as follows: by analyzing what Shakespeare probably took to be the true facts of the real characters depicted in the play, according to his sources, and then considering how and why he adapted this “truth” to his own interests, we might reach the core of the play. At the same time I will draw parallel lines with what I consider to be a key issue to the understanding of the play: the fact that the characters of Brutus and Hamlet were very closely linked in Shakespeare’s mind and intentions.

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El soneto 73 de Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
   This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Vínculo al análisis de este poema.

Para cercos que se van cerrando, este soneto, acaso uno de los más bellos de la literatura universal. El tiempo va cercando al amor y a sus posibilidades: primero es una estación, luego un día, finalmente las pocas horas de existencia de un fuego. El inevitable acoso de la vida, es decir la muerte, se cierne sobre el poeta que, sin embargo, aún defiende una fortaleza que sabe perdida de antemano. El tiempo concedido -por la vida, por la juventud y la belleza- es cada vez más breve así que carpe diem, venga ese fulgor, y en el ámbito protegido por la voluntaria ignorancia, por el voluntario olvido, ¡arde!

El Rey Lear : la naturaleza como medida de todas las cosas

     A mi modo de ver, y según propone María Lozano Mantecón en su capítulo “El silencio de Lear”, en la obra Encuentros con Shakespeare, la Naturaleza tiene en esta obra un tratamiento inmensamente significativo y singular en comparación con otras obras del Bardo, algo que también destaca Manuel Angel Conejero Dionís-Bayer en su introducción a la edición castellana de la obra hecha por el Instituto Shakespeare para Cátedra, donde remite al estudio de Wolfgang Clemen, “The Development of Shakespeare´s Imagery”, de 1904.shakespeare_w.jpg Llegados a esta fuente, la Naturaleza adquiere dimensión de personaje. Por otra parte, creo que la mayoría de los temas tratados en esta obra y considerados como más relevantes de acuerdo con las corrientes críticas de los últimos veinte años, pueden ilustrarse desde el punto de vista de la Naturaleza, elemento quizás considerado por estas corrientes como demasiado deudor de interpretaciones críticas románticas, impresionistas o humanistas, contra las cuales había que reaccionar. Pero resulta curioso observar cómo esas mismas tendencias críticas ya están siendo, a su vez, atacadas, como demuestra la bastante reciente obra de Harold Bloom, “Shakespeare, la invención de lo humado”, donde se refiere a ellas como críticas del “Resentimiento”. Lo único que lamento es no haber podido acceder, para mi propia instrucción, a la obra de Pilar Hidalgo, “Shakespeare Posmoderno” , que al parecer mejor refleja las limitaciones de la crítica postestructuralista. Así que, al final, he intentado, como sugiere Angeles de la Concha, llegar a una síntesis propia. Lo único que me parece que podría pasarme en la realización del análisis que pretendo es, según dice T. S. Eliot, equivocarme sobre Shakespeare de una manera nueva.

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