The hypothesis explored in this series of videos is based on three interrelated premises. First, that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is an intricately structured philosophical work on a singular theme, and second that this theme is the nature of the human soul.
The third and main premise is that the intended key to solving this highly intricate literary puzzle is Plato’s dialogue of Phaedo. This third premise should become much more likely, if the first two are sufficiently proven, since it is widely believed that Phaedo played a central role in the history of philosophical conception of the human soul.
Although this entire work as a whole aims to illustrate and prove this, I submit a single source which supports the first two premises just now mentioned.
In 2001, Professor Jan H. Blits, published a book in a series on political philosophy called Deadly Thought, this particular installment in the series is titled Hamlet and the Human Soul. In this book Dr. Blits examines Shakespeare’s Hamlet, line by line, as a complex treatise on the subject of the human soul.
Both, the meticulous approach of a line by line analysis, as well as the general conclusion that Hamlet contains a hidden philosophical discussion on the nature of the soul were unprecedented, as Dr. Blits himself points out in the preface of the book. I intend to prove that Dr. Blits’ approach as well as his general conclusion is precisely correct, yet missing one very important element, Plato’s Phaedo.
If we except Dr. Blits’ opinion that Hamlet is a complex philosophical treatise on the nature of the soul, then Plato’s Phaedo becomes the most likely place to look for the key to interpret Hamlet.
Plato’s Phaedo – is the oldest surviving philosophical texts on the nature of the soul. It is in this dialogue where on his deathbed Socrates gives his final argument for the idea that the soul is immortal.
Preliminary doubts about my hypothesis regarding the remarkable relationship between these two works may gradually dissolve upon a detailed and meticulous unfolding of the puzzle presented by a line-to-line juxtaposition of Hamlet and Phaedo.
Although it isn’t obvious at first that either work is organized in any sophisticated and intricate manner, it is indeed true of both texts. The most general similarity in the structure of both works is that each, as a whole, is reflected within its opening scene and then, in turn, within the first line of each text. This particular sort of structural organization is prevalent in nature and commonly found in many forms of artistic expression, it is known in geometry as fractal self-similarity and its implementation in the structure of Hamlet and Phaedo is not coincidental.
The opening scene in Hamlet begins with an exchange between the guards, Bernardo and Francisco, each calling for the other to identify himself. First Bernardo asks “Who’s there?” and in response Francisco demands “Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.”
In turn, the first word of Phaedo is «αὐτός» (yourself), in Echecrates’ opening line “Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates on the day when he drank the poison?”
In a philosophic sense the concept of identity is inherently connected with the notion of the self (soul or psyche). It is clear that both Shakespeare and Plato considered it important from the outset to focus the reader’s attention on this ancient and ever-relevant form of philosophic inquiry on the nature of the human soul.
First the ontological "who's there?" contrasted with Phaedo's "were you yourself"; then the complimentary self-referential opposition of the words "unfold yourself" from Hamlet - establishing a mirrored dichotomy.
Then the existential triplet of birth, death and re-birth in (the implicit understanding that ‘king Hamlet is dead’) contrasted with Bernardo’s words in the third line "Long live the king" together with the three references to Socrates' death in the third line of Phaedo "...his death...his last hours...he died by taking poison"
Followed in the fourth statement by reference to the time of death (metaphorically) in Francisco's compliment of Bernardo's punctuality with the words "you come most carefully upon your hour" and Socrates, who was put to death "not at the time, but long afterwards" in the corresponding line from Phaedo.
And again the fifth microcosmic statements of the two texts echo the dual symbolism of death and time, in Hamlet with the words: “Tis’ now struck twelve, get thee to bed Francisco” and in Phaedo, the symbolically loaded description of Theseus’ ship, as the reason for the delay in Socrates’ death, both emphasizing, once again, time or timing in regard to death...
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