A Drinker’s Hamlet


Anthony Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

Tony Marsella


Hamlet (Act 3, Scene 1)
William Shakespeare



To drink, or not to drink,
That is the question!

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take refuge from the sea of troubles
With cup in hand, and by drinking deeply
Of the vines’ ripe fruit, end them.

Ah, to drink, and with our sips
To end the heartaches and the thousand natural shocks Flesh is heir to;
Nay, to refrain, and with the virtue
Therein derived,
Face the onslaught, full strength alone.
Aye, that’s the rub!

To drink or not to drink,
That is the question?
Do we deceive ourself
To speak of drink as food, balm, or social oil?
Is no virtue to be found in bottle’s refuge?

Should our backs bear burdens,
Calumny’s barbs, law’s abuses,
Friends’ betrayals, loves ‘s losses,
Penury’s pains?
Conscience doth make cowards of us all.

What should such fellows, as we, do?
Stand before the foe?
Bend beneath the load?
Weap aloud, wail in silence?
Mourn ?
We are caught between heaven and earth.


I do not drink, nor use illegal substances. I first wrote this revision of Hamlet’s soliloquy in 1975 for a book chapter on alcoholism. I thought it would be interesting to apply Shakespeare’s words and meter to the problem — my apologies to William, and to Hamlet.

At one point in my younger years, when I was working as a clinical psychologist in a mental hospital in Massachusetts, I came upon a patient assigned to the woodshop drinking turpentine from a small white and green metal can.  I was shocked. I could not believe what I was seeing?  No amount of reading could have taught me more than that one moment; the sheer power alcohol commands over an addicted person.

I remembered the plaintive look on the patient’s face as he saw me:  “Could I understand his plight? What could he do? Caught, as he was between heaven and hell?” “Alas Poor Yorick, I knew him well.”


I do not wish to romanticize this moment. I found my 1975 revision in some old file folders, and thought it might offer insights into the enormous problem we face today in alcohol abuse and addiction.

Across the world, alcohol abuse and addiction have overwhelmed public and private efforts. The annual financial cost is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, perhaps trillions. The human costs are beyond estimation considering self-destruction, DUI, medical care, rehabilitation, permanent injuries, deaths, and the loss of human talent.

The combination of (1) relentless persuasive advertising glamorizing drinking (now appealing to women and youth); (2) multiple drinking cultures (college, military, pubs, celebrations); (3) constant life stresses begging relief and escape; (4) genetics; (5) acquired neurological patterns and structures; (6) growing alienation and anomie of high risk populations; and (7) limited treatment and rehab options. All serve to encourage, exacerbate, and maintain this massive individual and societal problem.

Readers may use with citation:

Published in A.J, Marsella, (2016). Poems Across Time and Place: A Journey of Heart and Mind. Alpharetta, Georgia: Mountain Arbor Press. Pp. 122-124.

Published in A.J. Marsella (2016). Gatherings: A Collection of Writing Genre. Alpharetta, Georgia: Mountain Arbor Press. Pp. 217-218.


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Emeritus Professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus in Honolulu, Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 21 books and more than 300 publications noted for challenging the ethnocentricity and biases of Western psychology and psychiatry, and for advocating peace and social justice. He can be reached at marsella@hawaii.edu.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Oct 2016.

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