[TECHNote: if the quotation mark formatting below appears malformed, try manually selecting "unicode" character encoding.  Mr. Marcus and I have been working to correct the problem, but I'm not sure we have succeeded. ~SB]

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Hamlet
Date: Sat, 4 Aug 2012 14:45:47 -0700
From: Mike Marcus <mmkcm@COMCAST.NET>
CC: Mike Marcus <mmkcm@COMCAST.NET>

Mike M writes:

Near the start of Part I, Chapter 8 of ADA, Van and Ada are encouraged to fraternize, as it were:
"...and under the pretext of picking
up a fir cone he disengaged his hand. He threw the cone at a
woman of marble bending over a stamnos but only managed
to frighten a bird that perched on the brim of her broken
“There is nothing more banal in the world,” said Ada, “than
pitching stones at a hawfinch.“
“Sorry,” said Van, “I did not intend to scare that bird. But
then, I’m not a country lad, who knows a cone from a stone.
What games, au fond, does she expect us to play?”
“Je l’ignore,” replied Ada. “I really don’t care very much how
her poor mind works. Cache-cache, I suppose, or climbing trees.”
“Oh, I’m good at that,” said Van, “in fact, I can even

Firstly, an allusion to / parody of a famous phrase in Hamlet, who is feigning madness:
"I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw." Handsaw means heron.

Nabokov has "hawfinch ....... who knows a cone from a stone".
The phrase "not a country lad" probably suggests a contrast with Shakespeare's Warwickshire origins (we are told).

In his indispensable annotations Boyd writes of the hawfinch:
"D. Barton Johnson notes it as one of three birds (the others are bulbul and nightingale) associated with Percy de Prey (Johnson 2000)." In my first posting I mentioned that in Pale Fire, Harfar Baron of Shalksbore / Curdy Buff referred to Vere, Earl of Oxford, curdy buff = coeur de boeuf, ox heart; also that Percy de Prey in ADA was assigned the identical epithet, coeur de boeuf, so he too was Vere. If Johnson is right about the association, the blasphemous conclusion is that Vere and Hamlet are in conjunction. I haven't seen his essay, but you can see why "Ox" might align with "bul", or indeed "bul".

Secondly, Van can perform like an ape (brachiate). Actors used to be called apes, for their ability to mimic. Hamlet was something of an actor.


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