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To be or not to be? -Andrea

When someone thinks of a world changing metaphysician, william shakespeare isn’t the first to come up. Truth is, shakespeare has a brilliant mind that disguised some of life’s biggest questions as comedies, romances, tragedies.

William Shakespeare was born  in 1564, during the renaissance era, in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was indeed baptized, but the nature of his plays hints that he may not have fully believed the religion. He married Anne Hathaway on 1583 and half a year later his daughter Susanna was born. In 1585, Shakespeare and Hathaway welcomed their twins Hamnet and Judith, and by the age of 11, Shakespeare’s only son,Hamnet, passed away. It is commonly believed that Hamlet was based on death of his only male heir and that shakespeare uses it as inspiration to create dark gloomy stories. His dead son was just a void in his heart spiraling him to eventually write a series of world famous tragedies, some that really questioned life as we know it ( “to be or not to be”). Between 1585 to 1592, Shakespeare was completely unaccounted for, he could’ve spent years studying the art of life, but no one knows.  It is a fact that it was not even known if shakespeare was a scholar, while it is very likely that he would’ve attended school, there were never any record of it. In that way Shakespeare’s life is a bit of a mystery as well. Shakespeare seemed like a bit of a lonely man, maybe often left alone to ponder his own thoughts, many writers disapproved and weren’t keen on him.

…there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country

Scholars believe that Robert Greene was not pleased that someone with such little training, might be an even better writer. This and the fact that he himself was an actor allowed him for quite a bit of time for reflection. In the time of his grand success, he would travel from London to Stratford often. He changed his will so that no part of his estate would go to hathaway, or Judith. From speculation, it’s pretty easy to see that Shakespeare was a man of his own personal thoughts, what does this have anything to do with metaphysics you ask? ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING


Because of the contents of his plays many people believe and argue that Shakespeare believed in Neoplatonism (sprits, supernatural and other out of worldly events.) However after thorough research that he was the exact opposite. Shakespeare is a metaphysician but he was a big fan of imminace, meaning he believed that occurrences and feelings emerged from the object or person themselves. To him ideas where self-contained and dynamic. He makes a great effort to answer many difficult questions through his plays: Quantity or quality? are events prior to things or do things happen to events? nurture vs. nature? One of the biggest ideas he attempted to explain is mind over matter. In order to achieve understanding this idea it must first be realized that events are more essential to structure than the individual that they make up (nurture vs. nature) Mind is more powerful than the matter at hand because nothing can cause reaction other than the mind. This is a big occurrence during his plays and is always a constant theme in Macbeth. They play itself is filled with questions that provoke certain characters to behave a certain way. Some of the most awe-striking quotes from the play are questions: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”. The play is full of mystery, doubt, surprise, all tools that characters use to eventually, themselves, bring forward their grand finally. I write themselves because it is crucial to understand that no outward forces made any character act out a certain way. The witches do not cast a spell on Macbeth, but it is he himself who cast his own spell by deciding to believe the witches predictions, mind over matter. The play  dramatically crescendos to lady Macbeth’s suicide, falling victim to her own thoughts as she progressed through mental insanity. Shakespeare was a smart man, but he’s a lot more brilliant than anyone thought. He forced his character to endure terrible events in order to further develop themselves, but he also did something else. By leaving a lot of open-ended thoughts and having such extreme events he also invites us to develop our own minds by reflecting on his work. Funny thing is we do it without hesitation and with no prompts, that’s how extreme his plays could be.

This idea of mind over matter is huge thing. It’s not an easy thing to realize but we analyze everyday. There is a reason why we study Shakespeare all throughout our school years, people became aware of the gift that shakespeare had provided us with: critical thinking. Critical thinking itself is a really complex idea, and the fact that what you are , is not always true, and what you see could be anything else. While I’m not too sure I think critical thinking is at the fundamental step to metaphysics, without it we would be lost.

It’s funny because while I completely agreed with everything that shakespeare believes, I wasn’t actually ever aware that some of these thought’s may have come from reading his plays *Insert inception reference here*. I do think that If I got to spend a few days just reading his plays and attempt to understand I could find even more underlying messages, this itself took me a while to realize. I’m still trying to work out a few kinks here and there, and honestly I’m wanting to figure out if he meant to leave this grand puzzle just for us or if he was just a sucker for a good tragedy. I’m not sure that I will figure it out, but with this tool that I am now aware I’ve always had, I can take another step towards figuring out this messy world.



3 thoughts on “To be or not to be? -Andrea

  1. Hi Andrea,

    Compliments on an excellent introduction to many of the grand metaphysical questions brought about in Shakespeare! Not that this is something novel for someone with an English degree to say, but I am most astounded at the philosophical multitudes contained in his plays. From folk wisdom and superstition, to Greek Mythology and Christian origins, Shakespeare moves between these perspectives with envious effortlessness that, I agree, makes his mind a puzzle to conceive of all these many years later.

    In many ways, he’s something of a remix artist, in that many of his plays are based on either historical characters, local myths, or existing stories. He captures the high and low classes, both men and women, and covers the realistic/historic, as well as the fantastic. He is a kind of crystal ball in whom we can read all kinds of things about the belief structure (or, reality) of his cultural era.

    Who do you think is accomplishing a similar task in our current times? Or, an extension of that question are: who are others who have done this, either before or since Shakespeare?

    Enjoy #PhilsDayOff and Thanksgiving!

    Mr. J

    Posted by bryanjack | October 11, 2013, 11:08 pm
    • Thank you!! I do agree that the variety of people shakespeare is able to project in his plays is outstanding. It’s hard to compare anyone else to shakespeare, but I do think that we can look to Charles Dickens to once again see the variety of human life written down on paper. He as well as shakespeare attempts to dissect the multiple personas that exist on earth.

      Posted by Andrea | October 13, 2013, 8:06 pm
  2. Good work! I like how you use his plays to relate to nurture or nature and mind over matter. I never knew he was a philosophier, I thought he was just an old man writing plays for people’s entertainment. I guess all his other plays probably have some kind of deep meaning to it haha.

    Posted by lchai96 | October 15, 2013, 6:33 pm

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