Monday, January 07, 2008

Bad parenting in Hamlet

Reason #2 why I like Hamlet: the plethora of bad parenting role models

1) Disinterested parenting: mom & dad preoccupied with careers and social status

Hamlet is the crown prince and his parents should have been prompting him and encouraging him toward his royal fulfillment. But, they were not. Instead, Hamlet’s father was engaged in expansion projects and cementing his own legacy as king of Denmark, a legacy that is forgotten soon after his untimely death. Gertrude seems equally disconnected from her son. It seems she is all but unaware of Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia, even though the relationship was known to others (cp. Polonius and Laertes). She also fails to understand the true source of Hamlet’s malcontent at the outset of the play. Hamlet, we discover in his first soliloquy in Act I, is distraught not merely by the death of his father, but by the hasty remarriage of his mother to his uncle. Indeed, Gertrude’s hasty remarriage to the king’s brother indicates that she was preoccupied with maintaining her own political situation. Parenting lesson #1: stay connected with your kids and encourage them to fulfill their calling in life.

2) Reliving your youth (or life, if you are a ghost) through your kids

The ghost of Hamlet’s father manipulates his son in order to carry out revenge on Claudius, his murderer. However, the ghost’s promptings toward vengeance are not substantiated with evidence. Had Hamlet actually carried out a revenge killing as his vaporous father demands, he would have been arrested and executed for treason and regicide. Hamlet had no evidence of Claudius’s guilt other than the “word” of an apparition. Even OJ couldn’t get away with murder using that excuse. Parenting lesson # 2: don’t try to live your dreams and do all the stuff you didn’t do in your life through your kids.

3) Spying on the children

The motif of spying is another aspect in this play which underscores the failure of parents. Polonius engages a spy to observe his son’s behaviour in Paris; he also uses his own daughter to spy on Hamlet. Gertrude and Claudius persuade Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on their friend. In contrast, I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s phrase in 1 Corinthians: “Love always trusts.” It is one thing to “check on the kids”; it is another thing to set up surveillance cameras. Parenting lesson # 3: love your kids by trusting your kids.

4) Giving corny advice and not practicing what you preach

Polonius, who is perhaps the worst father in literature, is a wind bag. Being a wind bag does not necessarily make someone a bad parent. However, before he sends his son off to university, Polonius accosts Laertes with a litany of aphorisms---pithy pre-fab quotes and cliches. Out of context, he disjointedly rattles off no less than twelve “tips for life”---things like, “Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any unproportioned thought his act” or “Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar” or “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” or “to thine ownself be true”. All these quotes are good advice. However, the absence of sincerity along with the lack of personalized advice earns Polonius the worst father in literature. He doesn't really know his son. Laertes is wise and insightful, and is no doubt living this advice already. Polonius, however, often gives his thoughts to his tongue and many unproportioned thoughts to action. Parenting lesson #4: give advice that actually applies to your kid’s life, and, the best advice to give is the advice that is already lived out in the giver.


Barbara said...

# 3: love your kids by trusting your kids.

hmmm...nope. Definitely haven't mastered that one yet.

Trusting them becomes difficult I find when I see the untrustworthiness of myself developing in them. Does that make sense? Seeing the weaknesses of my character being inherited by my children and realizing that if it were me in their situation I would have not been trustworthy. So I assume the worst of them by expecting them to react/act the way I did as a child. Except, and here is the hope: The Lord has their hearts, seemingly earlier and more wholly than He had mine, and so I will love my kids by trusting Him (and them as they are becoming more like Him).

(and thank you for posting again...we've been missing you!)

LL said...

Poor, poor Hamlet - his plight was not so different from this generation. One of the themes that continually shows up in my writing is the father / son relationship and how vital it is, yet how often it goes wrong.

I love the way you are able to pull biblical and practical truth out of Shakespeare. I daresay if I'd had an English teacher like that when I was in high school I might've actually read the assignments!!