“Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.”
"For Cyphars; they are commonly in Letters or Alphabets, but may bee in Wordes. The kindes of Cyphars, (befides the Simple Cyphars with Changes, and intermixtures of Nvlles, and Nonsignificats) are many, according to the Nature or Rule of the infoulding: Wheele-Cyphars, Kay-Cyphars, Dovbles, &c. But the virtues of them, whereby they are to be preferred, are three; that they be not laborious to write and reade; that they bee impofsible to difcypher; and in fome cafes, that they bee without fufpition. The higheft Degree whereof, is towrite Omnia Per Omnia; which is vndoubtedly pofsible, with a proportion Quintuple at most, of the writing infoulding, to the writing infoulded, and no other reftrainte whatfoeuer. This Arte of Cypheringe, hath for Relatiue, an Art of Difcypheringe; but fuppofition vnprofitable; but, as things are, of great vfe. For fuppofe that Cyphars were well managed, there bee Multitudes of them which exclude the Difcypher. But in regarde of the rawneffe they paffe, the greateft Matters, are many times carried in the weakeft Cyphars." (Francis Bacon, Of The Advancement of Learning 1605)
Un-fold \ 1 a: to open the folds of : spread or straighten out : EXPAND <~ed the map> b : to remove (as a package) from the folds : UNWRAP 2 : to open to the view : REVEAL; esp: to make clear by gradual disclosure and often by recital ~ vi 1 a: to open from a folded state : open out : EXPAND b: BLOSSOM 2 : DEVELOP, EVOLVE <as the story ~s> 3 : to open out gradually to the view or understanding : become known ,a panorama ~s before their eyes>
The second line of Hamlet “reflects” the question “Who’s there?” back as an image in a mirror, when Francisco responds: “Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.” (2) Much like an object and its reflection (are identical in the vertical plane and opposite in the horizontal plane), the last word of this line "yourself" here correlates with the first word of Phaedo in the original Greek (the reflexive pronoun: autos) “…were you yourself…” while it's negation is opposite to Phaedo’s affirmation: “Yes, Echecrates, I was.” (2)
Within the context of the opening lines of Hamlet, Francisco's response to Bernardo's question illustrates a paradox which has arisen out of their common yet conflicting purpose. They are both guards who's duty is to identify the persons that they meet, yet here they come across each other.
This circumstance is a perfect example for the necessity of a method in discernment between a "friend" or a specific initiate, and a "stranger" to that particular communion, one which would ideally require a sort of password, or in other words a most basic type of code with a cryptographic key needed for identification among "friends" or the initiates. Furthermore, the symbolism of the guards here meets the "mirror trope", whereby the guards themselves are as two mirrors juxtaposed.
The ontological sentiment expressed in Bernardo's question only to be echoed back by Francisco in the second line, microcosmically embodies a predominant theme of Hamlet. Both the "mirror trope" and the symbolism of the changing guard serve as an element of transition or motion. Phillipa Kelly writes that "For Shakespeare, it seems, the act of mirroring might enable selves to be revealed more "truly" through the shrinking, enlarging, engorging or distortion of dimension; but paradoxically, in this very drive, the mirror admits the elusiveness of interiority. And in this paradox is both constant displacement and constant movement." (P. Kelly, Surpassing Glass: Shakespeare's Mirrors, 26)
Kelly continues with an example from Hamlet: "And it is here that Hamlet marks the paradox of language, reflection and interiority. While the skeptical prince may mock verbal and physical display for their incapacity to "denote me truly" - to body him forth as accurately as would the dissection of his organs - short of physical dissection it is only through words and pictures that one can reflect, and thus "know," one's dimensions at all, or those of others. Hamlet is fascinated by the notion of an interiority that cannot be reflected by the transitory medium of verbal and physical signs. Yet he realizes also that these outward signs are all one has to represent the self; and, moreover, that the self is by its nature elusive and shifting. Hamlet is fraught with this uncertainty, as the protagonist yearns to believe in the intentions he sees reflected in the words and appearances of others: the hasty marriage of Claudius with his mother, the entry of the ghost, the conduct of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But he finds that he cannot abandon his skepticism not only about the intentions themselves, but also about the shifting corporeal contexts in which they are framed." (P. Kelly, Surpassing Glass: Shakespeare's Mirrors, 29)
As Phillipa Kelly describes the crucial "paradox of language, reflection and interiority" in Hamlet, she points out the interrelated nature of the conflict between empiricism and skepticism; body and mind; words and their meaning; actions and intents in the uncertainty of appearances confronting the hero of the play. Surely this conflict is a reflection of the enigmatic impressions made by the play itself on those attempting to reconcile the multitude of paradoxes it presents.
The uncertainty inherent to the language in Hamlet’s text stems from this “interiority that cannot be reflected by the transitory medium of verbal and physical signs” and conflict arises because “these outward signs are all one has to represent” its essence. As Kelly points out, this insufficiency of empiricism leads the protagonist to his skepticism and careful scrutiny of the people in his surroundings, their actions and most importantly the words they use.
Certainly it would be prudent for anyone attempting to untangle the enigmatic meaning of this text, to employ equal scrutiny and skepticism to the analysis of language and the character of the personages that employ it, as does the hero of the play himself, or the guard in it's opening lines.
This paradox of language is crucial to philosophic discourse in general and serves a particularly central role in Plato’s philosophy. The exploration into the meaning of words is as much the goal in Plato’s writing (and as will be shown in our analysis of Hamlet, also Shakespeare’s) as the search for the essence in the philosophic conceptions such as Love, Wisdom, Justice, Fortune and Friendship as well as many others in Socratic discourse and finally here in Phaedo, his final dialogue, where the very nature of the soul itself takes center stage. After all it is through language that this ontological discourse is manifested, and by way of this philosophic inquiry into the meaning of such words that their true natures are explored.
This is precisely why Phaedo holds a seat of paramount importance within the canon of Plato’s work, as the subject matter explored in this particular dialogue is the nature of the soul or quintessence itself. This inquiry is fundamental to philosophy because all philosophic language pivots on the spirit of ideas expressed in words, which embody their meaning much as the physical body encapsulates the human soul as described by Socrates in Phaedo.
As stated earlier, in the opening line of Hamlet, the ontological question “Who’s there?” expressed this “paradox of language” by its intent to identify. This question underscores the very nature of guard’s duty – to discern “friend” from “stranger” as it is similarly done in the first line of Phaedo: “Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates on the day when he drank the poison?” (Phaedo, 1) and the subsequent questioning into who was present in the prison with Socrates during his last discourse, which is followed by questions pertaining to whether there were 'friends' or 'strangers' with him when he died.
As a consequence of this preliminary inquiry into the question of “who’s there?” in both texts, the reader is presented with a list of dramatis personae within the actual text at the beginning of both Hamlet and Phaedo, at precisely the same time.
Furthermore the significance placed on the distinction between “friends” and “strangers” amongst those present makes these lists of names particularly poignant to the greater stories told within both texts.
The discussion in Phaedo, as with most of Plato’s dialogues is between two opposing sides of an argument. As a matter of fact the conversation depicted in Phaedo is at times compared by Socrates to battles for ideas, debates in which two apposing sides figuratively fight to win the day. The characters in Plato’s dialogues are often split between these apposing sides and some are often persuaded to switch their positions in midst of the debate.
Consider Leon Harold Craig’s martial description of the prelude to Plato’s Republic in his book The War Lover:
“The story is a familiar one. Having satisfied his curiosity about an innovation in the local religion, a notoriously combative philosopher named Sure Strength (So-krates) and his blooded squire Gleaming (Glaukon) are retiring towards their acropolis when overtaken by a numerically stronger party of men who threaten their capture. Along with some who remain anonymous, its ranks include another battle tested young man named Dauntless (Adeimantos) and the taciturn son of a famous general, named like his father in honour of Victory (Nikeratos, son of Nikias). The apparent leader of the group is named War Ruler (Polem-archos). Negotiations ensue, and through a mixture of compulsion and persuasion, the opposing forces are melded into one, which thereupon resolves to return to the lower city in pursuit of rations, recreation, and new recruits. Night action is contemplated.” (Leon Harold Craig, The War Lover, p. 3)
As Craig illustrates in his analysis of the beginning (and the whole) of Plato’s Republic is written within a military subtext, as the title of his book clearly alludes. And as Craig shows at the beginning of the dialogue in the Republic the opposite camps take their respective sides as similarly done in the outset of Phaedo.
In the beginning of Phaedo, some of the attendants of this final visitation with Socrates in prison fit into the category of “strangers” in the narrator’s description of the visitors to Echecrates. These “strangers” have come to Athens from foreign lands to witness the historic circumstances of Socrates’ execution and to take part in a final discussion with the dying philosopher.
Two of these visitors are Simmias and Cebes, who are the main participants of the final discourse with Socrates, as depicted in Phaedo.
Simmias and Cebes are presented by Phaedo as "strangers" in his list of the attendants and further serve not merely as counterparts to Socrates in the discussion which takes place, but in part represent the apposition to Socrates’ ideology and are referred to, in the text, as followers of Philolaus the Pythagorean and Evenus the poet, both (can be interpreted from the text as) rivals to Socratic teaching. Although the nature of this ideological rivalry between Evenus the poet and Socrates the philosopher (and their very particular relevance to the text of Hamlet, which was briefly mentioned in the preceding section and will be the subject of a further discussion at a later time), it is important to mention here however, that Simmias and Cebes could arguably be interpreted to serve the roles of agents for the apposition in the discourse, as evident very early in the dialogue.
In their representation for the apposition, Simmias and Cebes bring up a multitude of seeming contradictions, inconsistencies or hypocrisies in Socrates’ teachings (which will also be further explored at a later time), by so doing they illuminate the paradoxical nature of his teachings and serve as the medium for Socrates’ final defense of his ideology at the beginning of Phaedo. The subsequent discussion in the dialogue concerns the nature of the soul and Socrates’ proof for its immortality, to which Simmias and Cebes present their counterarguments.
Consider a brief conversation between Phaedo and Socrates in the midst of this discussion, after Simmias presents a particularly strong contradictory argument (in which he famously describes the soul as a harmony) to Socrates’ illustration of the soul’s immortality. At which point Phaedo expresses his own concern to Echecrates of his feeling at the time, that the argument may have been lost, and contrasts his own despair with a description of Socrates’ resolve:
“He might be compared to a general rallying his defeated and broken army, urging them to follow him and return to the field of argument.” (Phaedo, 372)
Phaedo then recounts telling Socrates that even “Heracles himself is said not to be a match for two.” (Phaedo, 379) Referring to the opposition of Simmias and Cebes. To which Socrates replies: “Summon me…and I will be your Iolaus until the sun goes down.” (Phaedo, 380) In response Phaedo states that he summons Socrates, “not as Heracles summoning Iolaus, but as Iolaus might summon Heracles.” (Phaedo, 381)
Heracles (or Hercules) and Iolaus are, of course, legendary friends and comrades in arms, and here serve as metaphor for an epitome of partisan loyalty and friendship.
A similar distinction between “friends” and “strangers” plays an underlining role in Hamlet as well as in Phaedo. While among the visitors in the dialogue, Phaedo is self-described as Socrates’ friend in contrast to Simmias and Cebes who represent the opposition; while in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet’s visitors include Horatio who is a friend of the protagonist (who promises the dying hero to tell his story at the end of the play; the comparison to Phaedo’s role as the narrator of Socrates’ last hours, will be made at a later time) and so-called friends like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are in fact spies.
Interestingly, there are three mentions of Hercules in Hamlet, one of which is in Rosencrantz’ line: “Hercules and his load too.” (Hamlet, 402) in an exchange with Hamlet which will shortly be closely analyzed in juxtaposition with the corresponding arguments between Socrates, Simmias and Cebes in Phaedo.
While it was already shown that the references to Phaedo in the dialogue (who came to witness the “death of a friend”) and Horatio in the play (who’s first words are “friends to this ground” in response to the guards question “who’s there?”) as “liegemen” visiting their respective protagonists, co-occur simultaneously in the line-by-line juxtaposition of the two texts. A similar co-occurrence will soon be presented for the references to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s as representatives of Hamlet’s opposition (the king and queen) under the pretense of friendship, occurring simultaneously in Hamlet with Simmias and Cebbes being presented similarly in the text of Phaedo (as students of Philolaus the Pythagorean and Evenus the poet, perceived in the text as rivals to Socrates’ teachings) to whom Socrates often refers to as friends.
In the apposing sides of discourse in Phaedo, Socrates represents the ideal philosopher while those in apposition to him (primarily Simmias and Cebes in the dialogue of Phaedo) the contradiction to this way of thought. The distinction between "friends" and "strangers" then becomes a sort of philosophic 'Litmus test' for those initiates who are “of the same mind” with the Socratic idea of philosophy. The guidelines for this categorical identification with the philosophic way of life are meticulously outlined by Socrates’ in both Phaedo and Republic (as it is often similarly done in Plato’s other dialogues as well) whereby the true nature of philosophy and its practitioners is painstakingly formulated.
In light of the relationship illustrated here between the texts of Hamlet and Phaedo, it would seem prudent to apply this sort of distinction, or philosophic 'Litmus test' to the characters in Hamlet. Questions then arise, Is Hamlet a philosopher, after the Socratic example? Is Horatio? Are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?
Hamlet, as prince or a potential monarch (according to Socrates) in order to be a worthy guardian of the state, must first and foremost be a philosopher, because they “only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable (the soul or spirit)”. A philosopher according to Socrates, possesses this innate ability of a guardian, to discriminate friend from foe, yet this ability is not governed by the body but by the soul, not by the senses of the body but by the eye of the mind, not through outwardly empiricism but only through introspective skepticism.
As Socrates describes in Phaedo, the philosopher aspires to separate themselves as much as possible from the bodily senses and commit his thinking to this emancipation of the soul from its corporeal confinement.
“therefore they who have a care of their souls, and do not merely live in the fashions of the body, say farewell to all this; they will not walk in the ways of the blind: and when philosophy offers them purification and release from evil, they feel that they ought not to resist her influence, and to her they incline, and whither she leads they follow her.” (Phaedo, 350)
This description of philosophy as leading a prisoner from the “ways of the blind” to “purification” of enlightenment is illustrated by Plato’s famous parable of the cave in book VII of the Republic.
“Make an image of our nature in its education and want of education, likening it to a condition of the following kind. See human beings as though they were in an underground cave like dwelling with its entrance, a long one, open to the light across the whole width of the cave. They are in it from childhood with their legs and necks in bonds so that they are fixed, seeing only in front of them, unable because of the bond to turn their heads all the way around. Their light is from a fire burning far above and behind them. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a road above, along which see a wall, built like the partitions puppet-handlers set in front of the human beings and over which they show the puppets.” (Plato’s Republic, Allan Bloom trans., 514a)
The imprisonment of the soul by the senses of the body in Socrates' description in Phaedo closely correlates to the prisoner deceived by his false perception of the cave’s environment in the allegory from the Republic.
“They’re like us…For in the first place, do you suppose such men would have seen anything of themselves and one another, other than the shadows cast by the fire on the side of the cave facing them?” (Plato’s Republic, Allan Bloom trans., 515a)
The prisoners in Plato’s allegory are blind to their own essence as much as they are unable to discriminate the true nature of their fellow cave dwellers, until the time they are emancipated by the spirit of philosophy.
As anyone familiar with Hamlet knows that its protagonist is justified in his skepticism of those around him. The conduct of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is a particularly good example of an uncertainty in discernment between a "friend" and a "stranger" since these two characters in the play are Hamlet’s schoolmates who have been acquisitioned by the antagonists (the king and queen) to take advantage of his trust and in the process spy on him.
In Hamlet’s first conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the second scene of the second act of the play, he tests their true intensions and their friendship. He thereby successfully unveils their motives by means not unlike Socrates’ own, infamous method of inquest.
The short exchange at the beginning of this conversation deserves a closer look. Hamlet begins by greeting his friends:
“My excellent good friends! How dost thou,
Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye both?” (Hamlet, 352)
To which Rosencrantz responds:
“As the indifferent children of the earth.” (Hamlet, 353)
This exchange coincides in the line-by-line juxtaposition of Hamlet and Phaedo with the previously mentioned line where Socrates states that philosophers or “they who have a care of their souls… do not merely live in the fashions of the body… and when philosophy offers them purification and release from evil (the body), they feel that they ought not to resist her” (Phaedo, 350).
Consider the words “as the indifferent children of the earth” in Rosencrantz’ description of himself and Guildenstern, in contrast to Socrates’ referring to philosophers as “those who care of their souls”. The contrast here is in the nature of one’s character, as indifference on the part of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern contrasted by caring on the part of those who have a love for knowledge (philosophers) in Socrates’ words.
The word “earth” in Rosencrantz’ description of himself and Guildenstern as her "indifferent children" in the context of confinement in Socrates’ statement is particularly poignant considering that merely several lines into this same conversation, Hamlet famously refers to the world as a prison, whereas in Phaedo, simultaneously in the juxtaposition of these two texts, Socrates continues his illustration of the body as the prison for the soul.
Furthermore, consider Socrates stating that philosophers or “they who have a care of their souls…do not… live in the fashions of the body” (350) in contrast to Guildenstern’s addition to Rosencrantz’ following response:
“Happy, in that we are not over-happy;
On fortune's cap we are not the very button.” (354)
To which Hamlet adds:
“Nor the soles of her shoe?” (355)
In particular notice the personification of fortune by way of an interesting symbolism of her body and specifically the references to her clothing (cap and shoe).
The correlations in the references to clothing, apparel and fashion accessories in Hamlet with Socrates’ words “fashions of the body” in Phaedo, may seem strenuous and merely coincidental, however upon closer examination of the two texts the subject of clothing will continue to re-occur precisely in this same context in both Hamlet and Phaedo, and thereby re-affirms the likelihood of Shakespeare’s intentionality.
The symbolism of clothing turns out to be quite elaborate in both texts and serves an important role in the philosophic discussion on the nature of the soul, described as imprisoned by the body in Phaedo and frequently used in Hamlet as a similar symbolism to underscore the hero’s interiority in the play, examples of this from both texts will be presented shortly.
The subtext of the conversation between Hamlet and his two friends (sent to spy on him) has an underlying philosophic tone. In this short prelude to Hamlet’s ensuing interrogation of his two friends in which he uncovers the true intensions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, is the personification of fortune in which she is explicitly fleshed out and figuratively embodied “head to toe”.
The anthropomorphism of fortune has its roots in Greek mythology, as Robert Graves explains:
“Tyche (‘fortune’), like Dice and Aedos (personifications of Natural Law, or Justice, and Shame), was an artificial deity invented by the early philosophers; whereas Nemesis (‘due enactment’) had been the Nymph-goddess of Death-in-Life whom they now redefined as a moral control on Tyche.” (Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 32)
It is important to point out that the discussion in Plato's Republic principally concerns the nature of justice. The first description of justice being presented in that text by Polemarchos (which Socrates subsequently explores in his quintessential style of inquiry) that “justice is doing good to friends and harm to enemies” (Plato’s Republic, Allan Bloom trans., 332d)
Leon Craig describes this preliminary discussion on the nature of justice in the Republic as follows: “Wielding a pithy line of poetry, the young man (Polemarchos) advances an account of justice that is confined to those one loves (i.e., friends, philoi). But when encouraged by the philosopher (Socrates) to do so, he readily expands it to include appropriate conduct towards those one hates (i.e., enemies, echthroi, literally, “the hated”). (Leon Harold Craig, The War Lover, p. 4)
Consider the distinction between friends and enemies in this discussion on the nature of justice from the beginning of the Republic to the current analysis of friends and strangers in Hamlet and Phaedo. Particularly consider the counterpart to Fortune (as personification of Justice), Nemesis (‘due enactment’), whom Graves describes as fortune’s “moral control” within the context of “doing good to friends and harm to enemies” in the discussion from the Republic.
Robert Graves further explains the role of Tyche (fortune) in the Greek pantheon:
“Tyche is a daughter of Zeus, to whom he has given power to decide what the fortune of this or that mortal shall be. On some she heaps gifts from a horn of plenty, others she deprives of all that they have. Tyche is altogether irresponsible in her awards, and runs about juggling with a ball to exemplify the uncertainty of chance: sometimes up, sometimes down. But if it ever happens that a man, whom she has favoured, boasts of his abundant riches band neither sacrifices a part of them to the gods, nor alleviates the poverty of his fellow-citizens, then the ancient goddess Nemesis steps in to humiliate him. Nemesis, whose home is at Attic Rhamnus, carries an apple-bough in one hand, and a wheel in the other, and wears a silver crown adorned with stags; the scourge hangs at her girdle. She is a daughter of Oceanus and has something of Aphrodite’s beauty.” (Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 32)
Graves describes Nemesis as the “the Nymph-goddess of Death-in-Life” and states that “Nemesis’s wheel was originally the solar year is suggested by the name of her Latin counterpart, Fortuna (from vortuna, ‘she who turns the year about’). When the wheel had turned half circle, the sacred king, raised to the summit of his fortune was fated to die - the Actaeon stags on her crown announce this – but when it came full circle, he revenged himself on the rival who had supplanted him. Her scourge was formerly used for ritual flogging, to fructify the trees and crops, and the apple-bough was the king’s passport to Elysium.” (Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 32)
Consider the following reference to Fortune in the second scene of the second act from Hamlet:
Out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods, In general synod take away her power; Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel, And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven, (Hamlet, 431)
Note the correlation of the apple-bough in fortune’s hands and the wheel which represents the annual death and resurrection of the sacrificial king in context of (the sacred tree from Diana's sanctuary, guarded by the primordial priests or kings of the wood) the account from Frazier’s Golden Bough mentioned earlier, as well as the symbolism of the changing guard as changing monarchs in Hamlet from the previous discussion.
In the simultaneous discussions on the discernment between "friends" and "strangers" in the beginning of both Hamlet and Phaedo the characters of Horatio and Phaedo are presented as "friends" who have come to visit their respective protagonists; furthermore in subsequent conversations from deep within both texts emerged another simultaneously occurring juxtaposition between the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Simmias and Cebes, who are agents for the antagonists in the two stories respectively. The contrast of this duality in loyalty of identification (as friends or enemies) is drawn within a richer subtext, specifically that of the discussions on the soul being imprisoned by the body in Phaedo and the embodiment of Fortune in Hamlet, together with the analysis of Fortune's implicit counterpart, justice. Within the context of these discussions on friends, strangers, soul, body (representing corporal desires), fortune and justice, consider Hamlet's words of admiration for his friend Horatio in the second scene of the third act:
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice,
And could of men distinguish her election,
Sh'ath seal'd thee for herself; for though hast been
As one, in suff'ring all, that suffers nothing,
A man that Fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks; and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commeddled
That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee. [Hamlet III.ii.64-74]
The peculiar emphases on the feminine gender of the soul in Hamlet's words, as the "mistress of her choice" are complemented by the similar way in which Socrates repeatedly refers to the soul as a female personification in Phaedo. The implicit sexuality of the soul as a "mistress of her choice...of men" is also echoed in the previously mentioned references to Fortune as a "strumpet" twice in the text of Hamlet already shown to correspond to Socrates' conflicting description in Phaedo, on the purity of a philosopher's soul, which is free of corporal lusts and desires.
The subject of sexuality (particularly in regards to the only two female characters of the play) is highly prevalent in Hamlet both in implicit as well as in explicit references such as Hamlet's famous "get thee to a nunnery" tirade to Ophelia as well as the queen's cataclysmic infidelity. This will be analyzed in greater depth at a later time, however it is important to note here that in the juxtaposition of the two texts currently under question the general conflict between corporal lust and purity through abstinence of desires add to the intricate relationship between the subtexts of both works.
The two female anthropomorphisms of the soul and fortune correlate here in Hamlet's words of praise for his friend Horatio, thereby reinforcing the concurrence of the references to the soul in Socrates' discussion with Phaedo and the mention of fortune in Hamlet's conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the excerpts from the two texts which correspond in the ongoing line-by-line juxtaposition.
Furthermore, the contexts of the discernment between "friends" and "enemies" (or "strangers") as well as the commonality between Socrates' analysis of corporal desires as the supreme culprits in the prevention of the soul from attaining ultimate good (her liberation from the confines of the body) in the very same part of Phaedo now under discussion with Hamlet here speaking of Horatio "As one, in suff'ring all, that suffers nothing, a man that Fortune's buffets and rewards...that is not passion's slave" as it regards to one's happiness (extrapolated from the references to Fortune from the conversation of Hamlet with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern presently under discussion) together with the emphasis on sexuality already mentioned prove to be very intricate and thereby highly intentional. The significance of the words "I will wear him in my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart" in further adding to this assertion will be addressed shortly.
To return to the previously mentioned personification of fortune in Hamlet's conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, particularly note Hamlet’s line “Nor the soles of her shoe?” (Hamlet, 355) in reference to the anthropomorphism of fortune where the word “soles” is likely being used as a pun on the word “soul”, as in (the slightly less subtle) example of the memorable “mender of bad soles” in Julius Cesar. Compare this to Socrates’ description of the souls as “fastened and glued to their bodies” in the corresponding line from Phaedo:
“The lovers of knowledge are conscious that their souls, when philosophy receives them, are simply fastened and glued to their bodies: the soul is only able to view existence through the bars of a prison, and not in her own nature; she is wallowing in the mire of all ignorance; and philosophy, seeing the terrible nature of her confinement, and that the captive through desire is led to conspire in her own captivity (for the lovers of knowledge are aware that this was the original state of the soul, and that when she was in this state philosophy received and gently counseled her, and wanted to release her, pointing out to her that the eye is full of deceit, and also the ear and other senses, and persuading her to retire from them in all but the necessary use of them and to be gathered up and collected into herself, and to trust only to herself and her own intuitions of absolute existence, and mistrust that which comes to her through others and is subject to vicissitude) -- philosophy shows her that this is visible and tangible, but that what she sees in her own nature is intellectual and invisible.” (Phaedo, 352)
Socrates’ description of souls being “simply fastened and glued to their bodies” resembles how one would imagine soles secured to the body of a shoe since the times of antiquity, not unlike “the soles” of fortune’s “shoe” in the personification from the corresponding line in Hamlet. It is fitting to point out here, in anticipation of an upcoming discussion on shadows, that the soles of one’s shoes is the originating point of ones shadow, or reflection on the ground, while standing, in other words it serves as a dividing line between one’s body and its shadow.
The body confines the soul by means of the senses, as Socrates states in the Phaedo, “the eye is full of deceit, and also the ear and other senses.” As in the allegory of the cave from the Republic, the prisoners are misled by the false perceptions of their surroundings.
Consider the excerpt from the Republic where Socrates describes the deceptive nature of the sights and sounds in the allegory of the cave:
“And what if the prison also had an echo from the side facing them? Whenever one of the men passing by happens to utter a sound, do you suppose they would believe that anything other than the passing shadow was uttering the sound?” (Plato’s Republic, Allan Bloom trans., 515b)
It is important here to underscore Socrates’ highly sophisticated analogy in the physics of echoes as the sound reflected from the surface of the walls and the shadows on those walls produced by the reflection of light from the fire burning behind the prisoners.
Socrates’ understanding of the role light plays in visual perception is quite remarkable, Osvaldo Rossi describes that “Sight is, as Plato writes in the sixth book of Republic, closely connected with the enigma of light. Sight, he observes, in order to work, needs a further and fundamental element that allows it to exist and that provokes it: light.” (Osvaldo Rossi, Light/Shadow p. 276)
Plato, in his conception of the illusive and reflective properties of light elevates its source of origin to infinite purity, and any subsequent reflection as an imperfection of this essence. The search for the external or physical origin of natural light leads to the sun while that of metaphysical or internal light to the soul within, by means of philosophic reflection.
Rossi further writes that “Plato…combines the “sight” both of physical things as well as idealistic metaphysical ones, because sight has basic ambiguity, that the philosopher has the task of solving: to see as oran, that is the physical eye’s sight which observes physical things, and to see as idein, to know, or the seeing of the intelligible eye (nous) that contemplates intelligible realities, that are “ideas”. The passage from one plane to another takes place by means of illumination that from solar becomes ideal. Light is a sort of a priori of every perception and knowledge. Consequently, we don’t see light, we don’t know it, but this is what lets us see and know. Its enigmatic and paradoxical character derives from this as is confirmed in chapter XIX of the VI book of the Republic.” (Osvaldo Rossi, Light/Shadow p. 276)
In the text from Phaedo presently under discussion, Socrates explains that the culprit of corruptive influence is corporeal sensation. According to him, the chain that binds the soul and holds her hostage in the body is empiricism, while philosophic introspection or reflection is the liberating force that emancipates the soul from its imprisonment by bodily senses.
“And the soul of the true philosopher thinks that she ought not to resist this deliverance, and therefore abstains from pleasures and desires and pains and fears, as far as she is able; reflecting that when a man has great joys or sorrows or fears or desires he suffers from them, not the sort of evil which might be anticipated -- as, for example, the loss of his health or property, which he has sacrificed to his lusts -- but he has suffered an evil greater far, which is the greatest and worst of all evils, and one of which he never thinks.” (Phaedo, 352)
Socrates continues by stating that the soul is “only able to view existence through the bars of a prison” from her confinement in the body, “because each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the soul to the body, and engrosses her and makes her believe that to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing with the body and having the same delights she is obliged to have the same habits and ways, and is not likely ever to be pure at her departure to the world below, but is always saturated with the body; so that she soon sinks into another body and there germinates and grows, and has therefore no part in the communion of the divine and pure and simple.” (Phaedo, 358)
“And this, Cebes, is the reason why the true lovers of knowledge are temperate and brave; and not for the reason which the world gives.” (Phaedo, 360)
“For not in that way does the soul of a philosopher reason; she will not ask philosophy to release her in order that when released she may deliver herself up again to the thralldom of pleasures and pains, doing a work only to be undone again, weaving instead of unweaving her Penelope's web. But she will make herself a calm of passion and follow Reason, and dwell in her, beholding the true and divine (which is not matter of opinion), and thence derive nourishment. Thus she seeks to live while she lives, and after death she hopes to go to her own kindred and to be freed from human ills. Never fear, Simmias and Cebes, that a soul which has been thus nurtured and has had these pursuits, will at her departure from the body be scattered and blown away by the winds and be nowhere and nothing.” (Phaedo, 361)
Compare Socrates description of the souls imprisonment by the body to the corresponding (in the sequential line-to-line comparison of the two texts) exchange in Hamlet, which shortly follows after the personification of fortune and the figurative reference to her body and dress (discussed presently) in this same exchange between Hamlet, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. Particularly note the concurrence of the references to the “world” in both texts.
Prison, my lord! (Hamlet, 362)
Denmark's a prison. (Hamlet, 363)
Then is the world one. (Hamlet, 364)
A goodly one; in which there are many
wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst. (Hamlet, 365)
We think not so, my lord. (Hamlet, 366)
In the corresponding part of Phaedo’s text as the two works are juxtaposed line-by-line, Socrates continues his description of the soul imprisoned in the body, which was illustrated in the previously mentioned paragraph where he refers to the soul’s “deliverance” and “release” by philosophy from its “captivity” and “confinement” in the body.
Socrates states that “the lovers of knowledge are aware that this was the original state of the soul, and that when she was in this state philosophy received and gently counseled her, and wanted to release her, pointing out to her that the eye is full of deceit, and also the ear and other senses, and persuading her to retire from them in all but the necessary use of them and to be gathered up and collected into herself, and to trust only to herself and her own intuitions of absolute existence, and mistrust that which comes to her through others and is subject to vicissitude” (Phaedo, 353)
Compare Socrates words “the eye is full of deceit” here in this excerpt from Phaedo to the roles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet, particularly their intensions to conspire against the protagonist as spies or hired eyes and ears of the king and queen. Also consider Hamlet’s “mistrust” and suspicions of them as such, in his conversation with them, and after finding out their true natures he subsequently makes “the necessary use of them” and can easily be described throughout the play as well as in this conversation as being “gathered up and collected into” himself and trusting only himself and his own “intuitions of absolute existence,” mistrusting “that which comes to” him “through others” which “is subject to vicissitude” much as the personification of the soul in Socrates’ description.
This is precisely the sort of reflective interiority and skepticism in Hamlet’s behavior alluded to by Phillipa Kelly and is particularly poignant to the dialogue with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern presently under discussion.
As previously mentioned, Kelly states that “Hamlet is fascinated by the notion of an interiority that cannot be reflected by the transitory medium of verbal and physical signs. Yet he realizes also that these outward signs are all one has to represent the self; and, moreover, that the self is by its nature elusive and shifting.” And that he “yearns to believe in the intentions he sees reflected in the words and appearances of others” (P. Kelly, Surpassing Glass: Shakespeare's Mirrors, 29)
In his conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet expresses this elusive interiority of thought in his description of the world as a prison. This symbolism very intricately and explicitly unfolds out of the metaphor for the encapsulation of the soul within the body as Socrates illustrates in the corresponding part of Phaedo’s text under present scrutiny.
Consider the continuation of the previously mentioned exchange between Hamlet, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz:
then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
it is a prison. (Hamlet, 367)
Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis
narrow for your mind. (Hamlet, 368)
God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams. (Hamlet, 369)
Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very
substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream. (Hamlet, 370)
A dream itself is but a shadow. (Hamlet, 371)
Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a
quality that it is but a shadow's shadow. (Hamlet, 372)
are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and
outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows. Shall we
to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason. (Hamlet, 373)
Hamlet’s words “to me it is a prison” together with Rosencrantz’ response “'tis too narrow for your mind” and Hamlet’s following retort “bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space” clearly illustrate examples of “the paradox of language, reflection and interiority” in the play, as Kelly points out.
This interiority correlates closely and simultaneously with Socrates’ description of the encapsulation of the soul within the body and the resulting prerogative of a philosopher to free the soul from this imprisonment described here in Phaedo as well as in the allegory of the cave from the Republic.
Compare Rosencrantz’ words: “Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.” (Hamlet, 372) to Socrates’ previously mentioned statement from Phaedo: “Never fear, Simmias and Cebes, that a soul which has been thus nurtured (free of desires or ambitions)…will at her departure from the body be scattered and blown away by the winds and be nowhere and nothing.” (Phaedo, 361)
The symbolism of the shadow is often synonymous with the soul in literature, art and as James Frazer points out, in the languages of many ancient cultures the same words share the meaning of shadow or shade and the soul:
“On similar beliefs in ancient Egypt, see S. Birch, “On the Shade or Shadow of the Dead,” in Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch., 8 (1885), 386-97- “New England (Indian) tribes called the soul Chemung, ‘shadow.’ In Tasmanian, Quiche, Eskimo languages, and in several dialects of Costa Rica, as among the Zulus and Abipones, one word expresses both soul and shade”; M. Cox, introduction to Folk-lore (London 1897), 67 f. Cp. Also Greek skia, Latin umbra, etc.” (James Frazer, The Golden Bough, 157)
In A Short History of the Shadow, Victor Stoichi states:
“As Maspero reminds us in his classical study, the shadow was how the Egyptians first visualized the soul (ka). In this case it was a ‘clear shadow, a coloured projection, but aerial to the individual, reproducing every one of his features’, And the black shadow (khaibit), having been regarded in even earlier times as the very soul of man…” (Victor Ieronim Stoichi, A Short History of the Shadow p. 19)
After all, the shadow is a reflection, and as Frazer points out in the Golden Bough:
“As some peoples believe a man’s soul to be in his shadow, so other (or the same) people believe it to be in his reflection in water or a mirror.” (James Frazer, The Golden Bough, 158)
Socrates on the other hand, describes shadows as the most obscure of images with reflections in water and mirrors as images progressively less obscure and thereby closer to the original essence, yet still relatively false or deceptive.
“Then, take a line cut in two unequal segments, one for the class that is seen, the other for the class that is intellected – and go on and cut each segment in the same ratio. Now, in terms of relative clarity and obscurity, you’ll have one segment in the visible part for images. I mean by images first shadows, then appearances produced in water and in all close-grained, smooth, bright things, and everything of the sort.” (Plato’s Republic, Allan Bloom trans., 509d)
Victor Stoichi further describes the negative role shadows generally play in artistic imagery: “an internalization of the shadow as a personal projection and as an ‘obscure’ area of the soul, where inner negativity is born. The actual portrayal of this particular ‘imaginary enemy’ can be found in books on emblems. This is no coincidence since the shadow is, in a way, the emblem of negative reduplication.” (Victor Ieronim Stoichi, A Short History of the Shadow 139)
In the example of Plato’s allegory of the cave Rossi writes: “For a man, who is like a “slave”, truth is presented as a shadow, like a semblance of something. It is not that the shadow is the truth, but reality as such is not easy to accept or bear; its dull reflection is better. This is even more so regarding the sight of light. The vision of light and true reality is beyond man’s reach: he can only grasp the distant and false vision of the shadow. Shadows produce degraded second-rate images, which only light allows. “Meaningless vacuity” as Plato defines them compared to real objects that as such have “more being” and are therefore truer.” (Osvaldo Rossi, Light/Shadow p. 286)
Consider Michael Neill’s analysis of Shakespeare’s illustration of physical reflection of a mirror in his study of Richard III, in contrast to self examination:
“The glass which Richard mockingly rejects is the old icon of vanity, displaying the narcissistic image of the physical self. But since the body in turn is only an image or shadow of soul and mind, the inner self, the icon also doubles as an emblem of self-knowledge.” (Michael Neill, Shakespeare’s Halle of Mirrors: Play, Politics, and Psychology in Richard III p.107)
Neill draws close similarities between the characters of Richard III and Hamlet, and briefly describes Hamlet’s struggle for self examination as follows:
“Hamlet sets out to obey the philosopher’s precept “know thyself,” and the play is about the vertiginous terrors concealed by that deceptive simple injunction.” (Michael Neill, Shakespeare’s Halle of Mirrors: Play, Politics, and Psychology in Richard III p. 100)
To further interpret Rosencrantz’ enfolded description of ambition as “but a shadow’s shadow” one should take into account the combined metaphors of imprisonment from both Hamlet and Phaedo in which an interesting phenomenon of layering (not unlike an onion or a Russian nesting doll) begins to emerge. The soul imprisoned in the body; the body covered by flesh; which is layered with clothes; the individual wearing these clothes, as in the case of Socrates is very literally imprisoned in a jail cell; while to Hamlet his whole country is a prison, and even the world itself, "A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst".
A similar sort of figurative layering can be seen in the exchange between Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the words: “shadow of a dream”, “dream itself is but a shadow” and “ambition …is but…a shadow's shadow.”
Furthermore notice the references to bodies as shadows in Hamlet’s words: “Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows.”
Besides the play on symbolism of the body and its shadow being turned inside out (both physically as well as in the context of perceived social hierarchy) whereby the bodies of kings and heroes are the beggar’s shadows. The roles of beggars, kings and heroes are being switched as well, in a most appropriate way, particularly if one considers the corresponding text of Phaedo, in which Socrates presents "philosopher-kings" as those liberated from corporeal desires as the beggars in Hamlet’s description are free of worldly ambition.
The meaning of Hamlet’s words being that “if ambition is but a “shadow’s shadow,” then beggars (who are without ambition) are the only humans with substantial bodies and kings and heroes (ruled by ambition) are only the beggars’ shadows” (Hamlet; Folger Shakespeare Library edition).
According to Socrates, the true rewards are those of an enriched spirit, endowed by philosophy to reap the gifts within, in other words the liberation of the soul from the bodily constraints. This is not an easy task however, which is made increasingly difficult by desires, lusts, and other such corporeal ambitions.
As Socrates states in the previously mentioned excerpt from Phaedo: “the soul is only able to view existence through the bars of a prison …And the soul of the true philosopher thinks that she ought not to resist this deliverance, and therefore abstains from pleasures and desires and pains and fears, as far as she is able; reflecting that when a man has great joys or sorrows or fears or desires he suffers from them, not the sort of evil which might be anticipated -- as, for example, the loss of his health or property, which he has sacrificed to his lusts -- but he has suffered an evil greater far, which is the greatest and worst of all evils, and one of which he never thinks.” (Phaedo, 352)
As mentioned previously, an important correlation here between Hamlet and Phaedo are the circumstances alluded to (explicitly as well as implicitly) in both texts which illustrate the underlying ulterior motives and the not so well hidden intensions of the interlocutors (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet as well as Simmias and Cebes in Phaedo) in the present discussion, with the main personages (Hamlet and Socrates) respectively. Such as the fact that Simmias and Cebes represent the rivals of Socrates and his teachings (Evenus the poet, and others) who have come to visit him in prison, much as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent by the king and queen to come to Denmark (also a prison in Hamlet’s own words) in order to spy on him.
In this light, consider Cebes response to Socrates description of the soul. In which Cebes presents another interesting metaphor in argument against Socrates’s proposition that the soul is immortal. Cebes uses a story of an old weaver and his coat, in which the "weaver" is the substitute for the "soul" in Socrates description and the "coat" takes the place of the "body".
“Cebes said: I will tell you. My feeling is that the argument is still in the same position, and open to the same objections which were urged before; for I am ready to admit that the existence of the soul before entering into the bodily form has been very ingeniously, and, as I may be allowed to say, quite sufficiently proven; but the existence of the soul after death is still, in my judgment, unproven. Now my objection is not the same as that of Simmias; for I am not disposed to deny that the soul is stronger and more lasting than the body, being of opinion that in all such respects the soul very far excels the body. Well, then, says the argument to me, why do you remain unconvinced? When you see that the weaker is still in existence after the man is dead, will you not admit that the more lasting must also survive during the same period of time? Now I, like Simmias, must employ a figure; and I shall ask you to consider whether the figure is to the point. The parallel which I will suppose is that of an old weaver, who dies, and after his death somebody says: He is not dead, he must be alive; and he appeals to the coat which he himself wove and wore, and which is still whole and undecayed. And then he proceeds to ask of someone who is incredulous, whether a man lasts longer, or the coat which is in use and wear; and when he is answered that a man lasts far longer, thinks that he has thus certainly demonstrated the survival of the man, who is the more lasting, because the less lasting remains. But that, Simmias, as I would beg you to observe, is not the truth; everyone sees that he who talks thus is talking nonsense. For the truth is that this weaver, having worn and woven many such coats, though he outlived several of them, was himself outlived by the last; but this is surely very far from proving that a man is slighter and weaker than a coat. Now the relation of the body to the soul may be expressed in a similar figure; for you may say with reason that the soul is lasting, and the body weak and short-lived in comparison. And every soul may be said to wear out many bodies, especially in the course of a long life. For if while the man is alive the body deliquesces and decays, and yet the soul always weaves her garment anew and repairs the waste, then of course, when the soul perishes, she must have on her last garment, and this only will survive her; but then again when the soul is dead the body will at last show its native weakness, and soon pass into decay. And therefore this is an argument on which I would rather not rely as proving that the soul exists after death. For suppose that we grant even more than you affirm as within the range of possibility, and besides acknowledging that the soul existed before birth admit also that after death the souls of some are existing still, and will exist, and will be born and die again and again, and that there is a natural strength in the soul which will hold out and be born many times -- for all this, we may be still inclined to think that she will weary in the labors of successive births, and may at last succumb in one of her deaths and utterly perish; and this death and dissolution of the body which brings destruction to the soul may be unknown to any of us, for no one of us can have had any experience of it: and if this be true, then I say that he who is confident in death has but a foolish confidence, unless he is able to prove that the soul is altogether immortal and imperishable. But if he is not able to prove this, he who is about to die will always have reason to fear that when the body is disunited, the soul also may utterly perish.” (Phaedo, 369)
Not only does this metaphor of the weaver and he’s coat correlate to the references to “fashions of the body” in Socrates’ words, but also to the references of fortune’s apparel (such as “the button on her cap” or “the souls of her shoes”) in the corresponding part of Hamlet’s text.
Compare the inversion of the metaphors in Cebes’ account (whereby clothing takes place of the body, while the body that of the soul in Socrates illustration), to Hamlet’s similar transposition of the body as a shadow in the corresponding part from the play.
Furthermore, consider the ongoing encapsulation of the soul in the body, the weaver in his coat along with such statements as “bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space” (Hamlet, 369) form previously mentioned excerpt, in the context of the present discussion. It is particularly important to reiterate that the excerpts from the texts of Hamlet and Phaedo co-occur here in their line-to-line juxtaposition.
Moreover, if we compare the interesting layering which results out of Cebes metaphor of clothing which contain within the body of the man wearing them in continuation to Socrates description of the body which encapsulates the soul; with the corresponding words from Hamlet such as the “shadow of a dream” (Hamlet, 370) “dream itself is but a shadow” (Hamlet, 371) and “ambition …is but…a shadow's shadow” (Hamlet, 372) we see a similar sort of progressive complexity reminiscent of an onion or a Russian nesting doll, or infinite progression rendered by two mirrors facing each other (whereby a smaller mirror is reflected in an even smaller reflection, ad infinitum) similarly presented in both texts.
Consider Hamlet’s statement to Rosencrantz later in the same conversation presently under discussion:
will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so. (Hamlet, 385)
In this excerpt from further into his conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern presently under discussion, Hamlet begins to explain he’s disposition (in answer to their questioning) and starts by underscoring the role of his two 'friends' as 'agents' of the king and queen. Hamlet then continues by confessing he’s recent neglect in the exercises of his physical body while seamlessly incorporating he’s perception of the planet (form bottom up ), and finally returns to his disinterest with the physical properties of men and women.
Consider what Robert Grudin writes about this passage in his book On Dialogue:
"Leaving plot and character aside here, consider this passage as a mental exercise for the audience member or reader. We are presented with a paradox, an apparent contradiction in terms. In linear terms, the air, a "brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire," cannot be "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors," and man, "the beauty of the world," cannot be a "quintessence of dust." What Shakespeare is asking us, almost requiring us, to do is move beyond linearity to a double perspective in which we simultaneously recognize the value of life and consider life worthless. Like many other Shakespearean paradoxes, this passage challenges us to bring to consciousness the multileveled structure of human experience, the dangerous richness of human emotion." (Robert Grudin, On Dialogue p.22)
Here the convergence of allusions to the body and the planet is expressed in Hamlet’s words: “I have of late—but wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory”
Hamlet describes his perception of the planet from “the earth” as “a sterile promontory” to the “most excellent canopy” as “this brave o’erhanging firmament” much as the earlier description of fortune, only in reverse order, from “very button” of her “cap” to the “soles of her shoe”. In this light consider once again Rosencratz’ description of himself and Guildenstern as “the indifferent children of the earth” and Socrates’ words from the corresponding part of Phaedo:
“therefore they who have a care of their souls, and do not merely live in the fashions of the body, say farewell to all this; they will not walk in the ways of the blind: and when philosophy offers them purification and release from evil, they feel that they ought not to resist her influence, and to her they incline, and whither she leads they follow her.” (350)
Compare this to the intentional neglect and disregard for the physical body contrasted by the essence of man so elegantly expressed in Hamlet’s words:
a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so. (Hamlet, 385)
Grudin further writes: "Considering the passage from the point of view of the history of ideas, we find two important European thought systems at odds with each other in Shakespeare's lines: the contempus mundi (contempt for the world) tradition, common to both Catholicism and Anglicanism, versus the humanistic anthropocentrism and optimism born with the Shakespeare's milieu, and most educated people felt the stress between them. Each system seemed to offer a special kind of truth, yet each wholly contradicted the other. In throwing these two truth systems together, Shakespeare provokes the members of his audience to consider the contradiction inherent in their own perspectives. He asks them to transcend ideology and recognize that truth is not linear but rather complex and multiform" (Robert Grudin, On Dialogue p.22)
Compare the contrast in the abhorrence for the physical body of man and the admiration for he’s spirit in Hamlet’s words, to Socrates’ corresponding line form Phaedo:
“The danger of becoming misologists, he replied, which is one of the very worst things that can happen to us. For as there are misanthropists or haters of men, there are also misologists or haters of ideas, and both spring from the same cause, which is ignorance of the world. Misanthropy arises from the too great confidence of inexperience; you trust a man and think him altogether true and good and faithful, and then in a little while he turns out to be false and knavish; and then another and another, and when this has happened several times to a man, especially within the circle of his most trusted friends, as he deems them, and he has often quarreled with them, he at last hates all men, and believes that no one has any good in him at all. I dare say that you must have observed this.” (Phaedo, 384)
Compare Hamlet’s description of his perception of men’s physical as well as essential nature and that of the planet itself to Socrates explanation for the hatred of men and ideas arising form the “ignorance of the world”.
Furthermore, consider the correlation in Socrates description in the potential development of such hatred out of the repeated deception by friends which results in one's subsequent mistrust of all man kind in the future. This seems to closely correlate to the attempted deception by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being presently analyzed in Hamlet .
Socrates continues: “And is not this discreditable? The reason is that a man, having to deal with other men, has no knowledge of them; for if he had knowledge he would have known the true state of the case, that few are the good and few the evil, and that the great majority are in the interval between them… I mean, he replied, as you might say of the very large and very small, that nothing is more uncommon than a very large or a very small man; and this applies generally to all extremes, whether of great and small, or swift and slow, or fair and foul, or black and white: and whether the instances you select be men or dogs or anything else, few are the extremes, but many are in the mean between them. Did you never observe this?” (Phaedo, 386-388)
Compare the "extremes" in Socrates' words to the moderation Rosencrantz’ and Guildenstern’s description of their state of happiness in the beginning of their conversation with Hamlet:
Happy, in that we are not over-happy, on
Fortune's cap we are not the very button. (Hamlet, 354)
Nor the soles of her shoe? (Hamlet, 355)
Neither, my lord. (Hamlet, 356)
you live about her waist, or in the middle of
her favours? (Hamlet, 357)
'Faith, her privates we. (Hamlet, 358)
the secret parts of Fortune? O, most true; she
is a strumpet. What's the news? (Hamlet, 359)
None, my lord, but that the world's grown honest. (Hamlet, 360)
is doomsday near: but your news is not true.
Let me question more in particular: what have you,
my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune,
that she sends you to prison hither? (Hamlet, 361)
Compare reference to moderation in Socrates words “the interval between” extremes and “the mean between them” to Hamlet’s statement “Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours?”
Furthermore consider Rosencrantz’ response: “Neither, my lord” to the extremes of “the button of her cap” and “soles of her shoes” given by Guildenstern and Hamlet. The word “neither” is particularly fitting if one considers its linguistic origin.
In a book entitled The Serpent Grail, authors Philip Gardiner and Gary Osborn explore a possible origin of the word “neither”, they write that “The Egyptian gods of the pre-dynastic period were known as the N.tj.r – Neter or Neteru (plural) – which means ‘god’, ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’. Some have translated Neter as ‘neutral’ or ‘nature’ and suggest that words like ‘neither’ and ‘nether’ (as in ‘Netherworld’) stem from it.” (The Serpent Grail p.16)
Hamlet’s question “Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours” (357) and Guildenstern’s subsequent response “Faith, her privates we” (358) followed by Hamlet’s retort “In the secret parts of Fortune? O, most true; she is a strumpet.” (359) demonstrate a lustful play on the metaphor of fortune and her anthropomorphic body.
Consider also that the soul is personified as a woman in Socrates’ references here in Phaedo much as the female personification of fortune in the corresponding conversation from Hamlet.
Sexuality plays an important role here in the juxtaposition of both Hamlet and Phaedo. In Hamlet, the lustful description and the embodiment of Fortune as well as the innuendo of the previously cited words: “man delights not me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.” (385) coincide with the references to sensual lusts and corporal desires as the proverbial chains which bind the soul to the body in Socrates’ statements from Phaedo.
Robert Grudin writes: "Here is a play on the verb "to delight." Hamlet uses the word in its general sense as "giving pleasure"; but when he sees Rosencratz smile, he suspects that his friend has given the word a more specific, sensual spin ("giving erotic pleasure"). Devices like this occur often in Shakespeare; Hamlet in particular is rich in puns and other forms of double-entendre. The effect of this figure is, like that of paradox, one of compounding perspective. Consciousness is taken by surprise and split into two levels, one conventional and one unconventional. The conventional level is usually quite harmless, while the unconventional level is rich in sensual or satiric power. Double-entendres shock their audience out of both linguistic complacency (the sense that a given word has only one meaning) and moral complacency (the trust in polite, business-as-usual social relationships). They thus undermine simplistic interpretations and complicate our experience of literature and life."(Robert Grudin, On Dialogue p.23)
The sexual connotations in the references to “the secret parts of fortunes” body (or ‘her privets’) and her description as a “strumpet” (twice in Hamlet), further allude to the physical pleasures (or lusts) discouraged by Socrates in the corresponding lines of Phaedo:
“therefore they who have a care of their souls, and do not merely live in the fashions of the body, say farewell to all this; they will not walk in the ways of the blind” (Phaedo, 350)
Physical love or sexuality alluded to in the references to fortune’s body contrast the reference to “the lovers of knowledge” in Socrates’ words:
“The lovers of knowledge are conscious that their souls, when philosophy receives them, are simply fastened and glued to their bodies…and that the eye is full of deceit, and also the ear and other senses…And the soul of the true philosopher thinks that she ought not to resist this deliverance, and therefore abstains from pleasures and desires and pains and fears, as far as she is able; reflecting that when a man has great joys or sorrows or fears or desires he suffers from them, not the sort of evil which might be anticipated -- as, for example, the loss of his health or property, which he has sacrificed to his lusts”.(Phaedo, 352-353)
According to Socrates, the soul of the true philosopher abstains from pleasures, desires, pains, fears and lusts.
“When the feeling of pleasure or pain in the soul is most intense, all of us naturally suppose that the object of this intense feeling is then plainest and truest: but this is not the case...and this is the state in which the soul is most enthralled by the body.” (Phaedo, 354-6)
The moderation expressed in the happiness of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern combined with the lustful play on the personification of fortune reflects Socrates’ description of the soul in the Phaedo. Socrates describes the soul imprisoned by the senses of the body, between pleasure and pain, lust and fear.
“because each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the soul to the body, and engrosses her and makes her believe that to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing with the body and having the same delights she is obliged to have the same habits and ways, and is not likely ever to be pure at her departure to the world below, but is always saturated with the body; so that she soon sinks into another body and there germinates and grows, and has therefore no part in the communion of the divine and pure and simple.” (Phaedo, 358)
The simultaneous and methodical deconstruction of Hamlet and Phaedo yield not only superficial co-occurrences of words and ideas such as “friend” and “stranger”, “body” and “soul”, “imprisonment” and “freedom”, “pleasure” and “pain” (as well as many others), but also the deeper structured universality in their contextually intended meanings.
The most basic similarity between the two texts is the common element of duality which predominates the two works. The conflict illustrated here in both texts reflects, a universal paradox of non-contradictory duality is the very mechanism of reflection. This paradox lies at the heart of understanding the intended meanings of both Hamlet and Phaedo and the key to its solution (both contextually and methodologically) is reflection.
Consider what Rodolphe Gasche writes in The Tain of the Mirror on the subject of philosophic reflection: "Since the reflective determinations are abstracted by understanding from the absolute identity, they are thought to be irreconcilable." (Rodolphe Gasche, The Tain of the Mirror, p.158)
Gasche further quotes Hegel: "Infinity and finitude, indeterminateness and determinateness, etc. are reflective products of the same sort. There is no transition from the infinite to the finite, from the indeterminate to the determinate. The transition as synthesis becomes antinomy; for reflection, which separates absolutely, cannot allow a synthesis of the finite and the infinite, of the determinate and the indeterminate to be brought about, and it is reflection that legislates here" (Rodolphe Gasche, The Tain of the Mirror, p.159). By analyzing the specific sort of contradiction that exists between these reflexive determinations, one can better grasp not only the exclusively formal quality of the unity to which philosophical reflection is capable of raising itself, but also the...reason for which this unity must remain contradictory." (Rodolphe Gasche, The Tain of the Mirror, p.37)
Gasche also states: "The scope of reflexivity is not exhausted by its role in constituting subjectivity, freedom, transcendentality, and philosophy as philosophy. At the very heart of modern metaphysics as a metaphysics of subjectivity, reflexivity is the very medium of its unfolding; it is the method and substance, the very origin of philosophy itself as a discourse of radical autonomy." (Rodolphe Gasche, The Tain of the Mirror, p. 15)
As mentioned before, "the action of bending or folding back;" in mathematics defines a transformation in which the direction of one axis is reversed.
As Gasche points out: "Latin verb re-flectere means "to bend" or "to turn back" or backward, as well as to "bring back." (Rodolphe Gasche, The Tain of the Mirror, p. 16)
To recap: the story of Hamlet, quite fittingly, begins at an entrance to a castle, at the implicit wall that defines the limits of two opposites, dividing the inside from the outside (marking the end of one while the beginning of the other)precisely at the transitional moment during the changing of the guard.
The changing guard serving as an element of transition or motion in the opening scene representing the shift change in the monarchy within the greater plot of Hamlet.
A description of rulers of state from Plato’s Republic was cited, in which Socrates states that “philosophers only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable (the soul or spirit)” and that therefore they only should be the rulers” or “the guardians” “of our State”.
The guards allude to the closely guarded secrets in the language of both the play (Hamlet's "paradox of language, reflection and interiority") as well as the dialogue (Socrates' discourse on the soul in the Phaedo). The second line: "Nay stand and unfold yourself" a reflection of the question "who's there?", is a contextual parole as well as a methodological key to solving the encoded language of Hamlet as a reflection of Phaedo’s text, Plato's dialogue about the soul or self is therefore particularly fitting.
Moreover the cyclical transition to which the guards in the opening of Hamlet allude is a universal paradigm familiar in history of human conception (of the inner workings of the universe) since the ancient times, with the precise moment of the shift change as a cataclysmic event. Philip Gardiner and Gary Osborn explore this familiar theme as follows:
“The natural phenomenon of cycles and especially the crucial point in each and every cycle: the beginning-and-end point, the point at which one cycle ends and a new cycle begins, which is by implication the moment of death-rebirth and of resurrection. This point is represented by the ancient circular symbol of the Ouroboros (‘tail devourer’), the snake that is swallowing or biting its own tail.” (The Serpent Grail p.12)
This point of transition from one extreme to the other, the place in the cycle where opposites meet is illustrated in Hamlet's conversation with “the indifferent children of the earth” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the words “On fortune's cap we are not the very button...nor the soles of her shoe?” (Hamlet, 354-355), who “live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours” (Hamlet, 357). Then later in the same conversation Hamlet describes the planet from bottom up, from "the earth" as "a sterile promontory" to the sky, "this most excellent canopy" as "this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire" (Hamlet, 384) and after he proceeds to describe his conflicting extremes of admiration and disenchantment in men and women. While in the corresponding part of Phaedo's text Socrates describes the generation of opposites precisely in the same context of human character as in these examples from Hamlet.
As previously stated, at precisely the same part of Phaedo's text (as indicated by the sequential numbering of lines from the beginning) Socrates tells of "misanthropists or haters of men" and "misologists or haters of ideas" and states that "both spring from the same cause, which is ignorance of the world. Misanthropy arises from the too great confidence of inexperience; you trust a man and think him altogether true and good and faithful, and then in a little while he turns out to be false and knavish;" (Phaedo, 384)
Socrates continues: "few are the good and few the evil, and that the great majority are in the interval between them… I mean, he replied, as you might say of the very large and very small, that nothing is more uncommon than a very large or a very small man; and this applies generally to all extremes, whether of great and small, or swift and slow, or fair and foul, or black and white: and whether the instances you select be men or dogs or anything else, few are the extremes, but many are in the mean between them." (Phaedo, 386-388)
Furthermore it was previously stated that a circular transition of opposites is integral to the ancient conception of fortune as expressed in the symbolism of the wheel she carries in her depictions in art and literature, the example from Hamlet's text was previously cited). As well as Robert Graves' description of Fortune or her counterpart, Nemesis as “the Nymph-goddess of Death-in-Life” where he states that “Nemesis’s wheel was originally the solar year is suggested by the name of her Latin counterpart, Fortuna (from vortuna, ‘she who turns the year about’). When the wheel had turned half circle, the sacred king, raised to the summit of his fortune was fated to die - the Actaeon stags on her crown announce this – but when it came full circle, he revenged himself on the rival who had supplanted him. Her scourge was formerly used for ritual flogging, to fructify the trees and crops, and the apple-bough was the king’s passport to Elysium.” (Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 32)
The turning of this wheel, or more precisely, the transition process between opposite states is echoed once in the changing of the guard at the beginning of Hamlet. Philip Gardiner and Gary Osborn further explore this universal symbolism of circular generation of opposites as follows:
“The Ouroboros and other ancient symbols like it, such as the Egyptian Shen Ring (a rod and circle combined, also evident in Sumerian art), draw our attention to the most important point in the cyclical process. In the Ouroboros, this point is the place in the circle at which the snake is biting its own tail...the significance of this particular point in the dynamic of cycle is far-reaching. Every cycle has three phases, as can be seen in a simple sine wave. These three phases are: positive (peak), negative (dip) and the neutral point...the neutral point is crossed over twice, where each half of the cycle crosses over into the other, and is therefore the point at which both opposites are momentarily united or cancelled out-that is, they are neutralized...this neutral point in the cycle was...responsible for much of the ancient sexual imagery associated with creation, for the ancients understood that the creative processing of consciousness was similar in principle to the procreation process. In brief, the ancients associated the positive and negative phases of a cycle with the gender opposites of male and female. The neutral point in the cycle was seen to correspond to the moment of sexual fusion, when the male and female opposites united in sexual intercourse and produced a child...If we apply this symbolism to the Ouroboros, the snake’s tail represents the phallus, its mouth the female vagina, and the two unite at the neutral point in the cycle.” (The Serpent Grail p.13-16)
The circle of life (or life, death and resurrection) symbolized by the Ouroboros is propagated by another duality as Philip Gardiner and Gary Osborn explain, the opposition of sexual reproduction. This universal mechanism is at the heart of Socrates' proof for the immortality of the soul (as will be analyzed at greater detail in the following section) in the Phaedo and is at the core of Hamlet. Consider the following excerpt from The Secret Cause by Normand Berlin:
"Interpretations both narrow and large, misinterpretations equally wide-ranging, cling to the play, but one fact is indisputable, and it must be the focus of any discussion that ensues: Hamlet is about death and sex, the “charnel and the carnal” (to borrow Harry Levin’s apt phrase), graves and beds, skulls and cosmetics, dying literally and dying sexually. Death and sex, in knot instrinsicate, prod the mystery, touch the secret cause." (The Secret Cause, Normand Berlin, p.65-66)
"The movement of the play can be plotted as the progress from question to silence. Not the silence that comes from the answer to the question; rather the silence that comes with death and the realization that questions cannot be answered. “Who’s there?” shouts Bernardo anxiously on the ramparts of a fortification on a cold night - and that is the question that remains with us throughout the play, as important to this play as the phrase “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” is to Macbeth, Shakespeare rarely wasting words in his opening scenes. Shouted in the dark, reverberating from the heavens, “Who’s there?” becomes the large ontological question of a play that contains more questions than any other play in our tragic tradition…the question mark pervades tragedy…but in Hamlet it not only pervades, it overwhelms. The play presents questions of every possible kind, some small ("What hour now?”), some seemingly small but becoming very important (“Where’s your father?”), some conspicuously large (“To be or not to be [?]”). Some questions can be answered to everyone’s satisfaction; some-those crucial to texture of tragedy - can never be answered except by silence. But silence in the presence of mystery, silence produced by facing the fact of mystery, is cathartic, “rest...” (The Secret Cause, Normand Berlin, p.65-66)
"Francisco - cold, sick at heart, guarding the fortress Elsinore, waiting for relief-hears the challenge that should have come from his own lips: “Who’s there?” Bernardo, coming to relieve Fransisco at his watch, fearful of what the nigh holds for him since he has already seen the “thing” for two consecutive nights, anxiously issues the challenge. “Nay, answer me” - that’s my line, says Fransisco. Immediately, Shakespeare makes us feel the nervousness in the air. Bernardo’s “Who’s there?” applies to the Ghost as well as to anything that is dark and hidden in the night. The haunting question is appropriate to the specific theatrical context and reverberatingly important to the play’s larger philosophical dimension. And immediately death stalks the play in the figure of a dead king returning from the unknown for reasons unknown. Old Hamlet is silent when confronted by Horatio in the first scene, but at the end of the play’s first movement (1.5), when the Ghost speaks to his son, his anguished speech, containing the play’s two most important elements, death and sexuality, gives Hamlet the charge that will propel the play forward-“revenge.” However, between the Ghost’s first silent appearance and his later revelation, death and sexuality are presented and played on by Shakespeare. Horatio talks about the death of Julius Cesar, having already informed us of Old Hamlet’s slaying of Old Fortinbras. Cladius and Gertrude utter words about death of Hamlet’s father and the proper duration for mourning the dead. Hamlet dwells on death and sexuality in his first soliloquy. Hamlet and Horatio mention weddings and funerals just before Horatio tells Hamlet of the appearance of the Ghost. And Laertes and Ophilia and Polonius discuss the sexual habits of young princes. Therefore, by the time the Ghost presents the powerful images of death and sex, Shakespeare has already made them part of the play’s emotional and intellectual atmosphere, nowhere in the first movement more brilliantly than in Hamlet’s first soliloquy. This must give up pause, for here we confront the melancholy Hamlet before the Ghost’s shattering revelation." (The Secret Cause, Normand Berlin, p.65-66)
~ II ~
The mirror-like nature of Francisco’s response “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.” to Barnardo’s question “Who’s there?” expresses a complexity of structure in the juxtaposition between the texts of Hamlet and Phaedo. Not only do lines from Hamlet reflect those from Phaedo in a linear progression, the juxtaposition seems to posses additional degrees of intended structural complexity.
In the linear juxtaposition of the two texts Phaedo ends almost precisely midway through the length of Hamlet. Furthermore, references to the final scene from Hamlet in the first chapter indicate that the end of the play contextually ‘connects’ to the beginning of the juxtaposition. The text of Hamlet therefore folds over the text of Phaedo as a lock envelops a key.
The chapters are titled after the lines from Hamlet to illustrate a tertiary degree in the enfolded structure of Hamlet. The five scenes of the first act reflect the five acts of the entire play and are encapsulated within the microcosms of the first five lines respectively. Therefore, as the question: “Who’s there?” represents the enigmatic nature of this play, the second line: “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.” holds clues to the solution.
Examples of this sort of structurally complex encryption can be found throughout the history of human intellectual pursuit. Douglas Hofstadter illustrates numerous examples of this phenomenon in his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid.
Consider Hofstadter’s description of the musical canon: “The idea of a canon is that one single theme is played against itself…such as “Three Blind Mice”, “Row, Row, Row Your boat”…after a fixed time-delay, a “copy” of it enters, in precisely the same key…Thus each note in a canon has more than one musical meaning; the listener’s ear and brain automatically figure out the appropriate meaning, by referring to context…There are more complicated sorts of canons, of course. The first escalation in complexity comes when the “copies” of the theme are staggered not only in time, but also in pitch…The next stage of complexity in canon construction is to invert the theme, which means to make a melody which jumps down wherever the original theme jumps up, and by exactly the same number of semitones.” (GEB p.8)
Hofstadter’s book begins with the example of J. S. Bach’s Musical Offering to the King of Prussia, Frederick the Great, which was a methodically elaborate variation of the king’s own music. Hofstadter states that “it was a familiar musical game of the day to give a single theme, together with some more or less tricky hints, and to let the canon based on that theme be “discovered” by someone else.” (GEB p.8)
Bach’s Musical Offering contains a “particularly unusual” canon which Hofstadter calls “Endlessly Rising Canon”. This canon Hofstadter presents as an example of a “strange loop” the likes of which are illustrated in the artwork of M. C. Escher.
“And, just as the Bach and Escher loops appeal to very simple and ancient intuitions-a musical scale, a staircase-so this discovery, by K. Gödel, of a Strange Loop in Mathematical systems have its origins in simple and ancient intuitions. In its absolutely barest form, Gödel’s discovery involves the translation of an ancient paradox in philosophy into mathematical terms. That paradox is the so-called Epimenides paradox, or liar paradox. Epimenides was a Cretan who made one immortal statement: “All Cretans are liars.” A sharper version of the statement is simply “I am lying”; or, “This statement is false”. (GEB p.15-17)
Hofstadter presents Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem as a further example of a strange loop, this time in 20th century mathematics. “The proof of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem hinges upon the writing of a self-referential mathematical statement, in the same way as the Epimenides paradox is a self-referential statement of language” (GEB p.17) In other words the use of mirrored inversion is the pivotal key to the construction of Hofstadter’s “strange loops”.
This sort of paradox can be plainly seen in the dialogue of the changing guard in the opening lines of Hamlet. As Francisco and Barnardo meet in the beginning of the play, the duty of both guards lies in identifying one another.
The “self-referential” mirrored reflection in Francisco’s words “Nay, answers me. Stand and unfold yourself” gracefully hints at the key to the solution, after all Phaedo is Plato’s "dialogue on the soul" (spirit or self). As if the statement reads: “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold your [copy of Plato’s dialogue on the subject of] self”. Consider once again the first line from Phaedo: “Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates on the day when he drank the poison?” also hinting at the predominant metaphor in both Hamlet and Phaedo of the soul as imprisoned by the body.
This dominant notion of the soul imprisoned by the body (particularly within the context of the co-occurring discussions in both Hamlet and Phaedo on the knowledge of the soul being hindered by the perceptions of the bodily senses or empiricism) along with the synchronously re-occurring references to time in the juxtaposition as the 'delay' in the guard's brief inability to identify one another by voice or sight (discussed in the previous chapter), resulting in a paradox. Consider also the previously mentioned 'delay' in Douglas Hofstadter's description into the workings of the musical canon.
Time: Empiricism vs. Skepticism
The references to bodily sensation or empirical knowledge in contrast with time and its perception continue in the juxtaposition of Hamlet and Phaedo. Horatio, though doubtful, came to investigate the ghostly sightings reported by the guards. Marcellus presents Horatio to Bernardo as a skeptic who has come to witness and validate the sighting of the ghost for himself.
Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night;
That if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it. (24)
In these lines, Marcellus alludes to two conflicting schools of thought, Empiricism (e.g. Stoics) and Skepticism (e.g. Platonists). Consider the words “watch the minutes of the night” within the context of the discussions (in Chapter 1) on the subjects of sensation (or empiricism) and time. In Phaedo, Socrates analyzes those things that can and cannot be perceived by corporal sensation, and describes the perception of the unperceivable (by the body) while illustrating the limitations of empiricism. Shakespeare plays not only on the universal physical oppositions of time and space (and thereby motion) but also on the opposition within the study of space, time and their perception.
The contrast between empiricism and skepticism represents a fundamental opposition in the history of philosophical debate and Phaedo is a seminal work in this historic dialogue. This is evident by the people referenced in the dialogue, and their influence on the evolution of these two schools of thought, but also in the subject matter discussed throughout both of these texts. Incidentally the words "speak to" in the previous line from Hamlet can be synonymous with the following line from Phaedo: “What did you talk about?” (21) as in speaking (in pertinence) to a particular subject.
Time is repeatedly referenced in both texts. Furthermore the notion of timing is also poignant in that the concurrence of the references are themselves time dependant in the juxtaposition of the two texts. This sort of meta-reference is constant throughout the juxtaposition of Hamlet and Phaedo; the subject matter that immerges in the comparison of the two texts is often self referential, in that it refers to the process itself thereby providing clues to the method of unfolding them.
"Time is the dimension of change" (Oxford Companion to Philosophy p.875) that is perceived by all the bodily senses, and is itself a sensation of the most paramount order. Time is therefore at the very root of empiricism as alluded in Marcellus' statement, while skeptics often considered perception of time as an illusion or as "Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy" (in reference to the 'apparition') . For instance, a pre-Socratic philosopher, Zeno of Elea (who's work is known to us solely from Plato) maintained that appearance of temporal change is an illusion (O.C.D.) Ironically another philosopher named Zeno of Citium, the founder of Hellenistic school of Stoic philosophy (O.C.P. p.922) had an opposite stance in this debate. The Oxford Classical Dictionary states that in contrast to Socratic skepticisms, “Stoics are radically empiricist; they give an account of knowledge which traces it from the impact made on the human mind by ‘appearances’ from the outside world. Some of these appearances, they claim, are such that they could not be wrong; this gave rise to a debate with the Academic Sceptics.” (O.C.D. p.1446)
Marcellus and the guard have returned to the same place at the appropriate time with Horatio, in hope that if the spirit of the king has returned, in some unknown shape or form, he would converse with it. Horatio's skepticism about the ghostly visitation is further echoed in the succeeding line: “Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.” (25) Compare this to the next line from Phaedo, where the students of Socrates have assembled also at a precise time and place (to speak, not to a king who has returned from the dead, but to a philosopher who is preparing to die). Particularly notice the mention of the "sacred ship", the arrival of which indicates the time when Socrates' execution can commence.
"I will begin at the beginning, and endeavor to repeat the entire conversation. On the previous days we had been in the habit of assembling early in the morning at the court in which the trial took place, and which is not far from the prison. There we used to wait talking with one another until the opening of the doors (for they were not opened very early); then we went in and generally passed the day with Socrates. On the last morning we assembled sooner than usual, having heard on the day before when we quitted the prison in the evening that the sacred ship had come from Delos, and so we arranged to meet very early at the accustomed place." (Phaedo, 22)
The intricate mirrored inversion between these two texts can be seen here not only in the opposite time of day and night – respectively, but also in the similarity in the locations of the two settings. Compare the words “watch the minutes of this night” from Hamlet to the numerous references to the opposite time of day in Phaedo, such as: “On the previous days assembling early in the morning”, “the doors were not opened very early”, “passed the day with Socrates” and “On the last morning we assembled sooner than usual, having heard on the day before that the sacred ship had come from Delos”. Furthermore, both settings are at “doorways”, the entrance to the castle in Hamlet (which is referred to as a prison by Hamlet in the play), and the doors to the prison in Phaedo. Both texts explore the symbolism of a prison as a confinement of the soul by the body and similarly use such metaphors as doors, walls, chains, locks as well as the role of guardians.
"On our arrival the jailer who answered the door, instead of admitting us, came out and told us to stay until he called us. ‘For the Eleven,’ he said, ‘are now with Socrates; they are taking off his chains, and giving orders that he is to die to-day.’ He soon returned and said that we might come in. On entering we found Socrates just released from chains, and Xanthippe, whom you know, sitting by him, and holding his child in her arms. When she saw us she uttered a cry and said, as women will: ‘O Socrates, this is the last time that either you will converse with your friends, or they with you.’ Socrates turned to Crito and said: ‘Crito, let some one take her home.’ Some of Crito’s people accordingly led her away, crying out and beating herself." (Phaedo, 22)
Compare “the jailer who answered the door” for the visiting party in Phaedo, with the guards in Hamlet who greet Marcelus and Horatio, that came to see the ghost. Also consider the description of Xanthipe "sitting" with Socrates, "holding his child in her arms" as guardians or parents, as well as the role of Crito's escorts as guards in this passage. Also consider Phaedo's statement "I will begin at the beginning, and endeavour to repeat the entire conversation" together with the following line from Hamlet:
Sit down awhile;
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story
What we have two nights seen (Hamlet, 26)
The words "fortified against our story" fits well within the context of primary settings of both Hamlet and Paedo. Both of these stories begin at fortifications. Phaedo is set in the prison while Hamlet for the most part (and more importantly here at the beginning) is set at the castle Ellsinore in Denmark, about which Hamlet famously expresses: "to me it is a prison". The concurrence of the references to prisons with references to the body occur throughout the juxtaposition of the two texts, furthermore in Phaedo the soul is described as being imprisoned in the body while Hamlet describes Denmark and even the whole world as a prison. Compare the guard’s statement “Fortified against our story” to the “Opening of the doors”, “prison” and “chains” in Phaedo. This constraining view of the body translates directly into the limitation of corporal sensation in skeptical philosophy's anti-empirical stance. There are further references to empiricism in both texts, such as “assail your ears” in Hamlet and “pleasure and pain” in Phaedo combined with the references to position of the body such as sitting down or up, respectively (specifically within the context of participation in storytelling) in the following passages from both texts. Consider also the word "stand" from the second line of Hamlet (the title of this chapter) "Nay, answer me stand and unfold yourself."
The correlation in the references to the changes of position of the body may be significant in the physical (Newtonian) sense of “a body in motion”. In the context of the simultaneous (in the juxtaposition) references to time, space and thereby motions of bodies such as the guards in Hamlet, and the ship in Phaedo as well as the allusions in both texts to celestial bodies almost completes the circular metaphor. But the circle turns out to be a link in a chain of metaphors, connected to the metaphor of the body as a prison for the soul. Imprisonment being the restriction in the freedom of movement, is therefore in fundamental opposition to motion as the references to “chains”, “walls”, “doors”, “prisons”, and “guards” reinforce and that to the word "ship" directly contradicts (incidentally later in the play, Hamlet finds himself briefly imprisoned on a ship).
And when she was gone, Socrates, sitting up on the couch, bent and rubbed his leg, saying, as he was rubbing: How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they are never present to a man at the same instant, and yet he who pursues either is generally compelled to take the other; their bodies are two, but they are joined by a single head. And I cannot help thinking that if Aesop had remembered them, he would have made a fable about God trying to reconcile their strife, and how, when he could not, he fastened their heads together; and this is the reason why when one comes the other follows, as I know by my own experience now, when after the pain in my leg which was caused by the chain pleasure appears to succeed. (Phaedo, 23)
The “chain” metaphor continues as it is meta-linked to itself. Consider Socrates description of the gods of pleasure and pain and how they are “joined by a single head” and “when one comes the other follows”. The gods of pleasure and pain are the symbolic guards of corporal sensation that imprison the soul in the body, and furthermore the figure of two bodies linked together at the head resembles the chain that bound Socrates.
Here Socrates also alludes to the process of “myth creation” in his description of Aesop’s creative process. Consider Janus, the Roman god of doorways within the context of the two settings (“walls”, “doors”, “chains”, “guards” etc.) and the subject of myth creation. Incidentally, creation of new gods is one of the crimes used to accuse and convict Socrates and is one of the reasons for his death sentence.
Janus is widely believed to be a distinctly Roman deity within a greater theology mostly influenced by the Greeks. As the guardian of gates and doors, Janus represents beginnings and endings, borders between the countryside and the city, peace and war, and the transition between the young and old; He was represented with two faces, originally one face was bearded while the other was not, possibly symbolizing the sun and the moon. In his right hand he holds a key; his double-faced head appears on many Roman coins. Janus was frequently used to symbolize transitions such as the progression of past to future, of one condition to another, of one vision to another, the growing up of young people, and of one universe to another. Hence, Janus was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as marriages, births and other beginnings. In Othello, the “two faced” Iago swears “by Janus” while lying to Othello about Ophilia.
Consider this passage from Ovid's Fasti:
“But what god am I to say thou art, Janus of double shape? for Greece hath no divinity like thee. The reason, too, unfold why alone of all the heavenly ones thou dost see both back and front. While thus I mused, the tablets in my hand, methought the house grew brighter than it was before. Then of a sudden sacred Janus, in his two-headed shape, offered his double visage to my wondering eyes. A terror seized me, I felt my hair stiffen with fear, and with a sudden chill my bosom froze. He, holding in his right hand his staff and in his left the key, to me these accents uttered from his front mouth: "Dismiss thy fear, thy answer take, laborious singer of the days, and mark my words. The ancients called me Chaos [from hiare], for a being from of old am I; observe the long, long ages of which my song shall tell. Yon lucid air and the three other bodies, fire, water, earth, were huddled all in one. When once, through the discord of its elements, the mass parted, dissolved, and went in diverse ways to seek new homes, flame sought the height, air filled the nearer space, while earth and sea sank in the middle deep. 'Twas then that I, till that time a mere ball, a shapeless lump, assumed the face and members of a god. And even now, small index of my erst chaotic state, my front and back look just the same. Now hear the other reason for the shape you ask about, that you may know it and my office too. Whate'er you see anywhere--sky, sea, clouds, earth--all things are closed and opened by my hand. The guardianship of this vast universe is in my hands alone, and none but me may rule the wheeling pole. When I choose to send forth peace from tranquil halls, she freely walks the way unhindered. But with blood and slaughter the whole world would welter, did not the bars unbending hold the barricaded wars. I sit at heaven's gate with the gentle Hours; my office regulates the goings and the comings of Jupiter himself. Hence Janus is my name [Eanus, from eo, 1st person singular of verb ire, "to go"]; but when the priest offers me a barley cake and spelt mingled with salt, you would laugh to hear the names he gives me, for on his sacrificial lips I'm now Patulcius and now Clusius called [from pateo, "to be open/revealed," and claudo/cludo, "to close"]. Thus rude antiquity made shift to my mark my changing functions with the change of name. My business I have told. Now learn the reason of my shape, though already you perceive it in part. Every door has two fronts, this way and that, whereof one faces the people and the other the house-god; and just as your human porter, seated at the threshold of the house-door, sees who goes out and in, so I, the porter of the heavenly court, behold at once both East and West. Thou seest Hecate's faces turned in three directions that she may guard the crossroads where they branch three several ways; and lest I should lose time by twisting my neck, I am free to look both ways without budging." (Ovid, Fasti, tr. James George Frazer, Book I, lines 63-288)
Note the reference to Hecate. The relationship between Hecate and Janus is described by Graves as follows: “The Latins worshipped the White Goddess as Cordea, and Ovid tells a muddled story about her in his Fasti, connecting her with the word cardo, a hinge. He says that she was the mistress of Janus the two headed god of doors and of the first month of the year and had charge over door-hinges…It was Janus, ‘the stout guardian of the oak door’ who kept out cardea and her witches, for Janus was really the oak god Dianus who was incarnate in the King of Rome and afterwards in the Flamen Dialis, his spiritual successor; and his wife Jana was Diana (Dione) the goddess of the woods and of the moon. Janus and Jana were in fact a rustic form of Jupiter and Juno. The reduplicated p in Jupiter represents an elided n; he was Jun-pater – father Dianus…cardo the hinge is the same word as cerdo, craftsman.” (The White Goddess p. 68-69)
Consider also this passage from Virgil’s Aeneid:
“There are twin Gates of War, for by that name men call them; and they are hallowed by men's awe and the dread presence of heartless Mars. A hundred bars of bronze, and iron's tough, everlasting strength, close them, and Janus, never moving from that threshold, is their guard.” (Virgil, Aeneid, 7.601-615 tr. W.F. Jackson Knight)
“Sir James Frazer like Gwion, has pointed out the similarity of ‘door’ words in all Indo-European languages and shown Janus to be a ‘stout guardian of the door’ with his head pointing in both directions. As usual however, he does not press his argument far enough. Duir as the god of which identifies him with the Oak-god Hercules who became the doorkeeper of the Gods after his death“. (The White Goddess p. 177)
Poets vs. Philosophers:
The subject of myth creation or “storytelling” is common here to both texts as follows:
Upon this Cebes said: I am glad, Socrates, that you have mentioned the name of Aesop. For it reminds me of a question which has been asked by many, and was asked of me only the day before yesterday by Evenus the poet —he will be sure to ask it again, and therefore if you would like me to have an answer ready for him, you may as well tell me what I should say to him:—he wanted to know why you, who never before wrote a line of poetry, now that you are in prison are turning Aesop’s fables into verse, and also composing that hymn in honor of Apollo. (24)
Evenus too is a skeptic, and while Horatio is doubtful of the stories about the ghost, Evenus is apprehensive at the reports that Socrates is writing poetry. Socrates “turning Aesop’s fables into verse” is another example of a Socratic paradox. Evenus the poet raises a question through his messenger Cebes about how Socrates, who has been outspoken against the poets, is now reportedly writing poetry in prison.
Robert Graves’ “thesis is that the language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honor of the moon-goddess…Then came the early Greek philosophers who were strongly opposed to magical poetry as threatening their new religion of logic, and under their influence a rational poetic language (now called Classical) was elaborated in honor of their patron Apollo and imposed on the world as the last word in spiritual illumination…One of the most uncompromising rejections of early Greek mythology was made by Socrates” (The White Goddess p.9-10)
In Book X of the republic Socrates mentions an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry. He further goes into the reason for the quarrel and why poetry is forbidden in his ideal State and the poets are banished from his Republic. He begins by praising what he calls “the rule about poetry” which “rejects the imitative arts” and accuses “the tragedians” of creating “poetical imitations”.
To explain the root of the disagreement between philosophers and poets, Socrates describes the concept of ideas and forms:
Recall the concurrence of the word “ship” in Phaedo’s statement: “ An accident, Echecrates: the stern of the ship which the Athenians send to Delos happened to have been crowned on the day before he was tried.” with the word “bed” in Barnardo’s answer “ tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.” As mentioned in chapter 1, both of these words contextually allude to death. Considering this, compare Socrates’ metaphorical “maker of beds” from the aforementioned excerpt from the Republic with the “the shipwright” from the conversation between the two grave diggers in Hamlet:
Shakespeare here “turns a mirror” to Socratic method in this play, and doing so in an attempt to bring the ancient quarrel between Philosophers and Poets to its end. In the Republic Socrates further goes on to state “Shall I propose, then, that she (tragic poetry) be allowed to return from exile, but upon this condition only --that she make a defense of herself in lyrical or some other metre” Shakespeare here makes such defense by using Socratic method to regain the place for tragic poetry in the ideal state of the Republic, a sort of Shakespearian ‘apology’ (in the Platonic sense of the word, apologia or language in defense of Apollo)
“The poetic language of myth and symbol used in ancient Europe was not in principle a difficult one but became confused with the passage of time by frequent modifications due to religious, social and linguistic change and by the tendency of history to taint the purity of myth-that is to say, the accidental events in the life of a king who bore a divine name were often incorporated in the seasonal myth which gave him the title to royalty. A further complication was that anciently a large part of poetic education, to judge from the Irish Book of Ballymotte, which contains a manual of cryptography, was concerned with making the language as difficult as possible in order to keep the secret close; in the first three years of his education course, the Irish student for the Ollaveship had to master one hundred and fifty cipher-alphabets.” (The White Goddess p. 101)
~ III ~
Tradition of retelling old stories:
While Phaedo tells the story of the last meeting with Socrates before his departure to the afterlife: “I will begin at the beginning, and endeavor to repeat the entire conversation”, in Hamlet, Bernardo prepares to tell the story of a previous visitation with a king returning from the dead:
Sit down awhile;
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story
What we have two nights seen (Hamlet, 26)
Phaedo and Bernardo are both telling a story; furthermore references to the sitting position co-occur repeatedly in both texts, particularly in the context of storytelling. Such as: “Xanthippe… sitting by” Socrates, and “Socrates, sitting up on the couch” and in several lines to follow in Phaedo, Socrates “changed his position, and put his legs off the couch on to the ground, and during the rest of the conversation he remained sitting.” The theme of storytelling along with the reference to sitting is repeated in the next line from Hamlet:
Well, sit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this (27)
Recall Horatio’s request for Fracisco to pass a message: “Well, good night. If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.” In the next line of Phaedo, consider the message Socrates asks Cebes to give to Evenus (‘the poet’): “bid him be of good cheer; say that I would have him come after me if he be a wise man, and not tarry; and that to-day I am likely to be going” also consider Socrates’ description of a “dream bidding” him to “cultivate and make music” which he interprets as an encouragement to “the study of philosophy… in the same way that the competitor in a race is bidden by the spectators to run when he is already running”. The process of storytelling coincides here in both texts. The previous line from Hamlet “And let us here Bernardo speak of this” directly echoes Socrates’ poetic rendition of Aesop’s fables mentioned in the corresponding line from Phaedo. While Bernardo is asked to tell of the circumstances of the previous visitation of the ghost, Phaedo recounts how Socrates describes rendering Aesop’s fables into verse.
Tell him, Cebes, he replied, what is the truth—that I had no idea of rivalling him or his poems; to do so, as I knew, would be no easy task. But I wanted to see whether I could purge away a scruple which I felt about the meaning of certain dreams. In the course of my life I have often had intimations in dreams ‘that I should compose music.’ The same dream came to me sometimes in one form, and sometimes in another, but always saying the same or nearly the same words: ‘Cultivate and make music,’ said the dream. And hitherto I had imagined that this was only intended to exhort and encourage me in the study of philosophy, which has been the pursuit of my life, and is the noblest and best of music. The dream was bidding me do what I was already doing, in the same way that the competitor in a race is bidden by the spectators to run when he is already running. But I was not certain of this, for the dream might have meant music in the popular sense of the word, and being under sentence of death, and the festival giving me a respite, I thought that it would be safer for me to satisfy the scruple, and, in obedience to the dream, to compose a few verses before I departed. And first I made a hymn in honour of the god of the festival, and then considering that a poet, if he is really to be a poet, should not only put together words, but should invent stories, and that I have no invention, I took some fables of Aesop, which I had ready at hand and which I knew—they were the first I came upon—and turned them into verse. Tell this to Evenus, Cebes, and bid him be of good cheer; say that I would have him come after me if he be a wise man, and not tarry; and that to-day I am likely to be going, for the Athenians say that I must. (25)
Music here is interpreted by Socrates as poetry. The mention of Evenus the poet by Cebes alludes to the “old quarrel” between poets and philosophers (as described in Chapter Two). Cebes brings up a “seeming contradiction” between the actions of Socrates and his previous teachings (i.e. The Republic). In response to which Socrates presents a paradoxical idea of philosophic poetry (if examined closely Socrates indeed leaves room for this type of poetry in The Republic). There is an “unless” clause in his banishment of the poets from the ideal State.
What is, then the sort of poetry that is the exception? While Socrates states that he is turning Aesop’s fables into verse, his poetry must not be “imitative” (that is precisely the method of poetry that he forbade in the Republic). The hymns that Socrates mentioned are unavailable and little can be inferred about their nature, however one can assume that since the poems he is writing in jail are based on Aespop’s fables yet they may not be “imitative” (because in the Republic Socrates reproaches the tragic poets for “imitative art”), his poems must therefore reflect the fables, in accordance to a particular method. A method of rendition that is almost mathematically encrypted with references to philosophic tradition in the use of metaphor (this is also alluded to in The Republic).
As mentioned in previous chapters, references to storytelling continuously reoccur in both texts. Specifically, the reference to Aesop fables in Phaedo and of course its correlation to the methods in creation of the texts of Hamlet and Phaedo themselves (as briefly mentioned in Chapter One). In Phaedo, Socrates is turning Aesop’s fables into verse while in Hamlet, Shakespeare is turning Plato's philosophy into tragic poetry.
Robert Graves, in his book on the Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth titled The White Goddess, explores the common language in the tradition of poetic composition. At the very conception of poetic myth, Graves discovers a common cryptographic theme. The earliest poems, he finds to be encoded with secret information, and not just any information, but near omniscience itself, which is precisely the explicit subject matter of the stories told in the those ancient poems. As in the beginnings of both Hamlet and Phaedo the presence of guardians serves as a symbolism of the meaning encoded within. The secrets of the primordial poems analyzed by Graves were protected by mythical guardians, such as Dog, Roebuck and Lapwing.
“The fullest account of the original Battle of the Trees, though the Lapwing is not mentioned in it, is published in the Myrian Archaiology. This is a perfect example of mythographic shorthand and records what seems to have been the most important religious event in pre-Christian Britain:
‘These are the Englyns [epigrammatic verses] that were sung at the Cad Goddeu, or, as others call it, the Battle of Achren, which was on account of a white roebuck, and a whelp; and they came from Annwm [the Underworld], and Amathaon ap Don brought them. And therefore Amathaon ap Don, and Arawn, King of Annwm, fought. And there was a man in the battle, who unless his name were known could not be overcome and there was on the other side a woman called Achren [‘Trees’], and unless her name were known her party could not be overcome. And Gwydion ap Don guessed the name of the man, and sang the two Englyns following:
‘Sure-hoofed is my steed impelled by spur;
The high springs of alder are on thy shield;
Bran art thou called, of the glittering branches.
Sure-hoofed is my steed in the day of battle:
The high springs of alder are in thy hand:
Bran thou art, by the branch thou bearest-
Amathaon the Good has prevailed.’
(The White Goddess p. 49)
Bran or Bendigeidfran is a legendary king of Britain, he is the god of bards and poetry. In Welsh mythology, it is told he possessed a cauldron that brought dead man to life. Compare the names Bran and Bendigeidfran to the names of the two guards in Hamlet, Francisco and Bernardo, also consider the ghost of a dead king dressed as a soldier (as is later ascertained) returning from the dead. The first line of Hamlet: “who’s there?” could also allude to the paramount importance of the guessing of Bran’s name. Robert Graves writes that “the story of the guessing of Bran’s name is a familiar one to Anthropologists. In ancient times, once a god’s name had been discovered, the enemies of his people could do destructive magic against them with it.” (The White Goddess p. 49)
Graves, more importantly ascribes this to be a very complex, cryptographic riddle rooted in the poetic tradition since the very conception of poesy. The early poems that participated in the tradition were seeded with encoded information. These early poems therefore (much like a genetic code) efficiently encoded functional store of information, locked, to be unlocked when and where appropriate by “friends” and not by “strangers”. As Graves writes: “The tribes of Amathaon and Gwydion in the Cad Goddeu encounter were as intent on keeping the secret of Archren-presumably the trees, or letters, that spelt out the secret name of their own deity-as on discovering that of their opponents. The subject of this myth, then, is a battle for religious mastery between the armies of Don, the people who appear in Irish legend as the Tuatha de Dannan, ‘the folk of the God whose mother is Danu’, and the armies of Arawn (‘Eloquence’), the King of Annwfn, or Annwm, which was the British Underworld or national necropolis…According to an archeologically plausible Irish tradition in the Book of Invasions, the Tuatha de Dannan had been driven northward from Greece as a result of an invasion from Syria and eventually reached Ireland by way of Denmark, to which they gave their own name (‘The Kingdom of the Danaans’) and North Britain.” (The White Goddess p. 50)
The poems that Graves analyzed used complex metaphors in combination with references to existing tradition of myth to perpetuate the all encompassing knowledge of language. The secret knowledge of language, myth, history as well as natural science was encoded into these poems using a uniformed and calculated method of encryption. Graves traces this poetic method through its geographic growth through ancient history, and discovers a link to the Greeks. “The Bran cult seems also to have been imported from Aegean. There are remarkable resemblances between him and the Pelasgian hero Aesculapius who, like the chieftain Coronus (‘crow’) killed by Hercules, was king of the Thessalian crow totem tribe of Lapiths…The legend of Aesculapius is that after a life devoted to healing, he raised Glaucus, son of Sisyphus the Corinthian, from the dead and was burned to cinders by Zeus in a fit of jelousy…Bran was likewise destroyed by his jealous enemy Evnissyen, a comrade of Matholweh king of Ireland to whom he had given a magical cauldron for raising dead soldiers to life.” (The White Goddess p. 52)
Ingrained within the words and letters of the language in these ancient stories, Graves discovers a hidden calendar. The primary information encoded into the alphabet of these poetic riddles was the secret knowledge into the workings of time.
As evident in the next line from Hamlet, Bernardo’s story aptly begins with the elements of time keeping as well. Time, space and the apparent celestial motion is complimented by the beating of the bell in Bernardo’s next line. Compare the last sentence of the previous excerpt from Phaedo: “to-day I am likely to be going, for the Athenians say that I must” to the corresponding line from Hamlet:
Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one, -- (28)
The concurrence of the words ‘day’ in Phaedo and ‘night’ in Hamlet are in keeping with the continuous trend of mirrored inversion in the line-by line juxtaposition of the two texts. The mirrored inversion is evident here in the contrast between the opposition in the precise time of day and night (in the one case the death of Socrates and in another of the return of king Hamlet from the dead) and the common idea of ‘timing’. As Bernardo begins his account of the ghost’s prior visitation, the ghost appears again precisely at the appointed time. The ghost interrupts Bernardo’s attempt to prove to the skeptical Horatio its existence.
While in Hamlet, Bernardo is attempting to persuade Horatio that the dead king has come to life, in Phaedo, Socrates is urging Evenus to follow him into death. Evenus’ skepticism towards Socratic philosophy of pursuing death is once again emphasized in the next line from Phaedo.
Simmias said: What a message for such a man! Having been a frequent companion of his I should say that, as far as I know him, he will never take your advice unless he is obliged. (26)
Compare this to Marcellus’ words: “Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy, and will not let belief take hold of him”. The next line of Hamlet alludes to the repeated visitation of a ghostly apparition much like the Socrates description of the visitations in his dreams, “Intimations in dreams…same dream came to me sometimes in one form, and sometimes in another…always saying the same or nearly the same words”.
Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again! (29)
The word “peace” could be wordplay on the homonym of “piece” particularly being followed by “break thee off’. This would be consistent with Horatio’s exclamation, “a piece of him”. Socratic doctrine on the process of death (as briefly examined in Chapter 1) is “the separation of the soul from the body… And being dead is the attainment of this separation; when the soul exists in herself, and is parted from the body and the body is parted from the soul…” (Phaedo) The play on the words “peace” and “piece” is fitting not only in the contexts of the Socratic doctrine of the separation of the soul from the body together with the visitation of the ghost in Hamlet, but also in the context of the “old quarrel” between poets and philosophers. In Hamlet, the skeptic Horatio is obliged to believe by the appearance of the “apparition”, while in Phaedo the spirit of philosophy is the proof for Evenus the poet.
Why, said Socrates,—is not Evenus a philosopher? (27)
Marcellus’ words “Look, where it comes again” could also allude to the repetitive nature in Socratic discourse. Socrates often asks if a particular man is a philosopher within the context of his previous explanations into what makes a man such. It is interesting to point out that the “old quarrel” is being turned upside down, in that Socrates has admitted to writing poetry and is now inquiring: “is not Evenus a Philosopher?” Socrates statement brings the partisan debate between Socrates the philosopher and Evenus the poet back to its basic premise of the “old quarrel” between philosophy and poetry.
In Book VII of the Republic Sacrates states: “Inasmuch as philosophers only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable, and those who wander in the region of the many and variable are not philosophers, I must ask you which of the two classes should be the rulers of the State?… Whichever of the two are best able to guard the laws and institutions of our State—let them be our guardians?” The word “philosopher” in Socrates’ previous line from Phaedo correlates with the word “king” in the following line from Bernardo in Hamlet, within the context of the Socratic doctrine of the “philosopher king”.
In the same figure, like the king that's dead. (30)
The apparition in Hamlet is similar to Socrates’ description of the dream that “sometimes came in one form and sometimes in another but always saying the same or nearly the same thing, to cultivate and make music” which Socrates interpreted as philosophy and expressed in the form of turning Aesop’s fables into poetic verse. The contrast between “the same figure of the king that’s dead” and the “dream” that “sometimes came in one form and sometimes in another” is consistent with the mirrored inversion present throughout the juxtaposition of the two texts. Particularly considering that sleep and dreams are periodically compared to death in both Hamlet and Phaedo. Furthermore, the contrast of the inconsistence in the form of the dreams in Phaedo and consistence in the ghost’s appearance in Hamlet to the dead king, accents the important seeming contradictions that are the subject of the discussion taking place in the dialogue. The participants in the dialogue with Socrates (both, those absent and present at the scene of Phaedo’s narration) allude to the inconsistency in his philosophy. For example, they would imply that previously Socrates scorned poetry and music and now he is “turing Aesop’s fabeles into verse”. Yet the underlying spirit of Socratic philosophy escapes them. That spirit remains constant as Socrates attempts to show, as the “dreams that’s always say the same, or nearly the same words” or as consistent as the appearance of the ghost “in the same figure, like the king that’s dead.”
It is not a coincidence that concepts such as the “philosopher king” from the Republic are accented here in the juxtaposition of the lines from the texts of Hamlet and Phaedo. The concurrence of the words “philosopher” and “king” in the corresponding lines from the two texts, correlates to the discussions in the Republic on the nature of the Philosopher king. These discussions in the Republic are also referenced within the text of Phaedo itself and this is explored in the juxtaposition of the two texts.
Death is referenced in the next line of Phaedo, reflecting the word “dead” in Bernardo’s previous statement. In the following line from Phaedo, Socrates alludes to the spirit of philosophy and a proper approach to death.
Then he, or any man who has the spirit of philosophy, will be willing to die, but he will not take his own life, for that is held to be unlawful. (28)
In the Republic, Socrates describes the proper education, conduct, and language of the “philosopher-king” who he also refers to as “the guardian”. Much of the Republic is devoted to the subject of philosophic education in particular. Compare the “man who has the spirit of philosophy” from Socrates’ previous statement to the Marcellus’ next line from Hamlet:
Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio. (31)
The implication that because Horatio is “a scholar” he is therefore able to communicate with the spirit of the dead king correlates to Socrates statement that “any man who has the spirit of philosophy will be willing to die”. In the Phaedo, Socrates describes philosophers as those that primarily peruse and study death and dying. Therefore it is appropriate that “as scholar” or one that “has the spirit of philosophy” Horatio would be willing to “speak to” death. The words “speak to” (as previously encountered in Chapter 2, where Marcellus’ statement “He may approve our eyes and speak to it” in Hamlet corresponded with “What did you talk about?” in Phaedo) could be interpreted as speaking in pertinence to a certain subject, in the present case death represented by the ghost of the dead king.
“Come then, and let us pass a leisure hour in story-telling, and our story shall be the education of our heroes…and what shall be their education? Can we find a better than the traditional sort? –and this has two divisions, gymnastic for the body, and music for the soul…shall we begin education with music, and go on to gymnastic afterwards…and when you speak of music, do you include literature or not?” (The Republic, book II)
Here he changed his position, and put his legs off the couch on to the ground, and during the rest of the conversation he remained sitting. (29)
Socrates changing his position correlates to the discussion in Chapter 2 on the motion of the body, as well as perhaps figuratively illustrating the inconsistency between his present stance on the subject and previous teaching. Within the contexts of the reoccurring opposition between body and soul in the juxtaposition of the two texts the reference to Socrates’ body in the previous line from Phaedo reflects the spirit of the dead king in Hamlet, thereby once again contrasting Socrates with the ghost of the king. Furthermore the ghost in Hamlet as well as Socrates in Phaedo both symbolizes death. Imagery of Socrates sitting as if on a throne in the previous line from Phaedo is reinforced in the next line from Hamlet.
Looks it not like the king? mark it, Horatio. (32)
This statement is repeated later in the play by Marcellus, “Is it not like the king?” (Hamlet, 43) to which Horatio replies “As thou art to thyself” (Hamlet, 44). As previously stated in Chapter 1, these lines correlate to Socrates’ statement in Phaedo describing why suicide is unlawful: “I admit the appearance of inconsistency in what I am saying; but there may not be any real inconsistency after all. There is a doctrine whispered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away; this is a great mystery, which I do not quite understand. Yet I too believe that the gods are our guardians and that we are a possession of theirs…” (Phaedo, 41) Compare the correlation in these lines with that of Bernardo statement: “Looks it not like the king?” and Socrates’ previous words: “Then he, or any man who has the spirit of philosophy, will be willing to die, but he will not take his own life, for that is held to be unlawful.” This is a fine example of synchronously reoccurring themes that are present throughout the juxtaposition of the two texts.
Why do you say, enquired Cebes, that a man ought not to take his own life, but that the philosopher will be ready to follow the dying? (30)
The words “philosopher will be ready to follow the dying” aptly contrast with the events in Hamlet, where the characters are confronted with the personification of death in the form of the ghost. Horatio “the scholar”, in particular has come to investigate the story of the dead king coming to life. The description of the proper philosophical education and character examined in the Republic chiefly require the “guardian” to possess courage in his pursuit of death. In book VII of the Republic, Socrates states: “Or can such a one account death fearful...then the cowardly and mean nature has no part in true philosophy?” In the next line form Hamlet, Horatio expresses fear in contrast to Socrates description of the philosopher who is “ready to follow the dying”
Most like: it harrows me with fear and wonder. (33)
In book III of the Republic Socrates presents the education as the source of either courage or fear in a young man: “Such then, I said, are our principles of theology –some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upwards, if we mean them to honour the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another…but if they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons besides these, and lessons of such a kind as will take away the fear of death? Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him…and can he be fearless of death, or will he choose death in battle rather than defeat and slavery, who believes the world below to be real and terrible…then we must assume a control over the narrators of this class of tales as well as over the others, and beg them not simply to but rather to commend the world below, intimating to them that their descriptions are untrue, and will do harm to our future warriors.”
Socrates proposes censorship of the stories that would inspire fear of death in the education of the young philosopher in favor of those that will promote a courageous outlook toward dying. According to Socrates the love for death should be instilled in the philosopher from an early age and throughout his education. In this context consider the following line from Phaedo where Socrates inquires into the teachings of Philolaus (a Pythagorean philosopher) as they pertain to death:
Socrates replied: And have you, Cebes and Simmias, who are the disciples of Philolaus, never heard him speak of this? (31)
Compare the words “speak of this” in the previous line from Phaedo with “speak to” in the next line from Hamlet. Both statements are in reference to death (in Phaedo it is in reference to suicide, while in Hamlet it is in reference to the ghost of a dead king returning from the dead) and reinforce the former inference to the intended double meaning of the words “speak to” also meaning “speaking about” a particular subject. In the next line from Hamlet, Horatio states: "It would be spoke to." (34) Speaking in earnest on the subject of death is not censored by Socrates, but on the contrary is precisely the proper subject matter for philosophic discourse. The language of such discourse is another matter. The proper philosophic language is under high scrutiny (whether implicitly or explicitly) throughout the Socratic dialogues. The importance of proper philosophic language is alluded to in the next line from Phaedo: "Yes, but his language was obscure, Socrates." (32) Consider Marcellus' following statement to Horatio in the next line from Hamlet within the context of the Socratic language of philosophic inquiry.
"Question it, Horatio." (35)
References to language continue in both texts, consider Horatio's unsuccessful attempt at interrogating the ghost in the next line from Hamlet:
What art thou that usurp'st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee, speak! (36)
Elsewhere in the Republic Socrates states: “all education and the pursuits of war and peace are also to be common, and the best philosophers and the bravest warriors are to be their kings?”
My words, too, are only an echo; but there is no reason why I should not repeat what I have heard: and indeed, as I am going to another place, it is very meet for me to be thinking and talking of the nature of the pilgrimage which I am about to make. What can I do better in the interval between this and the setting of the sun? (33)
Compare the words: “the majesty of buried Denmark did sometimes march” from Horatio’s previous statement with Socrates referring to the “The pilgrimage which I am about to make” in the complimentary line from Phaedo. Consider the words “my words, too, are only an echo” and “repeat what I have heard” from Phaedo as well as Horatio’s call to the ghost “by heaven I charge thee, speak” within the context of the tradition of retelling old stories.
“Well, sit we down, And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.”