Today we’re studying Act V Scene 1 of Hamlet, which you might know more familiarly as “the graveyard scene.” It’s a strange bit of staging, coming on the heels of Ophelia’s suicide and all the relative depression and darkness at the end of Act IV, here we have this moment of levity with the two clowns, followed by Hamlet’s encounter with and philosophy of what is left behind after we die and to what end it serves. Finally, the rather absurd melodrama of Ophelia’s funeral. A very busy scene and prelude to the finale.
In thinking about Imperious Caesar and his fate as clay to keep the winter wind away, and many of the other discussions of where we end up after death, where our bodies go, that come up throughout the play, I think of all the attention we give to our bodies as we live. What is it, this thing that will someday become the quintessence of dust, that we worry so much about, that we fret about. It is the simple shell of our lives that we use as we move through the world.
It is not our body that matters so much as what we do with it. How we use it to affect the world, to affect others. And, yes, the better we maintain it, the longer we can remain within it and use it to be effective…to be remembered in some manner once we have vacated it. But still, it is just a thing but we give it so much importance. We fret because of the shape it is in or the shape we wish it were in and rather than enjoy what we can do with it while we have it, we make it the focus of so much angst that we ask ourselves silly questions like “To be or not to be.”
I have no time for the “not to be” crowd who “take arms against a sea of troubles.” But rather I will “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I will live in this body as long as I can do so.
So living in this body, of not worrying about what will become of it should my time as its sole tenant end, I come to this point of being concerned about it. After all, I have to live in it, I want it to suit me. I want this body to best reflect who I am and be as comfortable as possible. And, yes, sometimes I do not maintain it as well as I should and, as a result, it displeases me. But that does not mean I am not concerned with it.
Here’s where I come to that element of what it means to live in a body that was not ideally suited for me to begin with. Should I have simply made do. After all, most people find some aspect of their body incompatible with their best happiness. After all. Why have I made changes to it? Major renovations. Major renovations.
Because I could. Simple. If I could not have done so, I would have not been able to do so and so the question would be moot. “That we would do, we should do when we would.” I was able to make a major change to this body I live in, this thing that will one day be dust that no one would recognize as male or female. I made that change because while we live, we owe it to ourselves to live as best we can. My best life is best lived in a body that best reflects the essential nature that is me.
My best life. I think that is something that is difficult for people to understand. That we should live our best lives. To live otherwise is to surrender to pain, to surrender to mediocrity, to surrender to unhappiness. I still have pain and unhappiness, but I fight against them. And I refuse to be mediocre. This life, this time I have in this body on this earth before I go on to stop the wind with Caesar, will be the best possible life I can live.