Entry 7: Old Dog- How did I get this far, shamelessly dropping famous names, wherever possible, across a half-dozen entries without mentioning Shakespeare? OK- it’s time.
Let’s not mess around, but leap to the greatest play of them all, Hamlet, and leap, also, into the grave of the fair Ophelia who, driven mad with her love for Hamlet, has drowned herself. We see the Danish prince struggling with her brother, Laertes, who has his hands around Hamlet’s throat. Laertes, is mad with grief, blaming Hamlet for her death.
From a distance they seem to be engaged in a macabre dance which brings to mind other connotations of the phrase “mess around” with Ray Charles singing Ah, you can talk about the pit, barbecue/The band was jumpin’, the people too/Ah, mess around/They doin’ the mess around. But that’s neither here nor there and I can hear you saying- hey, where’s the blank verse of Shakespeare we were expecting? Fair enough, now where were we?
Ah yes, in the grave with the two men fighting. Hamlet says to Laertes, What is the reason that you use me thus? /I loved you ever. But it is no matter. /Let Hercules himself do what he may, / The cat will mew and dog will have his day. Human relationships…it’ll do your head in! And talking about heads…not long before the kerfuffle with Laertes, Hamlet had been talking to a gravedigger who was holding a skull he had just dug up.
You all know the scene, Hamlet takes the skull, which is that of the court jester of his boyhood, and declaims Alas, poor Yorrick, I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest…Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?…Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that. People can be unpleasant. Wasn’t it Sartre who said- Hell is other people?
Give me a dog any day! Well, at times I feel like that…and anyway, what does it mean when you say that a dog will have his day? Two interpretations are common: first, that even the most powerless among us will get revenge one day (which seems to me to be another example of the triumph of hope over experience). The other popular meaning is that we will all experience good fortune at some time in our lives. But even the relatively uncomplicated universe of dogs is a place of conundrum and contradiction:
To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.” Milan Kundera.
Or: Heaven goes by favour. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. Mark Twain.
But: Throw a stick, and the servile dog wheezes and pants and stumbles to bring it to you Do the same before a cat, and he will eye you with coolly polite and somewhat bored amusement. And just as inferior people prefer the inferior animal which scampers excitedly because someone else wants something, so do superior people respect the superior animal which lives its own life and knows that the puerile stick-throwings of alien bipeds are none of its business and beneath its notice.… H. P. Lovecraft.
So, which side are you on?
Or, would you agree with Winston Churchill: I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. For my part, I’ve never had a pig as a pet, although, being a huge fan of the Blandings castle tales of P.G Wodehouse, I fantasise that were I ever to inherit a stately pile in Shropshire, I, too, would have a majestic pig just like the Empress to cosset, pamper and primp in preparation for the fat pig section of the county fair in hopes of taking out the coveted silver medals. Chances are though, on the pet front- I’ll remain pigless. I’ve had cats and dogs as pets over the years and have appreciated the qualities of each.
Every dog will have his day, and my last pet, a miniature fox terrier, we named Maggs after the Peter Carey character who, in turn, was based on the Charles Dickens’ character Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations. Lots of people go to Dickens for dog names: Barley, Browdie, Dodger, Duff, Granger, Jasper, Nubbles, Fluff- that last one I made up for the euphony. But the rest are suggested as suitable labels for our canine companions. For ten years Maggs kept the family company before succumbing to heart problems. My grief for the dog was real and on his final day, I sat on the back step listening to his laboured breathing, watching the stars come out, stroking his bony head and recalling Hopkin’s Spring and Fall:
Margaret, are you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving/Now no matter child the name/Sorrow’s springs are the same/Ah as the heart grows older/It will come to such sights colder/It is the blight man was born for/It is Margaret you mourn for.