Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood. The latter, perhaps, wounds his vanity; but the former wounds his heart.
-Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche
The artfulness which is squandered in self-absorption is that of playacting; playacting requires an audience of strangers to succeed, but it is meaningless or even destructive among intimates.
-The Fall of Public Man, Richard Sennett
Introduction – I’ve read Hamlet three times over the past four months and have watched multiple productions, resulting in about twenty pages of scribbles that keep biting the dust because I’m always left with the impression that it’s not good enough. That I’ve missed the meaning. Only by including the lessons from Socrates and Nietzsche do I feel like I’ve arrived at a more solid understanding of Hamlet that goes beyond whether or not Gertrude was involved in King Hamlet’s murder or the exact degree to which Fortinbras’s situation reflects Hamlet’s. To focus on these things is to miss the poignant and timeless beauty.
Hamlet, Socrates, and Nietzsche – Hamlet illustrates how rationality can lead to irrationality. He has gazed too deeply into this life, swung from the stars, and maybe even spoke to a figure from the underworld in the form of his father’s ghost, and in the process he has failed to observe the ancient Greek principle of “Everything in Moderation.”
Video Version, Part 1:
True, I talk of dreams
Which are the children of an idle brain
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant as the wind, who wooes
Even now the frozen bosom of the north
-Romeo and Juliet
Introduction – While Romeo and Juliet is about a poignant love affair, it’s not as romantic as it may seem on the surface. All of the characters find themselves guided by raging love, sadness, hate, and anger, with the latter two especially dividing human society. Mercutio probably comes the closest to reason in that he perceives the corruption and unreason on both sides, but he cannot escape the spirit of the times either; his own fury gets him killed. But this is not a story about a few screwed-up people. Fate steers their courses and our own, and none of us unfortunate souls can control it.
Nature teaches beasts to know their friends
Background and Overview – Coriolanus is based on a Roman legend, which in turn was probably grounded in some truth. A few years prior to the events in the story, the last Roman king was overthrown by a group of Roman patricians (including Coriolanus) and the Roman Republic was established. With the balance of power disrupted, factions developed among the patricians (nobles) and the plebeians (commoners), with the latter group fighting for, and slowly gaining, more power. In the midst of the political conflict, famine stuck, but the patricians denied the poors’ cries for free (or near- free) corn.
It’s the bright day that brings forth the adder
Intro – Julius Caesar is different from other tragedies such as King Lear or Hamlet in that the tragic hero is not immediately clear, though it does have one. It is a more nuanced and ambiguous work, with each character being both good and bad. And while JC is a political commentary, reflecting the worries of civil war and succession in Shakespeare’s own times, it’s also peppered with philosophical reflections. The first time you read it, it may strike you as a “cold” tragedy, as Samuel Johnson said, due to this ambiguity and its less-quotable lines, but ultimately, I found it more enjoyable because of this initial impenetrability.
‘T is the time’s plague, when madmen lead the blind.
The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
Shall never see too much, nor live so long”
Brief Overview – Lear has been an extremely successful English king in medieval times, but is now ready for a more peaceful life. He devises a cock-and-bull method of dividing his empire amongst his three daughters. Whoever declares their love most fervently gets the most. The two older daughters take hyperbole to a new level and declare their undying affection for him, while the youngest, Cordelia, refuses to lie in such a manner. She says that she loves her father as a daughter should. Lear is angry, disowns her (though she still marries the King of France) and suffering ensues.