Sunday, February 26, 2017

Raymond Chandler and Shakespeare

The Big Sleep

I first read The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Knopf 1939) when I was a teenager, and to be truthful, I didn't like it. I much preferred the whitewashed movie version with Humphrey Bogart (Warner Bros. 1946).

I still like the movie but being much older I can appreciate Chandler's writing.

I was just re-reading The Big Sleep and was struck by a passage from the last chapter when the protagonist, Marlowe speaks of old Gen. Sternwood lying on his deathbed.

'What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.'

These lines reminded me of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 2, when Macbeth is speaking how the murdered Duncan is past caring.

'Duncan is in his grave.
After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.
Treason has done his worst; nor steel nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing
Can touch him further.'
 Raymond Chandler obviously knew his Shakespeare. In Farewell, My Lovely, Chandler's iconic detective, Philip Marlowe (Christopher Marlowe was Shakespeare's greatest contemporary rival)  makes a reference to 'Shakespeare's  Second Murderer in that scene in King Richard III.'
It seems that both Macbeth and Philip Marlowe believe that death is the end of one's life where we do not have to account for anything we have done in this world, and we are safe from any type of consequence. Both of them are quite wrong, of course, and there will be judgement  - The Big Judgement.