February 6, 2013

Brevity is the soul of wit – and lingerie...


WILLY’S SUBTLY WITTY APHORISM ABOUT WIT:

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” 
       William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
       British playwright and poet
       Famous phrase spoken by the character Polonius in Act 2, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet (c. 1602)
       Polonius, the chief counselor to Hamlet’s nemesis King Claudius, is a pompous windbag. So, although this aphorism is often used with serious intent, Shakespeare was originally making a joke of it by having the words spoken by Polonius.
       In fact, they’re embedded in an example of Polonius’ bloviating manner of speaking, which is anything but brief and to the point.
       After spying on Hamlet for King Claudius and Queen Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother), Polonius reports:
           “This business is well ended.
            My liege, and madam, to expostulate
            What majesty should be, what duty is,
            Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
            Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
            Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
            And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
            I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
            Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
            What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
            But let that go.” 
       Alas, poor Polonius pays a heavy price for spying on Hamlet. While hiding behind a tapestry, he is stabbed to death by the brooding Prince, who thinks he’s killing Claudius.

       Prior to that, in Act 1, Scene 2, Polonius utters two other lines that have come to be repeated as proverbial words of wisdom: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” and “To thine own self be true.” In Act 2, Scene 2, while talking to Hamlet, he speaks a famous aside to the audience about Hamlet's apparent crazy talk
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t” — the origin of the idiom “a method in one’s madness.”


DOROTHY PARKER’S WITTY VARIATION:

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”
       Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
       American writer and critic  
       One of her most frequently quoted wisecracks, made famous when mentioned by her fellow Algonquin Round Table member, Alexander Woollcott, in his book While Rome Burns (1934)
       Parker created this quip around 1916, while working as a caption writer for Vogue magazine. It was part of a caption she wrote for a photo spread about women’s undergarments. As noted by several books about Parker, the full caption was: “From these foundations of the autumn wardrobe, one may learn that brevity is the soul of lingerie, as the Petticoat said to the Chemise.” 


WHY DOROTHY’S VARIATION IS WITTY:

“Impropriety is the soul of wit.”
       W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
       British novelist
       An oft-cited quote from his novel The Moon and Sixpence (1919)


WHEN BREVITY IS NOT THE BEST POLICY:

“Brevity may be the soul of wit, but not when someone’s saying ‘I love you’. When someone’s saying ‘I love you,’ he always ought to give a lot of details: Like, Why does he love you? And, How much does he love you? And, When and where did he first begin to love you?”
       Judith Viorst
       American journalist, poet and book author
       In her book Love and Guilt and the Meaning of Life, Etc. (1987)


RAY BRADBURY’S VARIATION:

“Digression is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones.”
       Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)
       American novelist, short story writer and screenwriter
       Comment made in a special Coda he wrote for the 1979 Del Rey edition of his dystopian novel about censorship and book burning, Fahrenheit 451 (originally published in 1953) 
       Bradbury’s Coda expresses his distaste any efforts to censor or otherwise change what an author wrote, including digest versions of books that cut out parts of the original text deemed “unnecessary.” Such condensations, says Bradbury, show “there is more than one way to burn a book.” 

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