Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Atheism, Afterlife and ... Hamlet.

Thanks to reader Christopher S for this fascinating video from the Jewish TV Network where top atheism advocates - including Christopher Hitchens - debate the existence of an afterlife with several top rabbis.


At 1:28 (that's one hour, twenty-eight minutes - it's a long video), they break out the Hamlet. Which side, exactly, brings up Hamlet? *Both*. That's cool. They both try to argue that Hamlet supports their case. And apparently, though I don't have time to find every reference, Chris tells me that "Several times throughout the evening they bring up Shakespeare's canon as a foil to the religious canons, arguing about whether we should read both in the same way or whether they need to be approached in different ways." This is a topic that we've covered as well.


What do you think about the atheism question? Does Hamlet fear the undiscovered country because he doesn't know what comes next ... or because he's wondering if *anything* comes next? I wouldn't go so far as to extend the discussion to "Is Hamlet atheist? Therefore, was Shakespeare atheist?" I know that's been argued elsewhere on the net. I think the odds are against it. I'm referring to this particular case. Even if Hamlet is a devoutly religious chap with a firm belief in the afterlife, is this speech a moment of weakness where he wonders "What if I'm wrong?"



2 comments:

Alexi said...

The wording would be out-of-place for a materialist. "The fear of something after death" is a whole different sea of troubles than the "fear of nothing after death."

Also, hearing his own father's ghost vividly describe Hell/Purgatory (Your mileage may vary) probably goes a long to convince Hamlet of the existence of the afterlife. Even if he thinks the Ghost is an evil spirit sent to deceive him, it still serves as evidence for the supernatural.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Ray Eston Smith Jr said...

As Alexi said, the Ghost itself was proof of an afterlife, but where? In heaven? Or in hell?

HAMLET
For in that sleep of death what DREAMS may come

HAMLET
O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have BAD DREAMS.
GUILDENSTERN
Which DREAMS indeed ARE AMBITION

If Hamlet kills Claudius out of ambition, he will inherit the same blood-soaked ground that doomed both his uncle and his father to damnation.