Plato’s Hamlet


Some 7 years ago, my Lower 6th Greek set and I ‘discovered’ a ‘lost’ dialogue of Plato, which W Shakespeare had then years later adapted to write a famous speech… Extract from Plato’s dialogue “The Hamlet” “Indeed,” I said, “it is necessary to investigate the matter of whether, on the one hand, existing, or on the other hand lacking existence, is preferable” “I agree, o Socrates.” “Furthermore, in our customary procedure, one must posit the question with regards to the goodness or otherwise of the slings and arrows of that which really exists in itself badly, and whether by excluding the bad things against which we stand from our state, they might cease to exist?” “What do you have in mind when you say this, o Socrates?” “I shall explain. But wait, for I am about to explain. Then after that you will want to ask what I have in mind even more. For sometimes those who listen ask questions more readily than those who are speaking.” “In every way, o Socrates.” “Sleeping is, in a way, I suppose, merely an imitation of that which we call death, it seems to me at least.” “Yes.” “For do you not agree that such sleeping could in a way act as an antidote for those suffering in ignorance in their souls, and in another way not?” “I agree.” “And yet it will also tend to counteract the many and great imperfections that we might say exist generally in humanity as a whole, I suppose. In this way, then, a great love for death has gripped me since childhood, and in a sense, when we die, we might suggest that dreams present themselves in their appearances of reality, but are not reality, but only part of sleep, and not the real things themselves. For how can this not be?” “Absolutely.” “And let us examine further this further point. For on the one hand, Glaucon, we may appear to sleep, but on the second hand in dreaming we may seem to ourselves in one way to dream but in another way not, and on the third hand we must follow those who follow the teachings of those from previous generations, in observing the representation of these things which do not really exist. For this is why we appear to extend the pains and many other bad [things] which seem to happen to us in the reality of our existence.” “Yes.” “Indeed then, with respect to these things, then, don’t you agree that concerning the many humiliations of life, namely the injustices of those who govern the city state, like Polyacrates of Anexisandros, and also the incorrect opinions which may harm the mind, and furthermore, o Glaucon, the harmful nature of that which appears to be love but in reality is not really love at all, and at the same time is love in itself, and also the inefficiencies of the law-givers, such as Charobindoxidas of Misinos, but also the inappropriate nature of the oligarchs, and also the lack of parity in those who have more as opposed to less, it causes us, surely, to develop a particular love for death from childhood which stays us from speaking, and thus terminate our imperfect existence, or rather lack of it?” “I’m not sure I understood. Could you repeat that please?” he said. “No. And yet, which of us would think it better to choose an existence of labour and toil unless we are fearful of that which would follow? For any man who claims to have met a man who says that he has returned from that uncharted world will turn out to be a magician, and untruthfully not telling the truth, but telling lies, and not the real truth itself, such as it really is in truth, won’t he?” “Very true.” “Well then,” I said. “Would this not end up confusing the soul and mind, which we have previously correctly separated, it seems to me, I suppose, on the one hand, and forcing us on the other hand to receive the many and bad things that are familiar to us?” “Yes.” “So then (but please do not give me away to the foremost of tragedians, Homer, when I say this, but rather, indeed, avoid giving me away) ignorance of our true nature may convince us to believe that we ought to have courage, and yet true knowledge of the nature of our death makes us the opposite, won’t he?” “I suppose so.” “And in this way acts caused by the nature of courage itself are delayed by the dangerous considerations concerning the mind, aren’t they?” “Yes.” “And furthermore…” “Yes.” “Thereby those which we call “actions” lose that to which we give the name action, and in this way, o Glaucon, the natures of those things lose their importance, isn’t it?” “But Socrates…” “Be quiet, Glaucon, for I have finished.” “Your arguments convince me completely, just as they would anyone else who could be bothered to listen, o Socrates.”


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