Most readers and viewers of Hamlet take Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy as a meditation on suicide. In Hamlet, Protestantism, and the Mourning of Contingency, John E. Curran, Associate Professor of English at Marquette University, argues there are bigger things at work. Hamlet is opposing two ontologies, religious universes, moralities.
The first Curran labels “the Be.” The Be is the realm of predetermined fixity, without freedom, choice or contingency. It is an either/or, zero-sum world where every divine initiative must be at the expense of human merit, where signs and things stand in antagonistic opposition rather than seeking reconciliation. The Be is static, atemporal, a world within which human action is meaningless. In the Be, things stay what they are. The Be is cold, logical, technical, empty. The Be is a Protestant world.
On the other side of the great ugly ditch is “the Not to be,” which is everything the Be is not. It is a world of both-and, a world of real contingency and freedom, a world where grace and merit, sign and thing, live together in merry fellowship. Human action makes sense, and makes a difference, in the Not to be, because the Not to be is dynamic and temporal. In the Not to be, anything can happen, even bread becoming flesh. The Not to be is warm, moist, organic, teeming. The Not to be is Catholic.
Leithart has some problems with Curran's interpretation:
Read the rest at First Things.