Live life like Olivier

Hamlet as a metaphor for life,
and the illusions we create for ourselves.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is probably the play against which all others are measured. At the end the stage is littered with dead bodies. As such it’s called a tragedy. In reality it’s entertainment. Nobody gets killed. Another illusion takes place.

The nature of reality that we see all around us is very similar. Everything appears real but at a higher level you created this with your mind. Look at the table in front of you. It appears solid in every way, but in reality it is billions of atoms moving together at a certain vibration that allows it to appear as a table. In short it’s energy. Now we know the atom is composed pretty much of empty space. Yes, inside it’s hollow. That means everything around you is basically made of nothing. Interesting thought.

Have you been taken in by this illusion?

When the actor who plays Hamlet steps out on stage he is fully aware that he is but playing a part. His every movement is rehearsed down to the last detail. But it never appears so. That would be to collapse the illusion.

He must play the part as if it were real. He enters each emotion thoroughly, be it sorrow, anger, loss, and feels it in himself completely, all the while knowing it is mere pretence.

Inside he’s dancing.

But he must never let the two overlap. The acting and the knowing. If he approaches his role in a half-assed way then his performance will simply not be convincing. He must delicately balance the two, believing in the role he’s playing while not really believing in it. And the audience participates in this fiction.

This is knowing while not knowing.

Now what you call the world you actually create. And there is nothing haphazard about this. The illusion has to work so convincingly that it convinces you! You made it completely water-tight. And you did a thoroughly good job. Everything appears solid, heavy. Death is a certainty. When fear arises it is all consuming.

The illusion of reality must be absolute otherwise it would collapse. And that is what I mean by awakening, or being conscious. It’s where you become aware that you created all this; effectively you collapse the illusion.

Mind, this is not the same as running away, trying to escape it. There are certain talents that only you have and that you need to use to enrich your life and the lives of others. And there are responsibilities too. Bills need to be paid. Tasks need to be completed. If you adopt the attitude that nothing's real, ‘why bother getting out of bed’, then you won’t be a very convincing actor in the play of your life. You won’t have a very happy life either.

It’s just too easy to forget that we’re playing a role. We end up believing in our own tragedies, in our own petty dramas. And then we get hurt. Maybe the crisis in your teens wasn’t what it seemed. Perhaps the critic in your head is just prating old Polonius. So you ran him through in act 3 - that was during you punk phase. Serves him right for hiding behind the arras in the first place.

Hamlet: the man and the metaphor

Hamlet pondered the great question everyone asks themselves at some time. Whether to give up the struggle or not? Giving up the struggle can seem like defeat. There is so much drama in his life. The king is the usurper who takes the place of his real father. His kingdom is a sham. From beyond earthly bounds his true father speaks to him.

We all have stuff that we’d like to avoid, delete, re-write. Wouldn't it be great if we could skip the mousetrap scene and hurry to the juicy bit where the king gets his comeuppance?

But everything has its time and its season.

When we forget we end up living in the play. Then we start suffering the fate of fictional characters. It’s kind of stupid when you think about it. If you know you’re playing Horatio you do so consciously. Then when all the shouting is over you go off and have a few beers with your mates. If, on the other hand, you are Horatio, then by the end of today you’re going to be left with a lot of dead bodies and the D A will want to know why.

In the end when asked what’s up, Horatio replies ‘what is it you would see?’ (Ham. Act v. Sc. ii).

A judicious remark, what you see is the world you created.

Something to ponder

What if your life was a play and you were the central character in it? Then wouldn’t you adopt the actor’s mindset, seeing the fun but playing the role as if it were real.

Find that delicate balance between believing while not believing.

Then inside you’re laughing.

Stand back from the drama and realise none of it is real. And then enjoy every moment of it.

Your life is the most serious thing you will ever do. Learn not to take it seriously at all.

Live life like Olivier.

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There is a voice that doesn’t use words - listen!


Reality is merely an illusion - albeit a persistent one.

Albert Einstein