Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts

Tuesday 3 September 2019

Holding a Mirror up to Hamlet

It was the worst of plays; it was the best of plays

Hamlet is either the best play ever written or the worst, depending on your perspective. I have, at different times, held both opinions. T.S. Eliot was very critical of the play and of critics of the play. Ultimately he was categorical that “the play is most certainly an artistic failure” (Hamlet and His Problems. T.S. Eliot. 1921. The Sacred Wood; Essays on Poetry and Criticism).

The problem of many Hamlets

Eliot reminds us that Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a “revised” version of earlier Hamlets, most notably one by Kyd—and Eliot seems convinced that the play is inferior for this among other reasons. Eliot also points out the tendency of “creative critics” (he mentions Coleridge and Goethe) to imagine a Hamlet character rather than the one actually in the play. Hamlet is so vague and inscrutable that the character invites speculation, confabulation and imaginative interpretations of his “true” nature.  Hamlet is a young man's play--at least, that's when it spoke most deeply to me.  Suicide is a young man's disease--the second leading cause of death in the 15-to-35-year-old age group behind accidents, but a lot of accidental deaths could easily be interpreted as suicides.  "To be or not to be" is bound to have purchase with this age and gender.

Hamnet and depression

In Shakespeare: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd suggests that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in a fit of depression over the death of his 11-year-old son, Hamnet. I see lots of evidence in the play to support this view. When you stop to consider, as objectively as one can, the various elements of the play, it turns out to be incredibly self-indulgent. 

Hamlet:  the model not to follow

If you were giving a play-writing course and wanted a model to show students how not to write a play, Hamlet would work. We teachers of English are accustomed to referring to "Hamlet's procrastination," but what about Shakespeare's procrastination?  "Come on, Will, get to the point!" The play is too long, the mood is morose, meandering and depressive, the plot travels all over the place (literally) without any sense of direction (Eliot suggests it was written by a committee), the playwright (through his central character) criticizes the audience (the Globe theatre smells foul) and actors (they tear an emotional line to shreds).

Holding a mirror up to Hamlet

 It amazes me that Shakespeare uses the play to give fairly condescending instructions to actors. It amazes me even more that in the typical production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, directors don’t seem to know what Hamlet’s instructions about “holding a mirror up to nature” mean. The allusion is to Renaissance painters who used mirrors as a trick to get the proportions right in large scene painting. The instructions are "don’t exaggerate the emotions" and "maintain perspective," but still I’ve seen Hamlet writhing on the floor over and over again in paroxysms of emotions in both amateur and professional productions. On the other hand, in this play, the playwright didn’t seem to follow his own advice either.

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the   [enunciate, don't mumble]
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air [don't shout]
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently; [no excessive gestures]
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it [understate emotions]
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who [don't shout, then Shakespeare/Hamlet insults the audience]
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it. [overdoing exaggerated characters]
First Player
I warrant your honour.
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o'erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is  [don't exaggerate]
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the [maintain perspective, get the proportions right, as they are in nature, "nature" here means in the neoclassical sense]
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone,
or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful [overdone is lowbrow]
laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the
censure of the which one must in your allowance
o'erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be
players that I have seen play, and heard others
praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,
that, neither having the accent of Christians nor
the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of
nature's journeymen had made men and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably. [act normally; in short, avoid exaggeration, avoid excess in volume, manner and gesture]

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Money Can Buy Happiness. The Question Is: “How Much Happiness Is Enough?”

How much money buys happiness?

Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell we can now say that increased wealth correlates with an increase in happiness up to an annual salary of $75,000 USD—that’s $100,000 Canadian  (See Good Teachers Are Always Underdogs).  After $100,000 CAD, more money produces less and less happiness, until wealth eventually causes more problems than pleasures.  

    = < $100,000 CAD

We are left with the question: “How much happiness is enough?”  Strange question?  I hope so.  

Being unhappy is not a mental illness

Listening to a lecture given by Thomas Szasz, the psychiatrist who denied the existence of anything that could be called a “mental illness” (see also Terrorism and Madness:  Between Sympathy and Understanding), I was struck by his description of people who came to him thinking that they were mentally ill because they were not happy.  As Szasz reported, being unhappy is a perfectly reasonable, sane response to some of life’s events and circumstances.  

The pressure to be happy causes depression

I take as exceptions to the rule the numerous stories we hear of parents making their children direly unhappy, pressuring them to the point of neurosis, break-down and alienation over every choice imaginable from friends to habits to lifestyles to marriage partners to careers and everything in between.  For the average parent, myself included, wanting the offspring to be happy—no matter what else—is the number one priority.  However, I have at times found myself wondering if wanting your progeny to be happy isn’t just another way of putting pressure on them. (Overthinking!?  It’s what I do.)

Sometimes being unhappy is healthy

How often do we put pressure on the average millennial by telling her/im s/he should be happy, convincing her/im to believe, like one of Dr. Szasz’s clients, that being unhappy is a sign of mental illness?  How often do we oblige him/er to put on an endless display of alacrity and to answer every “How are you?” with Pollyanna enthusiasm?   Underlying these prescriptions for required happiness is the worst of all proscriptions:  “Sammy Jane, you do not have the right to be unhappy!”  At some point, we all have to admit the obvious.  Being bored, irritated, frustrated and enraged are the normal, sane, appropriate responses to situations which are boring, irritating, frustrating and enraging—if you have not encountered these situations in your life, you are not from this planet.

Imposing our view of happiness

The real risk of parents insisting on their kids being happy is that the things we ancestors might imagine as the precursors and prerequisites to happiness might not actually be what will make our heirs happy.  The prerequisites we imagine might actually be the things that would make us happy—if only our kids would do them.  We parents might unwittingly be insisting that our kids make us happy under the guise of our wanting them to be happy.

"The child is father to the man"

Happiness is not just a parenting issue.  True Romantic that I am, I happen to believe Wordsworth’s claim that “the Child is father to the Man.”   In most cases, adults have a lot more to learn about happiness from children than the other way around.  (Ever notice how many adults worry about spoiling children but never about spoiling themselves.)  In the adult world, happiness and its prerequisites have become addictions.

Definition of addiction

I once heard a specialist in the field describe addiction this way:  “You’re not hungry, but when someone places a bowl of salty peanuts near you, you decide to have one.  The taste of the first peanut creates a craving for more.  That is the process of addiction.”  As I listened, I wasn’t sure if this was just an analogy or if he meant it was possible to become addicted to peanuts.  No doubt the obesity statistics make it obvious that food is a North American addiction.  The desire for food is not created by hunger, but by food itself.

Sometimes addiction is the norm

I have to admit I guffawed when I read that Tiger Woods was in rehab being treated for sex addiction.  The idea that sex can be an addiction makes sense, I guess, but we live in a society where sex addiction is the norm.  Men are advised to take little blue pills to maintain the addiction, and women are expected to support the cause with purchases from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.  I’ve heard that men think about sex every seven minutes (not sure who gathered these statistics—see Lies, Lies, Nothing but Lies ).  That sounds about right, not because men are naturally inclined to having sex every seven minutes, but because seven minutes is a typical interval between exposures to some sexual stimulus—ad, image, scene, smell, physical person or all of the above—in our society.  

The concept of enough

I am still fascinated by E.F. Schumacher’s concept of “enough” from Small is Beautiful.  (See Good Teachers Are Always Underdogs.) How much of each of the things that are supposed to make us happy is enough?  How much food, sex, comfort, attention, fame, power, status, beauty, knowledge, admiration or love is enough?  How can we answer this question when each of these pleasures and affects can become an addiction; in fact, already are addictions in our culture and society?

Happiness is the absence of pain

On a Mediterranean cruise recently, I was struck by how many passengers—myself included—were beginning to find the endless luxury and pampering oppressive.  The philosopher Schopenhauer argued that happiness was the temporary absence of pain.  According to Schopenhauer, the achievement of our desires makes us sated and bored causing the endless cycle of pain to begin again.

Why are the Danes the happiest people in the world?

Year after year, Denmark is identified as the happiest country in the world.  The Danes, however, do not seem like a smiley, joyous people.  Analysis reveals that the basis of their happiness is their low, and therefore achievable, expectations.  The key, then, to being happy is knowing how much is enough.

Why Is the Vagina Masculine? And What’s the Alternative?

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