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"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" - Shakespeare


Spirituality & Religious Beliefs Contemplate your place and purpose in the universe.

 
 
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Old 14th October 2003, 2:48 PM   #16
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From Act 2, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet:

HAMLET: Denmark's a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ: Then is the world one.
HAMLET: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
ROSENCRANTZ: We think not so, my lord.
HAMLET: Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One of the striking features of this phrase is the polysemous way Shakespeare uses the word "but." The usual meaning—as an exclusion or limit (nothing is either good or bad except for when thinking makes it so)—is still valid, as is the trivial sense (nothing is either good or bad yet the mere act of thinking makes it so); and to these the Bard ingeniously adds a sense of threshold: nothing is either good or bad unless and until thinking makes it so.

Hamlet's radical claim that morality supervenes on cognition is rendered all the more poignant by this ambivalence, for he not only suggests that we assign moral values contingently, but he also calls into question the very idea of a fixed and absolute "good" or "bad". Is this a profound insight on Shakespeare's part or is the young prince as crazy as those around him suspect?

Another curious thing about Hamlet's statement is his assertion that thinking is what decides good and bad. Why not feeling, which seems to be the usual way we value one thing above another, or perhaps some mixture of the two? And what of revelation—don't the world's assorted religions each implicitly claim a monopoly on morality? Or is it that when Hamlet says "thinking" we should read "wishing"? In other words, perhaps morality is whatever we want it to be. Suffering is, after all, usually justified as right or necessary by those who cause it, or allow it. Shakespeare thus forces us to question whether reason alone is sufficient to distinguish right from wrong, true from false, mad from sane.

That morality-obsessed Hamlet should opine that nothing is inherently good or bad is strong evidence, as if we needed it, that he is psychically disturbed. But although he is profoundly unsettled he is not psychotic, for in the same dialogue from which our quote is taken, he admits: "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." In other words he is feigning madness, as a kind of camouflage, while he struggles to make sense of the heretical proposition that "reality" and "truth" are not the absolute notions he has been led to believe or come to expect—an unthinkable notion in his world. Hamlet's crisis is what follows from the deeply troubling realization that the structure of reality is fundamentally different from the inculcated notions we all, to some extent, hold.

What do you think?

These are not my thoughts. I found them on an internet site but thought they were very good.

Last edited by cindy0039; 14th October 2003 at 2:51 PM..
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Old 14th October 2003, 2:51 PM   #17
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hey - not nothing -you ROCK! mmm..scholars...

interestingly, hamlet says in reference to denmark being a prison, and to preface the bull$hit pseudo-philosophical conversation with rosencratz and guildenstern <intended to parody socratic dialogue and show hamlet's degrading state of mind> given this, i can't discuss this seriously without unwittingly committing the same discourse masturbation; but i will say that i think the statement would ***not*** support a positive self-help viewpoint. it's a moral play, this is a moralizing statement, intended to mock relativism and the delusional thinking that corrupts ambition, **not** introduce the power of positive thinking.

here is the excerpt:

Ham. Then is Doomesday neere: But your newes is
not true. Let me question more in particular: what haue
you my good friends, deserued at the hands of Fortune,
that she sends you to Prison hither?
Guil. Prison, my Lord?
Ham. Denmark's a Prison.
Rosin. Then is the World one.
Ham. A goodly one, in which there are many Con-
fines, Wards, and Dungeons; Denmarke being one o'th'
worst.
Rosin. We thinke not so my Lord.
Ham. Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is
a prison.
Rosin. Why then your Ambition makes it one: 'tis
too narrow for your minde.
Ham. O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and
count my selfe a King of infinite space; were it not that
I haue bad dreames.
Guil. Which dreames indeed are Ambition: for the
very substance of the Ambitious, is meerely the shadow
of a Dreame.
Ham. A dreame it selfe is but a shadow.
Rosin. Truely, and I hold Ambition of so ayry and
light a quality, that it is but a shadowes shadow.
Ham. Then are our Beggers bodies; and our Mo-
narchs and out-stretcht Heroes the Beggers Shadowes:
shall wee to th' Court: for, by my fey I cannot rea-
son?
Both. Wee'l wait vpon you.


p.s.
LOL! guess i was too late! Cindy, my god you're a quick text draw! i want to join your crew of merry bandit scholars!
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Old 14th October 2003, 3:04 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally posted by EnigmaXOXO
Agree.

But I also wonder if the human conscience as we know it is inherent or learned. Are emotions such as guilt and remorse instinctual and biologically ingrained just as anger, sadness and joy...or are they simply a bi-product of our social conditioning?
I think it's a combination of both in more or less equal parts.

It is funny how many people continually want to create dichotomies out of the world.
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"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." - from Hamlet , Wm. Shakespeare; Act II, scene ii
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Old 14th October 2003, 3:06 PM   #19
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I never was a fan of English or Lit classes; I was nauseated by the efforts 'scholars' would put into reading images and subtext into every innocent word or phrase. One teacher could find a phallic symbol in everything which drove me nuts. It's like people who 'interpret' art back to an artist, whose reply is often that s/he only wanted to paint a flower, not a symbol of female sexuality.

Yes, some writers consciously interjected moralizing into their writing. Others, doubtles, used symbolism. However sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Morality is discussed in Hamlet but I don't agree that this is one of those discussions. This reveals his state of mind, nothing more. He despairs; feels he is trapped by his situation, and understands that, because of this, he sees Denmark as a place/state of mind from which he cannot escape.
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Old 14th October 2003, 3:10 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally posted by cindy0039

These are not my thoughts. I found them on an internet site but thought they were very good.

Damn Cindy,

I read half way through all that thinking it was you talking! I'm like geez, where is this coming from? Is this chick smart or what?!??


So I'm confused as how I should reference the quote.

Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act II Scene II ?

Hamlet, Act II Scene II, by Shakespeare?

Just leave it at Shakespeare?

Just leave it as Hamlet?
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Old 14th October 2003, 3:16 PM   #21
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Quote:
So I'm confused as how I should reference the quote.
from Hamlet , Wm. Shakespeare; Act II, scene ii



(I was a theatre student.)
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Old 14th October 2003, 3:27 PM   #22
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lol! i'm sorry if my efforts nauseated you. your interpretation is, of course, also an interpretation. i was describing the context of the scene as i saw it, and in no way did i offer any psychoanalytic critique.

the deeper intent of the author does not interest me, it's incorrect to believe we can read his or her mind. i am interested in the words as they appear on the page. i think the reference to ambition invokes claudius clearly as part of his thoughts; and the buffoonery of r. and g., like that of polonius, is intended to help see the discussions as partly comic waste of time and words, and partly, as you say, a way to hamlet's increasingly confused state of mind.

i work hard to be respectful to your interests in different pathologies. your disrespect for literary critique surprises me.

cheers, j
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Old 14th October 2003, 3:31 PM   #23
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if I were a man, I'd have a hard-on right now from all this lovely insight into Shakespeare. you guys rock!

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the wankie-less
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Old 14th October 2003, 3:38 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally posted by zman
Damn Cindy,

I read half way through all that thinking it was you talking! I'm like geez, where is this coming from? Is this chick smart or what?!??
Hmm...thinking... I'm not sure how to interpret that. You're not calling me dumb now, are you?
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Old 14th October 2003, 3:46 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally posted by cindy0039
Hmm...thinking... I'm not sure how to interpret that. You're not calling me dumb now, are you?
Oh no, of course not! You're obviously very smart, just maybe not the Shakespearian genius I thought you were sounding like!

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Old 14th October 2003, 4:34 PM   #26
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It is funny how many people continually want to create dichotomies out of the world.

Agree completely. It's as if we are actually all binary at base so we need to reduce everything to is/is not!
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Old 14th October 2003, 4:38 PM   #27
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Quote:
Originally posted by moimeme
It is funny how many people continually want to create dichotomies out of the world.

Agree completely. It's as if we are actually all binary at base so we need to reduce everything to is/is not!
Not me. I happen to like gray.
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Old 14th October 2003, 4:46 PM   #28
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i'm sorry if my efforts nauseated you

(sigh)

If I'd meant your efforts, I'd have said that. That you did a lit analysis reminded me that I dislike lit analysis in general, no matter who does it or why.

work hard to be respectful to your interests in different pathologies. your disrespect for literary critique surprises me

Not sure why. You should hear me on international affairs theory - and it's one of my degrees. I have delved into the topics, understood the arguments as presented, and decided that the evidence presented in support of the arguments is not sound. It's fine that people have endeavoured to make their cases and support them and I respect the effort however that doesn't oblige me to accept or like the results. If I find that most of the conclusions seem to be ill-conceived or contrived, I don't have any interest in continuing to pursue that line of endeavour.

I don't much like things which seem to be contrived; they annoy me. Great sections of arts analysis seem contrived to me and therefore I don't much like them. Doesn't mean there might not be some genuine gold somewhere in it all, but there isn't treasure or reward enough for me there for me to bother trying to excavate through the rest to find it.
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Old 14th October 2003, 4:47 PM   #29
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Not me. I happen to like gray
Me, too. Always thought it was very nice around the temples, myself
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Old 14th October 2003, 4:55 PM   #30
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giggles, not a big deal. it's an argument i hear from my students every single year; and it's the same one i've often heard applied to various chemical disorders from my friends in psych. i don't mind discipline bickering, i was just surprised you indulged in it. i am less willing to dismiss an entire body of classical knowledge as carelessly.
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