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Heir to a shared Indo-European eudaimonist thoughtworld, Shakespeare’s Hamlet dramatizes the interplay of Buddhist, Skeptic, and Stoic philosophies at the affective-cognitive interface indispensable for virtue in action. Hamlet’s search for appropriate response — in the role of “scourge and minister” thrust upon him to redress regicide — requires equanimity, and equanimity, as the play suggests, ultimately requires other-focused compassion to counteract affective-cognitive affliction: the emptying of self-engrossed mental proliferation prepares the mind for virtuous action. Our ability in Greco-Buddhist wisdom traditions to stand firm by judgment and detachment from destructive emotions and mental disturbances is encapsulated in Hamlet’s famous line in banter with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “There’s nothing either good / or bad but thinking makes it so” (2.2.244-45). This key idea from Buddhist, Skeptic, and Stoic philosophies compresses therapy for emotional control through skepticism, or suspension of judgment. This equanimity in Buddhist-Stoic spiritual practices, moreover, interacts closely with two primary virtues: compassion and wisdom. Throughout most of the play, Hamlet’s quandary is exacerbated by his overactive ruminations until finally in Act 5, his feelings of compassion toward another, Laertes, relieves and releases Hamlet from his psychohumoral affliction and lends him the emotional equanimity and mental clarity to take virtuous action.
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