To Who Be What, Now?

Shakespeare is the best author who ever lived, and Hamlet is the best play ever written. 

If you're not impressed, imagine it this way: Hamlet is the rough literary equivalent of homemade coconut ice cream; just when you thought it couldn't get any better, it is served to you on a Gigantic.  Fudge.  Brownie.

Photograph (c) Oli Scarff/Getty.
If you are at risk of being abandoned on a dessert island with only one option for edifying, entertaining, and inspiring literature, choose Hamlet.

If you had one day left to live and have yet to put a dent in that reading list, do nothing until you've read Hamlet.

While you're at it, why not catch a play or a movie?  (Hamlet, Hamlet, Hamlet.)

At the risk of repeating myself, did I mention I like Hamlet?

How many great things about Hamlet are there? 

Well, too many to list on one post, but one of them is that we think we know the meaning of something until our Elizabethan host from Merrie Olde England winks and pulls the phrase right out from under us.

In the play, there is a comedic character named Polonius.  

After his impressive display of idiocy (knavery, in Shakespearean) so far, he surprises by giving his son . . . well, sound advice.  Among these is the famous line,

"To thine own self be true."

It sounds good, right?  Be true to yourself.  Don't change who you are for anyone.  If it feels right, do it.

That's what I was taught and assumed it meant.  Then Joseph Pearce, professor and author of insightful biographies including C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church and Tolkien: Man and Myth, cast this famous quote in a new light.

In summary he says, Polonius is an idiot.  Polonius's advice is in fact relativist error.

What is really important is that we be true to the Truth beyond ourselves.  It is a hard lesson that the Danish prince has to learn throughout the course of the play.

If I have to choose between being true to myself or to The Truth, I would be silly not to choose The Truth every time.

Look at it this way.  Do I really want to be true to me, when I fail and when I hurt those around me?  When I am too stubborn to let go of a bad habit or sin that is hurting me?

Shouldn't I be more than happy to let God in to change me and, through the sacraments and prayer, to let him make me a better person?

I don't know if I should necessarily trust myself.  I'd rather listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

So let's change this advice into a prayer:

Lord, to thyself (let me be) true.  Amen.

Hamlet!  Let's just throw that in to make ten.


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