By William Shakespeare
Act II: Scene 2
HAMLET. Denmark`s a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ. Then is the world one.
HAMLET. A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o` the worst.
ROSENCRANTZ. We think not so, my lord.
HAMLET. Why, `tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ. Why, then, your ambition makes it one; `tis too narrow for your mind.
HAMLET. O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
GUILDENSTERN. Which dreams, indeed, are ambition; for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
HAMLET. A dream itself is but a shadow.
ROSENCRANTZ. Truly, and I hold ambition of so light and airy a quality that it is but a shadow`s shadow.
HAMLET. There are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretch`d heroes the beggars shadows. Shall we to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.
ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN. We`ll wait upon you.
Nothing is either good or bad until we ascribe meaning to it: we are all the product of the social and family environment we were brought up in, and though born a blank slate, we are quickly given definition of the world we inhabit. How is definition and influence given?
It is the psychology of persuasion by means of:
Reciprocity; the inclination to help someone in return for their help.
Liking; mutual inclination to feel wanted and liked by others.
Consensus; the herd instinct, which is so strong in human behaviour — the need to belong.
Authority; taking note and giving respect to those we think have the gravitas of power and influence over our lives.
Consistency; showing each other that we can be relied upon to maintain a consistent manner and attitude. Society doesn`t like too much violent change.
Shakespeare knew that good and evil, indeed, any given social norm, is relative; simply based upon inventions of the human mind, and like any mind, they could be changed or inverted. Today`s good, is tomorrow`s bad.
The way people think influences their perceptions: all actions have consequences, but they derive from thought, even if on a primeval level locked and loaded into our reptilian brain stem.
Hamlet appears progressively insane as the play moves towards it`s inevitable retributive climax, but he is straight forwardly sane and awesomely, and relentlessly logical in his actions. By feigning insanity, he manipulates others into divulging more information than they would otherwise have given. Are Hamlet`s intentions good or bad? To him, it`s all relative in his merciless quest for vengeance.
Shakespeare is such a devilishly clever and perceptive old cove: the whole of human psychology is laid before us in his writings; the deepest and darkest infernal workings of human psychosis is presented in Hamlet as a ravishing entertainment of the senses. The mechanics, motivation and consequences of the nihilistic amorality of Hamlet show all too well that “….for there is nothing neither good or bad but thinking makes it so.”