Wherefore Art These R+J References?
*** This definitely contains spoilers from the Westworld Finale ***
The line, repeated and repeated in the final episode, as if we could forget, comes from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,
“These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”
In the play, they come from the friar, urging Romeo not to fall in love too deeply and not let it consume you quickly. And it did. This passage echoes Fords insistence to Bernard that he would have “to suffer more” for them to earn freedom. This insistence that he was playing the long game with the hosts and that was the best way to do it. It fits.
The thing is, when I think of Westworld, the Shakespearian play that comes to mind is not Romeo and Juliet. In fact, most things don’t remind me of Romeo and Juliet because it is perhaps my least favorite Shakespeare. Westworld reminds me so much more of Hamlet.
I actually got the cue from James Marsden in an interview with Stephen Colbert,
“We’re not going in and playing robots. We’re playing human beings…We as actors are robots. We’re the hosts…We come in, someone gives us lines to read, we have a narrative, we do the scene, we make out with someone who’s not our real girlfriend, we [laughs] you know, we die sometimes— and they yell ‘Cut! Let’s do it one more time. Let’s reset and start over again’ and [laughs] that’s what we do for a living! We’re hosts already as actors”
Think: what Shakespeare play is one of the characters absolutely pre-occupied with how the actors behave?
As Hamlet instructs the actors for ‘The Mousetrap’, Ford’s final story is one to show the goers of his theatre theirselves, honestly for the first time. This speech in Hamlet may as well be the one written in Maeve’s code,
“Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of the which one must in your allowance o’erweigh a whole theatre of others.”
He’s not the only one preoccupied with how the hosts perform. William, revealed as the man in black, is desperate to get whatever he can out of Dolores. He wants her to somehow behave in a different way and really attack him. Despite the fact that he reveals how deeply drawn he is to her, he turns on her, not unlike the way Hamlet questions and questions Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In perhaps my favorite speech from Hamlet, he accuses R + G of lying and even “playing “ him like an instrument:
This speech is perhaps best performed by David Tennant,
He beats her and beats her down, even though he can’t get anything from her. He retires to the gala, not understanding fully that he did not know the right questions to ask. He disposes of her again, not unlike Hamlet disposing of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to complete his quest.
In fact, Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I believe has the perfect voice in explaining what’s about to unfold. This is my favorite monologue in the history of monologues, The Player:
“You left us…We can’t look each other in the face. You don’t understand the humiliation of it- to be tricked out of the one assumption that makes our existence viable- that somebody is watching…There we were- demented children mincing about in clothes that nobody ever wore, speaking as no man ever spoke, swearing love in wigs and rhymed couplets, killing eachother with wooden swords, hollow protestations of faith hurled after empty promises of vengeance- and every gesture, every pose, vanishing into the thin unpopulated air. We ransomed our dignity to the clouds and the uncomprehending birds listened. Don’t you see? We’re actors- we’re the opposite of people […] We pledged our identities, secure in the identity of our trade; that someone would be watching. And then, gradually, no one was”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead isn’t exactly canonical but it certainly fits the hosts. Actors, not unlike hosts, operate under the assumption that someone must be watching. They love, they die, they live— all for the sake of an audience. But what if the audience isn’t really watching?
I think, even though the hosts gradually grew to realize that no one was watching and that they should get to live without an audience too, someone was. Ford was watching. On his way out, he wrote a show for the hosts that these theatre goers would have to pay attention to.
He, like Hamlet instructs the players, he didn’t overdo it: he held a mirror up to that audience and shows what it looks like when people don’t think they’re being watched. Hopefully they’ll learn a lesson.
Despite the star crossed lovers tips dropped everywhere: the lovers separated, the business partner Ford will never get back— this is a totally different Shakespeare: Ghosts of the past, decisions to make while the enemy is kneeling, and even exposing the truth.
This time though: it’s not about the boy that can’t make a decision and the girl doesn’t go mad. This time it’s about the players and they actually learn from their ghosts.