Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.
(Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
This short poem sent by Hamlet to Ophelia is taken as part of the laundry list of evidence of his romantic feelings for her. However, I remember when I re-read the play in my third year of college, my professor introduced me to a vagueness that I never had previously considered. He says “I love” and of course, “love” and “move” are homographs, but Hamlet does not say whom he loves. Is it Ophelia, his father? Something else? As someone with a literary background, I had to share another intriguing explanation of Hamlet that I came across, which is very much relevant to this blog.
In Stay Illusion!, scholars Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster argue that Hamlet “discloses the modern paradox of our lives: how thought and action seem to pull against each other, the one annulling the possibility of the other. As a counterweight to Hamlet’s melancholy paralysis, Ophelia emerges as the play’s true hero. In her madness, she lives the love of which Hamlet is incapable.” Now, I will fully admit, I did not read the book. I read Joshua Rothman’s review in the New Yorker: Hamlet: A Love Story.
Critchley and Jamieson argue that while for Freud, Hamlet’s guilt throughout the play has to do with his Oedipal desires, they believe guilt stems from his shame of needing to love, the shame about the emptiness that, they hold, is at the center of the experience of love. Rothman paraphrases their argument as:
We’re inclined to think of love as the opposite of emptiness—we see it as “a system of mutual favors” that acts as a kind of bonus to life, a surplus. Instead, we love because we lack. Inside each of us there’s an emptiness, and that emptiness can never be filled. None of us can ever be loved enough—by our parents, by our children, by our husbands or wives. The bottomlessness of our need for love means that, even in our most stable, permanent, and healthy relationships, love “can only be renewed and invented anew, again and again. I love you. I love you. I love you.” Each time you declare your love, you admit that there’s a lack in yourself. And when two people are in love with one another, they’re offering up their equivalent emptinesses. When love works, it makes something out of nothing.
If the essence of love is wanting, it’s no wonder that shame and narcissism are so often part of love. It’s intrinsically shameful to need and need and need, and the bottomlessness of this need breeds anger and resentment. Your love is genuine, but so are your perpetual feelings of emptiness and of powerlessness. What’s most galling, perhaps, is the realization that the people whom you love are similarly empty. If this is love, then you can come to resent the people you love simply because you love them.
So in another words, you love another because you are empty, but the person you love feels just as empty, and so your love for each other brings something into creation that is based on this emptiness, this nothing.
I do agree with this to a certain extent and agree that love is not a “system of mutual favors.” I think that love does grow from a lack and we cannot be loved enough. And this is not referring to the love that creates extraordinary psychoses or neuroses or the love that is about possessing, although both are probably also a result of our insatiable desires for love. No, I just mean that for more of us who function on a psychologically “normal” spectrum, we cannot be loved enough. My boyfriend cannot tell me he loves me enough, and perhaps it is just me, but my insatiability comes from my lack of love for myself. This emptiness isn’t depression or despondency, but rather, it come from a sense of aloneness and even loneliness which cannot be avoided. We all live our lives, and although we are joined by others along that journey, ultimately that journey is ours alone, which makes for a very isolated experience. Love then maybe is a way to share that communal sense of aloneness? Hmmm…..