Culture · Shakespeare

The Time is Out of Joint

“The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!” Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii.

This quotation from Hamlet occurs to me every time we go through this ridiculous exercise of the setting back/forward of the clocks!

Now admittedly Hamlet has a more serious reason to complain than I do. He has, after all, just seen his father’s ghost, who directs him to avenge his murder!  Hamlet likens his situation to a medical emergency. Time has slipped its joint and it’s up to him to reset the bone.

On a personal note, I am nursing just such a shoulder injury. Unbelievable, right? But if it’s true, it doesn’t have to be believable, and this is true.  Now I have to set (reset if you will) the clocks. 

Why do we do this?

 “To save daylight time”


Everybody knows you cannot “save time”— daylight or otherwise. You can’t decide to save some time on a boring day and then use it on frantic day when there’s too much to do. That’s not the way it works.

Once we operated on solar time

When people lived in villages and towns and travel was by by horse and buggy and barge, each town kept its own official time, based on the sun. A prominently placed clock, perhaps in a church steeple, let people know what time it was. But during the 1840s, railroads began crossing over these local time zones. At mid-nineteenth century there were 144 official times in North America! 

The first transcontinental railroad was finished in 1869 and by then need for standard time was pressing. Railroads were using 50 different time standards. If you think traveling is hard now, imagine what it was like then. The clocks on the wall of a large railroad station displayed the current time for the different railroad lines. If you had to make a connection from one line to another, you needed to calculate the difference between the time where you were and the official time of the railroad line you were going to change to, figure out when your train would be leaving, and hope for the best!

In 1869, the time of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Charles Dowd, a professor at Skidmore College, proposed five time zones, each varying by an hour, each zone spreading across 15 degrees of longitude leaping westward from the Greenwich meridian—essentially the same system we have today.

However, Dowd was not an expert and those who were diddled and daddled for 14 years, finally adopting the standard time zones we have today. Dowd never received credit for his idea.

IMO, daylight savings time is a bridge too far.

However, since everybody’s doing it and since I don’t want to be late/early whenever I go somewhere (or for the time being join a Zoom event) I reset the clocks. Except for the one on the kitchen stove. I don’t mess with it. Too hard. But it’s always right six months out of the year. Not a bad average.