At a public lecture, a psychology professor was reported to say, “Until you are fifty, you won’t know who you are.” This seems overly optimistic, because much more than maturity is involved in discovering who we are; in fact, much more than psychology is involved. To answer, “Who am I?” requires us to take a stand about reality itself, in every possible aspect.


In high school and college English classes it’s popular to assign an essay on the theme of appearance versus reality, which can be applied to any piece of literature. As applied to Hamlet, for example, almost the whole play is about figuring out what is real and what is illusory. Is the ghost of Hamlet’s father real, and if so, is he telling the truth about his murder? The new king, Claudius, who has married Hamlet’s mother, appears friendly and caring about his stepson’s welfare at the beginning, but this sham is uncovered as guilt and revenge take their course. There are more tangles of appearance versus reality around every corner, such as the critical question of whether Hamlet is mad or sane.

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