Monday, June 30, 2008

Poem fo the Week 7/1/2008: To be or not to be

from Hamlet, Act III Scene I

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 heartache, 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,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' 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 enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

William Shakespeare

One of the most (if not the most) quoted lines of all of Shakespeare struck me the other morning as one of the central questions of all existence, TO be or not to be. That is the question. That is the question. Why? Because it begs of us to consider why we are here, whether life is worth living, what life is, what keeps us here... What does? Just a fear of the afterlife and of the unknown, which would be almost pathetic (though perhaps nonetheless accurate at times)...*

The suicide question is perhaps the explicit, and even intended, meaning of the passage, but when it flashed to me, it seemed to be asking about To Sleep, Perchance to Dream. Death as sleep, the unknowingness of sleep, and that waking up and living might really demand that we face the "slings and arrows of existence," the "thousand natural shocks" that come to us daily. And why choose to be that? Is it nobler to suffer those things, nobler in the mind? TO be or not to be. To awake and suffer, or to sleep and dream?

Thus conscience makes cowards of us all, facing the ills we have. And why does Shakespeare write about conscience here? It is so lost from modern language, modern understanding of man--guilt is something to be expiated, but perhaps it has a taste of the other side of knowledge, perhaps it knows something more than we think that we know? Who are we? And why are we here? Should we choose to stay)?

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