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As You Like It: The Double Game

To be or not to be: that is the question. – Hamlet 3.1.53

In what is arguably his greatest soliloquy, Hamlet laments over whether or not to kill himself. His
confusion lies in the fact he is in two minds about life after death: either it is a peaceful time of rest,
or more horrible than the life he is in. This existential angst could be calmed by the simple premise
of the double game, which is disengaged engagement, and it may well be a helpful path for many of
our issues as well.

Existentialism is a form of philosophy that was championed by such people as Sartre, Kierkegaard,
and Camus. At its very heart is the idea of “existence over essence”, that being the idea that we are
not built for a particular reason or purpose. We create our life’s meaning through our actions, and
we cannot be pinned down to one purpose (Miller 2009, #1, pp. 1). In more technical terms, we can
be titled ‘beings-for-ourselves’. Another point that existentialism identifies is that we are not
completely ‘beings-for-others’, meaning that although we may take on a role to fit into society, that
role cannot completely define us. We flicker between ‘being and nothingness’ on a constant basis,
whether we know it or not.

The double game idea advocates disengaged engagement, which is being able to immerse oneself in
a game (or reality) but also be able to disengage from that reality. One might do this to take on a
new reality, or to be able to take a unjaded view of a highly emotional situation. The game of
existentialism involves a deep level of angst about the human condition. This game can become
highly involved, and existentialists may lose sight of the idea that it is just a game. Miller writes that
existentialists love to be “provocative and unsettling”, and say that we “shirk the freedom,
responsibility and risk in life” (Miller #1, pp. 4). This angst is lauded by existentialists as ‘authentic’.
But this is the old-school way of existential thought. All this is based on the “potential emptiness…of
our various commitments”. What if we decided to take a more positive view in the game? Seeing as
the Socratic Method indicates we know nothing, how about we make the decision that life is
holistically good? It cannot be proved otherwise. We can still follow the existentialist doctrines of
‘being-for-ourselves’, but this loss of angst may provide a less aggressive viewpoint that allows us to
respect and acknowledge the potential lack of meaning and live in a game of contentment and
holistic good.

The game of postmodernism is also privy to the double game. In a lecture given by Rebecca Hill, she
says the there is no one “master narrative”, which is a universal account of experience. Instead, she
mentions that postmodernism says, “no one discourse can claim the status of mastery over other
discourses” (Hill 2007). This is a very Socratic view of meanings and realities, as Socrates would say
that we could never prove one discourse to be masterful over another: no knowledge permits
everything to be on equal footing. Another postmodern ideal is that there is nothing outside the
text; that if we decided to break down every text in existence, it would spiral into an infinite regress.
Lastly, the main focus of postmodernism is that everything is entirely subjective. No one ‘truth’ can
ever be found, as even if we did find it, our perceptions would turn it into a subjective truth yet
again. All these ideas lead back to one point: that of deconstruction (again, a very Socratic point).

Placing this ideal into a double game critique, we can see that it fits quite nicely. The idea of nothing
being outside the text is very similar to the existential flickering being ‘being and nothingness’. We
live inside the text, but we can choose to step out of it and into another at any time. Where
postmodernism fits most nicely into the double game is the idea that all meaning is subjective. The
double game says yes to this idea, as all of our self-deceptions are simply subjective readings of our
experiences, and we can void them into nothingness at any time. Where the double game differs is
that it does not take a violently nihilistic view of reality, as postmodernism and existentialism do. It
advocates a more positive and holistic view of the world. All of our self-deceptions might be just
that: deceptions. However, a double gamer might say that critiquing all meanings into an infinite
regress is less preferable than acknowledging all these deceptions as a necessary part of life. Nothing
can be proved more or less true than anything else. Why should we take on a negative view of the
world when a positive one can make us feel better?

A very positive game to play is that of Zen. The idea of Zen is to achieve Tao, but the catch is this:
“the Tao that can be named, is not the nameless Tao” and “the Tao that can be known, is not the
unknowable Tao” (Grigg 1994, pp. 191). What Grigg is saying is that to achieve this Tao (the state of
voidance and silence), one cannot truly know what it is, or speak its name. This is achieved through
two main paths. The first is voiding language. One phrase sums it perfectly: “speech is silvern, silence
is golden” (Kneebone 2009). She goes on to say that realising the “pliability of language” is the key to
annulling it. This is where the unspeakable Tao resides. Grigg terms it another way, saying that in
Taoism and Zen “words are turned against words to undo themselves so that the word system is
prevented from spinning its own illusion of understanding” (1994, pp. 194). This can be reflected in
Shakespeare’s work, in how he took words and used them in double meanings, and sometimes
annulled their meaning altogether (Kneebone 2009). The double game relates to the realisation that
language is just another game, a system of meaning of which to void at any time.

The second part of Zen relates to the voiding of thought. Thoughts are a way of understanding the
world around us, but they are only that: subjective realisations and opinions. Grigg illustrates this
point with a Zen passage: “Those who know…cannot explain. And those who can explain…do not
know” (1994, pp. 196). This confusion associated with the Zen movement comes in two forms:
firstly, the actual confusion when Zen and Buddhism collide in destructive ways; and secondly, the
confusion associated with the ‘little death’. This death is of the mind, and many Zen masters brought
this about in their students with the tool of confusion. When this is brought around, the students
realised the Tao of Zen. It also allowed for free beauty and aesthetic appreciation to be gained: to
appreciate everything for a non-judgemental value. This again fits in nicely with the double game, as
voiding thoughts is similar to stepping out of a game. It allows us to realise judgemental thoughts
are only one way of looking at the world. Acknowledgement is the first step, but when we can totally
void our reality and step into nothingness will be truly playing the double game with Zen.

William Shakespeare is an interesting case of a worldview (possibly) shifting over time. Through his
plays, he demonstrates a movement from revenge as a solution (in Titus Andronicus), through
confusion about revenge versus forgiveness (Hamlet), to forgiveness as a solution (The Tempest)
(Kneebone 2009). Where the philosophy of the double game could come in most handy is in the play
Hamlet. The character of Hamlet is torn between revenge over his father’s murder, and forgiveness.
Perhaps the double game could have helped Hamlet in his mental quest for an answer. As an
audience, we can see how torn he is about his situation, and his overly negative view of mankind
makes him a likely candidate for revenge, demonstrated by quotes such as “man delights not me”
(Miller 2009, #5, pp. 2). The double game could have helped Hamlet to void the situation
surrounding him, to step back and realise revenge is not the only solution, and to step into another
self that is more even-headed and calm. McGinn sums it up when he says “the self is more like the
beads on a string than the string itself” (2006, pp. 38). Through Shakespeare’s apparent change of
heart (shown through the evolution in his plays), we can say that revenge, confusion and forgiveness
are all different self-deceptions: the choice is whether we want to live negatively or positively. None
is better than the others; it is just what we want for ourselves.

Throughout all these different games, it seems as though there is an almost infinite choice of self-
deceptions to live in. How can we know which one will suit us the most? And how can we stop
ourselves from being blinded by the games we play? An idea may be to combine two games, and
play them both within the double game. The first game to play can be the Zen game. In essence, it
already fits well within the double game scenario, as talked about earlier. It allows for a complete
aesthetic appreciation of life, and also allows for free beauty to take hold. We can then combine this
with the philosophy known as the Transcendental Self. The T-Self says that everyone is part of a one
whole Self, and this Self is creating the world we live in. This Self is the author of the whole game we
play in. Also, it says that all life is combined into one whole Self, kind of like a gently woven blanket.
All the strands are integral to the whole, but when taken away is nothing but a thread. Where this
lay within the double game is simple. As nothing can be proved, we can say that we are the T-Self,
creating and authoring the whole game of life as we like it. We can also combine this with the game
of Zen, and its aesthetic appreciation. We can slip between the two, into the two forms of being, and
then also slip out of them both, into nothingness. This may seem futile to some, and they have every
right to think that way. It is just another game to play, but it is a highly positive game that allows us
to see how the world can be entirely beautiful and transcendent, all at once.

The double game allows for us to slip into and out of nothingness, whenever we choose. It can be
found in many places: the game of existentialism can allow us to view the world as highly positive or
negative; the game of postmodernism can show how futile the text can be, but it can never
deconstruct the double game, as it deconstructs itself constantly; the game of Zen, although holding
many similarities to the double game, can be used within it as a tool to aesthetic appreciation and
free beauty; and Shakespeare’s game of language shows how language is just another tool to
construct reality, and how it can be voided at any time. When the Bard wrote Hamlet’s suicide
soliloquy, he may have been exploiting Hamlet’s confusion. One simple word change can change the
whole meaning of the play, and of our lives:

To be and not to be: that is the (question/solution?).


Grigg R, 1994. ‘Wordlessness’, The Tao of Zen. Tuttle Publishing.

Hill R, 2007. Is Postmodernism a Discourse of Critique? RMIT University, 17 September 2007.

Kneebone J, 2009. How to be a Master of Life…following Shakespeare! RMIT University, 7 April 2009.

McGinn C, 2006. ‘Hamlet’, Shakespeare’s Philosophy. Harper Perennial Publishing.

Miller R, 2009. #1: What is Existentialism? RMIT University. 2 March 2009.

Miller R, 2009. #5: Existential Issues in Hamlet. RMIT University. 30 March 2009.

Shakespeare W, 1599-1601. Hamlet. Dover Thrift Edition (2001). Dover Publications Inc., New York.