“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
How beautiful these words are. How resonant. How timely. Invoking the spirit of Plato (“Philosophy is the highest music”) Hamlet reminds us that the mind is a powerful weapon, the most powerful we can possess, particularly in a world which sometimes feels riddled with divisions – whether geographic, cultural, social, sexual, racial. Surely the greatest virtue we can possess, as human beings, is the ability to recognise that beneath the dress we display to the world is the knowledge that we are not so very different.
William Shakespeare, the great humanist who ever lived interrogated this question that simply refuses to die: what it is to be human? Like Hamlet, we grapple with our conscience, striving to make sense of our mortality, “what a piece of work is a man” or, like Lear in Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy King Lear, when racked upon Fortune’s capricious wheel, we cry “I am a man more sinned against than sinning”. Or perhaps, in the spirit of Malvolio, delusions of grandeur inflate man’s astonishing for pomposity: “Some are born great. Some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” But Shakespeare’s genius precludes us from seeing things as simply black and white. For while Malvolio is easy to laugh at, there is an element in his character that we can all relate to: the desire to overcome fear, “Be not afraid of greatness.” There are no easy solutions, particularly when the dominant strain in life is one of flux. Would we wish it any different? Surely the greatest challenge is to embrace Polonius’ advice in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.”
Shakespeare contained multitudes. This is the greatest accolade that can be paid to him. In a world plague with war, discord, disaster and hate, it is only through opening our eyes and enlarging ourselves that we can take an axe to the “wall of prejudice” that clams up our souls. From darkness emerges light; from despair emerges joy; from doubt emerges faith. As the “Sweet Swan of Avon” writes in his beautiful love poem, Venus and Adonis, “love comforteth like sunshine after the rain”.
May the New Year be filled with love, goodness and happiness. Here are a couple of haiku for your delectation.
The mind’s eye spins and
Turns on the moving spindle
Unfurling fresh dreams
New Year new dawn strikes
Melting the past into light
Kindling bright visions