"The thing is, if you just do stuff, and nothing happens, what's it all mean?"

Monday, December 9, 2013

Shakespeare and Breaking Bad

“We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”
-Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Of all the over-arching themes within the increasingly expanding network of Breaking Bad criticism, the series' connection to the plays of Shakespeare strikes a strong cord in the cacophonous symphony of my preexisting literary obsessions.

To limit my high highfalutin ramblings (there's already enough Shakespearean rhetoric tossed throughout the site,...and at the bottom of this post I'll keep a series of links to other articles about the connections), the post will be reserved as a running reserve of pertinent Shakespearean epigraph(ic)s.

While it may take a bit to do this properly, I'll begin listing each episode, and will provide a passage from Shakespeare that seems pertinent and elucidating. In sketching out the connections, this section will serve a dual purpose in by also exploring the meanings behind each episode title. "The Name of the Rose" being a refutation to believing that flowers would smell just as sweet under arbitrary classifications; the titles serving as narrative encapsulators, with just as much craft behind them as with the other aspects of the writing.

Season 1

-1x01 "Pilot"

-"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"
 - Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

To cook, or not to cook....?

This oft tread beginning of Hamlet's famous existential soliloquy seems a good place to start, since the primary questions of Breaking Bad dealt with the choices Walter White made when faced to the immanency of his own finite mortality mortality.

Like Hamlet, Walt weighs his angst and sorrow against the passivity of uncertainty (Walt's ambivalence becomes Heisenbergian; but still often maintains the theological deepness of Hamlet's ponderings). Hamlet was literally considering suicide, whereas in the pilot episode Walt has to consider a choice that may destroy his soul. Hamlet's choice was about death over life (as Camus famously treated, this is the only real philosophical question), but Walt's a choice about transformation in the face of his demise; yet both concerned with what develops after decay.

 Hamlet holds a bodkin and gives his speech while alone in the hollow caverns of a castle; while Walt's analogous moment occurs silently by the metaphoric swimming pool of a backyard. Each burning matchstick a potential catalyst to his choice to resist "outrageous fortune" and attempt to oppose his "sea of troubles."



Season 2

2x08 "Better Call Saul" 

-The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
(2 Henry VI, 4.2.59), Dick the Butcher to Jack Cade

2x09, "4 Days Out"
2x10, "Over"
2x11, "Mandala"
2x12, "Phoenix"

-My ashes, as the phoenix, may bring forth
A bird that will revenge upon you all: 
And in that hope I throw mine eyes to heaven,
Scorning whate'er you can afflict me with.
3 Henry VI (1.4.35-8)

2x13, "ABQ" 

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
-Richard III

Season 3

-3x08 "I.C.U. "The world is still deceived with ornament. 
In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt, 
But, being seasoned with a gracious voice, 
Obscures the show of evil? 
(The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.80), 

3x10 "FLY" Gloucester:

I' th' last night's storm I such a fellow saw,
Which made me think a man a worm. My son
Came then into my mind, and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him. I have heard more
As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,
They kill us for their sport.
King Lear Act 4, scene 1, 32–37

Season 4 


Season 5

"Rabid Dog,"
Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent: 
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, 
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At game, a-swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in't;
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damn'd and black 
As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays:
This physic but prolongs thy sickly days. 
Hamlet (3.3.77)

5x15, "Granite State" 

"Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men's lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To cheque time broke in a disorder'd string;
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me"
-Richard II, V.v5.5 43-49

5x16 "Felina" 

-"Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 

As I foretold you, were all spirits and 
Are melted into air, into thin air: 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vexed.
Bear with my weakness. My old brain is troubled.
Be not disturbed with my infirmity.
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose. A turn or two I'll walk
To still my beating mind." 

-Tempest, IV.i, 146-162

"Breaking Bad's Shakespearean Final Act," Salon 
"How Shakespeare would end Breaking Bad," The Atlantic
How Breaking Bad Broke Free of the Clockwork-Universe Problem," The A.V. Club

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