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A Buddhist Interpretation of Shakespeare`s Tragedies : Hamlet and Othello

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  • 셰익스피어 비극
  • Shakespeare'S Tragedies
  • 불교
  • Buddhism
  • 햄릿
  • Hamlet
  • 오델로
  • Othello
  • 삼법인
  • The Three Signata
  • 연기설
  • Doctrine Of Dependant Co-Arising
  • Education


This essay aims at a Buddhist interpretation of Shakespeare's two tragedies: Hamlet and Othello. In these two plays Shakespeare deals with the subject of revenge and jealousy against a world full of impermanence, suffering, and desire. Shakespeare's view of the world has much in common with that of Buddhism because the teachings of the latter is based on three characteristics (The Three Signata) of the ordinary life: Impermanence (Anicca 無常), Unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha 苦), and Impersonality (Anatta 無我). These three characteristics of ordinary life are derived from the Doctrine of Dependant Co-arising (緣起說), the Buddhist theory of relativity. According to this doctrine nothing in the world is absolute, that is, everything is conditioned, relative, and interdependent. According to Buddhism, an individual is composed of Five Aggregates: Aggregates of Matter, of Sensations, of Perceptions, of Mental Formations, and of Consciousness. Naturally, man is subject to impermanence, suffering, and impersonality. Buddha teaches that an individual can achieve complete liberation from all kinds of mental defilements through a thorough understanding of the Doctrine of Dependent Co-Arising. Revenge in Hamlet, when analyzed through the Three Signata, is not achieved according to the idea of impermanence and impersonality. There is no revenger and the killed because both Hamlet and Claudius are subject to impermanence in body and mind, namely, at the end of the play are not what they used to be in the beginning. At the same time they are not different persons from what they used to be at the beginning of the play. Because the characters related to the revenge are changing and ego-less beings the idea of revenge naturally loses its established meaning. The so-called Hamlet's delay in revenge, considered in therms of Dependant Co-Arising, is the natural result of the interaction among the characters since everything happens according to the law of cause and effect, with proper conditions. With the revenge motif Shakespeare points out the meaninglessness and emptiness of revenge by showing that the total destruction of Denmark's royal family resulted from the interaction between Claudius' greed and Hamlet's will to avenge his father. Jealousy in Othello was caused by the co-operation of Iago's dissatisfaction with his present situation and Othello's rash and irrational quality of mind. Both characters do their worst to escape from their respective unsatisfactoriness. Iago plots to poison Othello's ears and mind with false information and lies relying on the impermanence of the latter's mind. Othello, instigated by Iago, comes suddenly to be suspicious of Desdemona's honesty. Out of the sense of betrayal and grief over his own misguided cuckoldry, Othello murders Desdemona and kills himself after the only to find that love needs wisdom. The nature of this wisdom, in terms of Buddhism, is to see things as they are: the Impermance, the Unsatisfactoriness, the Impersonality, the Interrelatedness and Interdependence of things. Both Hamlet and Othello tries to solve their problems by violence, which proves that their view of man is materialistic, that is material shapes man's mind. What they ignore is the fact that our life is shaped by our mind and that we become what we think. Especially the plot of the two plays were shaped by the mutual play of the character's minds. So, instead of violence, purification of mind by the understanding the nature of man is required. In this respect, the source of suffering in the two tragedies lies in the ignorance of the nature of man: the Three Signata proposed by Buddhism. With this wisdom, Shakespeare and Buddhism suggest to the audience, man create his own destiny, taking a full responsibility for his action.

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