Monday, 3 December 2012

The things that depress us - by Shakespeare

Shakespeare is a true “physician” of the soul, which is one of the many reasons why everyone who can read him, should read him, often. I was perusing Hamlet's “To be or not to be” speech today and suddenly realised that depressed Hamlet is giving his (or is it Shakespeare's?) list of things that have made life wearisome, dull and depressing enough to contemplate suicide. My sense is that they are:

  • the physical effort of a weary life spent working to keep one’s head above water in a world subject to the changes of chance and time; 
  • the wrongdoer's oppression and how it affects us; 
  • the proud man's scorn of us; 
  • arrogant people puffed up by their worldly status and power;  
  • the heartache of rejected love; 
  • the difficulty of defending our rights, or getting redress for wrongs (e.g. via the law); 
  • the lack of recognition of “worth” in a patient worthy person - by the unworthy. 
Most of us suffer some of these despairs, at some point in our lives. I think this is such a therapeutic list that it is worth adding to, particularly on behalf of those with a long-term, chronic illness (ME) which is little understood from which I, myself, recovered. So here goes:

  • the rejection of friends or even mothers;
  • the withdrawal, distance or disapproval of fathers;
  • the disdain of siblings;
  • the trials of a weak body struggling with an inherited weakness, thrust into the world, willy nilly;
  • the trial of living in a world made by men;
  • the world's assault on one’s soul;
  • the crushing of female spirituality;
  • the devaluation of feminine values;
  • the devaluation of female intellect;
  • the struggle of having to pay a mortgage;
  • the trial of never being able to do traditional things like sewing, home-making due to health, time or work pressures
  • the deception and lies of the World
  • the deception and compromises of the Church
  • never knowing if things are from God or from the devil, when in fact they may be from “both heaven and hell” (Shakespeare’s insight).

On this last point, Shakespeare has some valuable insights into the Devil and his many shapes.  He was deeply interested in the deception of evil and how to recognise it.  

This speech by Hamlet is particularly relevant to this theme. It is about the advantage that the Devil particularly takes of those who are depressed. Hamlet is often rather confused in his theology - but he clearly "believes" in the Devil:

“The spirit that I have seen (Hamlet's father’s ghost)
May be the devil; and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea and perhaps
Out of my weakness and melancholy
As he is very potent with such spirits (i.e. the devil has power over the depressed)
(The devil) Abuses me - to damn me".

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