I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth.
Which, okay, I get it. Your dad is dead. The smart money says that your uncle killed him. And for sure your mom is canoodling with your dad’s murderer, married him come to that. C’mon, mom! Yuk! Wouldn’t that depress the heck out of anybody?
So, Hamlet is crabby. He is grouchy with his main squeeze. He kinda sorta inadvertently stabs her dad. Through a curtain. But still. Big oopsie. Ophelia is not pleased. Friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take the last train for the coast. Nothing is going right. Hamlet is decidedly indecisive. He’s going to kill Claudius. He’s not going to kill Claudius. Don't you get the feeling it would take they guy half an hour to choose mayo or mustard for his sandwich? Next thing you know the stage is littered with corpses.
I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth, foregone all custom of exercises.
Right. Makes sense. You don’t stop going to the gym because you get old. You get old because you stop going to the gym. Hamlet says he is bummed and therefore isn’t getting swole like he used to. The reality is that his LA Fitness membership lapsed and, as a result, he is even more blah than usual.
I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth, foregone all custom of exercises. And indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition, that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory.
Now just hold it right there, H. What's the fuss? Can’t you imagine what his mom is thinking: Is the boy missing any meals? Hardly. The castle in Elsinor has got more mutton and shepherd’s pie than you can shake a grouse at. Hamlet has got his hommie, Horatio, he can talk philosophy with. And Ophelia is a total babe, well born, willing to marry him and put up with his mood swings. (Although admittedly killing her father puts the kibosh on that romance and Hamlet is back to swiping right.) But he could even be king someday. Why can’t he get over himself? Settle down with Ophie? Have some young ‘uns? Move on up in the family business? What is there to be so hesitant and uncertain about?
Yet his mother’s suggestion to cheer up doesn’t do it. Hamlet can’t shake his depression. Doubtless Mama Gertrude recommends a combination of talk therapy and SSRIs. But Hamlet would rather mope around conversing with skulls. Which brings me to my parenting question for this back-to-school Tuesday: why can’t Hamlet just sit back and relax, go with the flow, open a coupla cold brewskis and enjoy his many advantages? Why does he have to focus only on the negative? Clearly, he can’t do anything of the kind. He has an attitude problem according to his mom. He is feeling lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.
Could things have been different? What would Hamlet have been like if Claudius hadn’t killed Hamlet’s father? Would Hamlet have been happy? Happier, anyway? Or would he just have found something else to be wretched about? Okay, my uncle hasn't killed my dad lately, but when is my acne going to clear up?
Admittedly, if Hamlet and Ophelia end up in a beachside condo with floor to ceiling drapes, a Kenmore washer dryer, and a carriage-pool schedule to get the kids to soccer practice, there is no play. Hamlet has to be morose. Otherwise, what is there to talk about? I have of late, but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory. But does he have to be such a Debbie Downer? Couldn’t he lighten up a little and enjoy his advantages? Does he have to endlessly focus on the negative through all five acts? I mean describing the entire planet as a “sterile promontory.” Isn’t that just a little harsh?
So the question about raising healthy children in this foul and pestilent congregation of vapours, is, “how much of our children’s dispositions is, for want of a better word, innate, and how much is environmental?” This isn’t just a question for first-year seminars and late-night dorm room conversations. Because if Hamlet is going to be depressed no matter what is going on around him, then it doesn’t matter what his circumstances are. How much of Hamlet’s Eeyore-like countenance related back to the perfidy of his mom and stepdad?
My take-away is that meeting a child’s basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter is a necessary but not sufficient condition for giving them their best shot at a happy life subsequently. Can’t you imagine Gertrude thinking, “I gave him three square meals a day and the most comfortable mattress is all of Denmark, but he was always such a stick in the mud”? What she leaves out is her complicity in killing Hamlet’s father, her “wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets.”
I just don’t think Gertrude gets it. Feeding, clothing, and paying tuition at sword-fighting school isn’t enough. She needs to have not married Hamlet’s uncle. Not cool.
For our children 400 years later, not much has changed. We still have to model appropriate behavior. We still have to avoid complicity in the murder of their other parent. Literal—poison in the ear—or metaphorical—your father is a bad man, that’s why I am fighting him for custody—are similar enough. Stand up, do the right thing, keep your mouth shut about your ex.
We also have to acknowledge that our children have temperaments, that they may be, well, temperamental--our best efforts notwithstanding. Helping them to be happy may fall short. But our chances of contented children increase significantly if we make hard moral choices and model decent lives.
Hamlet is mistaken when he says, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” By behaving decently, we decrease the likelihood that our kids get killed in a sword fight with Laertes after slumping around the castle for 4042 lines. Because--c'mon mom!--you don't want to be responsible for anyone losing all his mirth.