There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy…

Springtime greetings to all Troppo Armadillos from your newest blogger! And for my first post, I’d like to start with a piece which began life inspired by the reactions of some Troppo critics to my recent piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, about Satanism. I don’t intend to directly counter individual criticisms¢â¬âtit-for-tat is not one of my interests–, or even to defend my thesis in that piece, merely to give you a sense of where I’m coming from, in general. I welcome all discussion¢â¬âfor, against, or bemused!

When Hamlet tells Horatio that ‘there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’, what does he mean?

People have argued about it for years. Is he saying, crossly, ‘you are a boring, earth-bound type, Horatio, who will never understand anything’? Is he saying, smugly, ‘I have powers you don’t have, Horatio, so shut your mouth?’ Or is he saying, meditatively, ‘The rational philosophy you’ve learnt and I’ve learnt, Horatio, while we were away studying, is not equal to what we’ve seen tonight.’?

Well, to understand it, it’s necessary not to take that statement in isolation, but look at in its context. And when you do, you notice something very interesting. It is actually part of a response Hamlet makes to an exclamation of Horatio’s, after Hamlet has talked with his father’s ghost, and before Horatio swears to keep the secret of the ghost:

Oh day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

And therefore, as a stranger, give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

From this give-and-take, it seems clear to me that Hamlet and Horatio are not at loggerheads about the reality of their supernatural experience; equally clearly, though, Hamlet¢â¬âwho has always suspected something was rotten in the state of Denmark, and for whom the apparition is visible proof of his suspicions, as it were¢â¬âtakes the actual disruption of normal physical reality much more calmly than Horatio does, who is excited and scared in equal measure. You can see that even in the way they speak¢â¬âHoratio’s almost-incantatory, awestruck exclamation, Hamlet’s wittily sharp repartee. There’s that interesting glide, too, from Horatio’s ‘strange’, to Hamlet’s ‘stranger’. The Ghost is a strange manifestation of those ‘things on heaven and earth’; but Hamlet reminds Horatio that human beings are themselves both strange¢â¬âa theme he returns to frequently in the play¢â¬âand strangers in the strange world. The ghost, as a form of reality, is every bit as welcome in this world as a creature of flesh and blood. Then there’s that association of ‘dreams’ and ‘philosophy’, as if to say it’s those rational thinkers who are themselves much more fanciful than they might imagine¢â¬âan association that leads one back to Plato’s famous image of the man trapped in the cave who thinks¢â¬âdreams¢â¬âthat the shadows cast on the cave wall are the real world.

As always with Shakespeare, there’s layers of meaning, which have made scholars happy and frustrated in various measures over the centuries: but at its heart is an understanding with which I am very much in sympathy: an understanding of the divided nature of humanity and the complex, extraordinary world we live in, a world which is not only of the everyday, but which is also part of larger schemes. We are actors on more than one stage, but like all actors, eventually we have to scrub off the makeup and go home.

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23 Responses to There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy…

  1. Ken Parish says:

    It IS strange. I feel entirely comfortable with the notion of good and bad karma accruing from one’s actions. In fact I’m convinced I see and experience it in action all the time. But I find it much more difficult to accept the concept of good and evil interventionist super-beings who intervene to punish and reward us. I guess it’s because I can conceptualise karma as a quality we exude that other people pick up and respond to, and that doesn’t depend on the intervention of a conscious being.

    I wonder why I feel comfortable about the one concept and not the other, given my christian/catholic background?

  2. I know you’re not interested in tit for tatting, but I can’t go without noting that your assertion in the Herald piece about LaVey’s appearance in Rosemary’s Baby has been refuted on various occasions and would appear to be just one of numerous myths about himself that LaVey circulated and the CoS continues to circulate. Remember, just because the Church of Satan says something about themselves, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re telling the truth.

  3. Another new Armadillo! Welcome aboard, Sophie. Not much of an actor myself, a smelly old ham at best; I have to confess to not even being a frustrated Thespian. But I am glad you dug up the ol Bard; Australia blogging does need Shakespearean scholars too.

  4. Greg Chinery says:


    I’m much more concerned about George Ws belief in God and the ramifications of his pentecostalism on US foreign policy. Give me a warship full of CoS supporters than one nutter in the whitehouse who thinks that God is inspiring his decisions.

  5. Flute says:

    Sorry Sophie, today’s piece still reads like a load of old Devine to me.

  6. I’m used to CoS meaning the Church of Scientology. And was going to suggest another acronym be used. But doing a quick google just now, it took until page 3 of results to get to Scientology. So I don’t know why I am writing this now.

  7. Jason Soon says:

    well, welcome to the lion’s den. you’re at the very least a good sport for daring to wander among this prickly mob (and I mean the commenters not the bloggers)

  8. Irant says:

    Regarding “The best trick the Devil ever pulled is to persuade us he didn’t exist….”

    I think this quote needs updating. The best trick the Devil ever pulled is leave us to our own devices. Old Nick has been putting the feet up, making popcorn, tuning in and doing nothing for years (so has God but that is another story). Homo Sapiens have never really needed to crutch of Satan to do evil. We can do fine on our own without Beezlebub.

    I agree with Greg on this one. The messianic urges of Bush are troubling. If indeed, as some do perceive, that Bush is doing “God’s will” then I am voting against God. Even if he/she is working in mysterious ways it is not funny.

  9. Link says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with your title, and just wish it was more widely known. Hamlet’s grim realisation – its true, we will have only the state of our souls to account for in the eternal realm. What do you plan to do in the eternal realm? Its a question we should ask ourselves- we are dead a long time. What state is our soul in? What does it contain? What makes it healthy/unhealthy?

    As the Gurdjieffen aphorism states:Blessed is he who has a soul, blessed is he who has none, but woe and grief to him who has it in embryo.

    We all have a soul, none of us can see it, but we all feel its presence in our lives. Why we have such an apparatus is one of life’s greatest mysteries, but it is certainly tied up with the idea of it something that exists beyond our concepts of the time-space continuum, and I would argue we all ‘know’ this on a deep, if mostly untraversed level. But because it is such an intangible, immeasurable thing, in the west particularly, we have in the main, denied its existance.

    Regarding your SMH article. I’ve never been able to fully understand the point of evil. I guess I’d assume that it did have something to do with overpowering perceived weaklings, but then what? Evil is, “that which opposes a truth”. I find the idea of Satan worship ridiculous, although I would reframe it as ‘ego’ worship – worship of the small self, which probably is a realistic reflection of what abounds in the world today, (so the Satan worshippers have that much right). But the organised promotion of evil? To what end? For the sake of what? Puhleeese!. Happily, I can confidently say I find it laughable.

    Thanks for an interesting piece.

  10. cs says:

    Christopher means “the bearer of Christ”.

    Our name has been officially de-sainted (ex-sainted? ceased to be sainted? a dead saint? a saint who has gone to meet his maker?), which pleased me no end, I insensitively say in this context. Welcome to the ‘sphere Sophie.

  11. Jacques Chester says:

    Shakespeare is vastly overrated, and has been for some time. Jacques Barzun points out that it was only in the 20th century that he was promoted from “obscure hack” to “The Bard” by a group of english teachers who gained control of curriculum.

    If Shakespeare has layers of meaning, at least one of those is the power of compulsory education to shape society, especially its intelligentsia. Like most school boys I loathed my enforced servitude under the yoke of Hamlet, an indecisive twat who wouldn’t look out of place in a sociology lecture theatre. He’d be wearing a beret and carrying an unread book by some French deconstructionist under one arm; carefully trying to deconstruct the clothes of the pretty young thing to his left.

    Comedy? Bah, Moliere had his measure and Wilde left him for dead (and Aristophanes). Commentary? Wilde again, and if you haven’t, read La Mandrogolo by Machiavelli.

    • Chris says:

      Shakespeare is a genius and displays astute understanding of the human psyche coupled with faith in natural ethics to balance bad with good. His use of language to articulate deep feeling is masterful and there is an acceptance of the complexity of the individual and inherent duality of creation and destruction as cyclic patterns that manifest themselves in man and the world we inhabit. Do not dismiss the bard lightly.

  12. Jacques Chester says:

    Oh, and welcome Sophie. I buy Quadrant and some of my friends steal my copies, which is always encouraging. I enjoy your writing.

  13. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Jacques, I hate to say it (given my professional solicitude for sociology students) but your name sake Jacques Derrida wrote obsessively about Hamlet. (I should out myself as a Derrida fan if not a deconstructionist – well not always, Derrida was fond of saying there was no such thing – another of his quotes I like is “I believe in truth” – a much misread philosopher).

    Incidentally, where did Barzun write about the lionisation of Shakespeare? – I’d be interested in following up the reference. I’m a bit of a Marlowe fan, personally, and one can never go past Aeschylus. Wilde and Moliere are both also excellent dramatists. Suspect I am a tad OT – I did want to say something about Sophie’s reading of Hamlet but I may leave it to a more respectable hour.

  14. Jacques Chester says:

    Mark, quickly;

    My namesake was the swiss man who was my mother’s godfather, and Barzun discusses Shakespeare more than once in his cultural history Dawn to Decadence.

    I hate to be rude to sociology students and sociology generally, Mark, but it just didn’t hang together very well for me. Like psychology or economics it is a pot-pourri; grand theory has been abandoned for piecemealism.

  15. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Thanks, Jacques, appreciate the reference. I guess sociology can be well or badly taught like anything else – and there’s some concern around that it’s too parcelised into different sub-specialties – there’s something in the paradox that metadisciplines that claim the whole of human behaviour as their field (the ones you mention + philosophy) have difficulty articulating a global theory. There’s also a sociological argument about the fragmentation of society which makes the conditions of possibility of grand theory less likely. But I’m really OT now and best go to bed!

  16. John says:

    “Jacques Barzun points out that it was only in the 20th century that he was promoted from “obscure hack” to “The Bard” by a group of english teachers who gained control of curriculum.”

    Did Barzun really say that? I read most of Dawn to Decadence, but the layout and size encourages dipping rather than a straight-through read.

    In any case, it’s misdated. Bardolatry was at its height in the 19th century, and has declined fairly steadily for the last 100 years or so.

  17. sophie says:

    Thank you all for very much for your comments, I think I’m going to enjoy being part of Troppo! I wonder what do peoplethink of my interpretation of Hamlet? He was my least favourite Shakespearean character when I was younger–all that indecisiveness, his cruelty to Ophelia, and his bringing down ofthe kingdom about his ears, leaving Fortunbras as the only real winner–but now though I still don’t like him, i find him very interesting, as well as his foil and friend Horatio..Troppo critics can thank themselves for that post, as I was struggling with trying to express a great many things re my feelings about the ‘other world’ and thiscrystallised it for me.
    I did say I ewouldn’t be tit for tatting but have decided, more for the sake of people who defended me–and who were perhaps dismayed by the apparent implications of my SMH piece, to clear up what I meant.
    First of all, the original piece was 850 words, and was cut diwn to 600 by the ed. This left out a great deal of ‘back story’ . Second, what i didn’t say: I do not think Anton la Vey or Polanski were in any way responsible for the murders; and no, the devil didn’t do it, it was Manson’s followers. ‘The devil’s grim joke’–which is apparent if you read what I said in context, what comes straight before and straight after(ie about the names–of Manson and of Cranmer), is more to do with this grim irony. Anton la Vey is founder of the Church of Satan, which preaches the gospel of the Antichrist–which is often another name for the Devil, as indeed the C of S itself points out. The film is about the coming of the Antichrist, the Devil’s son foisted on to Rosemary–though it takes a very dim view of the Satanists and all their works, something the perenially vain La Vey seems to have missed. ‘The son of Man’ is another name for Christ–and Charles Manson, name, reversed, means that. The film attracted the attentions of the wrong sort of people, for the wrong sort of reasons. The whole thing is a horrible cosmic joke. The same–though less horrible, so far–irony comes with this young official Satanist’s name. (by the way, Chris, Christopher is certainly still a saint though the Church thinks now an apocryphal one–in popular iconography he was a giant who bore the child jesus across a river on hisshoulders–hence the meaning of the Greek name, meaning bearer of Christ).
    Forgive me, but I’m a writer, and seeing patterns of symbolism and metaphor happens to be my job, and the way i see the world.

    • Chris says:

      Hamlet was at war between his primitive urge to seek revenge and appreciation of enlightened justice that rested on proof not feeling before punishing a supposed felon. His hesitation rests with striving to be an enlightened ruler as opposed to a tyrannical thug and being swamped with pain for his loss of a father and faith in human goodness given the treacherous actions of his uncle against his brother. Cain and Abel plays out with Oedipal overtones to lend gravity to political problems in the family and state. What should a good man do when he encounters bad people? How does one survive a toxic situation? Does intellectual rigour cripple action?

  18. You’ll find with blogging that the freedom to write with no editors may well be the best bit!

  19. Jozef says:

    Satanic metaphors are back in Fashion again.

    Lets burn the witches

    Imwich (smile)

  20. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Sophie, I’m pretty sure Chris is right – Pope Paul VI purged the calendar of saints in 1970 of any for whom there was no historical evidence of their actually having existed – and St Chris was the most prominent one to go.

  21. Nabakov says:

    So basically, yer inaugural TropArm esayette could be summed up as:

    “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    At least no trees were harmed in stating the bleedin’ obvious way of saying nothing’s really that obvious.

    (Yer were warned it’s a prickly bunch here. (Which what I’ve heard too.))

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