Plays of fiction such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet are useful when they hold “the mirror up to nature to show virtue her own feature” and “scorn her own image” (3.2). Virtue is common reflection in Lincoln Lutheran essays, especially when reviewing the school itself, and for this reason, my reflection will be purposefully scornful. There is a priority at the center of my school that glorifies the appearance of morality and decent behavior above bedrock truth. To be fair, this fault is not unique to Lincoln Lutheran, but can be found everywhere I turn, including myself. I belong to Lincoln Lutheran and share the guilt. At Lincoln Lutheran, students, teachers, and administration all tend to curve towards a center of appearance. Students lie and cover up immoral behavior, elevate themselves on the thoughts and actions of others, and neglect unenforced responsibilities. Teachers neglect their responsibility to require student effort, assisting laziness, and administrators seem to encourage surface-level standards of excellence. Because faults are important to recognize, I have elaborated on each of these areas.
- “Such an act \ That blurs the grace and blush of modesty, \ Calls virtue hypocrite, … makes marriage vows \ As false as dicers’ oaths” (Act 3, Scene 4, Page 73)
Queen Gertrude promotes murder to establish her own security. This vice would compromise her reward if, as a result, she’d find herself disconnected from the royal family. To maintain security, she must keep public opinion and so swear by the very vow that she profaned: the virtuous institution of marriage. By doing so, Gertrude can appear honest and worthy of royal power while in reality she deserves the punishment of the law. Hamlet condemns his mother Gertrude, naming her vows “as false as dicer’s oaths.” At Lincoln Lutheran, there are certain student pledges that lie quite near to those of gamblers. Among them are the pledge against distracted driving and, more infamously, the pledge against substance abuse. Small red ribbons adorn many student backpacks near the handle or arm-strap as a promise to abstain from alcohol. Still, binge drinking plagues each graduating class. Like Gertrude, the guilty often keep the string as a false vow to publicly mask their behavior. Where appearance is prioritized at Lincoln Lutheran, virtue can be made a “hypocrite.”
- Gertrude: “If it be [common], \ Why seems it so particular with thee?”
Hamlet: “These indeed “seem,” \ For they are actions that a man might play.” (Act 1, Scene 2, Page 9)
When Gertrude notices her son’s downcast eyes, she tells him to brighten up and “look like a friend” for the sake of Denmark’s good name. Unconcerned with Hamlet’s heavy heart, she speaks of his father’s death as “common” and necessary according to the law of human mortality. I am worried that Lincoln Lutheran treats students in a similar way. By enforcing rigid service hour benchmarks, our school makes it quite necessary for each student to “look like a friend” to the community. This system can be quite indifferent to a student’s heart, and at times seems to encourage “actions that a man might play” without conviction. “Get them done,” we say, signing papers necessary for graduation. It’s the appearance that counts. After one necessary trip with the Community Outreach Team, some students check off a mental box and never return. Still, our school advertises with bright pictures and reports, using mandatory service as visible proof of our involvement.
- “We will ourselves provide. \ Most holy and religious fear it is \ To keep those many, many bodies safe \ That live and feed upon your majesty.” (Act 3, Scene 3, Page 68)
As Hamlet’s “lunacies” threaten peace in the kingdom, Guildenstern reassures the king he will isolate the problem. Guildenstern will take Hamlet with him to England for the safety of those who depend on the appearance of order. He realizes “many bodies…feed” on the king who is their figurehead of protection. Lincoln Lutheran is filled with bodies bound by similar reliance. Our confidence is not in a true position of safety itself, but in its guise (large groups; similar opinions; even financial status or resources). We have a fence that divides the visible border between the parking lot and the field, but the edges are exposed and unguarded. This is like King Claudius and Queen Gertrude dividing their son’s blatant madness from the rest kingdom while polluting it with their own hidden fears and lies. Those who are determined to cross the border of false security are free to do so, and in this picture, strangers can be seen freely walking their dog on our private track. Nobody worries over a problem if it can be kept out of sight.
- “Only got the tune of the time and outward habit of encounter, a kind of yeasty collection, which carries them through and through the most fond and winnowed opinions; and do but blow them to their trial, the bubbles are out.” (Act 5, Scene 2, Page 115)
After listening to Osric’s message, Horatio believes Osiric still has the “shell on his head” from birth. In other words, Osric is naïve and inexperienced. He uses a large vocabulary as a show, but has no concrete thought to reinforce it. Hamlet explains that Osric has parroted large borrowed opinions throughout his life in order to be successful. Sometimes success at Lincoln Lutheran is won in the same way. Like the Perseverance poster covering up a bare, dirty wall, large words, when painted in a vague haze of familiarity, will expand to cover up unfinished thoughts. Though “this speech is nothing,” the unshaped use of it doth move \ the hearers to collection” (4.5). Theology can be won with words like ontological trinity, and kenosis; History might fall to manifest destiny or the Emancipation Proclamation. This is because teachers fill out the spaces in a familiar, regurgitated lesson. One “yeasty collection” of dispensed phrases is often such a dependable ticket to an ‘A’ that students choose no longer to internalize or apply their lectures. For this reason, academics at Lincoln Lutheran can become less about truth and understanding and more about show, jumping through graded hoops and borrowed opinions for the sake of appearance.
- Ay, truly, for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. (Act 3, Scene 1, Page 54)
Confronted with his past love, Hamlet voices his thoughts on female virtue. He tells Ophelia that outward beauty can persuade a good-natured girl to become promiscuous, but good nature cannot rebuild a beautiful girl’s lost innocence. Of course, the scope of this comment is broader than human sexuality. Throughout the play, Hamlet’s core sermon really is lamenting the disagreement between honorable appearances and a corrupt heart. At Lincoln Lutheran, the heart of the student body is not always aligned with its outward participation. Like “bawdy” women, some sell themselves to beautiful names and recognition. Résumé-boosting can trump moral conviction to join organizations such as NHS, Stu-Co, Tech Crew, and NAHS, causing these positive groups to become cesspools of laziness and hypocrisy. As seen in this picture, the Tech Crew is wasting time fooling around in a lab of powerful computers, which are all shut down. Our proximity to these effective tools is only a masquerade for hard work. In similar fashion, Gertrude hopes to “bring [Hamlet] to … honor” by his apparent relation with the virtuous Ophelia (3.1). True virtue in her son is not Gertrude’s aim, nor is it a central driving force in the Lincoln Lutheran student body. Many seek a name of honor through superficial recognition.