El Cabrero is in Shakespearean mode lately with a special emphasis on Hamlet. As mentioned earlier this week, self consciousness has been a major theme of the "modern" period, which as strange as it may sound is often considered to have begun around 1500. You can see it in paintings (like Las Meninas), in literature (like Don Quixote) and even in philosophy (Descartes' "I think, therefore I am").
Hamlet himself has got to be one of the most self conscious characters in all literature (with the possible exception of Spider-Man). This shows up in all kinds of ways, the most obvious being his long solitary speeches or soliloquies.
I find it interesting that Shakespeare has him before the action of the play studying at Wittenberg, birthplace of the Luther's Reformation (Protestantism is all about individuality and self-consciousness). Like Horatio, he has obviously been trained in philosophy, although he admits that there are more things in heaven and earth than it might imagine.
This shows up particularly in his capacity for self doubt. Even after seeing his father's ghost in the presence of witnesses on the battlements in the beginning of the play, he continues to question its veracity. As he says in Act 2, scene 2,
The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil, and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me.
I've always found one of his most endearing traits was the fact that he knew he might be wrong, although he might have taken it too far. Hamlet may have had a bit too much self consciousness and self doubt, while George W. Bush could have used a bit more. The Golden Mean is difficult to attain.
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