“penetrable stuff”

Hamlet, here speaking to his mother:

Leave wringing of your hands. Peace! sit you down,
And let me wring your heart; for so I shall,
If it be made of penetrable stuff;(40)
If damned custom have not braz’d it so
That it be proof and bulwark against sense.

Hamlet felt he could not communicate with his mother, that she was unreachable, because her heart was not made of  “penetrable stuff”.  He then explained why, blaming “damned custom” for having “braz’d” (or, “bronzed”)  her heart so that it be “proof and bulwark against sense” (or feeling).  Hamlet lamented that his mother had been so enculturated with the thought-forms and ideologies of the historical moment that there was nothing else there, there was not any “feeling” which is necessary if there is to be any communication.

Damned custom” insulates us from feeling, from our bodies, and thus from experience.  In fact, it is “proof and bulwark against” feeling.  “Damned custom” is an internalized world view, an “introject” (if I might borrow a term from psychoanalysis) which serves a useful purpose in that it allows us to function in the “real” world.  The problem lies only in failing to mature at some point and realizing…and feeling…that there is another dimension to life that is being missed.

If I might make a bit of a leap, let me quote e e cummings:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

Or, a further leap, to the words of Jesus:

“What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”


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