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; aye, 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, [F: these Fardels]
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 remember’d. (3.1.56-91)
Hamlet. A character riddled with – somewhat – good intentions and a heart set on avenging his father’s death at the hands of his uncle, may have a thing or two to say about honor and certainty. Maybe not good things, but useful things nonetheless. Hamlet plays his revenge plot safely, so safe in fact, it seems at some points he has no intentions of carrying out his homicidal justice against Claudius at all. This is because he’s scared to. Hamlet doesn’t know if he should do his father’s bidding and avenge his death at the cost of irrevocable repercussions; his relationships, his family, and his chance to rule Denmark, or just let it ride and defy his dead father’s wishes. This indecisiveness causes Hamlet to destroy himself alongside other characters by the end of the play. We’ve chosen Hamlet because not only is he is a perfect example of how not to go about restoring honor and certainty in one’s life, but he’s also a good testament of the very non-fictional consequences of the fear and indecisiveness that derive from this struggle, thus crushing responsibility as a whole.
Creative Piece 1:
The murderer is worthless without their victim
A king is nameless without his kingdom
An emperor is powerless without his empire
And the rich man
What is a rich man without the vain of the indigent to look upon?
And yet they still all resign to complacency
For when faced with their responsibility
The plain which their honour is borne
The murderer looks upon their victim
As the king looks to his kingdom
The king does for his kingdom
As the emperor for his imperium
The emperor speaks to his imperium
As the rich man speaks to the indigent
And the rich man would speak to the indigent
And consign the latter’s voice
For they all hear in it-
A murderer to its victim
A king to its kingdom
An emperor to its dominion
The rich to the indigent-
A rectitude lost beneath obligation
Appraisal lost beneath obloquy
Favourable, but only after the fact
Though yet still
The murderer kills their victim
A king desecrates their kingdom
The emperor rules their empire
And the rich man scoffs to the indigent
For conscious makes cowards of them all
– Liam Grey
For conscious makes cowards of us all. My favourite line from Hamlet’s soliloquy, I had to include it in my creative piece. I think that the soliloquy can not only represent Hamlet’s character, but also a good summation of the entire play. It encapsulates fear, indecisiveness, honour, and certainty, and ties them all together in a brilliant, albeit grammatically uninviting monologue. The intentions behind this poem were to grasp the finer concepts that those themes entailed, particularly the theme of indecisiveness. I’ve tried to draw parallels between a figure in power, and a figure comparatively powerless, or in need of power. The murderer to its victim, the king to his kingdom, etc… All to provide analogies more or less to the conflict that Hamlet faces with his father’s spirit. The struggle not to restore honour and certainty, but more the struggle between honour and certainty, and how fear is the instigator between that struggle. Hamlet, during the play, holds the advantage over Claudius for many key parts of the play, yet this power doesn’t seem to equal control. Hamlet dogs the opportunities he has to kill Claudius, because he knows there will be crushing consequences. Every murderer (almost) are caught, every King is dethroned, every Empire is usurped, and every rich man loses his riches eventually. This fear of consequence causes inaction and indecisiveness, that can almost always be more deadly than the consequences of the action itself. The murderer will murder their victim, the king will rule their kingdom, the emperor, their empire, the rich man will allow the indigent to exist- and Hamlet will kill Claudius- not before killing himself and destroying the lives of three other people in the process. The struggle between fear- the fear of losing everything, the fear of his father’s ghost- and certainty- knowing that honor can be restored by taking vengeance against Claudius (or at least having been told)- keep poor Hamlet, as it probably would anywhere else, fostering his crushing indecisiveness. To this, conscious makes cowards of them all. They seek the honour and certainty, but are held back by the humanity of what they must do.
Creative Piece 2:
Imagine the following scene; you wake up one morning with a horrible headache, suddenly, the sound of your pounding head is in tune with the ferocious pounding to the beat of yesterday’s peculiar events. Now, imagine a black figure, the exact one in the picture above; that figure is the embodiment of your fear. The figure is constantly trailing after you – forever in your conscience – too close for comfort but too far out of reach. You can imagine how terrifying this would be. This is the experience Hamlet had; waking up to a horrible nightmare – a shadow of doubt trailing after him with his every move – after encountering his late father’s ghost. Hamlet knew his duty that was assigned by his father, he knew what he had to do, but he had fear; fear of the unknown, and the consequences that would result in his actions – this lead to his indecisive decisions. I chose to use the format above because visuals can evoke deep set emotions. The shadow is sulking behind in a forbidding, dark, and unsettling environment; by contrasting the colours black and white, the picture becomes hazy and unfamiliar, forcing the audience to unwantingly place themselves in the situation. One can feel empathy for Hamlet for they were forced to envision themselves in the situation, by doing so, they can realize how terrifying it was to be in Hamlet’s shoes.
Given Hamlet’s worsening resolve from the beginning of the play to the very end, it isn’t hard to imagine someone like you or I buckling under the pressure Hamlet almost withstood. The struggle to restore honour and certainty may seem a respectable endeavor, however, the liability of completing that quest becomes questionable when the honour in question pertains to stories told by a ghost. Given the circumstance of the play,the fact of ghosts may not be the deciding factor in Hamlet’s indecisiveness, more likely it was the mere fact of what that ghost told him he had to do to regain honour and certainty. Again, the struggle between honour and certainty is the hardest struggle. As it has been stated before, restoring one won’t restore the other, thus it becomes a matter of which one is more valuable. This is the distinction Hamlet is unable to make. He makes mistakes when they matter, and good decisions when they don’t. His struggle highlights the worst parts of what honour and certainty breed. The lack of honour blinds certainty, and without certainty there is indecisiveness, and without decisiveness there is destruction. Shakespeare is, at the end of the day, more than just art or creativity, but an alternative study of the human condition. As of now, we’ve mostly only analyzed the artistic side of Hamlet’s folly, so going forward, we’re going to be looking at real-life instances of how the conflict between honour and certainty that Hamlet endured breeds deadly indecisiveness.
Dealing with these aspects is much more common in society than we think. Throughout my life, in an aspect like Hamlet, I fear decision making; I am uncertain about the choices I make now for they could change my future forever. Although my life isn’t nearly as dramatic and eventful as Hamlet’s, decision making that is placed upon me educational wise this year makes me extremely uncertain; I fear that if I make the wrong choice or get the bad grades, that’ll decrease my honour as a individual. Furthermore, contending loyalties – loyalties that clash together – plays a part in our society. It is important to uphold complete support for what one honours, this could be a religion and it’s rules, but there are instances when our society compels the individual to make unholy and scandalous decisions against their religion or faith, such as requirements to for a job. This can cause uncertainty in choosing a loyalty to pursue, resulting in the individual to fear the consequences. An instance of this was in *Washington, U.S.A in 2016. A woman wearing a hijab working at a dental clinic was told to take off her scarf by the owner, she was given an ultimatum – she could continue to wear the scarf and be fired or work without it. The woman chose to keep it on, this got her fired from her job. This example in recent history makes us as a nation wonder, if we have to face fear and uncertainty when dealing with conflicting honour, where did we go wrong?
We can all live vicariously through Hamlet’s struggle. The idea of “taking risks” namely is something that we can all relate to in some way or another. A lot of us have been told that we must take risks to succeed, and though that is true, it is easier said than done, and sometimes being on the perpetual cusp of a risk is more harmful than actually taking that risk. We see that Hamlet, through his struggle to restore honor to his father, makes many glaring mistakes, miscalculations, and misses a lot of the opportunities he has to kill Claudius, and supposedly restore honor to his name. Though he has been told by the ghost of his very father that he must do it, he still struggles. He hesitates to kill Claudius when he sees him, despite the fact that he is clearly willing to kill Claudius when he suspects him hiding behind the curtains. He ends up killing an innocent man, Polonius and inadvertently his daughter, Ophelia. He hesitates, he doubts, he questions, he reconsiders; he’s indecisive. And other people paid for it. Hamlet, in this light, can be seen as a cautionary tale of the dangers of indecisiveness. The best takeaway regarding life skills I believe isn’t to do with honor and certainty, but rather certainty of honor. You must be 100% sure that what you are doing to restore honor, or what you believe to be honor, is right to you, because if you don’t truly believe what you are doing is right you will doubt yourself, and from that doubt will grow fear, and from fear, you become indecisive- and you will do nothing but harm – for you and everyone around you.
In ending, fear is the very substance prohibiting an intellectual from accomplishing one’s heart’s desire; you, me, and even Hamlet have suffered from its consequences. Hamlet – scared to take action for his kingdom as a result of the indecisiveness to obey his uncle and fulfill his duties, or to revenge his father’s death – carves the perfect path towards his own death; showing the audience the faulty route to take. The underlying truth in his heroic story facilitates the underlying truth in many of our lives; the question we ask ourselves is not the damned, “To be or not to be?” Rather, it should be “How do we live presently while we’re here?” The first question is strung around two choices; life or death, fearing both life and death. A life is not a life until you have lived. The latter of the two questions show you how to live, to be present is not to be narrowed down to two choices, it’s to make multiple choices – no matter how uncertain one is. This is the glory to be alive.
Fear is the very substance prohibiting an intellectual from accomplishing one’s heart’s desire; however, to be alive and to overcome, allows a floodgate of rewards and opportunities. Oh, how glorious it is to be alive.
Who Did What?
Liam: Opening paragraph. Creative Piece #1, Explanatory paragraph #1, Transition paragraph, & Insight paragraph.
Judy: Quotation, Creative Piece #2, Explanatory paragraph #2, Personal Connection paragraph, & Conclusion.
Sources/ Image Credits:
“Clara Lieu: Scars that Speak & Wading.” Pinterest, Pinterest, 6 Dec. 2012, www.pinterest.ca/pin/178173728979446778/.
Guimarães, Miguel. “Poom, Illustrations of Explosive Color Obscuring a Person’s Face.” Pinterest, Pinterest, 18 July 2013, www.pinterest.ca/pin/485614772290795609/?lp=true.
“Instagram post by TJ Kirk • Nov 13, 2017 at 4:37am UTC.” Instagram, Officialamazingatheist, 13 Nov. 2017, www.instagram.com/p/BbbBkqalNn7/?hl=en&taken-by=officialamazingatheist.
*Pti. “Muslim woman fired from work for wearing hijab in U.S.” The Hindu, The Hindu, 7 Aug. 2016, www.thehindu.com/news/international/Muslim-woman-fired-from-work-for-wearing-hijab-in-U.S./article14556876.ece.