Don’t you know your Shakespeare? The alternative is to ‘by opposing end them’. In context, the question is focussing on whether or not Hamlet should kill his step father (also his uncle) for killing his father (which technically, he may not have done) and marrying his mother .
Now, Kurt Vonnegut already summed this up the brilliance/importance of Hamlet pretty concisely, but if you don’t want to look over there, it’s basically like this.
In the real world, as in Hamlet, you never know what is right and what is wrong. Good and bad (along with most terms that invite people to think in absolutes) are all matters of perspective and it’s impossible to know whether we’re doing the right thing or not.
Hamlet gets told by a ghost that Claudius killed his father. He swears to avenge, but immediately becomes filled with doubt. He comes up with scheme after scheme to try and work out the reality of the situation. In the course of this scheming he drives his girlfriend to suicide, gets two old friends killed, and by the end everybody dies. Don’t worry. I haven’t ruined the ending, it’s a bit more complicated than that and hugely worth checking out if you haven’t already.
The crucial thing is that he never figures it out.
And nor do we. It certainly looks a bit suspect, but I suspect that’s because we know we’re watching a play, a situation in which we know that ghosts can exist and where the person with top billing is normally the good guy and killing can be righteous.
From the outside, I think it’s easier to criticise Hamlet for wasting so much time faffing about (and it’s not just his mind that suffers those slings and arrows, it’s his loved ones, who quickly seem very unloved). Decisive action would definitely have saved lives.
But you can’t kill someone based on an uncertainty.
But if you don’t, you’re going to live with that constant nagging doubt.
Hamlet teaches us a lot about the way the world is. Uncertain and confusing. Conflicted and painful. Dangerous to everyone involved.
It teaches us about absolutes and their absences. It can demonstrate to people how much polarised thinking is based on contradictions and assumptions that are impossible to marry up.
It reminds people that morality and ethics are never simple and straightforward, and you have to think of the impact of your actions on other people.
It also teaches us that dithering causes suffering, just as it teaches us that dithering is kind of all we can do.
What it reminds me, is of the thing that I always forget to point out on here. There are no answers. There are no absolutes. Nothing is fixed and certain. Everything you state is a guess based on current information. All information is unreliable, so all guesses are, so all statements are, so all everything is.
Nothing is known.
It’s nobler to suffer that, I’d guess. But how would I know?
Illustration by Jaime.