A good play takes us outside our daily routine, and like a rich meal of new flavors, feeds a soul hungry for change and variety. I think art generally does the same: it opens our minds and hearts to other possible views.
What does a 17th century play presented in cumbersome Elizabethan english have to offer a harried average man or woman 400 years later? Maybe the very thing it offered then: a love for the well-turned phrase; the puzzle of our human ambitions and frailties; the realization that nobility may at any time succumb to our baser passions.
Shakespeare I think captured the essential conflict of our natures: we are wonderfully created, the paragon of living beings, bearing a divine imprint, while at the same time, we bear a curse. We invite death, and we even revel in it. We are ever in its shadow even as we are exuberant in living. On the one hand, we prosper within the created order, as God intended, and on the other, we continuously rebel against that order, setting all askew. We seem, like Hamlet, to move between sanity and madness, unsure of the true nature and source of the voices that beckon us.
Hamlet’s dilemma is our own. We are of two natures: divine and corrupt. We play our our lives with the same dramatic struggle. At the end of Hamlet, the stage is cluttered with dead bodies. Gertrude the Queen is poisoned accidentally by her new husband. The usurping King himself is exposed as plotting the death of Hamlet, using Laertes as a pawn. Laertes is struck dead by Hamlet in a duel of sabers. Hamlet forces the King to drink his own poison. Hamlet himself, wounded, is the last to die, but not before a noble reconciliation by dying words with Laertes as they realize the web of deceit that has led them to this tragic end.
Christian scripture, of which Shakespeare was much aware, is a dramatic account of this same conflict of the divine and the depraved. In Hamlet, God’s order was to govern the political order, yet that order was set amiss by usurping ambition and lust. Something was indeed “rotten in the state of Denmark” just as poor Yorick, the court jester, was corrupted in death, and exhumed by gravedigger in Act 5, Sc. 1. We are in a trap of baser passions from which there is no escape but the mercy of God. Romans 6:23.