Is that it? Are we left with the unanswerable ontological question: “To be, or not to be?” Or, “if philosophy could find it out,” might there not be another moral to draw from the play? A different line of thought is suggested by the deeply enigmatic speech given to the ever-trusty Horatio just before Hamlet is about to fight with Laertes in a conflict that he intuits will cost him his life.
“We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since man, of aught he leaves, knows aught, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.”
Generations of readers have interpreted these lines in relation to a Christian idea of Providence and linked them to Hamlet’s earlier words, “There is a divinity that shapes our ends.” This might be correct, but perhaps these words can withstand another, slightly more skeptical, gloss.
Our thought here is that a possible response to the question, “To be, or not to be?” is “Let be.” But what might that mean? It is the defiance of augury, or omen, that is most interesting in the preceding passage, the refusal of any ability on our part to predict the future, to foresee the course of events. But if that is true, then the second verse might be intended slightly ironically: “What, you mean, there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow?” The point might be that if there is any providence at work, then we know nothing of it. Such knowledge is the unique attribute of the divinity of whom we mere mortals can know nothing, rough-hew him or her how we will. Knowing nothing, letting be, means for Hamlet that “the readiness is all.”
one of the more valuable things I’ve learned in life as a survivor of a mentally unstable parent is that it is likely that no one has thought through it as much as you have.
no, your friend probably has not noticed they cut you off four times in this conversation.
no, your brother didn’t realize his music was that loud while you were studying.
no, your bff or S.O. doesn’t remember that you’re on a tight deadline right now.
no, no one else is paying attention to the four power dynamics at play in your friend group right now.
a habit of abused kids, especially kids with unstable parents, is the tendency to notice every little detail. We magnify small nuances into major things, largely because small nuances quickly became breaking points for parents. Managing moods, reading the room, perceiving danger in the order of words, the shift of body weight….it’s all a natural outgrowth of trying to manage unstable parents from a young age.
Here’s the thing: most people don’t do that. I’m not saying everyone else is oblivious, I’m saying the over analysis of minor nuances is a habit of abuse.
I have a rule: I do not respond to subtext. This includes guilt tripping, silent treatments, passive aggressive behavior, etc. I see it. I notice it. I even sometimes have to analyze it and take a deep breath and CHOOSE not to respond. Because whether it’s really there or just me over-reading things that actually don’t mean anything, the habit of lending credence to the part of me that sees danger in the wrong shift of body weight…that’s toxic for me. And dangerous to my relationships.
The best thing I ever did for myself and my relationships was insist upon frank communication and a categorical denial of subtext. For some people this is a moral stance. For survivors of mentally unstable parents this is a requirement of recovery.
If it wasn’t stated outright – it wasn’t said.
“I do not respond to subtext.” — that’s good, I like that