Toys of desperation…

"What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff That beetles o'er his base into the sea, And there assume some other horrible form, Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason And draw you into madness? think of it: The very place puts toys of desperation, Without more motive, into every brain That looks so many fathoms to the sea And hears it roar beneath."
– Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4, WIlliam Shakespeare

In this scene of Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet's murdered father, The Dane, has returned and beckons Hamlet to follow him…the ghost has an important word. Hamlet, unsure whether the ghost is divine or demonic, though clearly in his father's form, wishes to follow in spite of the worried warning by his friend Horatio. Horatio wonders aloud if the ghost will bid Hamlet jump from the cliff and into the sea below. Horatio remarks that "…without more motive…" that the cliff, the very place, puts "…toys of desperation, into every brain…" What is it that is touched on here that Shakespeare says happens universally in the mind of man? What is that toy of desperation? Its the notion that a man, not just the one openly and obviously desperate, but everyman everywhere…acutely aware of the tininess of three score and ten in comparison with the vastness of the hereafter wonders why he shouldn't just go. This is the toying with the notion that all of eternity could begin now. Step off the cliff and the preamble is over and that drama of substance – all of eternity – begins. Who am I? Really? Maybe I should just get on with it. Man…everyman, knows he is eternal and that he is only an alien in this realm.


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