Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 19, 2010

Hamlet, Prince of Perspective

For some reason, Hamlet’s line came to mind this morning:

“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

I probably was listening to some bit of news on the radio about death, destruction, maiming, revolution or politics or any of the myriad other things that inhabit our world and that are, ipso facto, BAD.

‘Fatuous nonsense,’ I thought as I drove. Why would even Hamlet, that rather self-centered and immature philosopher, come up with such a meaningless phrase? It sounds a lot more like one of the line old Polonius, that mouther of imbecile truisms would come up with.

‘Context?’ I wondered, realizing I couldn’t recall where in the play the line occurs, or what circumstances occasioned Hamlet to say it. Perhaps the context’s the thing, wherein I’d catch the intent of the would-be king.

It’s Act II, scene 2, and the Prince is talking to his buds Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (who are not yet dead, though they will be, along with nearly everyone else who gets a line in the play).

Hamlet:
What have you, my good friends, deserv’d at the hands of
Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?

Guildenstern:
Prison, my lord?

Hamlet:
Denmark’s a prison.

Rosencrantz:
Then is the world one.

Hamlet:
A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and
dungeons, Denmark being one o’ th’ worst.

Rosencrantz:
We think not so, my lord.

Hamlet:
Why then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

(I can reproduce these lines because Mr. Shakespeare has carelessly let his copyright lapse.)

So, Hamlet was not really making some Candide-like general statement that all in the world may be for the best, if we merely regard it as so. He was making a much deeper and revealing statement about the relativity of  our various points of view: that what to me is a disaster may be to you enormously entertaining or funny, which explains Pauly Shore’s popularity, for example. Sunk as he is in his own angst and frustration, Hamlet has at least some awareness that the whole world is, for him, colored by his mind-set. It’s stuff like this that keeps one going back to Shakespeare, again and again. Every line is ripe with multiple meanings.

So, now I feel better about the line, but not about the news. I switched over to music and drove on, keeping an eye out for the guys at the intersection of Aviation and El Segundo, but I was too early today. I bet that Ozzie would blithely agree with Hamlet, but maybe not Ward or Steve.

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Responses

  1. OK, somewhere along the line, I missed it. And I keep getting reminded that I missed it whenever you write about Ward, Steve, Ozzie, et al.

    No longer can I stand it. I must ask:

    So what exactly is it about 1950’s – early 60’s era TV that so intrigues you such that these characters have become an integral part of your blog? A longing for an earlier, more innocent time? That bane of all imperfect memories: nostalgia? What then?

    Like

  2. Maybe Hamlet’s line came to this morning because you were working today’s LA Times Crossword (at least the one published today in the Plain Dealer): answer to 54 down is the “or bad” part of the quote. Uncanny.

    Like


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