To Do or Not to Do: The Real Question

I am not an actor. I am a thinker. I am the type that ponders, deliberates, researches, twists-around-and-around-from-every-conceivable angle before I move an inch. And even then, I pause, reflect on that INCH, twist-it-around-and-around-again, create-it-as-a-comedy, create-it-as-a tragedy and end it all by wondering if I want to do anything at all.

For that reason, Shakespeare’s infamous character, Hamlet, has held a hero-like appeal to me.

Hamlet loved actors himself, but he was definitely not one either. The Prince of Denmark is the paragon of the thinker, so much so that he hardly does anything else.  When he says, “O God, I could be bounded in a nut-shell, and count myself the king of infinite space” is he not making it clear that most of his life, his energy, and his interest lies in his mind not the world around him? Throughout the play, he is chronically plagued by intellectual indecision, and therefore by equally outrageous inaction, a powerlessness in the real, physical world.

There’s something magical about the Hamlet’s connection to the immature intellectual.

Yet, my nearly-idolatrous view of Hamlet changed about a year ago. Even though I had already taken a Shakespearean course in my university studies, I took another later in my career. The second time around, my professor was a sheer delight to behold, the ideal Shakespearean scholar. He was hilarious, energetic, expressive, and extremely personable (he knew everyone by name the first day and when you answered in class, boy, he stared at you deeply as if you held the secrets of the universe) Most importantly, he was knowledgeable about the Bard. For instance, there was the charmingly familiar way he addressed Hamlet, as if the Danish Prince was a little brother. Unlike thousands of Shakespearean snobs who hold Hamlet in such seriousness, my professor seemed to tease him.

Hamlet’s “intellectual indecision” was not a badge of honor; it was a clear manifestation of immaturity. To my everlasting shock, my professor likened the philosophical prince to a brooding, taciturn adolescent that does not effectively communicate with those around him and cannot muster enough courage to act on what he knows is right. Hamlet suffered from an acute immaturity that was hidden by his great mind. True maturity, after all, depends on courageous communication and the will to act. The image of our Danish prince roaming the castle, acting crazy, and endlessly debating with himself does not lend itself to the definition.

Our new view of Hamlet converged on his renowned “To Be or Not to Be” speech. Our class decided that the speech had more to do with Hamlet’s frustrating inaction than the surface existential crisis. After all, the central conflict in Hamlet’s mind is that he cannot motivate himself to act. So, instead of his question being life or death, it is more of “to act or not to act,” “to do or not to do.” Sounds familiar?

Inaction means death. Action means life. To live means to act, to make things happen, change the world around you. If individualization is the product of acting on your convictions, those who lounge around thinking and thinking and thinking are not fully-realizing their potential.

All of sudden, Hamlet is no huge hero. I realized that he’s a deeply flawed individual and I would be too if I never made big decisions in my life. Sometimes even the introverted among us has to cut off the brain and just act.

Hey, I’m still a thinker. Always will be. But I’d like to think I would have the courage and determination to act in my life when it is impoartant. What about you? Are you an actor or a thinker, and have you learned to reconcile the two?

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