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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: October ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1951  Thursday, 28 October 2004

[1]     From:   John Reed <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 27 Oct 2004 20:13:03 -0700
        Subj:   Re: The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Oct 2004 23:30:27 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1944 The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Wednesday, 27 Oct 2004 20:13:03 -0700
Subject:        Re: The Meaning of Hamlet

What is a through line, and why is it important?

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Oct 2004 23:30:27 +0800
Subject: 15.1944 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1944 The Meaning of Hamlet

John Reed writes:

 >"Nowadays the main religious world view of most people, especially most
 >educated people, in the West, as I keep harping on, is Enlightenment
 >Philosophy.  Part of the attitude of EP towards other religions seems to
 >be that they are all about equally valid, or what is really more
 >probable, equally invalid.  Equally invalid in relation to itself, that
 >is.  So some people have the idea that other major religions are similar
 >in outlook at their center.  I don't believe that to be the case, and on
 >the contrary, the closer one approaches the heart, the doctrinal heart,
 >of a major religion, the more distinct they become.  So It seems to me
 >you are approaching Shakespeare from a Buddhist perspective that also
 >contains elements of Enlightenment Philosophy."

Thank you, John, for your informed response. The spiritual message in
Hamlet, however, does not depend on which personal perspective we
approach it from, but rather on what the script of the play itself tells
us. While we may vary, to some extent, in our interpretation of
Shakespeare's words, we have to remain constrained by what his script
actually says. Thus, we have to try to see the meaning from
Shakespeare's viewpoint based on his writing.

I am trying throughout this thread to delineate clearly that this play
does reveal a spiritual message that fits with every Scene the author
has scripted. May it merit serious consideration now. If an alternative
interpretation and analysis closely referencing the script could be
offered, let us examine it in the interest of scholarship and passion
for the Bard. This is precisely what makes such a forum valuable.

Let me summarize the central spiritual message in Hamlet. It is twofold:

One, is the need for us to be true to ourselves, to accept our personal
mortality, and to face up to the profound. It is delineated in my
article - which is an analysis based closely on Shakespeare's script -
at <http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod/article2.html>

The second, is that the path of vengeance is incompatible with the
spiritual path. I discuss this at
<http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod/excerpt.html>as well as in
a number of my previous posts in this thread. Again, this interpretation
is in keeping with Shakespeare's own words.

The spiritual message in Hamlet that I delineate is derived from the
words of Shakespeare himself. If anyone among us would refute it, I
propose that such refutation specifically, and I might add,
appropriately, reference the script. It helps us keep in context.

Evidence for the spiritual message in the text is overwhelming. It does
not reflect purely my personal viewpoint.

Apart from this main message, there is much more in the text that
concerns the spiritual meaning of this play. For example, each of the
scenes in Act III touches, in turn, on different and important
characteristics of the spiritual path. The way this is structured
suggests, again, that Shakespeare has carefully and skillfully crafted
the entire play to convey his meaning.

In Act III, Scene 1, Hamlet's soliloquy presents the suffering nature of
our mundane existence, and his dialogue with Ophelia presents the sinful
nature of man. The first serves as another powerful motivation for us to
embark on the route to salvation, while the second essentially tells us
what needs to be done.

Act III, Scene 2 focuses on the need for sustained effort at any quest
for transformation - this theme recurs many times in this scene. The
relevance to the spiritual message here is that the need for sustained
effort particularly applies to the spiritual quest. We cannot hope to
succeed merely through intermittent commitment at times of passion.

Act III, Scene 3 stresses the need for us to act on our convictions and
aspirations. The King's failure in prayer demonstrates the inadequacy of
merely repenting without transforming ourselves to fit our aspirations.

In Act III, Scene 4, the words of Hamlet present the basic requirement
at each step in transforming our being:

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 tonight,
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.

Whether or not all this suggests an Enlightenment Philosophy does not
change the fact that it is derived from the text of Hamlet as
Shakespeare wrote it. If we are looking to see through Shakespeare's
eyes, it is not our personal viewpoint that counts but what is actually
found in the script. What is significant here is that there is a
spiritual message in Hamlet that fits every part of the play.

Regards,
Kenneth Chan
http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod/

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