Hamlet’s Ghost in 2020

Of Fathers and Sons

Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, many a son is driven mad by a father’s ghost. Although most of our fathers were not murdered, as was Hamlet’s, our fathers whisper through the air long after they have ceased to be. We hear a voice that defies us to be as big as they or to exceed their stature, or to fill the void of emptiness and their sense of shame and shortcomings they took to the grave, or to find the love they withheld from us as children. A father’s ghost sometimes drives a son mad.

Hamlet tries to show his mother Gertrude his father’s ghost (artist: Nicolai A. Abildgaard, c. 1778).

We are our father’s sons.  Appearances to the contrary, madness is never far away. 

“That he is mad, ’tis true; ’tis true ’tis pity;
And pity ’tis ’tis true —a foolish figure….”
— Plutonius to Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.)

The healthier sons among us still see our father’s ghost without being stuck in a room where his is the only voice that keeps us captive. We write a wider narrative that puts the father’s ghost where it belongs within the expanding narrative to which experience over time leads us to write. The less fortunate walk through life in “the hollow inner space where the story should be, but never was.” (Dan P. McAdams, The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump.)

The hollow inner space where the story should be

People without a redemptive narrative of the self — a life-story written in one’s own blood: the defeats no less than the successes, the release from the father’s ghost, the changes that unmute the helpless child’s cry for love and integrate the conscious changes that awake us from sleep-walking — deserve our pity and prayers. 

A truly authentic fake

“Trump is always acting, always on stage,” writes McAdam, “— but that is who he really is, and that is all he really is. He is not introspective, retrospective or prospective. He does not go deep into his mind; he does not travel back to the past; he does not project far into the future. He is always on the surface, always right now.

“In his own mind, he is more like a persona than a person, more like a primal force or superhero, rather than a fully realized human being.”

Glitter and compassion

Hamlet mistakenly stabs Polonius (Artist: Coke Smyth, 19th century).

Long before the chairs and drapes in the Oval Office were glittered with yellow-gold, Edgar Alan Poe wrote in his Philosophy of Furniture, “Glitter — and in that one word how much of all that is detestable do we express.”

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragedy too detestable to express: a trail of tears created by a son’s inability to write a narrative that integrates and moves beyond obsession with his father’s ghost.

The hollow inner spaces of others bring a tear to God’s eye, and call us to compassion in hopes that a new narrative of redemption. Truly authentic fakes who hide their emptiness with glitter deserve our pity and our prayers. They do not deserve applause or votes.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 21, 2020. 

THE QUESTION – to be or not to be?

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

The questions “Who am I?” and “Why is Views from the Edge still here in 2016?” share a bit of Hamlet’s question whether “to be or not to be?”

We’re no Shakespeare! But writing is what we do. To not write would be not to be, a kind of denial of consciousness and the need to speak. So I’ve written and aired commentaries on MPR’s All Things Considered and anywhere else that has provided an opportunity to think and feel out loud.

Speaking from a pulpit is what I did most of my professional life along with some publishing on the side. Words matter. They deserve to be handled with care and thought. Which is why I go back and forth between days when I dare to think I have something worth saying and days when my words and thoughts feel like sending more pollution into cyberspace.

Not everyone cares about Views from the Edge, nor should they. But if you’re interested in a different viewing point on the news that searches out the hidden, taken-for-granted convictions, beliefs, and ideas that underlie life in the 21st century, you might find a second or third home here.

The edge from which my colleague Steve Shoemaker and I view the world is the margin, the place of an outsider peering in, the way an anthropologist looks at an ancient civilization to find out what it was really about. Steve and I cut our eye teeth on two stories that likely never happened but are always happening: Cain slaying his brother Abel, and the building and crumbling of the Tower of Babel. Both stories concern human anxiety and a refusal to live within the limits of meaningful time.

Hamlet’s “to be or not to be?” is the question in 2016 as climate change exposes the folly of the prideful, unspoken western philosophical conviction that the human species is superior to or exceptional to nature. We’re learning the hard way that we are not, and perhaps, just perhaps, we will also rediscover in the deepest core of the western tradition itself a wisdom and virtue akin to aboriginal traditions: a humbler human calling and way to be our neighbor’s and our planet’s keeper.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 4, 2016