Tag Archives: Hamlet

“Like Kittens Given Their Own Tails to Tease”

Vaclav Havel was a playwright, poet, and artist who became the first president of the Czech Republic in 1992 after helping lead a successful revolution against the Communists.  His involvement in politics was not the route that most men of his artistic persuasion would follow but his voracious reading in religion and the arts led him to action, not idle thought, or as pointed out recently in the Times Literary Supplement, “working for social and political improvement, not for glory, but to put his soul in order.”  Havel had a hunger in the heart that led him into the ethereal, even the occult, but he also was grounded in reality and recognized that the lure of intellectual and spiritual escapism must not be allowed to capture him.  He recognized that passion, that as Hamlet put it, “the native hue of resolution, sicklie’d o’er with the pale cast of thought…(would)…lose the name of action.”  Or, to put it in New Testament words, “Faith without action is dead.” (This was from a book review of “Vaclav Havel” by Kieran Williams.)

Havel lived through social and political turmoil in his youth during the Communist Revolution when his comfortably ensconced family suffered loss of wealth and status making the young Havel “self-conscious about his social origin.”  This “self-consciousness” produced what the book reviewer, Lesley Chamberlain, described as “productive friction” in his soul which simultaneously created or affirmed a belief in a soul and the insight that engagement in the human endeavor was an important part of “putting his soul in order.”  This “productive friction” will not take place in anyone’s life without some unsettling experience at some point in life as otherwise one will just bumble along life’s way comfortably ensconced in one’s view of the world, like “kittens given their tail to tease,” as Goethe put it.

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Shakespearean Wisdom for Trump

Shakespeare’s sonnets were probably the key to the birth of “literary lew” in the mid-eighties.  A friend gave me a copy of the Bard’s sonnets and my confinement in a linear world began to crack immediately, a “cracking” which continues! I remember Leonard Cohen telling us in song,  “There’s a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in.”

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 16 begins with, “As an unperfect actor on the stage of life, who with his fear is put beside his part…”  Shakespeare saw through us all.  He did this because he saw through himself and realized that in so doing he had insight to the human predicament, that we are merely actors on a stage playing some role that we were given early in life.  His grasp of the human heart is a gift that some poets have, a gift eloquently put into words by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) who wrote, “The poet, in whose mighty heart, heaven hath a quicker pulse imparted, subdues that energy to scan, not his own heart but that of man.”

Shakespeare’s literary gift to the ages is a scanning of the heart.  With modern technological wizardry, we can “scan” the physical heart in ways that Shakespeare could have never imagined but our modern mental wizardry cannot “scan” the heart like Shakespeare did.  For Shakespeare knew that the heart was something intricately subtle and complex, so much so that most people live their lives without any awareness of having one, or at least without any awareness of its infinite depths.  And, it is the experience of “infinite depths” that introduces one to the spiritual realm which people usually prefer to avoid, opting for words instead of the essential realm that words point to.  Infinity is scary which is why T. S. Eliot declared, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality” for in the depths of our heart we are intrinsically aware of this infinity…and, therefore, our mortality.

The social contract is the stage that Shakespeare put on the table for us. This contract is best illustrated for us in today’s world by Donald Trump who flagrantly disregards this contract, refusing simple rules of civility and decorum on the “playground” that we all play on.  Most of us very early opted to “make nice” with each other in return for the knowledge that others would reciprocate.  This “making nice” is upon closer scrutiny, insincere in some fashion as beneath the surface we chafe under the daily grind and would prefer the disinhibition of a tragic figure like our President.  On some level I think that is why so many of the “low-information voters” pledged their troth to him for they sorely resent on some level the lack of freedom that the “social contract” they have signed imposes upon them.

Some hypothesized that perhaps the office that Trump was assuming would modify his whimsical and capricious nature, that he would begin to “act” Presidential as ordinarily one must.  But this ability to “act” to fulfill any role on the playground requires a deep-seated, heart-level restraint that some people lack. Shakespeare described Macbeth penchant for acting out as being wont to “crown his thoughts with acts,” noting later that, “He cannot buckle his distempered (or swollen) cause within the belt of rule.”  Shakespeare knew that some men could not “subdue” or harness the energy referred to in the Arnold poem quoted above.  Shakespeare knew that dark energy of that sort, unleashed, was dangerous to all.

If we could only get Trump see the wisdom of Shakespeare’s advice, through the mouth of Hamlet:

Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery,
That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either [ ] the devil, or throw him out
With wondrous potency. 

 

 

Shakespearean Wisdom for This Moment

Hamlet is perhaps my favorite Shakespearean character.  He was such a sad, tragic figure allowing what Eckhart Tolle would call his “pain body” to tyrannize him, often moping about the castle with his nose in a book trying to escape through literature.  At one point his mother, Gertrude, noted of him, “Look yonder, the poor wretch comes reading.”

Each of Shakespeare’s characters revealed a glimpse into his own heart and how he saw the world of his day.  Hamlet’s famous lamentation, “The world is out of joint. O cursed spite that I was born to set it right” revealed that in Shakespeare’s astute judgment his world was pretty well “out of joint” and probably always had been.  With Hamlet’s arrogant claim of responsibility to “set it right”, I think Shakespeare was pointing out the silliness and arrogance of anyone thinking he could “set it right.”

Shakespeare was clearly an idealist and had keen understanding of the heart of man leading him to describe our collective machinations as “a tale told by an idiot” on one occasion.  This wisdom helps me at present moment in my “idiotic” world to remember to “chill out” when I’m getting too over-wrought with the Trumpian lunacy, not even being close to taking the ego’s bait that I “was born to set it right.”

I think that Shakespeare realized that in describing life as a “tale told by an idiot” he himself was part of the fabric he was describing and therefore not spared idiocy himself.  The world at any moment has a “world-view” which is taken to be the valid way of seeing things but Shakespeare was reminding us, “Hey, keep in mind that beneath the surface there is idiocy lurking.”  And that is always true on a personal level as well as a collective level.  With most of us, if we could subscribe to this wisdom, would merely have to recognize occasional internal conflicts which will never become “idiotic” if we simply have the presence of mind, and humility, to recognize their presence.  “Awareness is all” says a bumper stick on the car of a friend of mine.

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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

 

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

Confessions of an Hypocrite

When “god talk” is bouncing around in your head–words like “Jesus”, or “Holy Spirit” or “humility” or “the Bible”– it is really intoxicating!  I know, been there, done that.  It provides one the exquisite delight of feeling pious and righteous, knowing that one is “saved” and, very importantly, knowing that so many others are not. This cognitive experience allows one to live in a narrowly defined, safe world of “like minded souls” who are subject to the same cultural bondage, all of which have signed an unconscious bond to never question the premises of their mindset that would bring the “light of day” to their darkness and expose them to their hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is subtle.  Once again, been there and done that and technically still am!  Hypocrisy is being trapped in performance art, a performance which is carefully scripted by the “song and dance” of one’s spiritual tradition which is very comforting as long as one does not allow that cursed “light of the day”, aka “the Holy Spirit” to intervene and show them that their faith was only a perfunctory performance in compliance with those lofty notions cavorting about in their head.  What is missing is the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who noted that the Spirit of God, if allowed to, will cut into the depths of the heart and there serve as, “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  But if that dangerous and damning insight is permitted, one would have to recognize the sham of his faith which would then allow the “performance art” of faith to dissolve into meaningful expression. But this is very painful as it requires the disillusionment, the anguishing experience of realizing that one has not been as pious as he imagined himself to be and then recognize and experience the grace of God which covers even that duplicity!  But if you “know” you are humble, the thought itself will deter you from allowing the experience of humility to wash over you. T. S. Eliot realized this when he noted, “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility.  And humility is endless.”  Eliot recognized what I like to call the experience of “humility-ization” being operable in one’s life, as “humility” is nothing that can be acquired.  If you think you have “acquired” it…as I once thought I had…you are up to your halo in hypocrisy!

We are all “actors on the stage of life, who with his fear have been put beside his part” and finding the courage to recognize this can provide an opportunity for spiritual growth.   It requires, however, the relinquishment of the comfort zone provided by the cerebral “letter of the law” and a willingness to engage a heart which until this point has been dormant, “bronzed o’er so that it is proof and bulwark against sense.”  Shakespeare knew that a heart which has been customized, or enculturated, into mere rote performance is one that is a rigid defense network against “sense” or feeling.  In the same scene, he implored his mother to listen to him with a heart “made of penetrable stuff”.

Often persons of faith do not have hearts made of “penetrable stuff.”  In my case I was “christianized”, or indoctrinated with Christian teachings so that there was no room left for an open heart to make the dogma of the Christian teachings meaningful in my life, to allow them to filter down from my head into my heart.  In a sense, there was no heart as there can be no real heart until the circumstances of life have intervened and made in vulnerable, i.e. “full of penetrable stuff.”  Now, certainly I have always had a heart but a “heart” is an infinite dimension of our human experience…if we allow it to be.  It is so easy and convenient to allow it to ossify with the dogma that our tribe has provided us which leaves us as nothing more than the walking dead.  In fact, in terms of developmental psychology, our “heart” must ossify for us to join the structure of the human race.  But then in time to come there are opportunities to allow this ossification to break down under the influence of what my spiritual tradition calls the “Spirit of God.”  But this is painful and disillusioning and so we usually decline to listen to that “still small voice” that is always whispering to us and therefore remain in the comfortable darkness of dogma.  As W. H. Auden put it, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand.  But he clung in panic to his tall beliefs and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

In conclusion, you have just read something from the heart of an admitted hypocrite.  For, as long as we are human, we will be an “actor” to some degree and what makes hypocrisy such a problem is merely the inability/unwillingness to acknowledge it.  Self-reflection, that God-given capacity in our fore-brain is painful when our ego-driven identity is predicated upon disallowing it.   If you want to see an example, pay attention to American politics right now.

 

Halloween Thought: Consciousness is Scary!!!

As Hamlet is drawing his famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy to a close, he declares. “Thus conscience (i.e. consciousness) doeth make cowards of us all and the native hue of resolution is sicklie’d o’er with the pale cast of thought…”

Shakespeare knew that most people opt to never become conscious because it is just too painful.  He knew that regardless of out lot in life, be it immense pain or the mute pain of tedium, we would prefer to keep it that way, to “cling to these ills that we have than fly to others that we know not of.”  Each of us prefers seeing the world through a narrow little prism, a citadel of unquestioned premises.  We obstinately cling to our narrow world view, opting to not challenge the comfy set of premises in which we are ensconced.  The price tag for this comfort is that we never become conscious, never escape the herd mentality into which each of us is born;  for, as T.S. Eliot has put it, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

Hamlet recognized that the “native hue of resolution”, or innate desire to exercise mature will in the world, is “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”  Shakespeare presented this tragic character as stymied by thought, given to “thinking too much” which gave him wisdom, “which, if quartered would be one part wisdom and three parts cowardice.”  Hamlet recognized that hiding beneath that “pale cast of thought”,  that myriad of sterile ideas, was merely cowardice.  He knew that all ideologues are merely cowards, not willing to challenge their basic assumptions and tippy-toe into “reality.”

But W. H. Auden has the most vivid poetic description of our innate preference for this escapism:

Heroic charity is rare;
Without it, what except despair
Can shape the hero who will dare
The desperate catabasis
Into the snarl of the abyss
That always lies just underneath
Our jolly picnic on the heath
Of the agreeable, where we bask,
Agreed on what we will not ask,
Bland, sunny, and adjusted by
The light of the accepted lie.

 

 

 

 

Shakespeare and the Unconscious

“I have within me that which passeth show.  These are but the suits of woe.”

Hamlet uttered these words one day when moping about the castle he was confronted by his family about his despondent mood.  He was saying, “Hey, you think this is depressed.  This is nothing.  This is only a cloak of depression; but I have within me the real thing.”

Shakespeare knew that life was but a “show”, a display of what was going on within our hearts, individually and collectively.  He was the greatest psychiatrist that we have any real record of, though I think Jesus Christ and Lao Tzu…to name but two…could have given him a run for his money if we had more of a record of their wisdom.  Shakespeare had a grasp of the human heart because he had a grasp of his own heart and could therefore convey this wisdom in the characters of his plays.  Without this ability to sublimate into thoughts, concepts, and literary contrivance he well might have ended up escaping into the abyss of alcohol or some other worser fate.

The Bard knew of the unconscious realm long before Freud and Jung made it popular.  He was familiar with the heart’s ravenous impulsivity, its abysmal darkness which knows no restraint, which would not permit civilization without the intervention of the gods who provided that marvelous contrivance which we know today as the neocortex.  And, though he had no knowledge of modern neurological science, with his God-given intelligence, intuition, and humility he knew “it” was there though he could not define it as we can today.

I look at the insanity of our world today…and reflect back on my own, realizing that it is not a thing of the past…and wonder, “Why do we do this to ourselves?”  I then am reminded of my gifted guru, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk in Albuqurque, Nm., who has interpreted the words of Jesus who on the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” to mean, “Father, forgive them for they are unconscious.” And I reflect back on the stupid, ugly, self-serving, and mean-spirited things I have done and said in the name of religion and realize just how much I had no idea what I was doing and saying.  And, yes, that ignorance is still with me, no doubt!

 

 

“The Joy of Being Wrong”

“Conscience doth make cowards of us all,” declared Hamlet though in modern English, Shakespeare would have had Hamlet call it “consciousness.” Shakespeare saw that the awareness that consciousness brings is stunning and tends to give us pause to the point that his projective characters Hamlet and Macbeth were often stymied into inaction with their “pauser reason.” Shakespeare had Hamlet note that his obsessive thinking, which created his hyper consciousness, was actually cowardice when he admitted that if all his wisdom were “quartered,” it would be, “three parts cowardice and one part wisdom.”

Shakespeare knew, as would T. S. Eliot centuries later, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” This is the reason that the gods graciously gave us blinders and we sure as hell better hope we never lose them for we will be face-to-face with what poet Wallace Stevens called, “the fatality of seeing things too real.” But I have found it very important to acknowledge that I have these blinders and to realize that this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that, “we see through a glass darkly.” Acknowledging our blinders is merely acknowledging our human-ness and that is so very hard to do.   Just ask Isis. Just ask the extreme right-wing of my country’s Republican Party!

Acknowledging my blinders has been actually quite liberating! I no longer have to be “right” for I know that being “right” is merely self-deception. “Right” is a Presence in the human experience that visits us from time to time but none of us can claim it and pontificate about it. This is probably related to what the Catholic priest Charlie Alison had in mind with his book, “The Joy of Being Wrong.”