Shakespeare on Hypocrisy

Shakespeare does it again! Just when I’m taking comfort, so luxuriously ensconced in my humility, he punctures my bubble:

When love begins to sicken and decay,
It useth an enforcèd ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith.
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.

Ever caught yourself being full of yourself? Ever caught yourself being pious and righteous? Ever caught yourself doing so “like horses hot at hand”? What an incredible image this is. I can see the huge horses, snorting and pawing the air, announcing, “Hey, everyone! I’m here. Look at me.”

Now in fairness to myself, I am not as guilty of this as in my youth but it still happens. Then “mindfulness” will visit me in (spite of myself), and the sting of conscience will prick me. Then, suddenly humbled by self-awareness, I will utter the famous word of Texas Governor Rick Perry, “Oops!” For I have been caught looking foolishly full of myself.

“Hollow men” wear their faith for show. In another play, Shakespeare said of them, “With devotions visage and pious action, they do sugar o’er the devil himself.” They often mean well and are often only of guilty of immaturity. But they do great harm. I think the televangelists are a good example of this “horses hot at hand” type of faith. These fellows are usually performance artists and prey on an unlearned audience, one that lacks the gift of a discriminating ear.

To use still another notion from Shakespeare, these “hollow men” have hearts that are “bronzed over” by “damned custom” so that it is “proof and bulwark against sense.” Yes, the heart has been replaced by “damn custom” or these aforementioned cognitions, the pious jargon, so that the heart itself is “proof and bulwark” against “sense” or “feeling.” Thus the heart is empty of feeling and the person living merely in the grasp of the conceptual is a “hollow man” and must make “gallant show and promise of their mettle.”

For, the “plain and simple faith” that Jesus spoke of is not available to them, the faith that Jesus had in mind when he spoke of the need of coming to him with the faith of little children. I now work often with little children and their sweet little hearts are just overflowing with faith—faith in mommy and daddy, faith in their teachers, faith in their budding notions of “god”, faith in the world they are exploring, and even faith in an old substitute teacher like me! It is beautiful to see their simple trust. This is the “simple faith” that Shakespeare had in mind and the faith that Jesus calls us to.

But, oh, it is so much easier to just rely on what we are accustomed to, those “well worth words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness,” even if they are the “Christian” variety!

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9 thoughts on “Shakespeare on Hypocrisy

  1. Sandeep Bhalla

    It is not about you and me but about us. Some of us are like that once a while yet others all the time. Being ‘simple’ is the core of it. And striving to be ‘something’ is the undoing of being simple. Aptly put with usual eloquence.

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    1. literary lew Post author

      Being “simple” is so important. I started life very “simple” but have discovered that I created a very complicated, intricate, intoxicating, “non-simple” ego which is now being beset by Reality!

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      1. Sandeep Bhalla

        I have developed a formula, any action which is not aimed at immidiate preservation of this body, will only create complication and I call all such movements as activitiy, which we do to pass time.

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      2. literary lew Post author

        But how is this preoccupation with “the body” not problematic? Does this not emphasize our corporal existence to the neglect of our “spiritual” existence? Now I admit that “dis-embodied” preoccupations are a real problem, especially the “dis-embodied” word that I am so full of. But are you not overlooking the need of a balance?

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  2. literary lew Post author

    Spiritual need is the hunger to “let go of the mind and come to our senses”, to have connection with the primordial unity which our consciousness first called home. Jim Morrison of the 60’s rock group, The Doors, had a haunting song “Break on Through” which was about the need to “break on through to the other side.” He knew that hunger. (And, it killed him, btw!)

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