Hamlet’s most famous question isn’t about suicide. He is choosing between action and analysis–between revenge or stoicism. Buddha brilliantly says “Attachment is suffering.” Hamlet says of Horatio, “Give me that man/ That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him/ In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,/ As I do thee.” Horatio, not Hamlet, has always been my favorite character in the play. In commentary on BBC’s “In Search of Shakespeare,” the narrator claims all men in the audience want to be Hamlet, all women want to be with him. SO not true! Are we stupid? Look at what happened to Ophelia, AND her dad! and for that matter, to her ex-boyfriend. Except for what Hamlet says about his friend, I wasn’t sure why Horatio is my favorite character. Claudius says my favorite lines and except for some zingers like “squeak and jibber” and “you might have rhymed,” Horatio doesn’t have particularly memorable lines. Harold Bloom helped me realize why I am drawn to Horatio. Horatio is us, he is mediator. Horatio brings us Hamlet; Horatio, not soliloquies, make Hamlet accessible. And like Shakespeare of his audience, Hamlet has great appreciation and respect for Horatio. (I think projecting generosity is a hallmark of genius.) Hamlet notes and admires that Horatio is not Fortune’s bitch–Horatio has mastered balancing passion and action (“blood and judgement”).
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath sealed thee for herself, for thou hast been—
As one in suffering all that suffers nothing—
A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hast ta’en with equal thanks. And blessed are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please… . (III, 2)
Okay, so a major theme of _Hamlet_ is action and passivity. Ophelia is actively passive (she drowns herself). Laeretes is passively active (he lets Claudius manipulate him into action). Hamlet vacillates wildly between both extremes, one moment resolved to test the ghost’s assertion, the next stabbing Polonius and then lugging guts through the castle.
The lines directly after “To be or not to be?” are:
“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?” (III, 1)
Suffering results in wounds from “slings and arrows” and action is just as fatal. Who can fight “a sea of troubles”? We can only ride the waves of “buffets and rewards.” None of us gets out of this alive. We must each decide how we will BE while we suffer and/or act. It’s a tough balancing act and Horatio is indeed worthy of Hamlet’s admiration for being the only character who mastered balancing “blood and judgement.”
Just 1/7th of the tea I used to make the iced tea I am drinking was Tazo’s “Passion.” I don’t like it. As I drink and wish I hadn’t put in that one bag of “Passion,” I recall over six months of churning the word, concept, danger, oppression and process of “passivity.” There is so much socialization/genderfication that trains “girls” to be passive. I saw it in most commercials, movies, models (both super and ordinary) and sit-coms. I heard in parents’ and teachers’ training of the next generation of “ladies.” I heard it in the apologies, excuses and insecure queries of women.
I felt imprisoned by the stifling passivity that I couldn’t process and/or overcome. But as suffocating as passivity is, aggression was even less appealing. Isn’t that how you fix a polar imbalance? Take steps toward the other side? One day, sitting in church, the verse “The Truth shall set you free” drifted into my head like a piece of paper on a breeze. It then drifted from my head to my soul. The TRUTH is that, though I am imprisoned, the key always has been in my pocket. The TRUTH is, though I was led into that prison, I walked in–I was not carried. The TRUTH is, it is MY life and I can reject societal dictates. The TRUTH is I SHOULD reject societal dictates and define myself.
Months after that epiphany, I started back in college. There I learned that the root word for “passive” is the same as the root for “passion.” That root means SUFFERING. “The Passion of Christ” doesn’t mean Jesus’ strong feelings, it means “The Suffering of Christ.” Passivity is suffering. It is stoicism and martyrdom. In our western insistence of dichotomy, women passively suffer and men cause suffering with their aggression. Neither is desirable. Both result in suffering for and diminishing of us all.
“We dance in a ring and suppose, But the Secret sits in the middle and knows,” -Robert Frost. We are all paradoxes of passivity and aggression. Embrace your yen AND your yang. And while you’re at it, get that key out of your pocket and set your yen and yang free. Saunter to your center and ask Secret to help. YOU define YOU. Only you can find your balance, your center, and you must let go of all attachments to be able to sit in the middle.
Or not. Whatever :-).