Tag Archives: Shakespeare

To Be or Not To Be: The English Disease

‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.

The well-known soliloquy from Shakespeare’s longest play and most famous tragedy, Hamlet, beginning, ‘To be or not to be…’ is much more than the meanderings of a suicidal mind, an individualist opposed to society, who wonders about whether life is worth the living. These words appeared on the cusp of a new century, in about 1600. This was the time when England was turning its back on its rural, sacramental, collective, Catholic past and looking towards an urban, vacuous, individualistic, Puritanical future, which would bring bloody civil war, regicide, foreign invasion and ultimately an industrial future. In Hamlet’s words, all England was wondering about being and not being.

This national trauma, inaugurated by the blood-soaked Tudors and their land grab from the monasteries and their care for the poor, has marked England ever since. Shakespeare’s eloquent words have immortalised the dilemma, the quandary of not being sure what to do, of which path to take, of pure indecisiveness. Hamlet questions the meaning of life and whether or not it is worthwhile to live when life contains so many hardships. He comes to the conclusion that the main reason people stay alive is due to a fear of death and uncertainty at what lies beyond life. Here we see the lack of faith which came about as a result of the Reformation which had shaken fundamental beliefs.

Thus, there is no uncertainty about what lies beyond death for the believer. Above all, however, there is the falsity of the question. Life or death, to be or not to be, is not a choice. There can be no choice here, no doubt. Unfortunately, this false choice, between right and wrong, reality and illusion, heaven and hell, is the one that has haunted English history since Shakespeare’s time. Thus, a whole British Empire was built on compromises between right and wrong. A whole foreign policy and a whole home policy were built on the unprincipled hypocrisy of compromise. There are even those who cannot decide between the ‘choice’ of the integral Church of God and some false ‘Christianity’…..