Hamlet: Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love.

Globe Theatre

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…..

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Let’s Bring Back Love Letters!

Now, I don’t want to come across as “high maintenance” by sounding like I’m moaning about why people don’t seem to write love letters anymore or why it’s too much to ask that my significant other write me a love letter once in a while. Of course, he will quickly retort that it’s not as if I have written one to him, which is not true! I did write one to him….four years ago. I digress…

I don’t think technology is sole reason why people don’t write letters anymore, much less love letters, although let’s be honest, it is the dominant reason. I was browsing through “Top 10 Famous Love Letters” on Time.com doing research for this post, when it occurred to me that maybe all those great love-letter writers before our time are also to blame for why we don’t write them.

Forever defamed by one of the Sex and the City movies, here is a snippet of Beethoven’s letter to his “Immortal Beloved

“Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, Be calm–love me–today–yesterday–what tearful longings for you–you–you–my life–my all–farewell. Oh continue to love me–never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved. Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.”

Even that warmonger Napoleon found time to pour his soul into a few lines of  romantic poesy.

“Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed. My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude. The charms of the incomparable Josephine kindle continually a burning and a glowing flame in my heart. When, free from all solicitude, all harassing care, shall I be able to pass all my time with you, having only to love you, and to think only of the happiness of so saying, and of proving it to you?

Let me be clear, it is not that I am simply lamenting at why people don’t write letters, but more so, I am lamenting that people in love are no longer inspired into action, which includes writing love letters, putting feelings into a tangible, concrete form. Last I checked, love is both a verb as well as noun describing a state of being. Where has all the action gone?

Maybe we have no good role models anymore. I mean let’s be honest, who among us can be as eloquent as Beethoven or Napoleon, and if we did manage the feat, we would surely be laughed at or worse, be accused of being insincere because our feelings appeared to be exaggerated.  I know that if my boyfriend said he had “tearful longings” for me, I would laugh at him. The words are beautiful when read, but are incredibly out-of-place in our 21st century existence.

So unless we accept the mediums of email and texts and “i luv u”–which I do refuse to accept–we need better modern role models for love letters that fit our culture and language. A good place to start with is Other People’s Love Letters: 150 Letters You Were Never Meant to See.

New York

So let’s getting writing people! You can even start with a postcard if you want….I probably will….