It is a commonplace in the criticism of comparative literature to contrast Hamlet with Orestes. The historian of Athens: Its Rise and Fall contrasts him with Electra. Electra, he observes, sees not in Clytemnestra a mother, but the murderess of a father. "The doubt and the compunction of the modern Hamlet are unknown to her more masculine spirit." She lives on but in the hope of her brother's return, and of revenge. It is of that brother, Professor Lowell is treating when he remarks that, to a Greek, the element of Fate, with which his imagination was familiar, while it heightened the terror of the catastrophe, would have supplied the place of that impulse in mere human nature which our habit of mind demands for its satisfaction. The fulfilment of an oracle, he goes on to say, the anger of a deity, the arbitrary doom of some blind and purposeless power superior to man, the avenging of blood to appease an injured ghost--any one of these might make that seem simply natural to a contemporary of Sophocles which is intelligible to us only by study and reflection. And the critic deems it not a little curious that Shakespeare should have made the last of these motives, which was conclusive for Orestes, insufficient for Hamlet, who so perfectly typifies the introversion and complexity of modern thought as compared with ancient, in dealing with the problems of life and action. And the American professor surmises it to have been not without intention (for who may venture to assume a want of intention in the world's highest poetic genius at its full maturity?) that Shakespeare brings in his hero "fresh from the University of Wittenburg, where Luther, who entailed upon us the responsibility of private judgment had been Professor." The dramatic motive in the Electra and Hamlet , it is added, is essentially the same; but what a difference between the straightforward bloody-mindedness of Orestes and the metaphysical punctiliousness of Hamlet! Yet each, the critic concludes, was natural in his own way, and each would have been unintelligible to the audience for which the other was intended.
We may find it strange that one of the greatest works of a genius who founded a revolutionary school of philosophy would conclude by agreeing that, yes, we do have bodies after all, but for Descartes, what matters is not the conclusion we reach but the method by which we reach it. His conclusion is the hard-won result of years of study. Obviously, Descartes’ years of study were not undertaken to prove that we have bodies and that the world exists. He never seriously doubted either of these things. His study was undertaken to prove that some form of truth existed and that it was possible to find it. He concludes with the truth that it is permissible to trust that our senses convey accurate information to our brains as long as we apply our intellect to all that information and rightly deduce information from it. And on this simple maxim, a whole new kind of thinking was born.