On occasion (ok, fairly often) I stumble across something I’ve never heard of before, only to find out that lots of people have been discussing it for years. I did know that many, many people have written libraries full of the analysis of Hamlet. My recent small discoveries about him pale in the Shakespearean study world, but still mean quite a bit to me. I wrote about Hamlet as part of my contemplations about whether I should focus on what is still “to be” for me, or on what “I am” today. One would think that is enough to occupy life contemplations, at least for a bit. But my brain had other plans.
Why and how, I can’t say, but when the quote from Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore, I am” came across my path, I was pulled out of one rabbit hole and dumped in another. My very first attempt at researching this quote, and what others had to say about it, revealed something surprising. Hamlet stuck his foot in the door.
First, it was a dissertation summary at Texas A&M titled “I act therefore I am: identity and performance in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” I quickly found out it wasn’t a quote from Hamlet, but was describing Hamlet’s character. The summary ends with “The biblical God asserts, ‘I am that I am,’ philosopher Ren ̌Descartes, ‘I think therefore I am,’ and the character of Hamlet ‘I act therefore I am,’ suggesting that the developing inner self, must find outward expression to be actualized.” (Note: I REALLY wanted to insert commas in the quotes but resisted.)
It took me a while to sort through all the wrong opinions about the expression “I act, therefore, I am,” and finally found it expressed by Philosopher Gilbert Ryle as a disagreement with Descartes. Ryle states that it is behavior that creates “self,” not thought. Right now, I am not so sure who is right as I try to dig my way out of this rabbit hole- both thinking and acting. I dig, therefore, I think.
(I wanted to end this saying that Hamlet is the real Ghost in the Machine, but I thought better about that action.)