Defy Augury

The phrase “defy augury” is found in “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” by William Shakespeare. In this portion of the play, Hamlet officially declares his renouncement of the belief that death is a release, that life is only prolonged because people are afraid to die, that there’s no meaning to it in the dark and bitter world in which he lives. “Augury,” in the words of Dr. Leland Ryken’s “Christian Guides to the Classics: Shakespeare’s Hamlet” (Crossway, 2014, p. 72), “means divination or occult fortune telling to predict what will happen.” Thus, Hamlet has made it so far as to say that mere coincidence or false, pagan hope does not control our lives. (Ibid.)

But there’s more to the quote than that.

In a phrase I love so dearly, Hamlet says that not only are we free from pagan influence, but that we are in the hands of God: “[T]here’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” When reading this, I suddenly realized just how much this changed everything about this play. In the beginning of the tragedy, Hamlet is crying to God, wishing that He wasn’t against suicide so he could die and not have to put up with all the immorality almost completely pervading his world. Then, in his renowned “To be or not to be” speech, he declares that “the unknown…deters people from ending their lives.” (CliffsComplete: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, commentary by Terri Mategrano, Hungry Minds, 2000, p. 107). But here he realizes that God has been holding him all along and that to trust in Him is the only thing that makes sense. (Look at Matthew 10: 29, 31 and compare it with what Hamlet says to see what I’m trying to say.) As C.S. Lewis said in his essay “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?”, “The world of Hamlet is a world where one has lost one’s way…I believe that we read Hamlet’s speeches with interest chiefly because they describe so well a certain region through which most of us have passed.” (Can be read in the aforementioned guide to Hamlet by author Leland Ryken, p. 80. The quote from the essay was first published in Selected Literary Essays, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.) The power of this quote is only deepened when one considers that Hamlet says this on the eve of his own death.

The reason I attempted to explain Hamlet’s most beautiful words so thoroughly is because I wanted to clearly reveal my purpose for this blog. Defying augury, in a word, is knowing there is something beyond this world, a “song beyond the silence,” as one of the authors my friend adores puts it. But merely knowing we are not alone cannot possibly be enough; we also must know who or what is “out there.” In Mr. Eric Metaxas’ words:

“…something inside me was made for that connection with the world beyond this one, for a connection with something more real and more true and more alive than anything I was experiencing or being told about…We can spend out lives denying it, but our very bones and atoms cry out that this denial of meaning is a lie, that everything in us not only longs for that other world and for meaning, but also needs that other world and needs meaning more than food or water or air. It is what we were made for and we will not rest until we find it again.” (Miracles by Eric Metaxas, Penguin, 2014, p. 5-6)

That is what I hope to help you with the most: I earnestly desire to help you draw closer to the One who created us and who is always there: the God Almighty. And I want to share that love He has for us with you. That’s what “defying augury” truly is.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will…Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” ~Matthew 10:29, 31

“Not a whit, we defy augury; there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it (death) be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.” ~Prince Hamlet, Act V, Scene II, Lines 221-225 (as per CliffsComplete edition)