I HAVE, in recent weeks, been in a bit of a slump. Work is proving hard to do and when I write the words don’t flow in the way I wish they would.
My mojo is on hiatus.
I have been turning to other places for inspiration, recently working my way through some of the great Shakespearean tragedies. They do make me feel a bit better about life in general: as bad as things may be at times, at least nobody has tried to gouge my eyes out. Yet.
But still, a combination of laziness and uninspiring teachers in my youth – admittedly with an emphasis on the first – has led to my having a poor grasp of most of the Bard’s works. I can remember King Leontes’s words in the throes of marital jealousy at the start of The Winter’s Tale, but that is about all that has stuck with me:
Too hot, too hot!
To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.
I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances;
But not for joy; not joy.
Over the last week, I read Hamlet. On Friday, I came to Act V Scene I, the one with Hamlet and the skulls.
It is a scene which many would do well to read and to ponder. In a world obsessed with the present moment, and in which nobody appears to realise that they will die – at least, apart from in the abstract principle: the reality of being on one’s deathbed is just something else to file under the heading ‘think about later’.
Hamlet wonders about the identity of a skull:
There’s another: why may not that be the skull of a
lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillets,
his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? why does he
suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the
sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of
his action of battery? Hum!
We are, after all, finite in our physicality. The only thing that offers eternal life is redemption through God: all the trappings of human existence – the pride, the material possessions, the greed – are all temporal and will not follow you into the next life. As Jesus said, a rich man does not easily enter the kingdom of heaven. Then again, no dead person is rich.
Sitting in my pyjamas and drinking coffee, I didn’t realise quite how prophetic Hamlet’s words would be for that day.
It was only a few hours later that the death of Prince Philip was announced. In a sad testament to our age, one of my first reactions was to wonder how vile and inhumane would be the responses of those pitiful people online to the death of another person.
I was not surprised by the scorn and bile poured out by the predictably awful in our midst. A slew of people – by and large proclaiming their pronouns on their Twitter handles and entreating others to ‘#BeKind’ – were quick off the mark in their egregiousness.
I won’t reproduce their verbal abhorrences – why dignify the utterly undignified and irredeemably awful?
But it left me thinking. There are many people whose deaths I would not comment upon in public. I leave judgement of the dead to powers greater than me. So failed and fallen am I in so many ways that I cannot presume to cast judgement on the ultimate possibility of redemption of another soul. I cannot – not even in my vilest moments – imagine ever celebrating the death of someone I dislike in this mortal world.
I wonder about those who rejoice in the deaths of others. Will they, while lying on their deathbeds, fearing man’s ultimate leap into the unknowable, consider that relishing the deaths of others was, in hindsight, little more than short-sighted obscenity?
High and mighty, low and common alike end up in the same place. As Hamlet ponders:
Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!
For those who indulge in a deluge of hate upon learning of the deaths of those they presume to dislike in a fit of moralistic hypocrisy, I can only hope that there is no divine judgement, or that if there is, our Lord is more forgiving than I could ever be.
We all end up in the same place. After we die, we can only look to others still living to act humanely and to recognise the fallibility and fleetingness of all that we have.
I am saddened by Prince Philip’s death, but recognise he led a life most would envy.
In death, nevertheless, he has no riches nor privilege. He is at once brought unto that fate which we will await. It is beholden to us to remember that and to remind those who believe that they may somehow escape this ineluctable fate that they are merely engaged in that most common of misled human emotions – hubris.
They would do well to re-read some Shakespeare, that speaker of eternal truths:
That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once:
how the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were
Cain’s jaw-bone, that did the first murder!