Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Melancholy Dane



HAMLET:

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.
--William Shakespeare

I had to memorize this soliloquy from Hamlet when I was in high school. It was an Advanced Humanities class and we were studying the play. And for some reason the teacher had us pick sections and commit them to memory, punctuation and all. To this day I can still remember standing in front of the class and reciting, "Alas (comma) poor Yorick (exclaimation mark) I knew him (comma) Horatio (colon).

There are lots of interesting things about this soliloquy besides the punctuation. For one, most people misquote it as, "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well." More importantly, it is a reflection on death.

Hamlet is mucking about in his family cemetary while some grave diggers accidently dig up the bones of Yorick, the court jester, while they are digging another grave. Hamlet picks up the skull and begins meditating on the fate of all of us. If you are familiar with Hamlet, he spends most of the play agonizing about one thing or the other and can't make a decision for the life of him. Eventually he ends up getting everybody in the played killed, including himself. So the play is kind of a downer from that standpoint.

And my point? The older I get, the more I think about death. And I'm not talking in a morbid kind of way. I'm talking in a matter of fact, we are all going to eventually die kind of way. Oddly enough, thinking about it that way gives me comfort. For me, it helps me live. It's an absolute, so why should I waste energy standing on a rock shouting about the unfairness of it all.

I'm pretty much convinced that the only reason organized religion exists is to try and hedge on the inevitability of death. Religion is that safety net that you hope will help you bounce back after you die and land in a better place. Obviously I don't buy the heaven-hell scenario. I've been a bureaucrat too long to believe that anyone, even a god, could keep track of the paperwork that would determine who goes where after we die.

I do believe something lives on after we die. I think the psychologists call it the collective conscious or unconscious. Basically we are born with certain knowledge that is shared by all. Logic just dictates that humans would never have evolved if each person starts from scratch when they are born and none of their knowledge or experience lives on after they die.

In a sense, blogging seems to be an organized way to tap into and put things back into the collective conscious. This would explain why millions of people seem to arrive at the same topics to blog on, including, I'm sure, this one.

Anyway, this all started because I thought it would be funny to put a Great Dane's head on Hamlet. After all, it is the Year of the Dog and Hamlet was known as the Melancholy Dane. That makes this a visual pun for those of you keeping track of such things. Plus it is unofficially animal week at Dizgraceland.


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