In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the title character gives the following soliloquy:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

But while watching a documentary about Gnosticism in the Renaissance, I found the following quote from Pico della Mirandola from his “Oration on the Dignity of Man” (emphasis mine):

I have read in the records of the Arabians, reverend Fathers, that Abdala the Saracen, when questioned as to what on this stage of the world, as it were, could be seen most worthy of wonder, replied: “There is nothing to be seen more wonderful than man.” In agreement with this opinion is the saying of Hermes Trismegistus: “A great miracle, Asclepius, is man.” But when I weighed the reason for these maxims, the many grounds for the excellence of human nature reported by many men failed to satisfy me — that man is the intermediary between creatures, the intimate of the gods, the king of the lower beings, by the acuteness of his senses, by the discernment of his reason, and by the light of his intelligence the interpreter of nature, the interval between fixed eternity and fleeting time, and (as the Persians say), the bond, nay, rather, the marriage song of the world, on David’s testimony but little lower than the angels.

Now I grant you, Shakespeare (whom I am satisfied by the evidence was one person and not a shared pen name) was writing from within the milieu of Renaissance humanism which was directly influenced by writers like Pico della Mirandola, but the way Hamlet’s soliloquy paraphrases Pico’s talking points about the human race makes me think Shakespeare was directly familiar with this text.

I looked around briefly but I seem to be the only one who has noticed this.  If someone else has found a similar connection I’d love to read their work on the subject.


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