In 2022, Hamlet's Soliloquies Have Become Grindr-Tinder Bios

Updated: Sep 13

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Image Credits: HamletGuide


Dear Reader,


It's been a few months of Letters from a Young Contrarian and by now, you would know that I (I am hoping, we) share some crude animosity towards this irredeemable (for the most part) section of people called men. It's unfortunately a personality trait by now, but I am trying to unlearn. Let's see.


Anyway, a friend recently told me that she is often angry at men because men have always had the power to determine who they want to be. During this conversation, we add another condition to our shared disbelief, in the spirit of being real: cisnormative men have always had the self-sanctioned privilege of choice. What I am trying to get at is this: despite having the agency to perform their gender in all its endless shades, men have conveniently and mindlesslessly resorted to an insufferable archetype. Angry, distant, mysterious and deliberately reticent about their feelings. Add to that mix the unbelievable range and scope of men to be manipulative, and – to use one of my favourite (ironically, I admit) words on the internet – their ability to gaslight. We all know these men – sometimes we are these men too. But if you take my word for it, the most prominent literary precedent for this breed was/is Shakespeare's Hamlet.


I love Hamlet the play. The character… Well. There is no way that anyone can refute the influence and centrality of Hamlet in not only literature, but also psychology, sociology, even economics and politics. Over 400 years, scholars have vetted the lines of Shakespeare’s arguably most popular play, and have mined the wildest theories from it. Truly, the infinite interpretative scope of Hamlet – the play and the character(s) – remains refreshing despite centuries of intellectual engagement. Which is precisely why a take like the one you're reading makes total sense too. (Men and self-validation, a demonstration.)


There is nothing more challenging than self-definition in a world that sustains itself entirely on archetypes and mechanical reproductions. The Original ideas have been juiced, it seems, and all we have now, across art and life, are recombinations of the same old slush. In his timeless 1935 essay, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', Walter Benjamin wrote:


'Humanity’s self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.'


Well.


The idea of 'identity crises' is not a new one, so we have also discovered ways around it, the inventive species that we are. There are two ways out of these crises, if you ask me – becoming an archetype of a personality model that pre-exists in the matrix, or engaging with the ripest soliloquy of all literary time (at the cost of being an intense party pooper): Oh, to be or not to be! Mostly, we choose the former option, because the latter is a lot of inaction, misery and non-action in a world that has no space for any of those things. How long will one contemplate a "sea of storms" before they have to type away the 178th mail of the day?


The privilege to be able to sit down in malice in a dark corner (with a skull, no less) and think too deeply about one's thoughts is a very real, unaffordable impossibility in 2022. In the age of hustling, being a Hamlet is a distant dream. But there's a way around it too. It never hurts to borrow certain elements from a literary character. After all, what are we if not a twisted Frankenstein's monster composed of all the things we read/watch? Hamlet has cultivated a dense intellectual referentiality, and because of its 18,774 popular adaptations, almost all of us know what the deal in this cryptic, catastrophic play is. But the true menace of the play has been its potency at validating (irrational) angst. It has given us the Travis Bickles and Kabir Singhs of the cinematic multiverse, among other things.


Art is, of course, extremely impressionable. And interesting/intriguing art that gains some cultural clout sits down on us heavily, squishing its infinite patterns into our spines. For instance, we see some behaviours on screen, and not only do we adapt them, we defend, endorse and champion them at times. Hamlet, to this end, is a classic case in point. Even if you haven't read the play, you know that Hamlet is the hero (Hero, even). His wit and his 'madness' are charming, his words intoxicating, and his speeches some of the best writing Shakespeare ever did. Hamlet clouds the play in a shadow that consumes all other narratives within the play, and if you look closely, Hamlet has a lot of interrelated socio-political narratives running through it. There's a massive war in the backdrop, the fate of all civilians on the cusp of total annihilation, but no, the most memorable bit of the play is Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy. It's an excellent soliloquy, undoubtedly, so ambiguous, so well-written, but well…

By the way, here's Andrew Scott performing it, you're welcome.


Hamlet is obsessed with his mother's libido (a troubling, overblown invention of his own making), gaslights, chastises and harangues Ophelia ad infinitum, sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths, horatios Horatio (yes, Horatio is a verb), mindlesslessly murders Polonius, and basically causes every tragic event in the play. What's interesting is, how all of the (in)action within the play is dictated by the absent presence of the ghost of Hamlet's father (talk about the "law of the father"). All of this letter has led to this: Hamlet is a play about patriarchal social relationships, how we inherit these rules and dynamics and how we perform them in our lives, often with the stringent non-recognition of the harm that these practices can cause, to ourselves and the ones we love.


The legendary Ursula K. Le Guin wrote:


'It's always easier not to think for oneself. Find a nice safe hierarchy and settle in. Don't make changes, don't risk disapproval, don't upset your syndics. It's always easiest to let yourself be governed.'

Hamlet embodies a hierarchy interpellated by his madness—he eludes thinking for himself, despite his poetic soliloquies, and the responsibility of revenge weighs heavily on him, further foreclosing any opportunity for self- definition or analysis. While reading Hamlet, we are compelled to think whether Hamlet's madness is real or not, but in my opinion, it's really about how it affects everyone he claims to "love". Hamlet is an easy archetype to follow, but it's also quite harmful. Unfortunately for us in 2022, Hamlet's soliloquies have become Grindr-Tinder bios. If misogyny be the food of love, play on. (Prayer hands.)


Read the play if you haven't, if it makes you angry, and your favourite character is Ophelia/Gertrude, write to me please.


Until next time,

Kartik


 

By Kartik Chauhan (Columnist)

(Probably) pursuing a postgraduate degree in English, Kartik is a strong proponent of multiplicities: within and without. He finds a slippery respite in words – his own and those he reads. Alternatively, he is also very suspicious of ‘isms’. Adding everyday to an ocean-like to-be-read pile of books, he is content with all things literary.

For his book reviews and poetry, you can find him on Instagram @karkritiques.


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