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Hamlet and the Augean Stables of the World

Michael Srigley


No name of a fictional character is better known throughout the world today than Hamlet. Many reasons have been offered for the strong appeal of Shakespeare’s play on Hamlet to audiences of widely different cultures around the globe. One of them has to do with the mystery of Hamlet’s initial delay in avenging his father’s murder. For most of the play, Hamlet fails to carry out his mission, and it is only towards the end of it that he begins to act decisively. Hamlet’s transition from indecision during the first four acts of the play to resolute action in the final act coincides with the brief voyage he takes towards England. On that voyage of only a few days he changes radically. He embarks as a university student of between fifteen to eighteen years of age; on his return to Denmark after sailing towards Denmark, he has aged rapidly. From the information given by Hamlet and the Clown in V .i. 139-157, Hamlet is now thirty years old. Many attempts have been made to explain (or explain away) Hamlet’s swift ageing towards the end of the play, but as will be shown, it makes good symbolic sense.

In the first four acts of the play, Hamlet is presented as a university student studying at Wittenberg, accompanied by the somewhat older Horatio acting perhaps as his tutor and companion. Horatio is presented as a follower of the philosophical Stoicism of Seneca, so fashionable in Europe during the second half of the sixteenth century .In the midst of Hamlet’s studies, news arrives of the sudden death of his father and of his own recall to Denmark. There the Ghost of Old informs him that he has been murdered by his brother Claudius and that Hamlet is to avenge his death. Hamlet’s dilemma is increased by a certain condition imposed on him by his father’s Ghost. The Ghost says to him:

But howsomever thou pursues this act,

Taint not thy mind (I.iv .84-5).

This condition –not to taint his mind in the course of taking revenge – forces on Hamlet the duty of taking revenge dispassionately. He is to do it as amoral duty in order to rid Denmark of the corruption represented by Claudius and his courtiers, preserving the Stoic calm represented by the behaviour of his close friend, Horatio. He must kill Claudius as an act of dispassionate justice and not out of a desire for private revenge. This is one of the tenets taught by Seneca in his original presentation of Stoicism.

The difficult challenge faced by Hamlet faces all thinking men and women today throughout the world. Hamlet’s dilemma is ours. Many today find that the “something rotten in the state of Denmark”, to use Hamlet’s famous words, has now spread to the whole of our planet, and that like Hamlet we are called upon to eliminate it but do not know how or where to begin, or whether we even have the strength to ‘cleanse’ the world of its evils. May not this be one reason why Hamlet continues to be being played in so many parts of the world?

We are all aware of the many societies in the world where a few live in luxury and many are condemned to dire poverty .The globe is divided between the developed and the so-called ‘developing’ countries, a euphemism often for ‘undeveloped’.Economic greed is rampant while millions of children starve. Obesity spreads in one part of the world; malnutrition reigns in another. Vast sums are being spent by industrial nations on armament partly in response to the sensed threat of the dispossessed seeking to obtain their share of the world’s goods. As we shall see, the arming of Denmark at the beginning of the play is matched by the vast armament programmes in many parts of the world today. Our world, like Hamlet’s Denmark, is “out of joint” and like him, many of us are tempted to murmur:

O cursed spite,

That ever I was born to set it right (I.v.188-9).

Young Hamlet does not feel adequate to the task imposed on him. He speaks of this sense of inadequacy in his first soliloquy where he says of his uncle Claudius, the murderer of his own father, that he “is no more like my father / Than I to Hercules” (I.ii.152-3). This is the first of several mentions of Hercules in the play. It expresses Hamlet’s sense of inadequacy to perform the ‘labour’ demanded of him by his father’s Ghost.

The specific challenge faced by Hamlet can be compared with the challenge Hercules confronted on his Eleventh Labour. This involved the enormous task of ‘Cleansing the Augean Stables’. As we shall see, although Hamlet denies any resemblance to Hercules, he does in the end find the herculean strength to perform the task imposed on him. To gain a deeper understanding of Hamlet’s dilemma in Shakespeare’s play and so of the comparable dilemma now facing the world, let us turn to Alice Bailey’s reading of this particular Labour of Hercules, the one in which he undertakes to cleanse the stables of King Augeus of Elis of its huge piles of horse-dung.

Before beginning this Labour, Hercules, she writes, is instructed by his spiritual mentor as follows:

For long you have pursued the light which flickered first uncertainly, then waxed to a steady beacon, and now shines for you like a blazing sun. Turn now your back upon the brightness; reverse your steps; go back to them for whom the light is but a transient point, and help them make it glow. Direct your steps to Augeus whose kingdom must be cleansed of ancient evil ( The Labours of Hercules p. 180).

Instead of advancing into further spiritual light, Hercules is told to turn his back on it and return to aid his fellow human beings to discover their own inner light. His appointed task is to cleanse the kingdom of Augeus of its “ancient evil”. The form taken by the ancient evil that exists in Augeus’s realm is described in this way:

When Hercules approached the realm where Augeas was the ruler, a horrid stench that made him faint and weak assailed his nostrils. For years, he learnt, King Augeas had never cleared away the dung his cattle left within the royal stables. Then, too, the pastures were so amply dunged, no crops could grow. In consequence, a blighting pestilence was sweeping through the land, wreaking havoc with human lives (Labours, p. 180).

The rotting dung piled high in the royal stables, or spread deeply over the fields and causing crops to fail, leads to the pestilence afflicting and killing Augeus subjects.

In this respect Augeus’ sick realm closely resembles Hamlet’s Denmark. As one of the guards says, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark” (I.iv.90). The pestilence in Augeus’s kingdom caused by the decomposing cattle-dung corresponds to “the things rank and gross in nature” which afflict Denmark under Claudius’ s rule. Throughout the play we find the same imagery of rot caused by over-manuring. It is present, for example, in Hamlet’s advice to his mother, Gertrude, on how to cleanse her soul:

Mother, for love of grace,

Lay not that flattering unction to your soul,

That not your trespass but my madness speaks;

It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,

Whilst rank corruption, mining all within,

Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven;

Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come,

And do not spread the compost o’er the weeds,

To make them ranker. Forgive me this my virtue,

For in the fatness of these pursy times

Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg,

Yea, courb and woo for leave to do him good


The “rank corruption” that has been spread through Denmark by Claudius has infected Hamlet’s mother. It is working within her like a hidden ulcer which “mining all within, / Infects unseen”. To spread thick compost on such moral weeds is to make them even “ranker”. Using heavy irony, Hamlet asks his mother’s forgiveness for his virtue in speaking this way to her, for “in the fatness of these pursy times” virtue must beg leave of vice to speak. Again, the image is of over-indulgence and its moral and physical consequences. Hamlet uses the word ‘rank’ twice in this passage. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives it the following range of meanings: ‘of a luxuriant, gross or coarse quality’, ‘grossly rich, heavy or fertile, liable to produce rank vegetation’, ‘having an offensively strong smell; rancid’, ‘lustful, licentious; in heat’ and ‘corrupt, foul, festering’. The word ‘pursy’ reinforces the sense of ‘gross indulgence’ of the word ‘rank’. It is defined in OED as “Having a full rich purse; rich, wealthy” but by extension it signified self- indulgence. A passage in John Manningham’s Diary for 1602, about the time perhaps when Shakespeare first version of Hamlet was being performed, is cited: “One said, ‘yong Mr Leake was verry rich and fatt’, ‘True’, said B. Reid, ‘pursy men are fatt for the most part”’. For ‘pursy’ we might say today ‘stinking-rich’.

In his appraisal of the Danish character, Hamlet speaks of the heavy drinking of the Danes which has earned them the reputation abroad of being drunkards. He goes on to speak of similar weaknesses in various individuals which mining all within and infecting them invisibly at first, finally cause rank corruption in that person:

So, oft it chances in particular men,

That for some vicious mole of nature in them

As, in their birth, – wherein they are not guilty,

Since nature cannot choose his origin, –

By the o’ergrowth of some complexion,

Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,

Or by some habit that too much o’er-leavens

The form of plausive manners; that these men, –

Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,

Being nature’s livery , or fortune’s star, –

Their virtues else – be they as pure as grace,

As infinite as man may undergo –

Shall in the general censure take corruption

From that particular fault; the dram of eale

Doth all the noble substance of a doubt

To his own scandal (Hamlet, ed. Dover Wilson, I. iv. 23-38).

This long, contorted speech, with its delayed conclusion, (much discussed and emended in various ways) concerns the corruption of a person’s reputation in the eyes of others by some innate fault which overshadows or destroys their otherwise good qualities. It is almost as if Shakespeare is thinking of some inherited fault in a single nation over which the individual has no control. In this long speech Hamlet attempts to explain to Horatio the effect of heavy drinking on Claudius and his drunken courtiers as a form of national disease. The King, he tells him, is taking “his rouse” or bumper of wine and knocking “his draughts of Rhenish down” (I.iv.8, 10). Hamlet refers contemptuously to these boozy festivities of the Danish court, taking place so soon after the death of his father, as a “heavy-headed revel”. It is this behaviour that had earned the Danes the reputation abroad, both “east and west”, of being drunkards. It is the “vicious mole of nature in them” which is turning them into madmen.

What is this ‘vicious mole of nature’ that is causing corruption? It is normally taken to be the small brown spot or blemish that can appear on the skin, but this mole is said to be in them rather than on them. Might it not also be the mole that lives underground and undermines the surface from within, just as Hamlet’s father’s Ghost moves from place to place in the cellerage beneath Hamlet and his companions? Hamlet calls him “old mole” and asks “canst work i’ the earth so fast? A worthy pioner [digger]!” (I.v.162-3). By extension, the ‘mole of nature’ afflicting Denmark is also the aggrieved Ghost. He too is a source of infection. The Ghost tells Hamlet:

I am thy father’s spirit;

Doom’ d for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confined to fast in fires

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away (I.v.9-13).

He is in Purgatory for his sins. At the end of his long speech to Hamlet, he again reminds him that he was

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,

Unhousel’d, disappointed, unaneled (I. v. 76- 7).

These technical terms, meaning ‘lacking the sacrament’, ‘without time for penance’, and ‘without supreme unction’, indicate that Old Hamlet was in a state of sin when he died. He was not only unpurged of his sins, but after his murder he has become an unappeased ghost calling for revenge on his murderer. In this sense, Old Hamlet is again presented as a powerful source of poisonous infection in the state of Denmark.

The imagery of rotting fermentation, recalling the great heaps of dung rotting in the stables of Augeus, is exploited cunningly in a speech by Claudius. To spur on young Laertes to take revenge on Hamlet for slaying his father, Polonius, Claudius asks him if he truly loves his father, and explains why he asks:

There lives within the very flame of love

A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it;

And nothing is at a like goodness still,

For goodness, growing to a plurisy,

Dies in his own too-much (IV. vii.115-8).

He is suggesting to Laertes that even his great filial love can die in its own excess and act like ‘a plurisy’. In the seventeenth century, this was a condition of the blood, caused by over-rich food, afflicting both animals and human beings. In a work on the diseases of cattle first published in 1587, “a plurisie of blood” is said to afflict young horses when they feed excessively and “being fat will increase blood, and so grow to a plurisie and die” (Leonard Mascal, Treatise on Cattle, p. 187). In Shakespeare’s time ‘pleurisy’ also meant ‘superabundance, excess’ (OED, 2,fig). In Claudius’ use of it, it signifies the excess of Laertes’ love which destroys itself. It is a further variation on the theme of rankness, understood as an excess or a ‘too-much’ of fertility, caused by over-manuring.

Early in the play, Hamlet describes the world in similar terms.

O fie! ‘tis an unweeded garden

That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely [ entirely] (I.ii.135- 7).

A variation of this image of rank growth, cited earlier, is found in Hamlet’s advice to his mother:

And do not spread the compost on the weeds

To make them ranker (l11.iv.151-2).

In Shakespeare’s day as today a compost could also be ‘a prepared manure’. (OED, 3).

The cumulative effect of this imagery in the play is to evoke the idea of excessive manuring creating an over-rich soil and a consequent unhealthy growth of plants. It causes rankness. Figuratively, it is a disease causing an inner fermentation, or a pleurisy which over-heats the blood, or a disease which is likened to a hidden ulcer or impostume gradually coming to a head. It is generalised as the “something rotten in the state of Denmark”. It manifests in the form of corpulence or pursy fatness. It is above all the “rank corruption mining all within” which is undermining the whole state of Denmark as once it had undern1ined the realm of Augeus. It is the equivalent of modem over-eating and its consequences, now rampant in the US and spreading in Europe, and of the excessive use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture.

In the Eleventh Labour of Hercules in which Hercules offered to “cleanse the filthy stables” in return for a herd of Augeus’ cattle, the king became suspicious that Hercules planned to seize his throne. He therefore imposed a seemingly impossible condition on him. This was to cleanse the pullulating stables in the space of a single day. Hercules left the king, and “wandered through the blighted place, and saw a cart go by piled high with dead, the victims of the pestilence” (p. 181). He then noticed two rivers, the Alpheus and the Peneus, and an idea came to him of how he could successfully perform his Labour in such a short time. He would divert one of rivers into the other and turn their combined currents in the direction of the dung-filled stables. He did just this. The torrent of water then “swept away the long-accumulated filth” and “the realm was purged of all its fetid murk”. But Aegeus refused to keep to his side of the bargain to reward Hercules with cattle, and banished him from his land. Hercules returned later and drove Augeus into exile.

The pestilence caused by the rank dung piled high in the stables and on the meadows of Aegeus ‘ s realm and which had been poisoning his people corresponds to the fetid and poisonous rankness spreading through Claudius’s kingdom. In modern terms it corresponds not only to excessive eating but also to the poisoned state of the world’s seas, forests and land caused by excessive chemical pollution by the developed countries as well as the ruthless and reckless consumption of the world’s natural resources.

How can any young person be asked to take up arms against such a vast sea of troubles? No wonder that young Hamlet studying at university shrank from the responsibility of undertaking such a huge task. This brings us to another puzzle of this already puzzling play.

At the beginning of the play Hamlet is presented as a student studying at the University of Wittenberg in Germany and this would make him between fifteen to eighteen years old, depending on how long he had been studying there. But after his return to Denmark after a few days at sea bound for England in the middle of the play, Shakespeare goes out of his way to make it clear that he is now thirty years old. The gravedigger tells Hamlet, whom he does not recognise, that he has been a sexton ever since young Hamlet was born and this was thirty years ago (V.i.137 ff). Hamlet does not correct him. We are left with the impression that after only a few day’s at sea heading for England Hamlet has aged rapidly and is a decade or so older than he was before leaving for England. The puzzle has been much discussed without any consensus being arrived at.

As suggested earlier, it is possible that Hamlet’s rapid ageing has a symbolic significance. When we turn to Alice Bailey’s account of the Eleventh Labour of Hercules, we are told that “for thirty years the stables had not been cleared so that the filth had accumulated” (Labours, p. 190). She goes on to discuss the significance of this period of thirty years in terms of a human being. Thirty is “3 multiplied by 10, and 3 is the number of the personality and 10 is the number of completion” (Labours, p. 191). It is implied that Hercules, thirty years old when he undertakes his Eleventh Labour, is now a fully developed personality, now ready to dedicate his actions in service to his soul. Could it be that in making Hamlet thirty years old on his return to Denmark, instead of an adolescent as he would have had been only a few days before, Shakespeare wished to indicate that he had now reached the traditional age of maturity .He was no longer the youth of the first half of the play when he denied that he was a Hercules, but a mature man of thirty, at last ready to attempt the cleansing of Denmark as a true Hercules. As Annemarie Schimmel writes in her, The Mystery of Numbers (New York, Oxford, UP, 1993):

Thirty is a number connected with order and justice. In ancient Rome, a man had to reach the age of 30 to become a tribune, and according to biblical traditions, both Moses and Jesus began their public preaching at that age (p. 239).

The commencement of Christ’s mission at the age of thirty is also discussed by Alice Bailey. In her work From Bethlehem to Calvary, Alice Bailey also links the symbolism of the number thirty with Christ’s age when He was baptised in the Jordan by John the Baptist:

Christ had reached maturity. Tradition tells us that He was thirty years old when He was baptised and started on His brief but spectacular career. ..Speaking symbolically, it was necessary that He should be thirty year old, for there is significance in that number, where humanity was concerned. Thirty signifies the perfecting of the three aspects of the personality–the physical body, the emotional nature and the mind. ...When these three parts of man’s lower nature are functioning smoothly, and together form a unit for the use of the inner man, an integrated personality, or an efficient lower self, is the result. To this the number thirty testifies. Ten is the number of perfection, and thirty testifies to perfection in all three parts of the equipment of the soul (p. 88).

Through baptism, Christ at the age of thirty demonstrated for human beings the possibility of creating an integrated personality in preparation for its use by the soul. The purification and alignment of the three vehicles of expression was achieved and stabilised by the cleansing waters of the Jordan. The significance of these cleansing waters is conveyed by Alice Bailey in the following passage:

There can be no achievement without purification; there is no possibility of our seeing and manifesting divinity without passing through the waters that cleanse. An “ascetic purification” and an enforced abstinence from much that has hitherto been deemed desirable is going on in the world, and none of us can escape it. This is due to the breakdown of the economic system and the many other systems which are proving ineffectual in the modem world. Purification is being forced upon us, and as a consequence a truer sense ofvalues must eventuate. A cleansing from wrong ideals, a racial purification from dishonest standards and undesirable objectives, is being powerfully applied at this time. Perhaps this means that many in the race today are going down to Jordan, to enter its purifying waters. A self-applied ascetic purification, and the recognition ofits value by the pioneers of the human family, may succeed in bringing them to the portals of initiation (p. 92).

Alice Bailey also points out that we are entering the sign of Aquarius, the Water Carrier, and that “Christ, in this great initiation, entered into the stream, and the waters passed over Him” (98). Finally she comments on the significance of name of the river Jordan:

Jordan means “that which descends,” but also, according to some commentators, that which “divides,” as a river divides and separates the land. In the symbolism of esotericism, the word “river” frequently means discrimination (p. 100).

In the light of this symbolism, the two rivers that Hercules diverts through the stables ofAegeus stand for an “ascetic purification”. They wash away the poisonous dung that has accumulated there and bring to an end the pestilence that had been carrying off his subjects.

These various resemblances between Christ and Hercules that have been traced are not arbitrary. From early Christian times onwards, Hercules was seen as a pagan exemplar of Christ. As Marcel Simon has shown in his Hercule et le Christianisme (Paris, 1955), from Dante onwards the Labours of Hercules were regarded as “concealing a higher mystery”. Later, in the Renaissance period, the notion of the Christian Hercules became widely accepted among scholars, artists and writers as an esoteric mystery , or he was seen as a pagan forerunner of Christ. Michaelangelo, for example, did not hesitate to portray Christ as Hercules in his Last Judgement, while J .B. Zelotti painted his ‘Hercules on the Funeral Pyre’ with outstretched arms and gazing towards the heavens. Simon suggests that this fresco might well be called ‘Hercules-Christ’ (p. 184).

In the light of the long tradition of Hercules as a Christ-like pagan hero, reaching a climax in the Renaissance period, it was natural for Shakespeare to present Hamlet first as a student unwilling to take up Hercules’ club. It was also natural that after his return from the sea-voyage to England he returned as a mature man and an increasingly determined warrior. In keeping with the Hercules tradition, it was to be expected that Hamlet would describe Claudius and his drunken Court in terms ofhidden disease, indulgence, overheated blood, rankness and fatness. Nor at a period when Hercules was taken as a forerunner or pagan exemplar of Christ is it strange that Hamlet should swiftly mature in the second half of the play from being a teenager to a mature man of thirty .In the Renaissance period when it was customary to search for hidden or allegorical meanings in poetry , plays, paintings and emblems, the sudden ageing of Hamlet would have invited interpretation by its very incongruity. As Gabriel Harvey, a contemporary of Shakespeare, wrote in about 1599 in the margin of one of his books,

The younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis: but his Lucrece, & his tragedie ofHamlet, prince of Denmarke, have it in them, to please the wiser sort (Virginia Stem, Gabriel Harvey (Oxford, 1979) pp. 127-8).

For more solid evidence that the ‘wiser sort’ of Elizabethans or Jacobeans would have regarded the mature Hamlet as a contemporary Hercules cleansing the stables of Augeus at the age of thirty , we turn to the translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses made between 1621 and 1626 by George Sandys. In his commentary on this translation, Sandys gives a brief summary of Hercules’s cleansing of the stables of Augeus and then comments on its moral meaning. He wrote:

This filthy stable representeth the Court of Augeus; contaminated with luxury, and all sorts of uncleanesse: which by the expulsion of the vitious king and his Parasites, was said to have beene purged by Hercules .

Later in the same Commentary, he writes that his

conquests ouer beasts and monsters were chiefly invented to expresse the excellency of Virtue in subduing inordinate affections: as Intemperence by the Bore, rash Temerity by the Lion, by the Bull Anger, Panick Fear by the Hart, Uncleanesse of life by Augeus his stable.

With little change in Sandys’ words, we could likewise say that the Court of the murderous Claudius and his drunken parasites, contaminated by vice and all sorts of uncleanness, was finally purged by a resolute Hamlet.

The change that occurred in Hamlet from prevarication to resolute action took place after his voyage towards England. Hamlet later tells Horatio that shortly after embarking he discovered the plot of Claudius and of his accomplices, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to take his life. On a rash impulse, which he attributes to “a divinity that shapes our ends”  (V.ii.10), he opened their commission and found orders for his own death. He rewrote the commission ordering Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern to be killed. He was then captured by pirates who acting like “thieves of mercy” carry him back to Denmark, while his two companions sail on to their deaths in England. This marks the first time in the play when, obeying a God-sent premonition, Hamlet acts promptly. This decisiveness marks a profound change in his nature.

The change is further indicated soon afterwards in his conversation with Horatio just before his fencing match with young Laertes. He says:

Thou would not think how ill all’s here about my heart–but it is no matter (V.ii.210-211)

Here, Hamlet dismisses his premonition of death as irrelevant, dubbing it “a foolery, ...a kind of gainsaying as would perhaps trouble a woman” (V.ii.2l3-2l4 ) When Horatio suggests they cancel the match, Hamlet replies:

Not a whit, we defy augury. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not to come–ifit be not to come, it will be now– if it be not now, yet it will come–the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t to leave betimes, let be (V.ii.217-222).

Hamlet has reached a state of mind in which he accepts that death will come when it comes. Seneca, the Roman philosopher who was so influential on the Elizabethan dramatists, expresses this state of acceptance as follows, using the imagery of life as a sea-voyage:

For the only safe harbour in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us (Seneca: Letters from a Stoic (Penguin Classics, 1969, 190).

Just as Hamlet claims in the speech above that “the readiness is all”, so Seneca had written:

I don’t know what’s going to happen; but I do know what is capable of happening –and none of this will give rise to any protest on my part. I’m ready for everthing (Seneca: Letters from a Stoic, p. 155).

In such plays as Pericles and The Tempest, written after Hamlet, such sea voyages are given a symbolic meaning. There the sea takes on its ancient Christian attributes of the Sea of Life, with its storms calms and shipwrecks, which human beings attempt to cross to the distant shore of salvation. An example of this symbolic understanding of the sea can be given from An Epistle ofComfort written by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Robert Southwell, the Jesuit priest and poet:

She [the Church] is a sure ship, and wrought so cunningly by our heavenly shipwright, that, howmuchsoever the sea rage and the winds beat upon it, howmuchsoever this ship be tossed amongst the waves, it is kept from sinking and it runneth on. And doubtless sink it cannot, having at the stem him of whom it is said, the sea and the winds obey him (An Epistle of Comfort London: 1966, p. 12).

I have claimed that Hamlet is as modem today in its basic themes as in Shakespeare’ s day. This is because Shakespeare recognised the archetypal nature of Hamlet’s dilemma. In addition to discreet references to Hercules’ Eleventh Labour, it contains an allusion to the ancient theme, also popular in the Renaissance, of ‘Hercules Choice’ or ‘Hercules at the Crossroads’ where a man in armour, lying half-asleep, has to choose between the steep and narrow path of virtue and the broad and pleasant path of vice or indulgence. In his Eleventh Labour, Hercules makes a choice to take the steep right-hand fork and undertake a seemingly impossible task. So finally does Hamlet after much deliberation. We could speak of ‘Hamlet’s Choice’, and by the same token of ‘Our Choice’ today. Which way shall we take?




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