Quintessence of Dust: The Mystical Meaning of Hamlet

             A Review of Kenneth Chan's book, by William Bezanson

Having wanted to read this book for nearly two years, I found that it had risen to the top of my pile and I finally got to it.  

I have been interested in Shakespeare's play Hamlet ever since I first studied it in high school.  I re-read it about once every ten years, along with various commentaries and interpretations.  But this time, knowing that the author was also a member of a Rosicrucian group to which I belonged, and that his topic involved a mystical view of the play, gave me increased enthusiasm as I approached the play through this relatively new book.

I had never considered a mystical viewpoint when reading Shakespeare's plays.  Of course, I was already familiar with the theory that the Shakespearean plays were written by Francis Bacon, an early Rosicrucian Imperator, and that might have triggered a suspicion of mysticism, but I did not put much credence in that theory.  

This is a wonderful book, and it came to me at a wonderful time, in terms of my readiness.  The student was ready, so the teacher appeared.

The book is best summed up in its Epilogue by Chan himself.  I paraphrase his five major summary points about the book here:

•  We need to recognize the mystery world, and to accept our mortality, and to face the profound.

•  We need to stop distracting ourselves from the truth, and to stop superficially beautifying what is rotten inside.

•  Being false to ourselves makes us false to others.

•  We need to examine whether we are mad in persisting with our deceptions.

•  Revenge and judgment of others is wrong and may lead to disaster.

Rather than amplifying on these points, which amplification is done masterfully by Chan in showing how nearly every speech or action in the play builds up one or other of the points, I want to describe how the book had personal meaning for me.

As I neared the end of the book, experiencing delight with each new insight that it gave, I suddenly and unexpectedly had a revelation, a new awareness, that the book was written specifically for me.  There was personal meaning in the book for me.  So very many other books that I have read provided entertainment, knowledge, challenge, interest, and so on, but not much of a personal nature.  I would put them on the shelf, and forget them.  But this one was for me.  

Now, I hope that I am not so vain as to think that it was Really for only Me, but that every reader could realize that the book had been written for each person who reads it seriously.  After all, that's one of the characteristics of Great Books.  So, following that criterion, Chan has written a Great Book.

My insight, which struck me quite vigourously, made me realize that I had not been "facing the profound", and that I had been "distracting myself from the truth", and that I had been "mad in persisting with my deceptions".  For years I had been ignoring serious issues, superficially wasting my time, and madly wasting a good deal of my intellect, thoughts, and creativity.  I had a very important need to recognize certain "rotten" aspects of my inner life, to bring them out into the open of my conscious mind, to address them, to deal with them, to integrate them, to acknowledge them, to name them, and in doing all of this, to rise above them and to move on beyond them so that they could stop interfering with my evolution and stop holding back my spiritual development.  

Chan's mystical interpretation of the words, scenes, interactions, characters, images, and events in Hamlet struck a chord in me, subtly establishing an attunement among Shakespeare, Chan, and myself to the point that I believe that I underwent a brief initiation in spiritual growth.  My intuition had led me to this book and its insights.  Now, with this new awareness, if I ignore this new intuition, I would be emulating the real Tragedy that Shakespeare had Hamlet play out for us.  

It would take too long to explain the details of my self-view of my own inner decay, and such details would not be meaningful to others.  But for sure they were meaningful to me!  Now, after all these decades of being intrigued and attracted by Hamlet, now I have a glimpse of understanding of what the attraction was.  I had to read it regularly, to prepare myself to read Chan's book.  Chan had to write his book, to stimulate my, and others', inner awakening.  Shakespeare had to write Hamlet, to be a catalyst for spiritual growth for the large numbers of people who were ready for the alchemical process.  

So now my resolution is to honour this amazing insight, and to honour Chan and Shakespeare.  My regular meditations and visualizations will include self-honesty and inner work on recognizing the mystery world within me, to overcome my madness, and to stop being false to myself. 

I am grateful to a Rosicrucian colleague for drawing my attention to Quintessence of Dust, to Kenneth Chan for writing it, to Shakespeare for writing Hamlet, and to God for influencing all of that to come to be.

My only caveat in recommending the book to others is that the reader should be ready for it.  The book stimulated an initiation for me.  Unknowingly, I had prepared for that initiation over many years.  I can't predict what effect the book will have on other readers.  But I hope that describing the personal impact it had on me will encourage others to read the book and to internalize its message.


Kenneth Chan, The Quintessence of Dust:  The Mystical Meaning of Hamlet, Lincoln, NE:  iUniverse, 2004.  The book is available from amazon.com and also from the author's website, kenneth-chan.com.


(This review was written in 2008, and updated slightly here.)



William Bezanson is a retired engineer, fulfilling his passion for writing, and has published books on world stewardship, user performance-centered systems design, and mathematical beauty, most recently Abandoned Shopping Carts:  Personal and Spiritual Responsibility. He is a long-standing member of a Rosicrucian order and two related initiatic, mystical orders. His mission in life it to help to bring about a Spiritual State in this Mundane World. He lives with his wife in Ottawa, Canada, and they have six adult children.

To learn more about him, visit his official website.

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