“That we would do,
We should do when we would, for this “would” changes
And hath abatements and delays as many
As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents.
And then this “should” is like a spendthrift sigh
That hurts by easing.” -Claudius
This is one of many examples of why _Hamlet_ is perfect food for an introvert going through midlife crisis. “That hurts by easing.” That one line slapped me. As I got to know the play, I see humor in it. Claudius’ perfectly worded call to action and that poetic summation of regret is for what? To convince Laerates to kill Hamlet, Claudius’ nephew and stepson.
Most of the great Shakespeare quotes are wildly colored when context is considered. Years ago, on sodahead, I was excited to see a poll for folks’ favorite Shakespeare quote. The poll poster used a quote from Macbeth that out of context expresses love, loyalty and devotion put to action. “Who can be wise, amazed, temp’rate, and furious,/ Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man.” IN CONTEXT, it’s bone-chilling. Macbeth was laying out his alibi for his alibi. Macbeth had used the knives of two sleeping guards so it looked like the two men that his wife had gotten drunk (“That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold”- Lady Macbeth) committed the murder of the king. THEN Macbeth killed those men and said he did it out of loyalty to and passion for their murdered king. I cannot see why this Macbeth line would be a favorite, even out of context. Even a shallow understanding of the context makes it a frightening “favorite.”
But back to “That we would do…”. One of my favorite quotes isn’t Shakespeare. In fact, I’m not sure who it is. “Life is a long lesson in humility.” Life is a series of “woulds” and “shoulds” and, like Hamlet, some of us spend so much time in our heads that we miss those moments. Also like Hamlet, we sometimes act without thinking at all (and end up murdering our ex-girlfriend’s dad). We have regrets over what we did and did not do/say/become/eat/learn… that become “a spendthrift sigh that hurts by easing.” So settle into the “easing” with the humility of a life-long traveling scholar. Learn from the hurt and learn from the easing. Learn humility and compassion: THAT is what we all should do. Actions and thoughts of the person who is full of humility and compassion will not be regrettable.
Postscript: I’ve heard many times that we only regret what we didn’t do. I get that, like Claudius, the simple assessment of one-dimensional guilt is a call to action–but it isn’t true. Having been on this planet in this form for 46 years, there’s plenty I did do that I regret. True I regret what I didn’t do, too, but there’s plenty to regret and plenty of “hurt by easing” for all kinds of actions and inactions. Life is chock-full of hurt, easing, pain, joy, sorrow, happiness, mishaps, humor, ennui, chaos, calm… . We can be buffeted by it all and/or we can connect through compassion–not just to and for other travelers–but also to and for ourselves.
- Hamlet and Polonius and Claudius (wompdestroyed.wordpress.com)
- Day 26: Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda…(revisited 2013) (mysylbert.com)