Friday, February 20, 2009

The True Confessions of Lindsay-with-an-A

"O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else?
And shall I couple hell? O, fie! Hold, hold, my heart;
And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,
But bear me stiffly up." --Hamlet, I.v

Just after sunset in the early evening of February 19, 2009, I found myself flipping through the well-worn pages of a paperback
Hamlet, the words resonating intimately in my mind. Though it had been years since I had read of the Danish prince, I was still familiar enough with the words that when I chose to read them out loud I didn't stumble over the archaic language. It was this man's writing that I had studied for years, had lived and breathed as I toiled at university. It was he who had long impressed me with a mixture of bawd and poetry, of slapstick and philosophy--he who had awed and amazed and inspired me.

In a flutter of anticipation I flipped the pages to the first scene in which Hamlet meets the Ghost, threw my arms around the text (my sweet companion for the evening), and disappeared into the foggy night. Then I rushed after young Hamlet, who had already begun to follow his father's spirit. A worried-looking Horatio, breathing heavily from his brief struggle with the prince, waited behind us.

Our little parade reached the other side of the platform in good order. There I became instantly agog at the teeming mass of tension that lay before me, psychology and philosophy and theology thick as the bristles on a brush. Everywhere I looked I saw mountains of ideas piled high. Oh yes, the smell of the page was intoxicating to one who sat for so long before a computer screen at work, wrestling with practical matters that required so little thought. All in all it was a most delicious setting. Indeed in some vague way I had the feeling that it had always been there for me...

As I read, however, I became aware of a niggling feeling of discontent, of some unhappiness brought to me along with the pleasure of the pages before me. Something was wrong, though I was not sure what it was. I did not realize what it was until I reached perhaps my favorite line of the scene, in which Hamlet turns to Horatio and sneers, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." The young prince had drawn a line in the sand, a line between imagination and reason, between possibilities and the cold existence of a life without faith or hope. Always before I had known on which side of the line I stood.

On that evening in February, however, I realized I no longer did. Though I had taken so much delight from the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare for so long, it had been almost two years since I had cracked the binding on a single of book of his work. I was beginning to lose my ability to think critically, to write creatively, to explore new ideas with comfort. Worst of all, I was beginning to recognize all the signs of selling out that I would have once rejected so completely.
I had always promised myself that if I ever went back to school it would be for something that interested me--psychology or philosophy or theology--but I was now considering studying something practical and useful, business management or something of the like. It would help with my career, you see, and I was already paying off one liberal arts degree that would do little for me professionally. And while I had always revelled in reading books I either enjoyed at an escapist level or at an intellectual level, I was now considering reading books that would appeal to neither. They would help me with my career, you see, and what could it hurt to read The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People?

So when I reached my favorite line of Act I, Scene 4, I felt Hamlet's accusation to the depth of my soul. It didn't matter that Horatio would be the only character to survive the bloodbath in Denmark--perhaps due to his practicality? It didn't matter that I had always viewed Hamlet as melodramatic and prone to exaggeration. What mattered was that he had unknowingly highlighted in me the weakening of my resolve, the slow and steady selling out that marked the past year of my life. I had to put the book aside, unable to read any further, marvelling again at the genius of Bill Shakespeare, though the admiration was now tinged with resentment.


Chatty Cathy said...

I found it very interesting how you felt after you started reading Hamlet again. With that said, well written post.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

It was strange, I LOVE Hamlet--at one point, I could predict the next words on the page, I knew it so well. But I couldn't read it because it reminded me that I'm not that same person any more.

I'm guessing I'm still in my emo phase.

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