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Hamlet: To be or not to be...

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him and touched his garment... [c. AD 30] Mark’s Biography of Jesus 5: 25-27


Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Samares Manor, Jersey this week – in the open air. The play is around 400 years old but it still speaks. In fact, it speaks into a prayer at present being considered in the High Court in London.


The prayer concerns Tony Nicklinson, a very ill man, who is seeking a Court Order that his doctor be permitted to kill him – to kill Tony without the doctor himself becoming guilty of murder.... Tony has faced Hamlet’s dilemma (“To be or not to be: that is the question”) and made his decision.


A woman – just an ordinary woman – in AD 30 also faced that dilemma. Not only had she been losing her life’s blood for 12 years, she had suffered greatly from attempted cures by physicians. More – medical expenses had impoverished her (she had nothing left – nothing) and she was, if anything, worse in her constant blood-loss. “To be or not to be: that is the question.” She made her decision too. See bold above.


Hamlet’s analysis of his own problem is the most challenging thing of all. What is “nobler in the mind”?  He agonises over the choice. Eitherto suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortuneorto take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them”. Either to endure outrageous things or to end them by ending life.


Hamlet describes the ending of his outrageous troubles as “To die: to sleep;/ No more [troubles]; and, by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.  But fear immediately enters: “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come (when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,) must give us pause.”


Hamlet then reaches a conclusion which is the opposite of Tony Nicklinson’s. “The dread of something after death (the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns) .... makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of....”


But let’s go back to pre-Hamlet days – to the days of Jesus of Nazareth – to the impoverished, bleeding, pain-ridden, resourceless woman who decided to touch Jesus’ garment – instead of ending it all.


Mark, Jesus’ biographer, tells us the reason why she did it. “She had heard the reports about Jesus” and “For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be saved.” ”


And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said,

Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.


How very, very interesting that Jesus’ gifts to this woman actually deal with Hamlet’s worse fears. Have you noticed what Jesus said to her? Four things, actually....


1.     He calls her “Daughter”. Yes, she has become one of the sons and daughters of the living God – in accordance with all the promises to that effect made to and preserved by Israel over preceding centuries.

2.     He says “Your faith has saved you”. Yes, she has been saved from the “sea of troubles” that is this world.

3.     He says “Go in peace”. Yes, the word Jesus uses for “peace” is equivalent to the “Shalom” used by Jews today: peace with God; abundant love from Him; blessings at all times; grace for ever.

4.     He says: “Be healed of your disease”. The scourge that was upon her, having brought her to abundant eternal life, is now removed.


Is it not true that Jersey folk all face Hamlet’s choice?

‘No man acts with true wisdom till he fears God and hopes in his mercy.’ (William S Plumer, American lawyer, 1759-1850)
‘Tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven.’ (Henry Ward Beecher, minister and lecturer, 1813-1887)
Richard Syvret

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