Monday, August 6, 2012

The Prince of Denmark and the Temple of Doom

2B or not 2B - not a pencil question.

So, turns out my friend Kerryn has a long running love affair with the Prince of Denmark. Not the one Mary married (whatsisname...? Frederik?! Is that it...?), the other one, the confused and confusing, slightly bloodthirsty, possibly oedipal one. Hamlet.

I can totally understand this.

Not only because Hamlet is a fine artwork that mirrors life (most murder victims have been done in by family members, and the secondary victims (ie, the rest of the family), are deeply and irrevocably affected by the tragedy, and twice as likely to commit the same act themselves), which is of course, the best kind (we'll have to have THAT argument later if you think art should be fantastical and not like life at all. What planet do you live on?! And how are you defining fantasy anyway?!!). But also because the PofD is a great example of the philosophical and psychological depth of Shakespearian tragedies, with layer upon layer of ethical, epistemological and ontological questions raised and explored. LOVE IT!!

For eg, the famous/infamous 2B speech.

Besides the first line, which frankly, is all most of us know, it is worthwhile to read the soliloquy over again to catch the rest of it:

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,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor's wrong, the proud man's Contumely, [F:poor]
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay, [F:disprized]
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment, [F:pith]
With this regard their Currents turn awry[F:away]
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons
Be all my sins remembered. [2]

One of the first things you should notice are the other phrases that have worked their way into the vernacular and firmly remained there almost 400 years later. Not just "to be or not to be", but also, "to sleep, perchance to dream", "shuffle off this mortal coil"and perhaps you may recognise "thus conscience does make cowards of us all" and "the undiscovered country". At least one thing you can learn from Shakespeare is how to understand The West Wing better.

Anyway, can't you feel the weight and worthiness of these words?!

Maybe it'll help you as it helped me to learn that being is a verb. This will make every proper scholar of English frown in consternation, buuuuuuut, it took first year Koine Greek at Bible college for me to learn that I am, be, being etc are VERBS. So, from the very beginning, Hamlet is asking, "to exist/live/breath/carry on existing or not?" And so from there unfolds the dilemmas involved in answering this question.

This soliloquy is an incredible way to express weariness at the calamities of life, the desire for death and yet the fear of it, the wondering of what lies beyond and the impact that your answer to that question has on your interpretation of your current experience and your choice of action.

Do you think nothing lies beyond? If so, you're probably more willing to risk and chance at what may come in this life than sleep and waste it. But if you're hoping for something beyond the grave, AND this life becomes too overwhelming, then suicide becomes a rational act to contemplate, as one way of solving your problems and moving on to something better.

However, all the horror, anger, shock, rage, sadness, confusion, distress and heartache that surrounds self-murder demonstrates that rationality is not the most important category of decision making.

The most painful barb that works its way into the flesh and cannot be removed is the knowledge of the volition, the act of the will needed by your loved one, to choose this method of resolution for their troubles.

'Why' is the question asked longest. Long after 'how', 'what', 'where' and 'when' have all been answered and discarded, 'why' stays.

Having been on the receiving end (so to speak...) of two suicides in my family, I know the question never goes away. Pure rationality cannot answer it, because in the cold light of a philosophical equation, the problem with suicide is that it can be made to make 'sense'.

But the sheer nonsense of it, the horrific absurdity is the overturning of every other factor in the calculation. Familial love squared. Hope multiplied by assistance equals...

In the end, poor Ophelia is the only one who casts herself into the river, never to resurface in this world again.

In a dramatic sense, she is the flipside of Hamlet's decision to take up arms. She is the other option he's pondered and given himself.

Of course, both end up dead, as we all do (and hey, this is tragedy people! Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern kick the bucket!), but one of the many questions Hamlet's soliloquy raises is 'whose death was nobler?' nobility being a sister of righteousness. 

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