Shakespeare on Ambition

Hamlet: To me [Denmark] is a prison.
Rosencrantz: Why then your ambition makes it one. ‘Tis too narrow for your mind.
Hamlet: O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.
Guildenstern: Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.

The common interpretation of this (at least on the Internet) is that Hamlet is pretending to be thwarted by the fact that his uncle, and not he, got the throne after his father’s death; and the gullible R&G fall for the pretense. But he’s talking about something much darker, of course – being imprisoned by the knowledge of his father’s murder and his own need to both cope with the horror and avenge him.

On a surface level, it works pretty well for perfectionism, though – in the sense that often it’s the comparison between what we have, and the perfectionist things we want/expect for ourselves, that causes problems.

The excerpt also reminds me of the famous quote by Yeats (later borrowed by Delmore Schwartz): “In dreams begin responsibilities.”

Posted in

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Join My Mailing List For The Latest News And Events


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Hillary Rettig, hillary@hillaryrettig.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact
Hillary-Rettig-web-2

Greetings from Hillary!

Welcome! My goal is to help you recognize and overcome any disempowering forces in your work and life so that you can reclaim your joyful productivity and achieve your personal and professional goals more quickly and easily than you ever imagined! Thanks for checking out my site, and I always welcome your comments, suggestions, and questions at hillaryrettig@gmail.com.

Like my page on Facebook!
Follow me on Twitter!

The single best thing you can do to support me and my work is to review one of my books on Amazon or elsewhere. Thank you in advance!