Saturday, January 4, 2014

To be or not to be

It pleases me to relate to my reader the following account of a recent gathering of my MeetUp group, known as the Amateur Shakespeare Society, of which I am both current Head and Founder.

Upon this occasion, all of us had gathered in the living room, after we had finished dinner. Mr. Slepovitch, who had heretofore been reading Hamlet, claimed our attention in the following manner, “I say, my dear friends, reading over Prince Hamlet’s most famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy has stirred in me thoughts upon that unique human folly known in some legal circles as felo-de-se, or, as it is more commonly called in the vulgar, suicide. Though, as it must be admitted, Hamlet was of a rather brutish disposition, we ought still to commend him for his nobility in rejecting this hideous temptation, what say you?” As he was speaking, Slepovitch remained on a divan in one corner of the room, surrounded by his friends, who typically shared his beliefs in various articles of faith and applauded his many verdicts upon the world.   

“For I am mightily incensed at all those modern philosophers,” continued Slepovitch, “who have endeavored to justify such a monstrous sin, who have attempted to excuse this practice, and who censor not those men and women that succumb to this vile contingency. Indeed, we must not refrain from censoring harshly even those dearest friends of ours who choose to end their lives in such base manner.” After he finished, the people sitting in his circle expressed their approval and spoke of the convincing manner in which he delivered his opinions. Then Slepovitch, remaining true to the occasion of our group gathering, which is to say, a sociable rather an ecclesiastical occasion, Slepovitch in short time, I say, led a merry drinking toast in honor to Life, mysterious, inexplicable Human Life. So we raised our tankards high---some of the madams instead swallowing biscuits that had been dipped in wine---and wassailed those superior qualities of our lives wherein we are distinguished from the beasts.

“If I may be so bold as to disagree with you,” said Miss Betsey Shanka, “‘tis no great sin for man to resign this life if he so wishes.” Miss Shanka was sitting in the corner of the room opposite from where Slepovitch had been sitting, surrounded by those friends of hers who supported, and sometimes encouraged, these occasional daring flights of her intellect.  “’Tis no sin at all in fact. Why, ‘tis no worse than any other action of which a man is granted by nature the capacity to carry out.” As she had finished, Miss Farquhar and Mr. Brockden warmly expressed their approval, while the rest of Miss Betsey’s friends merely waited to see whither the tide of opinion was turning before they dared say anything.  

“I expected no such opposition from you,” said Mr. Slepovitch. “But you shall be excused for speaking erroneously this time because you seem to have forgotten those rules which Providence had firmly established against Self-Slaughter.”

“Well,” began Miss Shanka, “if by that claptrap you mean to say that Providence has established an order in the universe, such that my resignation from this world amounts to a willful violation of this supreme order, why, then, it must be admitted, you are holding an absurd position. Almost every action or motion performed by us innovates on some parts of matter and diverts from their ordinary course the general laws of motion. It would be no crime in me to divert the Hudson or the East River from its course were I able to effect such purposes. Where then is the crime of turning a few ounces of blood from their natural channel? Has not everyone, of consequence, the free disposal of his own life? And may he not lawfully employ that power with which nature has endowed him?” After Miss Shanka finished, she quickly sat down in her chair, perhaps being slightly nauseated by the thought of blood, looking down at her phone gew-gaw to see whether she received any text messages while speaking. Nevertheless, her words galvanized her friends, as Mr. Brockden, affected very much by the genial nature of the occasion, led a drinking toast in honor of Suicide. Ever willing to oblige, Miss Farquhar joined Mr. Chatterjee, Mr. Byrd, Miss Carrington, Mr. Rosenthal, and the rest of Slepovitch’s friends, myself and himself included, in giving a hearty bib to Suicide.   

“Why, I had no idea we were blessed with a Sophist here at our society,” Slepovitch spoke forth: “Life of man is surely of greater importance to the functioning of this order than some river, for a river has no consciousness, or, what is more important, no consciousness of the divine order. If you permit man the right to dispose of his life, then you allow a breach in the fortifications of the castle wherein humanity lies protected. Hark, what confusion may follow, what chimeras may infect our knowledge, when the foundations on which all things rest are thus undermined. No breach is small enough but that the enemy may exploit it and send incursions against us. Every human creature is like a sentinel posted atop his own tower and commanded to guard against incursion of the devil." Thus concluded Slepovitch his homily, adding the following: "Though I expect you to be, madam, rather latitudinarian in your views on Beelzebub.”  

Mr. Chatterjee, being one of Slepovitch’s most ardent supporters, delivered himself in the following words: “Miss Shanka may likely be more familiar with some of Satan’s agents on earth cast in corporeal form, such as Mr. Barbiturates, Mr. Jack Daniels, Mr. Crack Cocaine, or Mr. Sony Playstation.”

“Far from it” said Miss Shanka, “rather than disturb the order of the universe, my suicide may improve the lives of those who reside upon this globe. For the life of a man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster. If I can no longer benefit my neighbor, or my society---and seeing that I am under no obligation to toil for my neighbor or society at my own expense---am I not then entitled to withdraw, from this sublunary existence?” Her words stirred the audience into much appreciative chatter. Miss Farquhar commended Miss Shanka’s superior performance. Mr. Lismahago likewise praised her commonsensical notions, while Mr. Brockden said something in favor of her shrewdness. Encouraged by her friend, Miss Farquhar led another ecumenical toast in honor of Self-Slaughter, upon which toast the social temperature in the room became highly affable indeed.

“Marvelous, marvelous,” quoth I, “Miss Shanka would surely prefer the destruction of half the world to a pricking of her little finger. My dear Miss Shanka, you are the most interesting woman I have ever known. But let us not cudgel our brains about this heavy topic anymore---and let us have a round of wine in honor of the great muses to my muses, Virtue, Love, and Beauty.” In such spirit of merriment we carried the rest of the evening, and so had run on another meeting of the Amateur Shakespeare Society of New York City.  

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