Monday, June 6, 2011

A Hamlet Thought of the Day

In Act V, Scene i, Hamlet has returned from England and has been challenged to a fencing match by Laertes,  his childhood friend who now desires revenge because Hamlet killed his father and drove his sister Ophelia to her death. Horatio, Hamlet's only confidant, warns him that the fight may be a trap and that he should make some excuse to exempt him from the match. Hamlet replies with these beautiful lines about our own mortality:

There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be, 'tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all, since no man of aught he leaves knows what is't to leave betimes. Let be.
    -Hamlet, Act V, Scene i

I was struck last night hearing Matt Amendt speak this line in the last act of Hamlet. I will paraphrase it as I understand it:

"God plans for the death of even the littlest birds. If it (the moment I shall die) is here, then it's not coming. If it's not coming, then it is here. If it is not here, it still will come. All we can do is prepare our souls and live every day. Since no man knows what he leaves behind when he dies, what does it matter if we die early? Let it go."

What marvelous gems Shakespeare has hidden for us in this 4 hour play! (Hudson Valley's production, I thank ye, is only 3 hours, thanks to nearly 1,000 lines cut.) In the most famous speech from much earlier in the play, To be or not to be, Hamlet debates the question of living and death, action and inaction. But it is in Act V where the Prince of Denmark beautifully expresses the uselessness of fearing our own deaths. We must "let be" because we can never know when our time will come. Our moment of death is coming every moment that has not arrived. "The readiness is all" in Shakespeare's time would have referred to preparation of his immortal soul through confession and the holy writs. But in modern times, a perhaps more appropriate meaning is "living every moment is all."

As I stood under the tent along the Hudson River, smelling honeysuckles, surrounded by astoundingly talented people, performing Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, I felt incredibly blessed to be alive, incredibly blessed to be.

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