Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To Be, or Not To Be?

By Chester Campbell

Now, that's a question. While trying to decide what to write about today, this phrase came to mind: To blog, or not to blog? Thinking about where that came from, I realized how much of everyday speech we derive from literature. I looked up Hamlet's soliloquy and those once-familiar lines I had memorized in high school seventy years ago spread rhythmically down the page:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? 

Farther down the quote from Hamlet's soliloquy I found other familiar sayings like perchance to dream and ay, there's the rub. Then there's shuffled off this mortal coil.

While writing this, my wife told our grandson to do something and he said a loud, "No." When she repeated it, he began the old "why, why?" To which I replied rather automatically, "Yours not to reason why, yours but to do or die."

So where did that come from? I began ruminating around in my mind and remembered it had to do with the Crimean War. I found it in The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson. The correct quote is:

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die.

If we use such quotations in a mystery, are they cliches? I use a few in my Sid Chance  books as part of his character. His mother was an American Literature major who taught high school English. She named him Sidney Lanier Chance after the Southern poet of the late nineteenth century. He occasionally comes out with an appropriate quote, which he is then forced to relate to its author. It isn't original, of course. There have been other literature-quoting PI's, but at least mine has a good excuse.

Do you feel that familiar quotations should be avoided in mystery writing, or do you agree with how Shakespeare might have put it: Much ado about nothing?

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6 comments:

Ben Small said...

Cliche. Unless as a prequel to a section, where it may have some plot or plot-metaphysical relevancy.

larry said...

I don't think use of a personality trait can be cliche. In the case you laid out, such quotations are part of him in the same way that a woodworker would admire fine furniture, an artist may use sketches to describe things, or an engineer be hyperlogical in their thought patterns. We wouldn't say that James Bond's affinity for the ladies is cliche; it's who he is.

Jaden Terrell said...

I think the quotes work for Sid. The ones he knows and chooses to use tell us something about him and give him depth.

Bill Kirton said...

I have a friend who always gets quotations and clich├ęs slightly wrong - 'running the gambit of emotions', 'that's a mute point', 'if the cat fits' - that sort of thing. I've always thought that would be an interesting trait for one of my characters.

Chester Campbell said...

Wish I'd thought of that, Bill. Sounds like a good idea. If the shoe fits, write about it.

Bill Kirton said...

Or, as racing driver Nigel Mansell once put it, 'The proof of the pudding is in the clock'