Hamlet. a Mirror for Critics More Information
To state the obvious, Hamlet, an ever shape-shifting presence through the centuries, is the center of the vortex that circulates around the play. Shakespeare does not guide us toward a unified understanding of this character’s complex structure. In performance and even in criticism, he will be simplified, but the text allows for a confusing and sometimes contradictory multifaceted portrait.
The great variety of opinions about Hamlet speak to the character’s enduring appeal. Discussions of Hamlet’s “nature” persisted from the first discussions of the play to the mid-twentieth century at least. Many have found it hard to resist attempting to so ferret out Hamlet’s mystery as to satisfy all or most others. Critics have since largely abandoned the discussion as fruitless, turning instead to other features of the play and its contexts. To survey the many arguments about the character is the job of the list below.
To say that there is no Hamlet until an actor embodies him on stage is to agree with performance-oriented critics: Hamlet on the page conveys an illusion of wholeness, but only an actor guided by a director can put flesh on the words. To declare him lovable or deplorable from evidence on the page is to misunderstand the work as novelistic when it is actually a script. Though some (most recently Lukas Erne) have argued that Shakespeare wrote his lengthy plays to be read rather than performed, the dialogic format allows so many gaps that it’s no wonder that the character cannot be agreed upon. A narrator is missing—missed by those who prefer a little certainty. But just as Proust’s character Marcel says that it’s only a person with no imagination who requires beauty in the object of desire, so too can a lover of Hamlet do without a little certainty.
In the late eighteenth, throughout the nineteenth century, and even in the twentieth century individual writers and indeed whole countries could identify themselves as Hamlet, as they understood the character. Furness’s praise of Germany in his dedication to his 1877 variorum edition (because it no longer could be identified with Hamlet) is associated with its growing militarism. He wrote:
to the | ‘german shakespeare society’ | of weimar | representative of a people | whose recent history | has proved | once for all | that | ‘germany is not hamlet’ | these volumes are dedicated | with great respect by | the editor.
He refers, it seems, to a Germany united in 1871 under Prussian leadership, through the power and connivance of Bismarck. Maybe life would have been better for many if Germany had continued to see itself as the Hamlet who at the time was thought to be weak and indecisive if intellectually exceptional and emotionally sensitive. Poland, too, struggling with overlords for most of its history, thought of itself as Hamlet (see Global Hamlets on hamletworks.org) until its break from Soviet communism.
At present (I am writing in June 2008) it seems that neither individuals nor countries are much inclined to identify with Hamlet. Though some may relate to a rebellious Hamlet struggling against his whole society (post-1960s British performances), most present-day critics, readers, and audiences do not see themselves in Hamlet. On the one hand, the Hamlet of an actor like Simon Russell Beale (2000-1) is too good, and on the other hand an actor like Nicol Williamson (1969) is too sweaty and bitter for easy identification. We could go down the list of actors playing Hamlet without coming across one that offers opportunities for easy identification. But the earliest British actors, too, often inspired admiration rather than identification.
In any case, Hamlet’s fascination for many of us goes beyond facile connection, engaging our intellect as well as our emotions. Those who find negative characteristics predominating in the character—and there have been commentators from the beginning of Hamlet criticism who have fallen into that camp—seem to resent him as if he were their next-door neighbor who cut down a favorite tree. Where is the surprise in Hamlet’s defects? Every hero of a Shakespearean tragedy is flawed in some way. On the other hand, those for whom positive characteristics predominate defend him as they would a favorite son. Gervinus (1805-1871) and many others treat Hamlet as a real person, with a life outside the play. Macdonald ([macd] ed. 1885) knows Hamlet is a character but, like many others, cannot help writing about him as if he were a real person, with a will that goes beyond the scope set for him by the author. Still others remain open to whatever a particular performance makes him out to be.
What follows is not an attempt to pluck out the heart of Hamlet’s mystery (that is a task for the critics and editors who have sought to ferret that out), but to record, usually without comment, what has been said about and around Hamlet. The record below is chronological, very lightly subdivided into two categories (Hamlet’s age and his overall character) and will show that the aspects writers privilege vary over time. Still, aside from the difference in writing style, at least some of the ideas of the earliest critics can fit comfortably into more current approaches to the problems of understanding how the text in performance and on the page exposes Hamlet’s characteristics.
Occasionally, records are listed that are not direct commentaries on Hamlet but that could shed some light on contemporary events or ideas.
on age:Ascham (c. 1516 -1568) apud MacDonald: <n> <p. 62> MacDonald ([macd] ed. 1885), justifying Hamlet as student at age 30: “*Roger Ascham, in his Schoolmaster, if I mistake not, sets the age, up to which a man should be under tutors, at twenty-nine.” </p. 62> </n>
on age: Bacon, in “Of Young Men and Age” (1612. 20 [M2v-M4]) describes older men (in contrast to young men; see Laertes document): They “obiect too much, consult too long, aduenture too little, repent too soon, and sildom [sic] driue businesse home to the full period; but content themselues with a mediocrity of successe (M3v).” Though he does not say, Bacon could have had Hamlet in mind.
on age: Peacham (c.1578-c.1644) writes about the early education of a gentleman being desirable but does not disprove that a gentleman might attend a university later in life. See 295 CN.
on age: Urry (1721): The TP of Urry’s Chaucer (1721) describes him as a student of Christ-Church Oxford, deceased (age 51). Similarly, the anon. person who wrote the Preface (Timothy Thomas according to DNB) is described on the TP as “a Student of the same college.” He also prepared the Glossary—and he could hardly be much under 30. If the situation were similar in 1600, Sh. might have known about superannuated students.
on age: Ray (1670, p. 1): “Anger dieth quickly with a good man.” [This proverb is also in 1817 ed., from the section of proverbs borrowed from other languages and not in common use in the 17th century.]
on age: Theobald ([theo1] ed. 1733) is perhaps the first to point out the difficulty of Hamlet’s age: for 294-5 CN he mentions the Wittenberg anachronism: “But I design’d this remark for another purpose. I would take notice, that a considerable space of years is spent in this tragedy; or Hamlet, as a Prince, should be too old to go to an University. We here find him a Scholar resident at that University; but at act 5th, we find him plainly 30 years old; for the gravedigger had taken up that occupation the very day on which young Hamlet was born, and had follow’d it, as he says, thirty years.” Ed. note: his modifier, “as a Prince,” is telling. Yes, scholars, no doubt could go on studying beyond 30 years of age; but would a Prince? See below, “Hamlet the student.”
on age: George Eliot (1853-) in the marginalia of a 1832 Shakespeare edition, at TLN 295 calls him “very young.”
on age: Moberly ([rug1] ed. 1870, p. viii): “Hamlet is introduced to us at the age of thirty years; the dispossessed heir to the throne of Denmark, on which his hated and despised uncle has been seated by popular voice. . . . To this [despair about his mother and women in general] we ought to add that he feels youth passing away from him: he is no longer ‘the glass of fashion and the mould of form.’ Those youthful accomplishments, the vanishing of which would have seemed a trifle if he had been engaged in ennobling and royal occupations, are sadly missed now that they are passing and have left nothing in their place.”
on age: Hudson ([hud2] ed. 1872), re 474-7, writes: “The idea is, that Hamlet’s love is but a youthful fancy which, as his mind comes to maturity, he will outgrow. The passage would seem to infer that the Prince is not so old as he is elsewhere represented to be.”
on age: Furnivall (1874, pp, 495) in responding to Malleson and Seeley, makes the sexist comment that “[h]ad [Hamlet] been much past 21, and had more experience of then women, he’d have taken his mother’s changeableness more coolly. I look on it as certain, that when Shakspere began the play he conceivd Hamlet as quite a young man. But as the play grew, as greater weight of reflection, of insight into character, of knowledge of life, &c., were wanted, Shakspere necessarily and naturally made Hamlet a formd man; and, by the time that he got to the Gravediggers’ scene, told us the Prince was 30—the right age for him then: but not his age to Laertes and Polonius when they warned Ophelia against his blood that burnd, his youthful fancy for her—‘a toy in blood’— &c. The two parts of the play are inconsistent on this main point in Hamlet’s state. What matter? Who wants ’em made consistent by the modification of either part? The ‘thirty’ is not in the first Quarto: yet no one wants to go back to that.”
on age: Marshall (1875, p. 113): “I believe Shakespeare intended him to be about twenty-five years old, certainly not more.”
on age: Fleay (c. 1875, p. 92): In spite of the indications to the contrary, like the Gravedigger scene, “I doubt if any one can keep the thought from his mind that Hamlet’s age is that of youth (say about 23 or so): from the early talk with his university companions to the Queen’s wiping his face with he napkin, all through his love affair and his eager rivalry with Laertes this impression of youth is strong upon us. We may reason it away, but it returns. It is at any rate worth while to look into the evidence [which he examines, considering the Gravedigger scene in Q1 and Q2.]
on age: Furness ([v1877] ed. 1877, 1: xvii): “Just as Shakespeare has dealt with the time of the whole tragedy, he has dealt with the age of Hamlet; in the earlier scenes he is in the very hey-day of primy nature, but the effect of the fearful experience which he undergoes is to quicken and stimulate mightily his powers of thought,—to ripen his intellect prematurely. Therefore at the close, as though to smoothe away any discrepancy between his mind and his years, or between the execution of his task and his years, a chance allusion by the Grace-digger is thrown out, which, if we are quick enough to catch, we can apply to Hamlet’s age, and we have before Hamlet in his full maturity.” His comment on Hamlet’s age follows a comment on double time in Sh.
on age: Stearns (1878, p. 356) believes him to be thirty throughout. Though he is thirty years old, the fact that he is still at the university shows him to be “of studious tastes and contemplative disposition, and averse to the cares or indulgences incident to his rank.”
on age: Leo (1885, p. 104): Supposing that children rode piggy-back up to age three, believes that Hamlet is 26 years old. The grave-digger has been employed for 30 years, but was promoted to sexton and then grave-maker some years later, when Hamlet was born. Ed. note: his concern with age puts him in the category of those who think Hamlet is a person.
on age: Halliwell-Phillips (1879, pp. 49-50): <p. 49>“The discrepancy observed respecting the age of Hamlet may of course be one of the many instances of the poet not troubling himself about such matters, but I cannot help suspecting misprints in the numbers given in the old editions. Numerical errors are extremely </p. 49><p. 50> common in our early printed works. Lightfoote, in a leaf inserted at the end of the Second Part of the Harmony of the Foure Evangelists, 1647, mentions no fewer than twelve errors in numbers in one small table. The ‘23 yeeres’ of the edition of 1604, are ‘this dozen yeare’ in that of 1603.” [TLN 3362; he does not mention that F1 has “three & twenty years.”] </p. 50>
on age: Davies, C. K. (1882), is one of the few who argues (like Halliwell-Phillips) that he is 30 throughout the play. He also plays the “we are Hamlet” theme.
on age: Nicholson (1882, pp. 63-4), remarking on the change from Q1 to Q2 of 12 to 23 years for Yorick to have lain in the ground,<p. 63> “And it may be remarked by the way that this improves the play, for it makes Hamlet at the very least close upon thirty, if not beyond it, an age which leaves no possible excuse in the minds of the spectators for the resolutions of his uncle, his mother, and Polonius to exclude him from the throne—shows his love for Ophelia to be no boyish fancy—and, above all, brings out more strongly his tendency to mediate instead of acting, as well as his innate irresolution of mind. At thirty he is still one who broods over his wrongs till he thinks the world out of joint. He forms elaborate mental schemes, wherein he provides all accidents, </p. 63><p. 64> and is for a time satisfied, and there ends, only to brood anew over his troubles, and again go over his old schemes or begin a new one.” </p. 64>
Gervinus (1883, p. 552): “ . . . just thirty years of age, he has reached a period at which physical and moral strength are most fully and equally balanced.”
on age: Bradley (1904, Note B) concludes that Hamlet must have left Wittenberg some time ago and was living at court at the time of his father's murder. This “is consistent with his being thirty years of age, and with his being mentioned as a soldier and a courtier as well as a scholar [1807].” His going back to Wittenberg could have been inspired by the recent events at court. Shakespeare “might easily fail to notice that the expression 'going back to school in Wittenberg' would naturally suggest that Hamlet had only just left 'school.' ” Bradley's theory explains why Hamlet does not at first recognize Horatio.
on age: Rolfe ([rlf] ed. 1907, “intro,” pp. 29-32) <p. 29> discusses Hamlet’s age, and the inconsistencies. The last act reveals him as 30, but the king and queen act towards him as if he </p. 29><p. 30> were much younger. Polonius, too, speaks of him as if he is very young: [quotes 2376-80]. Similarly, what the queen says to him sounds like what might say to someone much younger than 30 [quotes 2396]. He mentions several other allusions, more or less compelling, 469, 590. </p. 31><p. 32> Rolfe continues with Furnivall’s explanation, that when the play begins he’s young but as it proceeds he matures. Rolfe refers to other opinions: Minto says Hamlet is 17; Dowden, Bradley and most others make Hamlet 25. </p. 32>
on age: Wilson (1936 TLS p. 75): “One finds oneself in dreadful difficulties directly one begins to argue . . . as if Shakespeare's plays were history. In act 5, for instance, Hamlet is thirty years old, and in Act 1 only about eighteen.”
on age: Wilson ([cam3] ed. 1934) counters those who write about Hamlet as if he were a living person with a pre-play history (p. xliv). Wilson is against that (p. xlvi). Those who criticize the play’s failure to make sense blame the cobbled-together nature of the play from several sources (p. xlv). Wilson is against them too: problems vanish in performance. E.g., Hamlet’s age: the actor determines it (pp. xlvi-xlvii).
Ed. note: The actor does determine the apparent age of the character, but through the beginning of the twentieth century, an actor of any age could impersonate youth. Vide Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson (1853-1937) who played the role in a 1913 film when he was 60.
Heywood (1562, 1: 3: 8): “He that will not when he may, When he would he shall have nay.”
Scoloker, 1604 (apud Ingleby 1874, p. 46, also in 1932, 1:133): “[An Epistle to the Reader] should please all, like Prince Hamlet. But in sadnesse, then it were to be feared he would runne mad: In sooth I will not be moone-sicke, to please: nor out of my wits though I displeased all.”
Scoloker (1604): See TLN 868 CN. Grosart, 1880, below, believes that Scoloker’s contemporary allusion to the play shows that Hamlet did appear as mad on stage, in recognizable mad attire as well as behavior.
Anon. Sir Thomas Smithes Voiage and Entertainment in Rushia. With the tragicall ends of two Emperors, and one Empresse, within one Moneth during his being there. London, 1605. Sig. K, M2, apud de Grazia (2007, p. 45): Of the Gudunow family: “[H]is fathers Empire and Government [was] but as the Poeticall Furie in a Stage-action, compleat yet with horrid and wofull Tragedies: a first, but no second to any Hamlet; and that now Revenge, just Revenge was coming with his Sworde drawne against, his royall Mother, and dearest Sister, to fill up those Murdering Sceanes, the Embryon whereof was long since Modeld, yea digested (but unlawfully and too-too-vive-ly) by his dead selde-murdering Father: such and so many being their feares and terrours.”
Chapman (1605) George Chapman, Ben Jonson and T. Marston. Eastward Ho! Contains a character named Hamlet, a madcap servingman: SD “Enter Hamlet, a footman, in haste.” Another character says to him: “’Sfoot, Hamlet, are you mad? Whither run you now...?” For de Grazia, who cites this work (p. 8), the important point is that the mad action is what contemporaries noticed, rather than the inner psychology.
Dekker and Webster (West-ward Hoe sig. H3, 1607, apud Ingleby et al. 1932, 1: 182): Furnivall considers this an allusion to a non-Shn work: “when light Wiues make heauy husbands, let these husbands play mad Hamlet; and cry reuenge . . . . ” Ed. note: The only cry in Hamlet is the F1-only “Oh Vengeance!” Is it possible that the script for F1 was available by 1607, or was cry already heard on stage in Ham. in 1607?
Dekker (Lanthorne and Candle-light . . . (sig. H2), 1609, apud Ingleby et al. 1932, 1: 156-7): Gypsy women hide their theft and subsequent butchering of animals. “But if any mad Hamlet hearing this, smell villanie, & rush in by violence to see what the tawny Divels are dooing, then they excuse the fact, &” Ed. note: Thus as early as 1609, a writer assumed Hamlet was mad.
Rowlands (The Night-Raven. (sig. D2), 1620, apud Ingleby et al. 1932, 1: 157): Lucy Toulmin Smith detects a possible allusion to Hamlet's revenge: “I will not cry Hamlet Revenge my greeves, But I will call Hang-man Revenge on theeves.”
Bacon (Essay on Anger, 1625, apud Reed, 1902, § 227): “In all refrainings of anger, it is the best remedy to gain time, and to make a man’s self believe that the opportunity of revenge is not yet come; but that he foresees a time for it, and so to still himself in the mean time and reserve it.” See 2351-70 CN.
Wright (1639, apud Vickers 1974, 1: 29): “Hamlet, a Tragedie by Shakespeare. But an indifferent play, the lines but meane: and in nothing like Othello. Hamlet is an indifferent good part for a madman, and the scene in the beginning of the 5t Act beetweene Hamlet and the gravemaker a good scene but since betterd in the Jealous Lovers [by, Vickers says, Thomas Randolph, 1632].
Evelyn (1661, apud Vickers [1974, 1:4]): “I saw Hamlet Prince of Denmark played: but now the old playe began to disgust this refined age: since his Majestie being so long abroad.” Vickers discusses the impact of the return of a king, along with the French and Italian concern for propriety, decorum, and the unities.
Downes (Roscius Anglicanus 1708, p. 21, apud Joseph (1953, p. 102): “Hamlet being performed by Mr. Betterton, Sir William (having seen Mr. Taylor of the Black-Friars Company act it, who being instructed by the author, Mr. Shakespeare) taught Mr. Betterton in every particle of it; which by his exact performance of it, gained him esteem and reputation, superlative to all other plays.” Joseph comments that it is likely Taylor learned, if not from Sh., then at least from Burbage. And Joseph's description of Hamlet is in accord with Betterton's, as Steele describes, below.
Steele (20 Sept. 1709), apud Joseph (1953, p. 101): “Had you been tonight at the play-house, you had seen the force of action in Perfection: your admired Mr. Betterton behaved himself so well, that though about seventy, he acted youth, and by the prevalent power of proper manner, gesture and voice, appeared through the whole drama a young man of great expectation, vivacity and enterprise.”
Gildon (1710, p. 398): “Hamlet every where almost gives us Speeches that are full of the Nature of his Passion, his Grief, &c.”
Shaftsbury (1710). Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftsbury (1671-1713) qtd. in G. W. Chapman, p.206 n.1: “ Hamlet is the play ‘which appears to have most affected English hearts.’ ”
Stubbs (1736, p. 13): The King’s and Queen’s Questions to Hamlet are very proper, to give the Audience a true Idea of the Filial Piety of the young Prince, and of his Virtuous Character; for we are hereby informed of his fixed and strong Grief for the Loss of his Father: For it does not appear, that the Usurpation of the Crown from him, sits heavy on his Soul. . . .” As the first to comment at length about Hamlet, Stubbs remains significant today. Thurber, ed. 1922, quotes Stubbs, pp. 170-1.
Stubbs (1736, pp. 16-17) quotes the Tatler on the first soliloquy (see 321-43 CN). Both sets of page numbers appear in the following extract, with more from the Tatler than Stubbs quoted: Anon. (Tatler 13 Dec. 1709): <2:146-8> <p. 16> “The young Prince was not yet acquainted with all the Guilt of his Mother, but turns his </2:146> <2:147> </p. 16> <p. 17> Thoughts on her sudden Forgetfulness of his Father, and the Indecency of her hasty Marriage [quotes soliloquy, beginning ‘—That it should come to this!’]. The several Emotions of Mind, and Breaks of Passion, in this Speech, are admirable. He has touched upon every Circumstance that aggravated the Fact, and seemed capable of hurrying the Thoughts of a Son into Distraction. His Father’s Tenderness for his Mother, expressed in so delicate a Particular; his Mother’s Fondness for his Father no less exquisitely described; the great and amiable Figure of his dead Parent drawn by a true Filial Piety; his Disdain of so unworthy a Successor to his Bed: But above all, the Shortness of the Time between his Father’s Death and his Mother’s Second Marriage, brought together with so much Disorder; make up as noble a Part as any in that celebrated Tragedy. The </2:147> <2:148> Circumstance of Time I never could enough admire. The Widowhood had lasted for Two Months. This is his First Reflection: But as his Indignation rises, he sinks to scarce Two months: Afterwards into a Month; and at last, into a Little Month. But all this so naturally, that the Reader accompanies him in the Violence of his Passion, and finds the Time lessen insensibly, according to the different Workings of his Disdain. I have not mentioned the Incest of her Marriage, which is so obvious a Provocation; but can’t forbear taking Notice, that when his Fury is at it’s Height, he cries, Frailty, thy Name is Woman! As railing at the Sex in general, rather than giving himself Leave to think his Mother worse than others.—Desiderantur multa.” <2:148>
Stubbs (1736, pp. 18-19) Speaking of Sh.’s propensity to put comic diversions in even the most serious plays, Stubbs says, “This, I think, was more pardonable in him, when it was confined to Clowns, and such like Persons in his Plays; but is by no Means excusable in a Man, supposed to be in such a Station as Polonius is. Nay, granting that such Ministers of State were common, (which surely they are not) it would even then be a Fault in our Author to introduce them in such Places as this; for every Thing / that is natural is not to be made use of improperly; But when it is out of Nature, this certainly must aggravate the Poet’s Mistake. And, to speak Truth, all Comick Circumstances, all Things tending to raise a Laugh, are highly offensive in Tragedies in good Judges; the Reason in my Opinion is evident, viz. that such Things degrade the Majesty and Dignity of Tragedy, and Destroy the Effect of the Intention which the Spectator had in being present at such Representations; that is, to acquire that pleasing Melancholy of Mind, which is caus’d by them, and the Satisfaction which arises from the Consciousness that we are mov’d as we ought to be, and that we consequently have Sentiments suitable to the Dignity of our Nature. For these and many other Reasons, too long to mention here, I must confess myself to be an Enemy also to all ludicrous Epilogues and Farcical Pieces, at the End of Tragedies; and we must think them full as ridiculous as if we were to dress a Monarch in all his Royal Robes, and then put a Fool’s Cap upon him.”
Stubbs (1736, p. 20), while agreeing with Theobald about the blessing, disagrees that the moment can be comedic; re 522: “I am perswaded [sic] that [Sh.] was too good a Judge of Nature, to design any Thing Comick or Buffoonish upon so solemn an Occasion, as that of a Son’s taking leave of his Father in the most emphatic and serious Manner. ” An actor who treat this comedically “does only shew his Ignorance and Presumption. This Assertion of mine will appear indisputatble, if my Reader considers well the whole Tenour of this Scene, with the grave and excellent Instructions which it contains, from Polonius to Laertes, and from both to Ophelia. It is impossible that any Buffoonery could be here intended, to make void and insignificant so much good Sense expressed in the true Beauties of Poetry. ”
Stubbs (1736, pp. 24-6) re 804-87: <p. 24>“The Sequel of this Scene [1.5] by no Means answers the Dignity of what we have hitherto been treating of. Hamlet’s Soliloquy, after the Ghost has disappeared is such as it should be. The impatience of Horatio, &c. to know the Result of his Conference with the Phantom, and his putting them off from knowing it, with his Caution concerning his future Conduct, and his intreating them to be silent in Relation to this whole Affair; all this, I say, is natural and right; but his light and even ludicrous Expressions to them, his making them swear by his Sword, and shift their Ground, with the Ghost’s crying under the Stage, and Hamlet’s Reflections there- </p. 24>upon, are all Circumstances certainly inferior to the preceding Part.
<p. 25>“But as we should be very cautious in finding Fault with Men of such an exalted Genius as our Author certainly was, lest we should blame them when in reality the Fault lies in out own slow Conception, we should well consider what would have been our Author’s View in such a Conduct. I must confess, I have turn’d this Matter on every Side, and all that can be said for it (as far as I am to penetrate) is, that he makes the Prince put on this Levity of Behaviour, that the Gentlemen who were with him, might not imagine that the Ghost had reveal’d some Matter of great Consequence to him, and that he might not therefore be suspected of any deep Designs. This appears plausible enough; but let it be as it will, the whole, I think, is too lightly managed, and such a Design as I have mention’d might, in my Opinion, have been answered by some other Method more correspondent to the Dignity and Majesty of the preceding Part of the Scene. I must observe once more, that the Prince’s Soliloquy is exquisitely beautiful.
Stubbs (1736, pp. 26-7): <p. 26> “Now I must come to mention Hamlet's, I must speak my Opinion of our Poet's Conduct in this Particular. To conform to the Ground-work of his Plot, Shakespeare makes the young Prince feign himself mad. I cannot but think this to be injudicious; for so far from Securing himself from any Violence which he fear'd from the Usurper, which was his Design in so doing, it seems to have been the most likely Way of getting himself confin'd, and consequently, debarr'd from an Opportunity of Revenging his Father's Death, which now seem'd to be his only Aim; and accordingly it was the Occasion of his </p. 26> <p. 27> being sent away to England. Which Design, had it taken effect upon his Life, he never could have revenged his Father's Murder. To speak Truth, our Poet, by keeping too close to the Ground-work of his Plot, has fallen into an Absurdity; for there appears no Reason at all in Nature, why the young Prince did not put the Usurper to Death as soon as possible, especially as Hamlet is represented as a Youth so brave, and so careless of his own Life.
“The Case indeed is this: Had Hamlet gone naturally to work, as we could suppose such a Prince to do in parallel Circumstances, there would have been an End of our Play. The Poet therefore was obliged to delay his Hero's Revenge; but then he should have contrived some good Reason for it.
“His Beginning his Scenes of Madness by his Behaviour to Ophelia, was judicious, because by this Means he might be thought to be mad for her, and not that his Brain was disturb'd about State Affairs, which would have been dangerous. ” </p. 27>
Stubbs (1736, pp. 24-6) re 51: I shall conclude what I have to say on this Scene, with observing, that I do not know any Tragedy, ancient or modern, in any Nation, where the Whole is made to turn to naturally and so justly upon such a supernatural Appearance as this is; nor do I know of any Piece whatsoever, where a Spectre is introduced with so much Majesty, such an Air of Probability, and where such an Apparition is manag’d with so much Signity and Art; in short, which so little revolts the Judgment and Belief of the Spectators. Nor have I ever met in all my Reading, with a Scene in any Tragedy, which creates so much Awe, [25]/and serious Attention as this does, and which raises such a Multiplicity of the most exalted Sentiments. It is certain, our Author excell’d in this kind of Writing, as has been more than once observed by several Writers, and none ever before or since his Time, could ever bring Inhabitants of another World upon the Stage, without making them ridiculous and too shocking to Men’s Understandings.
Charlotte Lennox (1753, reported in CR 1:212) considers Hamlet's pose of madness “of no Consequence to the principal Design of the Play” and “certainly a Fault”: “It is of no other use than to enliven the Dialogue.”
Sheridan (apud Boswell, London Journal 6 April 1763, p. 258): Sheridan, after railing “in his usual way” against Garrick, “gave us, however, a most ingenious dissertation on the character of Hamlet that atoned for all his wrong-headed abuse of the great modern Roscius. He made it clear to us that Hamlet, notwithstanding of his seeming incongruities, is a perfectly consistent character. Shakespeare drew him as the portrait of a young man of a good heart and fine feelings who had led a studious contemplative life and so become delicate and irresolute. He shows him in very unfortunate circumstances, the author of which he knows he ought to punish, but wants strength of mind to execute what he thinks right and wishes to do. In this dilemma he makes Hamlet feign himself mad, as in that way he might put his uncle to death with less fear of the consequences of such an attempt. We therefore see Hamlet sometimes like a man really mad and sometimes like a man reasonable enough, though much hurt in mind. His timidity being once admitted, all the strange fluctuations which we perceive in him may be easily traced to that source. We see when the Ghost appears (which his companions had beheld without extreme terror)—we see Hamlet in all the agony of consternation. Yet we hear him uttering extravagant sallies of rash intrepidity, by which he endeavours to stir up his languid mind to a manly boldness, but in vain. For he still continues backward to revenge, hesitates about believing the Ghost to be the real spirit of his father, so much that the Ghost chides him for being tardy. When he has a fair opportunity of killing his uncle, he neglects it and says he will not take him off which he is at his devotions, but will wait till he is in the midst of some atrocious crime, that he may put him to death with his guilt upon his head. Now this, if really from the heart, would make Hamlet the most black, revengeful man. But it coincides better with his character to suppose him here endeavouring to make an excuse to himself for his delay. We see too that after all he agrees to go to England and actually embarks. In short, Sheridan made out his character accurately, clearly, and justly.”
[As Boswell describes the interpretation, he does not get everything right. The men on guard duty are so frightened that they turn to jelly, as Horatio tells us. Hamlet has more reason to be moved by the apparition, because it’s his father, after all.]
Davies (ms. notes in john, ed. 1765) on 3678; 5.2.226: [replies to Samuel Johnson’s disapproval of Hamlet’s excuse to Laertes]: “Besides ye assumed madness of Hamlet There is a melancholy in ye character wch. atopproaches nearly to ye reality—Consider his situation, depriv’d of His father murder’d by his Uncle, his Mother living in adultery with ye murderer—Himself depriv’d of ye right of Succession. But by 1784, Davies in his published notes had thought again and come round to Johnson’s opinion, believing the speech should be cut.
Gentleman (1770, 1: 31): “Hamlet’s assumed madness might undoubtedly have been made the instrument of some important secret purpose relative to his father’s murder, and his own just resentment; yet, as it now appears, answers no other end, than merely cajoling the King, distressing the Queen and Ophelia, bamming Polonius and the courtiers, and giving great scope for capital acting; which last article seems much more the author’s intention through this piece than decorum and consistence.” [Bamming is a slang word from mid-18thc, meaning to hoax, assoc. with bamboozle.]
Gentleman (1770, 1: 22): “his remarks that the spirit he has seen may be a devil, and that the devil may have power to assume a pleasing shape [1638-43; 2.2.599-60], savour very strongly of a weak superstitious mind; and give us no exalted idea of the prince’s head, however favorably we may judge of his heart.”
Gentleman (1770, 1: 24) criticizes Hamlet for his soliloquy 2352-71, 3.3.75-96: “we cannot speak favorably [of the speech], as it greatly derogates not only from an amiable but even a common moral character.”
Gentleman (1770, 1: 24-5): <p. 24> The death of Polonius “happens evidently through a mistake, supposing him the King; Yet when the </p. 24><p. 25> mistake is discovered, he has not common humanity enough to regret taking the life of an innocent inoffensive old man, nay the Father of a Lady too for whom he professes a regard; but by the following lines seems to hold the matter light: [quotes 2413-15; 3.4.31-3]. In the conclusive speech of the act, ’tis true he seems to feel, but we apprehend too slightly; and making himself the vindictive minister of heaven, is arraigning providence, for influencing punishment where no guilt has appeared; by the same mode of argument every rash, or bad man may palliate the most inordinate actions.” </p. 25>
Gentleman (1770, 1: 33): “In respect of characters, we are to lament that the hero, who is intended as amiable, should be such an apparent heap of inconsistency; impetuous, tho’ philosophical; sensible of injury, yet timid of resentment; shrewd, yet void of policy; full of filial piety, yet tame under oppression; boastful in expression, undetermined in action: and yet from being pregnant with great variety, from affording many opportunities to exert sound judgment and extensive powers, he is as agreeable and striking an object as any in the English drama.”
Steevens (Theatrical reviews 1772-3, in Vickers Heritage 5:487-90): Flaws as a character: advice to players out of place; does not forward the action. His excuse to Laertes is a lie. He doesn’t do what he should—avenge his father’s death.
Mackenzie (1780, 3: 236-7): <p.236>“The incident of the Ghost, which is entirely the poet’s own, and not be found in the Danish legend, not only produces the happiest stage-effect, but is also of the greatest advantage in unfolding the character which is stamped on the young prince at the opening of the play. In the </p. 236><p. 237> communications of such a visionary being, there is an uncertain kind of belief, and a dark unlimited horror, which are aptly suited to display the wavering purpose and varied emotions of a mind endowed with a delicacy of feeling that often shakes his fortitude, with sensibility that overpowers its strength.” </p. 237> See also TLN 313, 885-6. Mackenzie, Henry. “Observations on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” The Mirror No. 99 (18 and 22 April 1780), pp. 393-99.
[Mackenzie’s criticism marks a new phase in Shakespeare studies, particularly in studies of Hamlet: the writer of sensibility sees only sensibility in Hamlet, and he is followed by such influential critics as Goethe and Coleridge.]
Robertson, Thomas (1788; “An Essay on the Character of Hamlet, in Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Hamlet). To Robertson, Hamlet’s last words indicate not that he wanted his killing the king set right but that he wanted set right his not doing what the Ghost had asked. He is a person whose complex range of attributes prevents him from acting as he thought he should <p. 256>. The characteristics: <p.254> “exquisite sensibility to virtue and vice, and an extreme gentleness of spirit and sweetness of disposition . . . . the most brilliant and cultivated talents, an imagination transcendentally vivid and strong, together with what may be called, rather an intuition, than an acquired knowledge of mankind. And . . . a singular gaiety of spirits, which hardly at any after period, the very gloomiest only excepted, seems to have failed him. . . . ” Sh’s art was to create the character and then to allow him to act as such a character would. </p.254> <p.255> [characteristics, cont’d:] “polished gentleman, a soldier, a scholar and a philosopher. . . . At one time, mild, courteous and contemplative; at another animated with the keenest feelings; upon occasions, all wrath and fire; looking down, at all times, as if from a superior orb, upon whatever was little, insincere or base among men.” </p.255> <p.256> “ . . . .Resentment, revenge, eternal indignation, stimulated Hamlet at one moment; at the next, we have mere unbending and recoil of his passions; and not only this, which was transient, but there followed, almost at the same instant, that gentleness which so seldom left him. From this, he could not, at any time, act in cold blood; he could strike only in the fiercest moments of provocation . . . In the general tenor of his mind he could do nothing . . . . ” He constantly chides himself for inaction, but he was “not formed for action. Upon the fluctuation of his mind between contriving and executing, between elevation, sensibility and gentleness, hangs the whole business of the tragedy.” His pretended madness suited him and was not designed for his safety.
<p.260> “The causes of Hamlet’s dilatory progress have been already pointed out in general; and the more narrowly we take a view of him, the more we shall always find his sensibility to be, in the first moments, such, as led to instant and mortal action, while his gentleness, like an equal weight on the other side, counteracted its whole force.
Robertson excuses Hamlet’s behavior to Ophelia (257-9) , the king at prayer (260-1), R&G (262). He uses his thesis to reconcile the melancholy and jocularity in Hamlet (259). <p.259> “ . . . he rose up, at times, </p.259> <p.260> from an abyss of anguish, to make a mere sport of human suffering.” </p.260>
<p.265> He concludes that to understand Hamlet we cannot consider now one trait (sensibility), now another (gentleness). “It is the struggle between the two, upon which his conduct hinges.” </p.265>
Malone [mal ed. 1790] (apud cald1 1819, p. 169): “To conform to the ground-work of his plot, Shakespeare makes the young prince feign himself mad. I cannot but think this to be injudicious; for so far from securing himself from any violence which he feared from the usurper, it seems to have been the most likely way of getting himself confined, and consequently debarred from an opportunity of revenging his father’s death, which now seemed to be his only aim; and accordingly it was the occasion of his being sent away to England; which design, had it taken effect upon his life, he never could have revenged his father’s murder. To speak truth, our poet by keeping too close to the ground-work of his plot, has fallen into an absurdity; for there appears no reason at all in nature, why the young prince did not put the usurper to death as soon as possible, especially as Hamlet is represented as a youth so brave, and so careless of his own life.
“The case indeed is this. Had Hamlet gone naturally to work, as we could suppose such a prince to do in parallel circumstances, there would have been an end of our play. The poet, therefore, was obliged to delay his hero’s revenge: but then he should have contrived some good reasons for it. Malone.”
Hudson (1848, 2: 87-95). <p. 87> He is mankind, “the very abridgment and eclecticism of humanity,” which is why his characteristics have been so argued. Almost every theory of his character can be plausibly argued but none will comprehend the whole depiction (pp. 87-8). He considers him, and claims that others consider him, a man, not a character in a play. The text is where one may find the result of his character, but one must go behind the text to figure him out. “While the chaster forms of youthful imagination had kept his own heart pure, he had framed his conception of others according to the model within himself” (pp. 91-2). He idealized his father, made his father his model (92). Hudson believes that Hamlet’s peace of mind is destroyed when his mother’s remarriage destroys his faith in goodness (93). [See 728 CN, on the prophetic souls; Hudson believes that the remarriage had already alerted Hamlet to his mother’s infidelity and his uncle’s treachery.
Because he loves Ophelia so much, he gives her up so as not to entangle her in the mess (p. 95). [hud1 pretty much repeats these same points: See below, 1856. ]
Hudson (1848, 2: 102-3, 109, 112-14) says that because Hamlet controls his actions <p. 102> “he soars . . . above our ordinary standards of greatness . . . ” </p. 102><p. 103> Further, Hudson says that Hamlet is better than he knows himself to be, because virtue acts with so little struggle to be virtuous, that the virtuous person does not recognize that he IS virtuous: this is simply how and what he is </p. 103> <p. 109> Hudson also says that “as bad men are generally compelled to appear good, . . . so good men are sometimes compelled to appear bad . . . ” Thus it is in his scene with Ophelia. </p. 109>
Hudson summarizes Hamlet’s character: <p. 112>“conscious plenitude of intellect united with ex- </p. 112> <p. 113> ceeding fineness and fulness of sensibility and guided by a predominant sentiment of moral rectitude.” His mind turns to the eternal in spite of himself. His mind is not healthy because of the circumstances in which he finds himself: “he is forced to seek within himself resources which the world cannot furnish...and introspection settles into a sort of chronic disease. . . . He is thinking of himself when he speaks “What a piece of work is a man &c.” “Haunted with a sense of the supernatural in his experience; persecuted with duties which he can neither forget nor perform; with all the natural issues of his being closed up, so that he can neither act nor let it alone; and mis- </p. 113> <p. 114> taking his outward difficulties for inward deficiency; his mind of course become abstracted from surrounding objects, and absorbed in itself; he can do nothing but think, and think, and ‘eat his own heart;’ . . . . In his calmer moments, when his energies are not engrossed in controlling his emotions, he revels amid the very regalities of poetry and philosophy. . . . he unclasps to the ear of friendship the record of his intellectual triumphs.” </p. 114>
Hudson ([hud1] ed. 1856, 10: 179-8): <p. 179> “The character of Hamlet has caused more of perplexity and discussion than any other in the whole range of art. He has a wonderful interest for all, yet none can explain him; and perhaps he is therefore the more interesting because inexplicable. We have found by experience that one seems to understand him better after a little study than after a great deal, and that the less one sees into him, the more apt one is to think he sees through him; in which respect he is indeed like nature herself. We shall not presume to make clear what so many better eyes have found and left dark. The most we can hope to do is, to start a few thoughts, not towards explaining him, but towards showing why he cannot be explained; nor to reduce the variety of opinions touching him, but rather to suggest whence that variety proceeds, and why. ”Hudson continues with a summary of opinions of Hamlet from various unnamed sources. Yet all write as if he is a real person. From the intro. to Ham.:
“The question is, why such unanimity as to his being a man, and at the same time such diversity as to what sort of man he is? </p. 179> <p. 180>
“ . . . Hamlet is all varieties of character in one; he is continually turning up a new side, appearing under a new phase, undergoing some new development; so that he touches us at all points, and, as it were, surrounds us. This complexity and versatility of character are often mistaken for inconsistency: hence the contradictory opinions respecting him, different minds taking very different impressions of him, and even the same mind, at different times. . . . Doubtless he seems the more real for this very cause; . . . . [And] in Hamlet the variety and rapidity of changes are so managed as only to infer the more intense, active, and prolific vitality; though, in so great a multitude of changes, it is extremely difficult to seize the constant principle.
[He quotes and discusses Coleridge’s view </p. 180><p. 181> and praises it, but ultimately disagrees: “our main ground of doubt as to the view thus given is, that Hamlet seems bold, energetic, and prompt enough in action, when his course is free of moral impediments; as, for instance, in his conduct on shipboard, touching the commission, where his powers of thought all range themselves under the leading of a most vigorous and steady will. . . . Our own belief is, though we are far from absolute in it, that the Poet’s design was, to conceive a man great, perhaps equally so, in all elements of character, mental, moral, and practical; and then to place him in such circumstances, bring such motives to bear upon him, and open to him such sources of influence and reflection, that all his greatness should be morally forced to display itself in the form of thought, even his strength of will having no practicable outlet but through the energies of the intellect.” Hudson next summarizes the reasons for his belief.
Hamlet has never had occasion to distrust anyone. “While the caste forms of young imagination had kept his own heart pure, he had framed his conceptions of others according to the model within himself.” </p. 181>
<p. 182> Hudson does a lot of speculating—about Hamlet’s innocent new love for Ophelia, his idealization of his father, [Hudson does not account, though, for what Hamlet would have learned through his intellectual labors, including reading skeptics, philosophers, Ovid, &c., though he does mention those studies.] Hudson continues in a flowery vein about Hamlet’s prospects after his father’s death: “he could compensate the loss of some objects [such as the throne] with a more free and tranquil enjoyment of such as remained [including his mother and his lover]. Hudson surmises that Hamlet immediately upon the marriage suspected her infidelity and his uncle’s “treachery.” [note in 729 √] Even these suspicions would not have upset Hamlet’s equilibrium, but the Ghost’s command conflicts with Hamlet’s moral nature. </p. 183> He’s asked to murder, to assassinate, without judicial procedure, without proving his uncle’s guilt. [Hudson is wrong here; the Ghost asks no such thing.] He must make the crime public knowledge. He turns from one position to another, the Ghost’s request and his own moral understanding. [Yet of course Hamlet never says anything of the sort: couldn’t Sh. have managed to have him soliloquize on this conflict or confide it to Horatio? The only time he does soliloquize, Hamlet weighs not murder vs. justice, but murder and more horrible murder.]
Hudson brings up Hamlet’s doubt.
Hudson (ed. 1856, 10: 183): <p. 183> “In brief, the trouble lies not in himself, but in his situation; it arises from the impossibility of translating the outward call of duty into a free moral impulse; and until so translated he cannot perform it; for in such an undertaking he must act from himself, not from another.
“This strife of incompatible duties seems the true source of Hamlet’s practical indecision. . . . Thus it appears, that Hamlet is distracted with a purpose which he is at once too good a son to dismiss, and too good a man to do . . . and religion still prevents him from doing what filial piety reproves him for leaving undone. Not daring to abandon the design of killing the King, he is yet morally incapable of forming any plan for doing it: he can only go through the work, as indeed he does at last, under a sudden frenzy of excitement, caused by some immediate provocation; not so much acting, as being acted upon; rather as an instrument of Providence, than as a self-determining agent.
“Properly speaking, then, Hamlet, we think, does not lack force of will. In him, will is strictly subject to reason and conscience; and it rather shows strength than otherwise in refusing to move in conflict with them.” </p. 183>
Hudson (1856, pp. 184-5): “Thus it appears, that Hamlet is distracted with a purpose which he is at once too good a son to dismiss, and too good a man to perform. Under the injunction with which he knows not what he do, he casts about, now for excuses, now for censures, of his non-performance; and religion still prevents him from doing what filial piety reproves him for leaving undone. . . ; he can only go through the work . . . under a sudden frenzy of excitement, caused by some immediate provocation; not so much acting, as acted upon [as john had said]; rather as an instrument of Providence, than as a self-determining agent. . . . Hamlet seems to lack rather the power of seeing what he ought to do, than of doing what he sees to be right. . . . . There being, as we think, sufficient grounds for [his scruples] we cannot refer them to any infirmity of his as their source.”
It’s true, Hudson says, that Hamlet blames himself. </p. 184> <p. 185> That’s because “Hamlet comes to mistake his clearness of conscience for moral insensibility.” </p. 185>
Ramsay (1856, pp. 116-18): <p. 116> Hamlet’s “was essentially a philosophic mind—a mind which could pass out of itself; and there is a great difference between having an external knowledge of philosophy, and being inwardly a philosopher. . . . </p. 116> <p. 117> In Hamlet [Sh.] has embodied his idea of one in whom the Reason predominates in an inordinate and unhealthy degree over the Will, or acting principle; and this character he has placed in a situation of overwhelming exigencies—a situation in which promptitude, decision, and self-reliance are absolutely indispensable. It is not, however, the incapability of action which Shakspere portrays in Hamlet, for when the latter does act, he acts with energy, decision, skill, and success—ever equal to the call of the moment. But in him the abstract intellect is too strong for the active impulse. Ever theorizing and generalizing on the things and circumstances around him, looking into, dissecting, and anatomizing his own thoughts, and pursuing, so to speak, the somewhat unprofitable luxury of ‘thinking upon thinking,’ he remodels and renews his resolutions, and the more he does so, the longer he defers the execution of those resolutions, until, in the anguish of doubt and indecision, he breaks out into the passionate exclamation ‘O what a rogue and peasant slave am I’ [1590].
“And yet how far is Shakspere’s Hamlet from exciting in us any of those feelings of pity and contempt with which we usually regard the indecisive and inactive. On the contrary we cannot but agree with Ophelia’s </p. 117><p. 118> beautiful but melancholy eulogium of him. His is indeed a ‘noble mind’; he is a prince with the feeling of the good and the beautiful, dignified by the consciousness of high birth; he is a gentleman, pleasing, pliant, and courteous; * he is a man of genius, and as such he possesses that craving after the unseen, the indefinite, and the unknown, which most easily besets men of genius, and that aversion to action which constantly prevails among such as have a world in themselves. But Hamlet is not only a prince, a scholar, and a gentleman—he is more than this; he is a philosopher—not one indeed of the very highest class, but still a philosopher—accustomed to raise his mind from the things of sense around him, to the grand idea within him and above him; one who ‘could be bounded in a nut shell, and count himself king of infinite space’ [1300-1]; so unworldly that to him [317-18]; ever (and herein he is most of all a philosopher †) contemplating and reflecting on the law of his own mind, seeing ‘into the life of things,’ constantly generalizing, till even when making a resolution ‘To wipe away all trivial fond records’ [784]. he sets down “on his tables’ [792] a generalization; and thus his ‘Native hue of resolution Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought’ [1738-9], and in spite of all his reasoning, all his plans and purposes, the consummation takes place just the same as it would have them without these. Into the Philosophy of Hamlet we have not now time to enquire; it only needs a careful examination, however, to perceive that this is quite as wonderful as his character.” </p. 118>
<n.*> <p. 118> “*In the scene with Osric [3586] Hamlet’s gentlemanly manners, as well as the superior grandeur of his philosophy, shine conspicuous, the lofty condescension of his conscious superiority, and his good natured playfulness forming a fine contrast to Horatio’s impatient and almost pettish remarks to that courtier.” </p. 118> </n.*>
<n.†> <p. 118> “† Novalis says well on this point, ‘Die Philosophie ist eine ideale-selbster-fundere methode das innere zu beobachten. ” [Philosophy is an ideal method founded on self study so as to observe the inner self.] </p. 118> </n.†>
Ramsay (1856, p. 120): “The more in keeping with real life is it that Hamlet should thus lean on his friend, since that friend is so different from himself; his fine, imaginative, metaphysical, but unpractical spirit naturally clings to the strong, coarse, but sober and practical understanding of Horatio, Many points, too, they have in common: Hamlet is a ‘noble heart,’ a good lover, ready to wear his friend ‘In my hearts core, yea, in my heart of hearts’ [1924]; ‘Most generous and free from all contriving’ [3125], he ‘will not’ ‘peruse the foils’ [3126]. ready to acknowledge ungrudgingly and openly, as he does in the case of Laertes, ‘I have done you wrong’ [3678].”
Ramsay (1856, p. 125): “ . . . Hamlet partially assumes that state to which he is nearest, * and pretends to act when he is very near being what he acts.”
<n.*> <p. 125> Ramsay (1856, p. 125): “Insanity, i.e. unhealthiness, is perhaps a better term to apply to Hamlet’s mental derangement than madness.” </p. 125> </n.*>
Lloyd (1858, p. [1]): “The character of Hamlet embodies the predominance of the contemplative aspect over the practical in a mind of the highest order, both intellectually and morally. If merely the virtue in belonging to this elevated class, the practical element is necessarily not entirely absent, it is even present in manifestations of no ordinary force; but this force is displayed fitfully, irregularly, by sudden provocation or unpremeditated impulse, and by its very effort exhausts itself and gives way to the more even reign of the tendency to plan rather than execute, and to reflect and generalize rather than to form a specific plan.”
Lloyd (1858, p. [5]): “He is ever reminded of the charge laid upon him by the ghost, to recognize it with a pang, to find some excuse for deferring—now mistrust of the ghost, now inaptness of an opportunity, to accuse himself of dullness and tardiness, even to declare a resolution, but immediately to diverge into the generalities of a philosophical deduction, and allow himself to be carried away from any definite design entirely. He has the means, the skill, the courage, and what should be sufficient motive, but the active stimulus is unequal to the contemplative inertia that opposes it, and never thoroughly masters and possesses his nature; it gains no permanent hold on his attention; his spirit is soon wearied and oppressed by the uncongenial intrusion, and he relapses into the vein more natural to him; it is a cursed spite to be called upon to bring back to order an unhinged world,—we may believe from his manner that he finds no great hardship or disgrace either, in having lost the chance of governing the kingdom, of the foreign affairs of which at least he has not cared to inform himself, and there is such entire absence of expressions of regret for his frustrate love that I am not sure he does not feel some relief in getting rid of an importunate and interrupting passion.”
Lloyd (1858, pp. [2-3]): <p. 2> “Whether the boundaries of sanity are really overpassed by Hamlet, whether the very warning he gives of his purposed simulation may be but one of the cunningnesses of the truly insane, are questions that belong to a class most difficult to treat whether in life or literature. I confess to be inclined to take the latter view, which by no means excludes the recognition of a main stream of sanity running through the action . . . . But some such extremity of excitement seems to form part of the supernaturalism of the play; . . . Horatio alludes to it, and it is noteworthy that Hamlet’s manner is already changed, and he has already given signs of an antic </p. 2><p. 3> disposition without obvious motive, before he has given notice that at some time thereafter he should probably think meet to affect eccentricity as a disguise. His susceptibility of irritation has received a wrench, and although he professes to his mother with every appearance of conviction to be merely mad in craft [2523. 2564], a suspicion of something more is intimated in his thought that possibly the ghost may have been but a diabolical abuse of weakness and melancholy—ever subject to such ill influence [1641]; and when he excuses his injuries to Laertes on the ground of madness, distractions [3682], it would be, I think, unworthy of him to suppose that his apology was a mere and conscious fabrication. Some palliation moreover must be borrowed hence for his treatment of Ophelia, which otherwise more than verges on the brutal.
Lloyd (1858, pp. [5-6]): <p. 5>“He is two entirely different Hamlets in different scenes, and we see him in constant alternation of hurried and lucid intervals. If we could assume for a moment that his madness is entirely feigned we should stumble over the inconsistency that it is so carried out as to answer no reasonable purpose, excites suspicion instead of diverting it, covers not, and is not fitted to cover, any secondary design, and would amount at best to a weak and childish escapade of ill humour and spleen. This is the really difficult aspect of hamlet’s character, and it is here—perhaps we may say alone in the play—that the poet has left us to our own resources, has placed the picture of nature before us, and called upon us to read and interpret it with no aid from him of marginal interpretation. It is here that the genius of the great Shakespearian actor, if ever such arises again, may be displayed, in so rendering these equivocal scenes by the inspiration that places in sympathy with the author </p. 5><p. 6> and in its highest sense can only be allowed to actual impersonation, as to blend them harmoniously with those portions that in themselves are perfectly illuminated and defined, and being home enlightenment and conviction t once to the understanding and the heart.” </p. 6>
Lloyd (1858, p. [10]: “ . . . the main difficulty in the way of our feeling that we have a perfect appreciation of the play, and of its leading character, is the conduct of Hamlet towards Ophelia; even if we exclude the scene of his excited violence towards her, and forget the dumb-show mummery that she relates, there still remains a frigidness in all his allusions to her, and in the rarity of these allusions also, that impeaches the sincerity of the passion that he once professed for her, and even the ordinary consideration and delicacy that were due to her misfortunes, though they had not originated with himself.”
Lloyd (1858, pp. [9-10]:<p. 9> After discussing the national tendency to generalize and philosophize, with a digression about Germany (see Germany = Hamlet doc. in play-as-a-whole doc.), continues with Polonius: “But this tendency [to generalize] which is profound philosophy in Hamlet is exhibited in its dotage in Polonius—a tedious old fool, doubtless, as the prince splenetically calls him, and yet were it not for the ridiculousness of this character we might more easily have erred in rating too severely those weakness of Hamlet that are upon the verge of ridiculousness. The parroted precepts of Polonius, strung together with no leading principle, which are so much a matter of rote that he regains the thread of his discourse like an actor by a friendly cue, bring out the freshly welling originality of the diverging rather than desultory reflections that carry Hamlet from time to time away from his theme. So the backstairs, eaves-dropping politics that he professes, and the gross mistakes he makes in practical judgment as to the designs of Hamlet on Ophelia, and then as to the cause and nature of his madness are </p. 9><p. 10> such marked types of the faults and blunders that most beset the speculative when they make their sagacity a ground for interference in business that is beyond them, as to reflect back some glory on the better essays of the less experienced but far more able, as well as more intellectual, Prince of Denmark. Hence the use and the effectiveness of such a scene as that between Polonius and Reynaldo, with the instructions for roundabout enquiry as to the proceedings of Laertes, in a style that it is obvious would have any other tendency than either to elicit truth or benefit the character of the person so equivocally cared for. Compared with this, the scheme of Hamlet to entrap the conscience of the king into self-betrayal by the play, is wisdom, is simplicity itself, and we are prepared to appreciate his penetration in fathoming at once the insidious questioning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.” </p. 10>
Lloyd (1858, pp. [10-11]), after deploring Hamlet’s frigidity to Ophelia: <p. 10>“What then is the real palliation that Shakespeare relied upon to save his hero from entire desertion by our sympathies, and which, though we may have difficulty in detecting and stating it, does have that effect. Reserving the plea of injured sanity, shall we say that the fault of Hamlet is grievous, but that pity tempers our indignation? for it is too far seen that abstract reflection is not in favour of sensibility of the sympathies, and that those who are habitually wrapt in their own thoughts will err too often in the injury inflicted on the hearts of those around them, from no cruelty of temper and no conscious wantonness, but simply from inattention and disregard to hearts and feelings as incidents of life: at least if this view be wrong </p. 10><p. 11> let philosophers defend themselves by furnishing another solution of the difficulty that suggests it.” </p. 11>
Lloyd (1858, pp. [12-13] : <p. 12>“Nothing certainly can be more unroyal, or, for the position of a prince aspiring to royalty, more impolitic than his betrayal of consciousness or disdain for the falsehood and frivolity of etiquette and the unmixed selfishness lying below courtly manners. It is not thus that ceremony is handled by potentates and aspirants, who are aware that they are for the most part but ceremonies themselves, and may not long remain that, if the fact gets wind and is talked about. But it is by so much as Hamlet is recalcitrant against the habitudes of his position that he gains dignity, and interests our affections as a man. As the world goes—for that matter it goes now as it always went—the arts and habits that make up the specific manners of the gentleman have come to mean little less than cool dexterity in offensiveness in one direction, balanced by efficient self-seeking complaisance in the other, and there is probably no rarer wild bird that your gentleman of gentlemanly feelings. But Hamlet baits and perplexes and satirizes the qualities that are really base, </p. 12><p. 13> independent of relative position, and turns with fundamental sincerity and geniality of character to familiar intercourse with friends and fellow-students, to genuine enjoyment and encouragement of struggling art in right of his own critical taste, to pregnant colloquy with the gave-diggers [sic], and observation of social movement along all its intersecting tracks. Hamlet assuredly is something better than a prince and courtier-scholar; soldier as he is, he is in sympathy with that best democracy, of which Novalis said that Christianity is the base, as it is the highest fact in the rights of man.” </p. 13>
Werder (1859, pp. 87-9, 91, 95)<p. 87> does not believe Hamlet is mad; he asks, “can pretended lunacy and real distraction of mind exist in one and the same man?” [I would say, yes.] Werder discusses the views of Garve, </p. 87><p. 88> Flathe, von Friesen </p. 88><p. 89> Schlegel, Hebler </p. 89>(whom he quotes, see below). <p. 91> The truth has destroyed Hamlet’s happiness forever; there is no way to make this up. He merely has his task. </p. 91> <p. 95> The only time he does appear mad is offstage, in Ophelia’s closet. </p. 95>
<p. 96> He wears his antic mask very loosely, and it is “transparent.” Werder asserts that as the mask ceases to be useful, Hamlet gives it up. </p. 96><p. 97> The play-within reveals all to both Hamlet and King, making the pose useless. </p. 97>
Below, Werder says the murder of Polonius forces Hamlet to take on the pose of madness again. Hamlet urges his mother not to reveal that he is not mad. He acts madly in 4.2 and 4.3, and accuses himself of madness in 5.2.
[Werder (1859, pp. 106-7) has an argument against Hamlet’s madness at the end of the disclosure scene (1.5). He would not want to make his friends think he is mad. See 795-877 below. But doesn’t that very truth argue against Werder’s point? Hamlet has every reason not to act crazy, and yet he does. The actor can make this action high spirits, an excess of exuberance after having determined that he need not hold his tongue after all.]
Werder (1859, pp. 181-3): <p. 181> What Hamlet learns from the ghost ruins any possibility of continuing a love relationship. Also, his mother’s behavior has disgusted him. And he has a foreboding of his own death. Shakespeare “has taken everything away from Hamlet, every help, every comfort, every possibility of a favourable issue. The play, acted before the King, is his only success, and even in that he has been baffled. </p. 181><p. 182> Though Hamlet has one person in whom he can confide, Horatio cannot do much for him, and thus Hamlet is isolated. </p. 182> <p. 183> Hamlet suffers more from “the paternal demand which from out of the grave tears him from her [than Ophelia suffers from his rejection of her]. . . . “Ophelia, at her father’s command, unresisting and obedient, breaks with her lover, returns his letters, entraps him into a conversation of which the direct consequence to him will be that his enemy shall see through him and determine to send him to England.” <p. 183>
Werder (1859, trans. 1907, p. 193) deals with the confession of madness [3684] to Laertes: “Hamlet can and must here before with absolute truth call his condition, his soul-sorrow, insanity, because this sorrow had been shown before others, under the mask of insanity, and because every one, with the exception of Horatio, believed it to be insanity.”
[Unpersuasive, but shows how eager some are to exonerate Hamlet from any blame, as if he were a favored child.]
Werder (1859, trans. 1907, pp. 211, 213): <p. 211> After the “Mousetrap,” Hamlet is a passive vessel, waiting to do God’s will: “Hamlet is needed no more to lead, it is only for the execution of judgment that he is to be further used; his arm and his life are still necessary, no longer his mind, his wit, and his patience. Hamlet is already at the goal, although he does not know it.” </p. 211> <p. 213> “It is the influence of the Divine power by which every nerve in Hamlet is already stimulated and under whose spiritual control he stands.” </p. 213>
Werder (1859, p. 217): <p. 217> “The preposterous idea that he goes slowly has come to be generally accepted only from the silly desire that he should kill the King immediately.
The drama knows of no delay! The fulfillment, the judgment, even the death of the King, come quicker than Hamlet or we could have foreseen.”
Werder (1859, pp. 221-2): “Hamlet has reason as well as passion; full of the spirit of his task, as a noble and true hero he sets himself about the tragic atonement without making a false step at the start. He wins by the service he gives to the task, by the destiny arising from it, by his aim and action.” He does all this without any “personal desire.” </p. 221><p. 222> His selflessness in the task is his attractiveness. The outcome must be a feast of death because that’s the only way that justice can be served, since this criminal will not confess.
Hamlet is free of blame, but since there was no way he could be happy, death is not a punishment, but a “release.” </p. 222>
Staunton ([stau] ed. 1860), 455 CN on loves] “In the 1603 quarto we have,— ‘All. Our duties to your honor. Ham. O your loves, your loves, as mine to you.’ and the hurried repetition ‘your loves, your loves,’ well expresses the perturbation of Hamlet at the moment, and that feverish impatience to be alone and commune with himself which he evinces whenever he is particularly moved.”
Turgenev (1860); Anon. TLS 1930: 315, in a review of Turgenev's essay, “Hamlet and Don Quixote,” trans. Robert Nichols [London, 1930]), praises the trans. but finds that Turgenev is simply unable to appreciate Hamlet because of his own “blind spot” and preference for Don Q. But the latter does far more harm to others through his activity than Hamlet does through delay. Turgenev refuses to see the lovely prince in Hamlet. Turgenev considered it amazing that the first years of the 17th century produced these two “imagined characters, both great, both . . . fundamental, and each the opposite of the other.” Turgenev seems to comment on the prayer scene when he says that “the man, who, at the moment of self-sacrifice, should attempt to foresee the possible consequences of his action and weigh its utility would never achieve that sacrifice . . . . Duty lies in taking up arms and fighting.” Ed. note: Samuel Johnson had a similar preference for Don Q.
Clarke (1863, pp. 63, 65)<p. 63> “a more accomplished, a more courteous gentleman than he, is not to be found in all Shakespeare (and, I was going to say,) or anywhere else.” Hamlet is philosophical, but not didactically. He muses about meaning for himself, </p. 63><p. 65> and likes to be alone to do so [“now I am alone,” 1589; and “goe a little before,” 2743+25]. His “proneness to soliloquy bespeaks the reflective man . . . .” </p. 65>
Clarke (1863, pp. 67-9) believes Hamlet’s madness is assumed, as he states in 868 CN. c&mc has the same idea. His arguments similar to those in 1868, below. <p. 67> He refers to 868. </p. 67> <p. 68> “But the strongest proof of all that is insanity is assumed is, that in his soliloquies he never utters an incoherent phrase. When he is alone he reasons clearly and consistently . . . .” </p. 68> <p. 69> Clarke says that Hamlet is always rational with Horatio, except for the brief manic episode after the play-within. </p. 69>
Clarke (1863, pp. 66, 68, 91) <p. 66> considers Hamlet’s soliloquy in act four to be his 20th vacillation. </p. 66> <p. 68> Hamlet’s soliloquies are cogent but of course they are inconclusive because “he seeks in sophism an excuse for deferring the task of revenge imposed upon him. </p. 68> <p. 91> Hamlet wavers in his cause through “over-reflectiveness. “Had Hamlet wavered from any other cause, we must have dismissed him with disrespect; as it is, we make the handsomest excuse for him; and, in short, elevate him in our esteem by the acknowledgment that he was the most unfit instrument for the mission imposed upon him, simply because he had a mind superior to the carrying of it out in detail.” </p. 91>
Clarke and Clarke ([c&mc] ed. 1868, p. 375, n.1): “Hamlet is not so much an exquisitely limned image of an individual human being, as he is a transcript of the thousand qualities, emotions, thoughts, and experiences that go to compound humanity generally. In him we all find ourselves depicted; our highest aspirations, our dearest hopes. our deepest griefs, our bitterest disappointments, our secret conflicts, our daily toil through the labyrinth of existence, all, in him, are set forth with a vividness and truth that supply us with endless interest and food for simultaneous introspection and speculation. Hamlet, in his brief career f a five-act play, goes through the cycle of trials—actual, mental, and moral—that beset mankind; and mankind watch his career with the sympathy of brotherhood.”
Clarke and Clarke ([c&mc] ed. 1868) 868 CN: “The earnestly disputed question as to whether Hamlet is really insane or not may here, we think, be appropriately adverted to; since it seems to us sufficiently evident, if only from this one passage, that the author clearly intended Hamlet to assume madness, not to be mad in truth.”
Clarke & Clarke (ed. 1868): “We feel a certain diffidence in stating our opinion [about madness] when so totally opposed to that of the several medical practitioners whose care of insane patients gives to their opinion so much claim to be regarded; nevertheless, our conviction is strong as derived from the internal evidence of the play itself, and we therefore hold ourselves called upon sincerely and candidly to express our belief that Hamlet is meant by Shakespeare to be profoundly melancholy, to have had his spirits and mental energies depressed to a condition of almost hypochondriacal dejection, but that his intellect is sound and his intelligence thoroughly unimpaired; As we proceed, we shall point out the particular passages which most confirm us in our view and most tend to support our side of the argument.”
[Note: in The Professor and the Madman, re Murray, the OED, and an important contributor, we learn that Miner is mad but in areas outside his mania he could be extremely well organized, cogent, and in every way intelligent. Recall the old joke about the person who changes his tire outside a madhouse, watched by the inmates. When the driver loses the nuts (accidentally spilling them into a ditch), one suggests to the driver that he could use one from each of the other wheels as a temporary expedient. The driver, amazed, says, “But what are you doing in an insane asylum?” The inmate replies, “I’m mad, not dumb.” The driver’s fallacy is common.]
Moberly ([rug1] ed. 1870, pp. viii-ix): <p. viii> “ . . . [H]e bears his injuries without a thought of struggling against them, and longs for nothing but his college cloister, until he is informed by the apparition of his father’s spirit that he adulterous king has also obtained his crown by his brother’s murder, who by this act has been thrown into purgatorial torment. Then he </p. viii><p. ix> blazes up in the most violent wrath; embraces for a moment with all possible fervour of passion the law and duty of revenge; and is almost unable to endure the delay necessary to hear the narrative to the end. Yet hardly has this awful visitor disappeared than his high-strung nerves begin to fail within him; he loses all impulse and ardour; he protects himself by strange jesting from the thought of the horrors which he has witnessed, binds his friends to secrecy as to what they know, instead of calling on them to assist him [thus, Moberly finds delay built in from the beginning, from moments after Hamlet’s pledge to avenge the murder, incest, and adultery; Moberly reviews the whole play from 885 on to prove his point about delay] <p. xii> and makes arrangements for assuming a feigned madness, such as will disburthen him from the weight of silence and secrecy without any danger of revealing his real purpose, as what he says will be considered only the raving of a madman. He thus enables himself to escape from actions to mere words, as </p. x><p. xi> he will always be able to say some cutting truth to every one whom he hates or despises, and so relieve his soul from its burthen of hatred by means very far short of those which he ought to adopt. </p. xi>
“But, meanwhile, his doomed task begins to encircle and hem him in.” </p. ix> Moberly <p. x> surveys the evidence for delay and finds Hamlet guilty. Responding to Gervinus on all the deaths caused by Hamlet’s delay: “True; but still only a half-truth. All those whom Hamlet loves die either innocent or forgiven; and thus the divinity knows not only how to shape our ends when we rough-hew them with our best energy, but it can, out of human faltering, instability, weakness, and delay, work out its gracious purposes in its own appointed path. Surely it would not have been well that the penances should be unsuffered, and the forgiveness unearned. Nor would it have been well that crime should lose this lesson, that those who shrink from punishing it bring on fresh sternness of judgment by every moment of delay and unwillingness to perform this holy duty.”</p. x>
Moberly ([rug2] ed. 1873, p. ix) re 330: <p. ix> “[Hamlet’s] grief is increased by his mental habit of seeing all that goes on around him under the form of reflection; no act appears to him incomplete, single, and unconnected. He would argue that from the one evil act of his mother, first, that her motive must have been simple and unmixed evil; then, that her whole nature must be homogeneous with this motive; and, lastly, that all women must be as corrupt as she is.” </p. ix>
Moberly (ed. 1873) re 598-602: “The exclusion from Ophelia’s presence had been the first knock of fate at the door of Hamlet’s soul. He is claimed for his task, like the prophet of old, by the light of his eyes being thus taken from him: had it been otherwise, h might have thrust away its performance, and never have said in Hector’s pathetic words—[Greek].”
Moberly (ed. 1873, p. xi): “He might forget it [his task] amid the blandishments of love; therefore love is taken from him. Ophelia is warned by both her father and her brother that she cannot safely encourage him, and he finds himself debarred from her soothing and ‘helpful’ presence. Weeks pass under this deprivation, and thoughts ever more and more bitter come with them. Ophelia is but one among other women, and what they are he knows by his mother’s fall. So, after a night apparently spent in sleepless horror, he bursts into the room where she sits at work, gazes at her with a frenzy of wordless anguish, and ends by finding his ay out as it were without his eyes, keeping his gaze fixed on her to the last.” </p. xi>
Moberly (ed. 1873, p. xi) re 1766-79; 1777-84: <p. xi>“Nor will we attempt to decide this question [about his real or pretended madness] as regards the celebrated last scene with Ophelia [alone], in which he utters to her all the cruel thoughts about her sex which have for a long time filled his mind; yet a moment afterwards betrays his real love by fitfully urging upon her that the fault is after all with men; that though he is fairly honest, he has more vices than can be counter, and that she will do well, for her own sake to love none of such a villainous rabble. She, knowing none of his dread secrets, thinks that his mind is overthrown; we, who know them, are less certain.” </p. xi>
Moberly ([rug1] ed. 1870, p. viii):<p. viii>“Finally, a cloud has come over his hopes of being loved as he deserves. For Polonius, the father of the sweet Ophelia, has taken, as we may safely conjecture from several indications, a most prominent part in robbing Hamlet of his succession to the throne, and placing Claudius there instead of him. The result is, that while Hamlet loves the daughter with the most ardent passion, and has the kindest feelings to her brother Laertes, the sight of her father fills him on every occasion with angry contempt, which does not rise into positive hostility only because the man is too old to be an adversary worthy of him.”
Tyler (1874, pp. 22-32): <p. 22>“A question may arise as to whether in the conception of the poet Hamlet’s pessimism owed its origin mainly to a philosophical consideration of the world, or to melancholy engendered by the death of his father and the facts connected therewith. It is, perhaps, most fully in accordance with the conditions presented to look upon Hamlet’s philosophical views as previously tending to pessimism, but as acquiring a far deeper and darker shade, in consequence of the circumstances in which he found himself at the time when the play commences, and when the terrible revelation has been made to him by his father’s ghost. This view will perhaps agree best with all the facts.
“There are several things in Hamlet’s philosophy which may recall some of the opinions of the Stoics, and it is at least worthy of consideration, whether in making Hamlet, the philosopher of the play, appear to be a madman, the poet may not have had in view the well-known Stoical dictum, to the effect that the philosopher is the only sane man in a world of madmen. Of this dictum Hamlet’s madness is not in reality a reversal, though it is such in appearance. Not less does the philosophic idealist appear a madman to the realistic world, than, from the standing-point of the philosopher, does this same world appear to be a world of madmen.
“Among the particulars in which Hamlet’s philosophy resembles that of the Stoics is the doctrine of an overmastering Fate or Destiny—the belief that all things in the world do in reality eventuate conformably to a predestined design and intention. Thus with reference to the warrant for his </p.22> <p. 23> execution which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were conveying to England, Hamlet ascribes his success in intercepting the document to the governance of a higher power: — [quotes “divinity” speech from 3506 “Let us” - 3510]. And when he felt a serious presentiment with respect to the fencing match with Laertes, and Horatio urged him to decline the challenge, he replied that if the predestined time for his death had come, any attempt to avoid the stroke of destiny would be fruitless and vain:—[quotes “sparrow” speech 3668 “there is” - 3670]. It is worth while to observe that in the Quarto of 1603, instead of ‘there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow,’ we have ‘there’s a predestinate providence in the fall of a sparrow.’”
“It is, as it appears to me, in connection with this doctrine of a special or predestinate providence, of a divinity ever shaping the ends which men rough-hew, that we may find a reasonable solution of some of the more difficult problems presented by the character and conduct of Hamlet. Much has been said on Hamlet’s reluctance to avenge his father’s murder, not only after the ‘dread command’ of the Ghost had been given, but even after the successful stratagem of the play had ratified and confirmed the revelation which the Ghost had made, As the cause of this reluctance insufficient strength of character has been very usually alleged, at least since Goethe compare Hamlet to a fragile vase burst and broken by the roots of an oak tree growing within it. The true explanation, I venture to think, lies deeper than this. Dr. Johnson, however far wrong in certain other respects, made, as it seems to me, some approach to the true view of Hamlet’s character, when he spoke of him as ‘rather an instrument than an agent;’ or, as Mr. Knight puts it, ‘We see that Hamlet is propelled rather than propelling.’ ‘There is, says the author just named, ‘something altogether indefinable and myst- </p. 23><p.24 > erious in the poet’s delineation of this character, something wild and irregular in the circumstances with which the character is associated. We see that Hamlet is propelled rather than propelling. But why is this turn given to the delineation? We cannot exactly tell. Perhaps some of the very charm of the play to the adult mind is its mysteriousness. It awakes not only thoughts of the grand and beautiful, but of the incomprehensible.’ *
“In Hamlet's relation to the unseen and incomprehensible, and not in his deficiency of energy or weakness of character, we may find, I think, a key to the problem which his conduct presents. Hamlet is the chosen instrument of a higher power, and it is by Hamlet’s hand that the murderer of his father is to be punished. But the way of that higher power is not Hamlet’s way. Hamlet’s feigned madness, instead of leading directly to the death of the King, conduces apparently but little to this result, or at least is connected with it in no such manner as Hamlet could have foreseen and contrived. The additional disclosure gained through the play is followed by no immediate action, even though Hamlet had been previously persuaded that he should then ‘know his course.’ The death of the King is destined to be the result of a seeming accident; an accident which, however, has it in a ‘special providence,’ and towards which the appearance of he Ghost, and Hamlet’s feigned madness, and the device of the play, had all been tending in a sure, though circuitous course. Except at the time predestine for action, an invisible restraint keeps back Hamlet’s hand. When this restraint is removed there is no lack of decision. He can then suddenly leave his cabin in the dark, with his sea-gown scarf’d about him;’ can seize the ‘grand commission’ of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and can at once devise and substitute a new commission, ordering the sudden death of the bearers, ‘not shriving time allowed.’ But there had been previously in his heart ‘a kind of fighting which would not let him sleep;’ and to the enterprise </p. 24><p. 25> ‘was heaven ordinant’ * [3551]. Similarly when ‘his fate cries out, [668] he resists with the utmost determination all attempts to prevent him from following his father’s ghost, ‘not setting his life at a pin’s fee:” —[quotes 668-70]. And when the destined hour for the final catastrophe has at last come, Hamlet ‘defies augury’ [3668]. Thrusting aside with decision Horatio’s kindly proffered excuse, he expresses his fixed determination to accept the challenge of Laertes. But here again there is indication of the working of the invisible. ‘Thou wouldest not think,’ he says. ‘how ill all’s here about my heart; but it is no matter’ † [3661-2]. ‘But it is such a kind of gain-giving as would perhaps trouble a woman’ [3664-5].
“It may be asked, however, how far the explanation of Hamlet’s conduct just suggested agrees with those disclosures of the working of his mind which Hamlet makes in the soliloquies; and the demand that my theory should be tried by this test is certainly not unreasonable. The first soliloquy [313-43] precedes the revelation made by the Ghost, and the second [777-96] follows immediately afterwards. These need no detain us. I do not know that any argument of weight one way or the other can be drawn from the description of the King being ‘set down’ in Hamlet’s ‘tables’ [792]. It is sufficient for our present purpose that the second soliloquy strongly expresses Hamlet’s determination to remember the command of the Ghost.
“We come then to the third soliloquy, which follows the conversation with the players [1589-1645], and commences:—[quotes 1589 “Now I am alone” - 1590]. In this soliloquy we may, I think, find strong evidence in support of the position that Hamlet was under restraint. He would avenge his father’s death; but he is held back by </p. 25><p. 26> an incomprehensible power, and can only give vent to his passion in words: —[quotes Folio 1622-9 ending with ‘a scullion!’].* I would particularly call the attention of the reader to the word ‘must.’ If Hamlet were regretting his deficiency of energy, feebleness of purpose, and tendency to vacillation, he would rather have said, ‘That I should unpack my heart with words,’ not, ‘That I must’ do so. The use of the word ‘must’ is the more noteworthy, since, if we trust the evidence of the edition of 1603, the poet substituted ‘must’ for ‘should.’ We have in the edition just mentioned: [quotes Q1CLN 1152-4 through “wordes”] † It would thus appear probable that the poet introduced the word ‘must,’ in order that the passage might more fully accord with his conception of Hamlet as being curbed and restrained from action.
“Hamlet saw that his failure to act—whatever might be the true cause—had the appearance of cowardice; but his spirit rose against the imputation: —[quotes 1661-16, from “Am” to “Ha!”]
“It seems to me not easy to suppose that the poet would have thus written, if it was his intention to portray in Hamlet a character too feeble for the due performance of the task required. On the other hand, the passage just quoted is entirely in accordance with my theory that Hamlet’s energy would have been sufficient, if it had been </p.26 > <p. 27> freed from invisible restraint. The particular manner of restraint, at the time of this soliloquy, appears to have been by a vivid suggestion that, after all, the revelation made by the Ghost may have been an illusion diabolical in its origin, and of pernicious intent. Hamlet, therefore, summons his powers to action with the view of obtaining better and more conclusive evidence:—[quotes [1628 from “About, my brain” - 1645].
“During the interval before the soliloquy, ‘To be or not to be,’ we may suppose Hamlet has reflected that his stratagem will probably be successful, and that then it will be fore him to execute the command of the Ghost, and to put his under to death. At this juncture, as would appear probable, there arises in Hamlet’s “prophetic soul’ a mysterious presentiment that the act of vengeance will be closely followed by his own death. If he takes arms against a ‘sea of troubles,’ opposes them, and by opposing, ends them, he must die:— [quotes from “To be” to “pause,” 1710-22].
“The view of have given appears to me preferable to the opinion which has been suggested, that Hamlet anticipated that there would be a mélée consequent on the King’s death, and that he then would be slain. But even this latter view appears preferable to the more usual interpretation of this </p. 27><p. 28> soliloquy, which regards it as speaking of a contemplated act of suicide. The common interpretation would be more suitable with reference to the soliloquy as it stands in the edition of 1603, where we find no mention of ‘taking arms against a sea of troubles,’ or of ‘enterprises of great pith and moment.’ And it is worthy of observation that, in this edition, the soliloquy, ‘To be, or not to be,’ precedes that which now stands at the end of the second Act, and of which I have already spoken,—‘O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!’ Whether the transposition of these soliloquies, and other changes—including those to which reference has been made—indicate a change in the poet’s conception, it is perhaps impossible now to say. Certainly it would appear, as the text now stands, that Hamlet speaks of executing the task imposed upon him, that is, putting his uncle to death; and with this act he mysteriously connects his own death. And so, as we may with probability conclude, by a suggesting emanating from a supernatural power, his hand is still restrained:—[quotes 1738-42 through “action”]
“In the soliloquy, which is spoken when Hamlet enters next after the play-scene, and finds the King on his knees at prayer, there is perhaps nothing which necessarily requires us to suppose the intervention of the supernatural, unless, indeed, it be the extreme suddenness with which Hamlet’s purpose is changed, and his hand stayed:—[2350-55 “Now might I” through “heaven”]
“The soliloquy offers nothing in opposition to my theory, even if, by itself, it could be relied upon as giving any adequate support. Moreover, we ought always to bear in mind that such an artist as Shakespeare would probably so blend the natural with the supernatural, that it would not be possible always to distinguish sharply between the one </p. 28><p. 29> and the other. Hamlet, though possessing both courage and energy, has, nevertheless, a peculiarly reflective disposition, a mind ever prone to turn inwardly on itself. A mind of such a nature, we may reasonably suppose, was regarded by the poet as especially susceptible of impression and suggestion from unseen and supernatural influence. But such influence might well be sometimes more and sometimes less manifest.
“We now come to the soliloquy following the entry of Fortinbras and his forces, on their march against Poland [2743+26- 60]. The testimony of this soliloquy is very important, and deserves especial attention. Hamlet distinctly declares that the reason why he does not perform the required task is to him incomprehensible. He cannot tell why it is that he still fails to act:— [quotes 2743+33 - 40, from “Now whether it be” to “to do’t”]. The reader will observe that, of the two opposite conditions of ‘bestial oblivion’ and ‘thinking too precisely on the event,’ Hamlet is unable to tell which has been operative. I cannot easily see how any man could say this, if his mind was in an ordinary and normal state. But we have at once a reason for Hamlet’s so speaking, if an invisible power was restraining him from action. And this explanation derives additional and very strong confirmation from the fact that Hamlet has not only ‘cause’ for action, and ‘means’ wherewith to accomplish the required task, and ‘strength’ adequate to its performance; he has also the ‘will to do’t.’ After the evidence thus afforded by this last soliloquy, there need not be, I think, much doubt as to the true reason why Hamlet delayed so long to execute the command of the Ghost, and avenge his father’s murder. *
“We may, then, with probability conclude that we have in the conduct of Hamlet a dramatic representation of the will of man as governed by a Higher Will, a Will to which all actions and events are subordinate, and which, in a mysterious and incomprehensible manner, is ever tending to the accomplishment of inscrutable purposes.
“Taking this view of Hamlet’s conduct, we shall find, I think, entirely in accordance therewith the particulars connected with the catastrophe, a portion of the play, which, like Hamlet’s seemingly ineffective stratagems, has afforded a stumblingblock to some of the critics. Indeed, on a superficial view, it may well seem that Hamlet, after avenging his father’s death, ought to have ascended the throne. And it is especially worthy of notice hat in the Hystorie of Hamblet, he does so ascend the throne. What then, it may be asked, was the poet’s intention in thus departing from the customary legend? To this question I would answer, To set forth that in the course of things in the world there is no manifest allotment of good and evil, according to each man’s deserts. ‘All thing come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and the wicked.’ * Though there be ‘a predestinate providence’ comprehending even the ‘fall of a sparrow,’ yet ‘a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; † ‘Irresolute foresight.’ says Schlegel, ‘cunning treachery, and impetuous rage, hurry on to a common destruction; the less guilty and the innocent are equally involved in the general ruin. The destiny of humanity is there exhibited as a gigantic sphinx, </p. 30><p. 31> which threatens to precipitate into the abyss of scepticism all who are unable to solve her dreadful enigmas.” *
“But it may be asked, does not the tragedy, by the apparition of the Ghost and otherwise, point to a future state of retribution, in which the anomalies of the present world will be redressed, and God’s moral administration fully vindicated? It must be said, I think, in reply, that the testimony of the tragedy with regard to the doctrine of immortality is, on the whole, by no means clear and unambiguous. At least, this must certainly be maintained, if Hamlet is to be regarded as interpreter. Hamlet knows that conscience has mighty power; and he is persuaded that such conduct and his mother ‘—is not, nor it cannot come to good;’ but this does not induce a firm and enduring persuasion of a life beyond the grave. He is indeed at first confident that the spirit of his father has revisited earth: but soon this confidence gives way to scepticism and doubt. How can he be sure of the return of a spirit from the regions of the dead, when the immortality of the soul lies entirely beyond the sphere of experience? Immortality is merely possible:— ‘To die—to sleep—To sleep—perchance to dream.’ This expression of possibility is the more significant, because, in the parallel passage of the edition of 1603, there is no ‘perchance:’— [quotes Q1CLN 836-43]. Thus the certainty of the ‘dream of death,’ as expressed in the earlier text, has become in the later text a mere possibility—‘perchance to dream.’ After the play-scene, when Hamlet enters, while the King is at prayer, he seems to have a firm confidence in the reality of the unseen state of reward and punishment; but afterwards, in the dialogue </p. 31><p. 32> in the churchyard, he gives no indication of any belief beyond the merest materialism. And his very last dying words are contained in that ambiguous and doubtful utterance, ‘The rest is silence.’
“The philosophy, then, of Hamlet, with regard to the state of things in the world, and especially with respect to the moral conditions of human life, all actions and all events are under the control of a superintending Providence. Man must execute the purpose of a Higher Power. But what is the nature of that purpose, what its intent, what its destined issue, is shrouded in mystery. Calamity and disaster fall upon men without regard to individual character. A retribution beyond death is possible; but the future destiny of mankind is obscure and doubtful.
“Now if such is the philosophy of this great tragedy, we may easily see with what propriety it opens in the dark, cold still midnight. I should think it, however, not quite impossible that there is a symbolical meaning in the fact that the darkness is not altogether complete, but that, on the first night, stars are shining, and on the second there are ‘glimpses of the moon,’ the sky being apparently, for the most part, concealed by clouds. Possibly we may look upon this mention of the ‘moon’ and ‘stars’ as intimating that the condition of the world is not altogether hopeless, notwithstanding the deep overhanging gloom.
“The question may, however, be asked, whether we have in Hamlet those views of the condition of the world and mankind which the great poet himself entertained, or whether we should recognize simply a dramatic presentation of certain philosophical opinions. The question is one which I shall not now attempt to answer. Such an attempt ought not, perhaps, to be made without a careful consideration of other of the poet’s works. But in estimating the relative value of the evidence thus afforded, special regard should undoubtedly be given to the veil of enigma thrown over the philosophy of Hamlet.” </p. 32>
<n *> <p. 24> “* Knight’s Shakspere, vol. viii, p. 170.” </p. 24> </n *>
<n *> <p. 25> “* The Quarto (1604) has ‘ordinant,’ the Folio ‘ordinate.’” </n * >
<n †> “† The Folio has probably a misprint:—‘Thou wouldest not thinke how all heare about my heart.’ The Quarto of 1603 gives:—‘My hart is on the sodaine Very sore, all here about.’” </p. 25> </n †>
<p. 26> <n *> “* If the ‘Who?’ of the Folio [1623] be retained, the structure of the line may be regarded as expressing strong emotion. ‘Who?’ may be taken as equivalent to ‘Who am I?’ surely I am not the brave Hamlet.’ </n *> </p. 26>
<p. 26><n †> “† Spelt, however, ‘scalion.’ </n> </p.26 >
<p. 29> <n *> “It must be here, however, observed that this important soliloquy together with the dialogue following the exit of Fortinbras and his forces is absent from the Folio of 1623. Mr. Knight remarks: ‘The whole of this </p. 29><p.30 > scene, in which a clue is so beautifully furnished to the indecision of Hamlet, is wanting in the Folio. It was perhaps omitted on account of the extreme length of the play, and as not helping the action.’ The clue here furnished does not seem, however, to have guided Mr. Knight to the true explanation of Hamlet’s indecision. He says—in opposition to Hamlet’s statement that he could not tell which of the two causes mentioned was operative—‘It was not “bestial oblivion,” O no. The eternal presence of the thought—“This thing’s to do,” made him incapable of doing it. It was the ‘thinking too precisely on the event that destroyed his will.’— (Knight’s Shakspere, vol. viii. pp. 122, 181.)”</n *> </p. 30>
<p. 30><n *> “* Ecclesiastes ix. 2” </n * ></p. 30>
<p. 30><n †> “† Ecclesiastes viii. 17.” </n †></p. 30>
<p. 31> <n *>Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, translated in Bohn’s Lib. p. 406. </n *> </p. 31>
[Ideas something like these can be detected in Kozinstev’s Hamlet, where Hamlet knows that bringing judgment to the King will undoubtedly lead to his own death.]
Seeley (1874, pp. 479-81): <p. 479> “It seems to me that Shakspere takes great pains to impress upon us that the uncle’s guilt and the duty of punishing it are an annoying subject with Hamlet, that they weigh upon his mind without interesting it, and that his only desire is to postpone and keep at arm’s length everything connected </p. 479><p.480 > with them. Hamlet complain that he cannot feel proper resentment for ‘a dear father murdered,’ that the player is more interested in an imaginary Hecuba than he in such a dreadful reality, and he tries to rouse himself into a passion by violent abuse of his uncle. But you see how artificial the language is, and that his real feeling for his uncle is only contempt, that he regards him simply as a vulgar knave, whom there is no satisfaction in thinking about, and no comfort even in hating. So far from supposing that the inserted speech ought by rights to be about this uncle, I should be very much puzzled to find that Hamlet’s private reflections had been so much occupied about him, as would be implied in his writing 12 or 16 lines abut him, to make clear what was already as clear as the day, or to ‘bring home,’ as Mr. Malleson says, what was brought home already.
“[What occupies his mind is] conduct of his mother. It is this which really fills his mind, and it is because he is so intensely pre-occupied with this, that he is so languid about what he feels ought to engage his attention more. Before even he suspected his uncle's guilt, before the appearance of the ghost, he is shown to us so much depressed as to think of suicide on account of his mother’s levity; and when he has his mother face to face with him he shows an energy and vehemence we might have thought foreign to his character. As Mr Malleson very truly says, it is his mother who, by putting him out of humour with all women, causes him to behave so strangely to Ophelia, and the coarseness of his language to her in this very scene shows that he is brooding on the subject at this particular moment. It is, them I maintain, à priori, most likely, from what we know of Hamlet’s feelings, that this would be the subject of his inserted speech.
“But we must consider Shakspere’s objects as well as Hamlet’s. Supposing the speech to be on the subject of the murder, even if it answered Hamlet’s purposes, it was of no use to the poet. It would </p. 480><p. 481> be merely an additional means, very superfluous, as I think, of exposing the King’s guilt; about Hamlet’s character and views, it would tell us nothing that we did not know before; it would not help the poet forward at all in his difficult exposition. Quite otherwise if the speech dealt with the mother. not with the uncle; then it has point; then we understand why the poet introduces it. It is a broad hint to the reader, and it was important to multiply such hints as much as possible, that we are not to trust Hamlet’s professions, that the experiment of the play, with all its parade of ingenuity and the vengeance which is to follow the King’s exposure, is a mere blind by which he hides both from himself and from Horatio that he does not intend to act at all, and that he means to go on as he has begun, brooding interminably upon the frailty of his mother, the probable frailty of Ophelia, and the worthlessness of all women.”
Malleson (1874, pp. 486-7), replying to Seeley’s analysis of the character, asserts that Hamlet’s father’s death is as much on his mind as his mother’s quick marriage. He also makes several other comments that rely on Goethe, Coleridge, and others.
Mackenzie (1780, 3: 236-7): <p.236>“The incident of the Ghost, which is entirely the poet’s own, and not be found in the Danish legend, not only produces the happiest stage-effect, but is also of the greatest advantage in unfolding the character which is stamped on the young prince at the opening of the play. In the </p. 236><p. 237> communications of such a visionary being, there is an uncertain kind of belief, and a dark unlimited horror, which are aptly suited to display the wavering purpose and varied emotions of a mind endowed with a delicacy of feeling that often shakes his fortitude, with sensibility that overpowers its strength.” </p. 237> See also TLN 313, 885-6. Mackenzie, Henry. “Observations on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” The Mirror No. 99 (18 and 22 April 1780), pp. 393-99.
Davies (1784, 3: 143-5): <p. 143> “Hamlet is not a character for imitation; there are many features of it that are disagreeable. Notwithstanding his apparent blemishes, I do not think that he is so deformed as Mr. Steevens has represented him. Aaron Hill had, above forty years ago, in a paper called the Prompter, observed, that, besides Hamlet’s assumed insanity, there was in him a melancholy that bordered on madness, arising from his peculiar situation. But surely Hamlet did not come to disturb the funeral of Ophelia; for, till Laertes called the dead body his sister, he knew not whose grave was before him. Nor did he manifest the least sign of wrath, till Laertes bestowed a more than tenfold curse upon him. His jumping into the grave, when unexpectedly provoked, may be pardoned. Laertes seized him by the throat; and even then, instead of returning violence for violence, Hamlet begs him to desist. The madness of Ophelia is no farther to be charged to his account than as the unhappy consequence of a precipitant and mistaken action. </p. 143> <p. 144>
“It is evident that Hamlet considered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as the King’s accomplices and instruments; nor indeed can we absolve them of that guilt. They were the cabinet-counsellors of a villain and a murderer; and, though they were strangers to all his guilt, it is not improbable that they were acquainted with the secret of their commission. They were witnesses of the King’s anxiety at and after the play which was acted before him; and, when he told them, he liked him not [2272], they saw no apparent reason for his saying so, except Hamlet’s behaviour at the play, which, however frolicsome it might be, was not surely wicked. Upon a mature inspection of their conduct through the play, they must be stigmatised with the brand of willing spies upon a prince, their quondam schoolfellow, whose undoubted title to the crown they well knew, and of whose wrongs they had not any feeling. In short, to sum up their character in a few words, they were ready to comply with any </p. 144><p. 145> command, provided they acquired, by their compliance, honour and advantage.” </p. 145>
Richardson (Essays on Shakespeare’s Dramatic Characters . . . to which were added, An Essay on the Faults of Shakespeare; and “Additional Observations on the Character of Hamlet”; in the 1812 edition, this latter essay is Essay III. on pp. 121-41. The essay is subtitled: “In a Letter to a Friend,” addressed to a person who disagrees with Richardson’s analysis. Part of Richardson’s intention is to argue against Samuel Johnson’s objections to play and character.
Richardson (1774, rpt. 1812, pp. 98-101): <p. 98> “His suspicions are confirmed, and beget resentment. Conceiving designs of punishment, and sensible that he is already suspected by the king, he is thrown into violent perturbation. Afraid at the same time lest his aspect or demeanor should betray him, and aware that his project must be conducted with secrecy, his agitation is such as threatens the overthrow of his reason. He trembles as it were on the brink of madness; and is at time not altogether certain that he acts or speaks according to the dictates of a sound understanding. He partakes of such insanity as may arise in a mind of great sensibility, from excessive agitation of spirit, and much labour of thought; but which naturally subsides when the perturbation ceases.” </p.98>
Richardson’s main point is that Hamlet is a bit deranged because he has the kind of sensitive (not delicate necessarily) nature that would be deranged after such a disclosure. He quickly sees that this is a good pretense, to cover his further action. He tries it out on Ophelia, in the closet scene: <p. 101> “Engaged in a dangerous enterprise, agitated by impetuous emotions, desirous of concealing them, and, for that reason, feigning his understanding disordered; to confirm and publish this report, seemingly so hurtful to his reputation, he would act in direct opposition to his former conduct, and inconsistently with the genuine sentiments and affections of his soul.”
Richardson lists Hamlet’s attributes and his acting against his nature:
“ . . . [C]elebrated for the wisdom and propriety of his conduct, he would assume appearances of impropriety. Full of honour and affection, he would seem inconsistent: of elegant and agreeable manners, and possessing a complacent temper, he would put on the semblance of rudeness, To Ophelia he would shew dislike and indifference; because a change of this nature would be, of all others, the most remarkable, </p.101> <p.102> and because his affection for her was passionate and sincere.” [And he quotes 3466-8 as proof of that love; but he forgets that the king and queen know nothing of his love for Ophelia and the king is not at all convinced by the nunnery scene.]
Richardson (1774, rpt. 1812, pp. 103- 6): <p.103>“The tendency of indignation, and of furious and inflamed resentment, is to inflict punishment on the offender. But, if resentment is ingrafted on the moral faculty, and grows from it, its tenor and conduct will be different. In its first emotion it may breathe excessive and immediate vengeance; but sentiments of justice and propriety interposing, with arrest and suspend its violence. An ingenious mind, thus agitated by powerful and contending principles, exceedingly tortured and perplexed, will appear hesitant and undetermined. Thus, the vehemence of the vindictive passion will, by delay, suffer abatement: by its own ardour it will be exhausted; and our natural and habituated propensities will resume their influence. These continue in possession of the heart till the mind reposes and recovers vigour: then, if the conviction of injury still remains, and if our resentment seems justified by every amiable principle, by reason and the sentiments of mankind, it will return with power and authority. Should any unintended incident awaken our sensibility, and dispose us to a state of mind fa- </p. 103> <p. 104> vourable to the influence and operation of ardent and impetuous passions, our resentment will revisit us at that precise period, and turn in its favour, and avail itself of every other sentiment and affection. The mind of Hamlet, weary and exhausted by violent agitation, continues doubtful and undecided, till his sensibility, excited by a theatrical exhibition, restores to their authority his indignation and desire of vengeance. </p. 104> [and he goes on to discuss the soliloquy at the end of the act, p. 104; his behavior for the play-within (105-6).
Richardson (1774, rpt. 1812, pp. 122-3): “The strongest feature in the mind of Hamlet, as exhibited in the tragedy, is an exquisite sense of moral conduct. He displays, the same time, great sensibility of temper; and is, therefore, most ‘tremblingly alive’ to every incident or event that befalls him. His affections are ardent, and his attachments lasting. He also displays a strong sense of character; and therefore, a high regard for the opinions of others. His good sense, and excellent dispositions, in the early part of his life, and in the prosperous state of his fortune, rendered him amiable and </p. 122> <p.123 > beloved.”
[Then a section on melancholy: see below, followed by one on erratic behavior, more or less paraphrasing some other commentator, possibly Edmund Burke]
“In the conduct, however, which he displays, in the progress of the tragedy, he appears irresolute and indecisive; he accordingly engages in enterprizes in which he fails; he discovers reluctance to perform actions which, we think, needed no hesitation; he proceeds to violent outrage, where the occasion does not seem to justify violence; he appears jocular where his situation is most serious and alarming; he uses subterfuges not consistent with an ingenuous </p. 123> <p. 124> mind; and expresses sentiments not only immoral, but inhuman.”
“This charge is heavy . . . .[but Hamlet’s behavior is justified: he makes the public feel compassion, regret and esteem.] “He loses a respectable father; nay, he has some reason to suspect, that his father had been treacherously mur- </p. 124> <p. 125> dered; that his uncle was the perpetrator of the cruel deed; and that his mother whom he tenderly loved, was an accomplice in the guilt: —he sees her suddenly married to the suspected murderer; he is himself excluded from his birth-right; he is placed in a conspicuous station; the world expects of him that he will resent or avenge his wrongs: while in the mean time he is justly apprehensive of his being surrounded with spies and informers. In these circumstances . . . . [w]e must look for frailties and imperfections; but for the frailties and imperfections of Hamlet.”</p. 125>
Richardson (1784, rpt. 1812, pp. 135-6): Richardson repeats his ideas about Hamlet’s madness: that he is “counterfeiting an insanity which in part exists. Accordingly, to Ophelia, to Polonius, and others, he displays more extravagance than his real disorder would have occasioned.” [and he quotes 850 ff] </p. 135> <p. 136>
“If we allow that the poet actually intended to represent Hamlet as feeling some distraction of mind, and was thus led to extravagances which he affected to render still more extravagant, why, in his apology to Laertes, need we charge him with deviation from truth? . . . . </p.136 > . . . .
Capell ([capn] 1774, notes for his 1768 ed., blocked from publication by Steevens until 1783): “the collection and coolness of Hamlet is less apparent without” the Q2 + lines, 621+1-22. Thus, he thinks they should be included. See 621+20-2 CN.
Morning Post 21 Sept., 1775: “Lee Lewes diverts them with the manner of their performing Hamlet in a company that he belonged to, when the hero who was to play the principal character had absconded with an inn-keeper's daughter; and that when he came forward to give out the play, he added, `the part of Hamlet to be left out, for that night.' [This is from OED “Hamlet2” See also from the OED: 1818 Byron, 1825 Scott, and many others through the late twentieth century. And see 2007 de Grazia Hamlet without Hamlet.
Griffith (Mrs. Eliz.) (1777) capture what she says about Hamlet.
Byron (apud OED: letter 26 Aug. [1818], published 1830, 2: 445: “My autobiographical essay would resemble the tragedy of Hamlet . . ., recited ‘with the part of Hamlet left out by particular desire.’ ”
Coleridge ms notes (1819) re 4.6: “Almost the only play of Shakespeare, in which mere accident independent of all will form an essential part of the plot; n.b. here how judiciously in keeping with the character of the over. ? to have Hamlet ever at last determined by accident is by a fit of passion.”
Coleridge ms. notes (1819, re 5.1, opp. p. 1036: Sh seems to mean all Hamlet’s character to be brought together before his final disappearance from the scene—his new excess in his [or with the] grave-digging . . . his yielding to passion—his love for Ophelia blazing out—his tendency to generalize such occasions as the dialogue with Horatio—his fine gentlemanly manners with Osrick.”
[Instead of thinking Hamlet nasty to Osric, Coleridge seems to find him a fine gentleman. See Ramsay, who makes the same pt in a footnote. Clarke (1863, p. 87) also sees a gentlemanly quality in Hamlet’s interaction with Osric.]
Coleridge (apud de Grazia, 2007, p. 18) speaks of Hamlet’s inwardness. Continuing his thought, she says, “Hamlet [unlike Luther], could not get beyond his ‘beautiful inwardness,’ perhaps born too soon to benefit from the philosophical advances of Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, and, of course, Hegel himself.”
Sheridan (apud Boswell, London Journal 6 April 1763, p. 258): Sheridan, after railing “in his usual way” against Garrick, “gave us, however, a most ingenious dissertation on the character of Hamlet that atoned for all his wrong-headed abuse of the great modern Roscius. He made it clear to us that Hamlet, notwithstanding of his seeming incongruities, is a perfectly consistent character. Shakespeare drew him as the portrait of a young man of a good heart and fine feelings who had led a studious contemplative life and so become delicate and irresolute. He shows him in very unfortunate circumstances, the author of which he knows he ought to punish, but wants strength of mind to execute what he thinks right and wishes to do. In this dilemma he makes Hamlet feign himself mad, as in that way he might put his uncle to death with less fear of the consequences of such an attempt. We therefore see Hamlet sometimes like a man really mad and sometimes like a man reasonable enough, though much hurt in mind. His timidity being once admitted, all the strange fluctuations which we perceive in him may be easily traced to that source. We see when the Ghost appears (which his companions had beheld without extreme terror)—we see Hamlet in all the agony of consternation. Yet we hear him uttering extravagant sallies of rash intrepidity, by which he endeavours to stir up his languid mind to a manly boldness, but in vain. For he still continues backward to revenge, hesitates about believing the Ghost to be the real spirit of his father, so much that the Ghost chides him for being tardy. When he has a fair opportunity of killing his uncle, he neglects it and says he will not take him off which he is at his devotions, but will wait till he is in the midst of some atrocious crime, that he may put him to death with his guilt upon his head. Now this, if really from the heart, would make Hamlet the most black, revengeful man. But it coincides better with his character to suppose him here endeavouring to make an excuse to himself for his delay. We see too that after all he agrees to go to England and actually embarks. In short, Sheridan made out his character accurately, clearly, and justly.”
[As Boswell describes the interpretation, he does not get everything right. The men on guard duty are so frightened that they turn to jelly, as Horatio tells us. Hamlet has more reason to be moved by the apparition, because it’s his father, after all.]
Steevens ([v1773] ed. 1773, n. 7 at end of 3.4: “Shakespeare has been unfortunate in his management of the story of this play, the most striking circumstances of which arise so early in its formation, as not to leave him room for a conclusion suitable to the magnificence of its beginning, After this last interview with the Ghost, the character of Hamlet has lost all its consequence.”
Gentleman ([gent] ed. 1773), on the requirements for the actor: “The character of Hamlet should be a good, if not a striking figure; with very flexible, spirited, marking features; a sonorous voice, capable of rapid climaxes, and solemn gradations; if not so soft as the upper notes of expression, nor so deep as the lower ones, if otherwise sufficient in articulation and compass, it may do the part justice.” Ed. note: Tieck in a copy of v1803 crosses through part of Steevens’s note and comments illegibly.
Gentleman ([gent] ed. 1774): “The personage of Hamlet should be a good, if not a striking figure; with very flexible, spirited, marking features; a sonorous voice, capable of rapid climaxes, and solemn gradations.”
Richardson (1774, rpt. 1812) Essay II. “On the Character of Hamlet” 69-120
Richardson (1774, rpt. 1812, pp. 69- 80) sees Hamlet <p.69> exhibiting “grief, aversion, and indignation.” In themselves these are neither praiseworthy nor blamable. “We must examine their motives, and the temper or state of mind that produces them.” </p. 69> <p. 70> . . . [T]he grief of Hamlet is for the death of a father: he entertains aversion against an incestuous uncle, and indignation at the ingratitude and guilt of a mother; thus, Richardson concludes that his emotions are caused by his inherent virtue; were he less virtuous, he would be less affected.]
Richardson (1774, rpt. 1812, p. 117): “. . . [A] sense of virtue . . . seems to be the ruling principle in the character of Hamlet. In other men, it may appear with the ensigns of high authority: in Hamlet, it possesses absolute power. United with amiable affections, with every graceful accomplishment, and every agreeable quality, it embellishes and exalts them. It rivets his attachments to his friends, when he finds them deserving: it is a source of sorrow, if they appear corrupted. It even sharpens his penetration . . . .”
[Richardson continues on p. 118: perfidy makes Hamlet feel “uncommon pain and abhorrence,” it “provokes resentment,” “cautious in admitting evidence to the prejudice of another; [virtue] renders him distrustful of his own judgment . . . .” His virtue “reproves him” if he hesitates to do what is lawful, makes him want to raise those who are fallen.]
<p. 119> “Yet, with all this purity of moral sentiment, with eminent abilities, exceedingly cultivated and improved, with manners the most elegant and becoming, with the utmost rectitude of intention, and the most active zeal in the exercise of every duty, he is hated, persecuted, and destroyed. Nor is this so inconsistent with poetical justice as may at first sight be apprehended. The particular temper and state of Hamlet}s mind is connected with weaknesses that embarrass, or may be somewhat incompatible with bold and persevering projects. His amiable hesitations and reluctant scruples lead him at one time to indecision; and then betray him, by the self-condemning consciousness of such apparent imbecility, into acts of rash and inconsiderate violence. Meantime his adversaries, suffering no such internal conflict, persist with uniform, determined vigor, in the prosecution of unlawful schemes. Thus </p. 119> <p. 120> Hamlet, and persons of his constitution, contending with less virtuous opponents, can have little hope of success; and so the poet has not in the catastrophe been guilty of any departure from nature, or any infringements of poetical justice. We love, we almost revere the character of Hamlet; and grieve for his sufferings. But we must at the same time confess, that his weaknesses, amiable weaknesses! are the cause of his disappointments and early death, The instruction to be gathered from this delineation is, that persons formed like Hamlet, should retire, or keep aloof, from situations of difficulty and contention: or endeavour, if they are forced to contend, to brace their minds, and acquire such vigour and determination of spirit as shall arm them against malignity.” </p. 120>
Richardson (1774, rpt. 1812, pp. 432-3): “In Hamlet we have a striking representation of the pain, of the dejection, and contention of spirit, produced in a person, not only of exquisite, but of moral, and correct sensibi- </p. 432> <p. 433> lity, by the conviction of extreme enormity of conduct in those whom he loves, or wishes to love and esteem.” </p. 433>
Davies (1784, 3: 143-5): <p. 143> “Hamlet is not a character for imitation; there are many features of it that are disagreeable. Notwithstanding his apparent blemishes, I do not think that he is so deformed as Mr. Steevens has represented him. Aaron Hill had, above forty years ago, in a paper called the Prompter, observed, that, besides Hamlet’s assumed insanity, there was in him a melancholy that bordered on madness, arising from his peculiar situation. But surely Hamlet did not come to disturb the funeral of Ophelia; for, till Laertes called the dead body his sister, he knew not whose grave was before him. Nor did he manifest the least sign of wrath, till Laertes bestowed a more than tenfold curse upon him. His jumping into the grave, when unexpectedly provoked, may be pardoned. Laertes seized him by the throat; and even then, instead of returning violence for violence, Hamlet begs him to desist. The madness of Ophelia is no farther to be charged to his account than as the unhappy consequence of a precipitant and mistaken action. </p. 143> <p. 144>
“It is evident that Hamlet considered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as the King’s accomplices and instruments; nor indeed can we absolve them of that guilt. They were the cabinet-counsellors of a villain and a murderer; and, though they were strangers to all his guilt, it is not improbable that they were acquainted with the secret of their commission. They were witnesses of the King’s anxiety at and after the play which was acted before him; and, when he told them, he liked him not [2272], they saw no apparent reason for his saying so, except Hamlet’s behaviour at the play, which, however frolicsome it might be, was not surely wicked. Upon a mature inspection of their conduct through the play, they must be stigmatised with the brand of willing spies upon a prince, their quondam schoolfellow, whose undoubted title to the crown they well knew, and of whose wrongs they had not any feeling. In short, to sum up their character in a few words, they were ready to comply with any </p. 144><p. 145> command, provided they acquired, by their compliance, honour and advantage.” </p. 145>
[Ed. note: The discussions about Hamlet’s character begun by Steevens, refuted by Ritson, Malone, and Boswell are gathered together at the end of v1821 (7: 532-50).]
[Mackenzie] [On sensibility, melancholy, jocularity and Hamlet] The Lounger no. 91 (Sat. Oct. 28, 1786), 361-4. Compares Hamlet’s brand of melancholy (caused by his situation) with that of Jacques in AYL and Timon’s; also comments on the jocularity found in all of them.
Craig (The Lounger [1786, rpt. 1793] 2:243-6): “Of the character of Hamlet, one of my predecessors [i.e. Mackenzie] has given a delineation which appears to me to be a just one. Naturally of the most amiable and virtuous disposition, and endued with the most exquisite sensibility, he is unfortunate; and his misfortunes proceed from the crimes of those with whome he was the most nearly connected, for whom he had the strongest feelings of natural affection. From these circumstances, he is hurt in his soul’s tenderest part; he is unhinged in his principles of action, falls into melancholy, and conceives disgust at the world: yet amidst all his disgust, and the misanthropy which he at times discovers, we constantly perceive, that goodness and benevolence are the prevailing features of his character; amidst all the gloom of his melancholy, and the agitation in which his calamities involve him, there are occasional outbreakings of a mind richly endowed by nature, and cultivated by education. Had Hamlet possessed less sensibility, had he not been so easily hurt by the calamities of life, by the crimes the persons with whom he was connected, he would have preserved more equanimity, he would not have been the prey of dark desponding melancholy; the world and all its uses would not have appeared to him ‘stale, flat, and . . . nature.’ </p. 243>
<p. 245> “In the criticism on Hamlet which I before quoted, it is observed, that amidst all his melancholy and gloom, there is a great deal of gaiety and playfulness in his deportment. The remark is certainly just. </p. 245>
<p. 246> “The gentlenes of Hamlet’s spirit made him anxious to accommodate himself, and bring down his own feelings to a level with those of the persons around him; and therefore, on all occasions, even in the deepest melancholy, he engages in pleasantry of conversation; he even ventures to joke with Horatio on his mother’s marriage, which was the great cause of all his sorrow.” </p. 245>
Goethe (Wilheim Meister, c.1796, dialogue between characters preparing to enact Hamlet.) 5:6:185 <p. 185>“First of all he is blond. . . . As a Dane, a Norseman, he is bound to be blond, and have blue eyes.”
“Do you think Shakespeare thought about such things as that?”
“I don’t find it expressly stated, but I think it is undeniable if one considers certain passages in the play. The fencing is hard for him, sweat runs off his face, and the queen says, ‘He’s fat and scant of breath.’ How can you imagine him, except as blond and portly? For people who are dark-haired are rarely like that when they are young. And do not his fits of melancholy, the tenderness of his grief, his acts of indecisiveness, better suit someone like that than a slim youth with curly brown hair from whom one would expect more alacrity and determination?”
“You are spoiling my whole image of him,” said Aurelie. “Get rid of that fat Hamlet! Don’t show us a portly prince. Give us instead some substitute to please us and engage our sympathies. We are not as much concerned with the author’s intentions as we are with our own pleasure, and we therefore expect to be attracted by someone like ourselves.” </p. 185>
Goethe (-1796, 4:13: 145-6): “ . . . what Shakespeare has set out to portray: a heavy deed placed on a soul which is not adequate to cope with it. An oak tree planted in a precious pot which should only have held delicate flowers. The roots spread out, the vessel is shattered. . . . A fine, pure, noble and highly moral person, but devoid of that emotional strength that characterizes a hero, goes to pieces beneath a burden that it can neither support nor cast off. Every obligation is sacred to him, but this one is too heavy. The impossible is demanded of him.”
Seymour (1805, 2:144, re 247-66): “Too directly in the radiance of your majestic presence. Hamlet is here impatient, fretful, and sarcastic; every reply is a contradiction of what is said to him. The king calls him cousin and son; Hamlet at once disclaims both distinctions—he is more than a cousin and less than a son. The queen then remarks, ‘thou know’st ’tis common,’ meaning only, that mortality is common. Hamlet reproachfully and perversely answers, ‘Ay, madam, it is common, adverting to her indecent forgetfulness of his father: ‘if it be so,’ adds she, why seems it so particular with thee?’ here again he distorts the queens words from their obvious meaning; she only asked why he was particular? but the Prince lays hold of the word seems, and sarcastically infers from it, his mother’s hypocrisy. ‘Seems! madam!’ he exclaims, with indignation, ‘nay, it isI know not seems.’
The actor who would exhibit Hamlet in this scene as meek, gentle, and pathetic, appear to misconceive the character. It is not till he comes to these words, “But I have that within which passeth shew,’ that he is actuated by tender sentiment.”
Seymour (1805, 2:164): “Hamlet does not lament that the disjointed time is to be set right by him, but that he, the son to the criminal queen, and, to the king that must be immolated, though ‘less than kind a little more than kin,’ and whose duty it of necessity becomes, to set the time right, should have been bor´n: ‘The time is out of joint—O cursed spight! That ever I was bor´n— to set it right’.”
Schlegel (1808, tr. 1846, pp. 405-6): < p. 405> “With respect to Hamlet’s character, I cannot, as I understand the poet’s views, pronounce altogether so favourable a sentence upon it as Goethe does. He is, it is true, of a highly cultivated mind, a prince of royal manners, endowed with the finest sense of propriety, susceptible to noble ambition, and open in the highest degree to an enthusiastic admiration of that excellence in others of which he himself is deficient. He acts the part of madness with unrivalled power, convincing the persons who are sent to examine into his supposed loss of reason, merely by telling them unwelcome truths, and rallying them with the most caustic wit. But in the resolutions which he so often embraces and always leaves unexecuted, his weakness is too apparent: he does himself only justice when he implies that there is no greater dissimilarity than between himself and Hercules [337]. He is not solely impelled by necessity to artifice and dissimulation, he has a natural inclination for crooked ways; he is a hypocrite towards himself; his far-fetched scruples are often mere pretexts to cover his want of determination: thought, as he says on a different occasion, which have ‘—but one part wisdom And ever three parts coward.—’ [2743+36] He has been chiefly condemned both for his harshness in repulsing the love of Ophelia, which he himself had cherished, and for his insensibility at her death. But he is too much overwhelmed with his own sorrow to have any compassion to spare for others; besides his outward indifference gives us by no means the measure of his internal perturbation. On the other hand, we evidently perceive in him a malicious joy, when he has succeeded in getting rid of his enemies, more through necessity and accident, which alone are able to impel him to quick and decisive measures, than by the merit of his own courage, as he himself confesses after the murder of Polonius, and with respect to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet has no firm belief either in himself or in anything else: from expressions of religious confidence he passes over to sceptical doubts; he believes in the Ghost of his father as long as he sees it, but as soon as it has disappeared, it appears to him </ p. 405> < p. 406> almost in the light of a deception *. He has even gone so far as to say, ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so;’ [1295] with him the poet loses himself here in labyrinths of thought, in which neither end nor beginning is discoverable. The stars themselves, from the course of events, afford no answer to the question so urgently proposed to them. A voice from another world, commissioned it would appear, by heaven, demands vengeance for a monstrous enormity, and the demand remains without effect; the criminals are at last punished, but, as it were, by an accidental blow, and not in the solemn way requisite to convey to the world a warning example of justice; irresolute foresight, cunning treachery, and impetuous rage, hurry on to a common destruction; the less guilty and the innocent are equally involved in the general ruin. The destiny of humanity is there exhibited as a gigantic Sphinx, which threatens to precipitate into the abyss of scepticism all who are unable to solve her dreadful enigmas. [. . . ] </p. 406>
<*> < p. 406> “It has been censured as a contradiction, that Hamlet, in the soliloquy on self-murder should say [quotes 1739-40]. For was not the Ghost a returned traveller? Shakspeare, however, purposely wished to show, that Hamlet could not fix himself in any conviction of any kind whatever.” </ p. 406> </*>
[The remainder of this section on Ham., pp. 406-7, has to do with the Troy material, 1492-1559.]
Coleridge (Lecture 3, rpt. in the Bristol Gazette, 11 Nov. 1813; rpt. Coleridge, 1987, 5.1:543-4): <p.543>“The seeming inconsistencies in the conduct and character of Hamlet, have long exercised the conjectural ingenuity of critics: and as we are always loath to suppose that the cause of defective apprehension is in ourselves, the mystery has been too commonly explained by the very easy process of supposing that it is, in fact, inexplicable: and by resolving the difficulty into the capricious and irregular genius of Shakespear.
[This ¶ is also in Literary Remains (1836) 2: 204; Collier, in reproducing his notes on Coleridge years after the fact (1853), adheres closely to Literary Remains. Collier’s changes are picayune, altering the present tense (meaning continuing truth) to the past, as if Coleridge thought these things were not continually true.]
Ferriar (1813 apud Drake, 1817, 2:407): “It has often occurred to me, that Shakspeare’s character of Hamlet can only be understood, on this principle. He feigns madness, for political purposes, while the poet means to represent his understanding as really, (and unconsciously to himself) unhinged by the cruel circumstances in which he is placed. The horror of the communication made by his father’s spectre; the necessity of belying his attachment to an innocent and deserving object; the certainty of his mother’s guilt; and the supernatural impulse by which he is goaded to an act of assassination, abhorrent to his nature, are causes sufficient to overwhelm a mind previously disposed to ‘weakness and to melancholy,’ and originally full of tenderness and natural affection. By referring to the book, it will be seen, that his real insanity is only developed after the mock play. Then, in place of a systematic conduct, conducive to his purposes, he becomes irresolute, inconsequent, and the plot appears to stand unaccountably still. Instead of striking at his object, he resigns himself to the current of events, and sinks at length, ignobly, under the stream.” * </p. 407>
<n*> <p. 407> “* Essay on the Theory of Apparitions, pp. 111-115.— . . . .” </p. 407> </n*>
Coleridge (Lecture 3, rpt. in the Bristol Gazette, 11 Nov. 1813; rpt. Coleridge, 1987, 5.1:543-4): “The seeming inconsistencies in the conduct and character of Hamlet, have long exercised the conjectural ingenuity of critics: and as we are always loth to suppose that the cause of defective apprehension is in ourselves, the mystery has been too commonly explained by the very easy process of supposing that it is, in fact, inexplicable: and by resolving the difficulty into the capricious and irregular genius of Shakespear.”
Hazlitt (1817, pp. 104-110, 113-14) does not treat delay as a separate topic but considers it a given aspect of the whole.
Hazlitt (1817, pp. 104-10): <p. 104> “Hamlet is a name: his speeches and sayings but the idle coinage of the poet’s brain. What then, are they not real? They are as real as our own thoughts. Their reality is in the reader’s mind. It is we who are Hamlet. . . . he who has felt his mind sink within him, and sadness cling to his heart like a malady, who has had his hopes blighted and his youth staggered by the apparitions of strange things; who cannot be well at ease, while he sees evil hovering near him like a spectre; whose powers of action have been eaten up by thought, he to whom the universe seems infinite, and himself nothing; whose bitterness of soul makes him careless of consequences, and who goes </p. 104> <p. 105> to a play as his best resource to shove off, to a second remove, the evils of life by a mock-presentation of them—this is the true Hamlet.” </p. 105>
Hazlitt (1817, pp. 104-5) discussion about what is real about a character in a play. The Hamlet he describes is Goethe’s: melancholy, unable to act because of excess thought, . . . and he goes on with quite a few descriptive phrases: <p. 105> . It’s the play one thinks of most often “because it abounds most in striking reflections on human life, and because the distresses of Hamlet are transferred, by the turn of his mind, to the general account of humanity. Whatever happens to him, we apply to ourselves, because he applies it so himself as a means of general reasoning.” H writes also of the natural development of the characters and incidents, </p. 105> <p. 106> “no straining at a point.”
Hamlet’s “is not a character marked by strength of will or even of passion, but by refinement of thought and sentiment. Hamlet is as little of the hero as a man may well be: but he is a young and princely novice, full of high enthusiasm and quick sensibility—the sport of </p. 106> <p. 107> circumstances, questioning with fortune and refining on his own feelings, and forced from the natural bias of his disposition by the strangeness of his situation. He seems incapable of deliberate action, and is only hurried into extremities on the spur of the occasion, when he has no time to reflect, as in the scene where he kills Polonius, and again, where he alters the letters which Rosencraus and Guildenstern are taking with them to England, purporting his death. At other times, when he is most bound to act, he remains puzzled, undecided, and sceptical, dallies with his purposes, till the occasion is lost, and always finds some pretence to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again. For this reason he refuses to kill the King when he is at his prayers, and by a refinement in malice, which is in truth only an excuse for his own want of resolution, defers his revenge to more fatal opportunity, when he shall be engaged in some act ‘that has no relish of salvation in it.’ </p.107> <p.108>
“He is the prince of philosophical speculations, and because he cannot have his revenge perfect, according to the most refined idea his wish can form, he misses it altogether. So he scruples to trust the suggestions of the Ghost, contrives the scene of the play to have surer proof of his uncle's guild, and then rests satisfied with this confirmation of his suspicions, and the success of his experiment, instead of acting upon it. Yet he is sensible of his own weakness, taxes himself with it, and tries to reason himself out of it.” [quotes soliloquy 4.4] </p.108> <p.109>
“Still he does nothing; and this very speculation on his only infirmity only affords him another occasion for indulging it. It is not for any want of attachment to his father or abhorrence of his murder that Hamlet is thus dilatory, but it is more to his taste to indulge his imagination in reflecting on the enormity of the crime and refining on his schemes of vengeance, than to put them into immediate practice. His ruling passion is to think, not to act: and any vague pretense that flatters this propensity instantly diverts him from his previous purposes.
“The moral perfection of this character has been called in question, we think, by those who do not understand it. It is more interesting than according to rules: amiable, though not faultless.” </p.109> <p. 110> Hazlitt continues with some remarks on Sh. and continues with Hamlet and particular characters:
Hazlitt (1817, pp. 110-11): <p.110> “His conduct to Ophelia is quite natural in his circumstances. It is that of assumed severity only. It is the effect of disappointed hope, of bitter regrets, of affection suspended, not obliterated, by the distractions of the scene around him! Amidst the natural and preternatural horrors of his situation, he might be excused in delicacy from carrying on a regular courtship. When ‘his father’s spirit was in arms,’ it was not a time for the son to make love in. He could neither marry </p.110> <p.111> Ophelia, nor wound her mind by explaining the cause of his alienation, which he durst hardly trust himself to think of. It would have taken him years to have come to a direct explanation on the point. In the harassed state of his mind, he could not have done otherwise than he did. His conduct does not contradict what he says when he sees her funeral . . . ” </p.111>
Drake (1817, 2:392-3): <p. 392> “ . . . Shakspeare had a clear and definite idea of [Hamlet] throughout all its seeming inconsistencies . . . . [quotes from “To Be, 1738-42, “thus the native hue . . . action.”] Now this pale cast of thought and its consequences, which had not Hamlet been interrupted by the entrance of Ophelia, he would have himself applied to his singular situation, form the very essence, and give rise to the prominent defects of his character. It is evident, therefore, that Shakspeare intended to represent him as variable and indecisive in action, and that he has founded this want of volition on one of those peculiar constitutions of the mental and moral faculties which have been designated by the appellation if genius, a combination of passions and associations which has led to all the useful energies, and all the exalted eccentricities of human life; and of which, in one of its most exquisite but speculative forms, Hamlet presents us with perhaps the only instance on theatric record.
“To a frame of mind naturally strong and contemplative, but rendered by extraordinary events sceptical and intensely thoughtful, he unites an undeviating love of rectitude, a disposition of the gentlest </p. 392><p. 393> kind, feelings the most delicate and pure, and a sensibility painfully alive to the smallest deviation from virtue or propriety of conduct. Thus, while gifted to discern and suffer from every moral aberration in those who surround him, his powers of action are paralyzed in the first instance, by the inconquerable tendency of his mind to explore, to their utmost ramification, all the bearings and contingencies of the meditated deed; and in the second, by that tenderness of his nature which leads him to shrink from the means which are necessary to carry it into execution. Over this irresolution and weakness, the result, in a great measure, of emotions highly amiable, and which in a more congenial situation had contributed to the delight of all who approached him, Shakespeare has thrown a veil of melancholy so sublime and intellectual, as by this means to constitute him as much the idol of the philosopher, and the man of cultivated taste, as he confessedly is of those who feels their interest excited principally through the medium of the sympathy and compassion which his ineffective struggles to act up to his own approved purpose naturally call forth. </p. 393>
“ . . . . <p. 394> Determined, however, if possible, to obey what seems both a commission from heaven, and a necessary filial duty; but sensible that the wild workings of imagination, and the tumult of contending emotions have so far unsettled his mind, as to render his control over it at times precarious and imperfect, and the consequently he may be liable to betray his purpose, he adopts the expedient of counterfeiting madness, in order that if any thing should escape him in an unguarded moment, it may, from being considered as the effect of derangement, fail to impede his designs.
“And here again the bitterness of his destiny meets him; for, with the view of disarming suspicion as to his real intention, he finds it requisite to impress the king and his courtiers with the idea, that disappointed love is the real basis of his disorder; justly inferring, </p. 394> <p. 395> that as his attachment to Ophelia was known, and still more so the tenderness of his own heart, any harsh treatment of her, without an adequate provocation, must infallibly be deemed a proof, not only of insanity, but of the cause whence it sprang; since though some reserve on her part had been practised, in obedience to her father’s commands, it could not, without a dereliction of reason, have produced such an entire change in his conduct and disposition. . . . ”</p. 395>
Drake (1817, 2: 396): <p. 396>“ . . . . We find Lear and Ophelia constantly recurring, either directly or indirectly, to the actual causes of their distress; but it was the business of Edgar and of Hamlet, to place their observers on a wrong scent, and to divert vigilance from the genuine sources of their grief, and the objects of their pursuit. This is done with undeviating firmness by Edgar; but Hamlet occasionally suffers the poignancy of his feelings, and the agitation of his mind, to break in upon his plan . . . ” </p. 396>
After quoting Akenside (see Ghost doc.) and Ferriar (see above), drake continues with a reference from Addison by way of Ferriar. (2: 406-7): See 624 CN.
Coleridge (who dated his notes 1819; ms. note in cald1) after the Ghost’s exit: “I remember nothing equal to this burst unless it be the first effect of Prometheus, after the exit of Vulcan & the two Afrites, in Eschylus. But Shakespear alone could have produced the vow of Hamlet to make his memory a blank of all maxims & generalized truths, that observation had copied there; followed by the immediate noting down the generalized fact, that one may smile and smile and be a villain.” [Isn’t it possible that Hamlet wipes away trivial records and this one, having to do with Claudius, is not trivial? But Coleridge's way makes Hamlet more mercurial, less fixed and stable.]
Coleridge (ms. note in cald1) re soliloquy at end of 2.2: “Turn likewise to 1028 [4.4 solil], as Ham’s ch[aracter]. self-attested.
Coleridge (ms. note in cald1): at 4.2: “Hamlet’s madness is made to consist in the full utterance of all the thoughts that have past thru’ his mind before—in telling home truths.”
mcald [British Library 11766.k.20 Caldecott, T (ms. note in cald1, 1819), following the last word of the play.] “Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of sanity.”] “It would be no very easy matter to reconcile with reason his drawing his sword in the midst of a grave discussion with his mother for the purpose of destroying a rat; an act the consequences of which he excuses, as proceeding from madnesse: and he must have further meant that the murder of his Uncle has [. . .] premeditated revenge would have been covered by this plea; and that instead of being considered as such, or an act of heroism, it was the hardy distaste of wild and guiltless insanity.”
Lewes (ms. note in ed. 1832): “The exquisite reasons for supposing Hamlet to have been fair-haired & blue-eyed stated in the same work [Wilhelm Meister].”
Coleridge (-1836, 2:204-): “The shallow and stupid arrogance of this vulgar and indolent decisions I would fain do my best to expose. I believe the character of Hamlet may be traced to Shakspeare’s deep and accurate science in mental philosophy. Indeed, that this character must have some connection with the laws of our nature may be assumed from the fact, that Hamlet has been the darling of every country in which the literature of England has been fostered. In order to understand him, it is essential that we should reflect on the constitution of our own minds. Man is distinguished from the brute animals in proportion as thought prevails over sense: but in healthy processes of the mind, a balance is constantly maintained between the impressions from outward objects and the inward operations of the intellect; —for if there be an overbalance in the contemplative faculty, man thereby becomes the creature of mere meditation, and loses his natural power of action. Now one of Shakspeare’s </p. 204><p. 205> modes of creating characters is, to conceive one intellectual or moral faculty in morbid excess, and then to place himself, Shakspeare, thus mutilated or diseased, under given circumstances. In Hamlet he seems to have wished to exemplify the moral necessity of a due balance between our attention to the objects of our senses, and our meditation on the workings of our minds,—an equilibrium between the real and imaginary worlds. In Hamlet this balance is disturbed: his thoughts, and the images of his fancy, are far more vivid than his actual perceptions, and his very perceptions instantly passing through the medium of his contemplation, acquire, as they pass, a form and colour not naturally their own. Hence we see a great, an almost enormous, intellectual activity, and a proportionate aversion to real action consequent upon it, with all its symptoms and accompanying qualities. This character Shakspeare placed in circumstances, under which it is obliged to act on the spur of the moment:— Hamlet is brave and careless of death; but he vacillates from sensibility, and procrastinates from thought, and loses the power of action in the energy of resolve. Thus it is that this tragedy presents a direct contrast to that of Macbeth: the one proceeds with the utmost slowness, the other with crowded and breathless rapidity.
[Foakes, ed. of Coleridge’s notes, that “Schlegel made this point in Lecture 12: DKL 2.2.159 (Black 2: 202).” DKL is Ueber Dramatische Kunst and Literatur (3 vols Heidelberg 1809-11). Black is John Black’s translation of Schlegel, A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature (2 vols 1815)]
“The effect of this overbalance of imaginative power is beautifully illustrated in the everlasting broodings and superfluous activities </p. 205><p. 206> of Hamlet’s mind, which, unseated from its healthy relation, is constantly occupied with the world within, and abstracted from the world without,—giving substance to shadows, and throwing a mist over all common-place actualities. It is the nature of thought to be indefinite;—definiteness belongs to external imagery alone. Hence it is that the sense of sublimity arises, not from the sight of an outward object, but from the beholder’s reflection upon it;—not from the sensuous impression, but from the imaginative reflex. [[Foakes notes that “C drew on Kant’s definition of the sublime in his Critik 76-85, 107-09 etc. (tr. Meredith pp 91-8, 113-14 etc.), but esp. p. 109 (tr. p 114): Few have seen a celebrated waterfall without feeling something akin to disappointment: it is only subsequently that the image comes back full into the mind, and brings with it a train of grand or beautiful associations. Hamlet feels this; his senses are in a state of trance, and he looks upon external things as hieroglyphics.” See 313 and 1617 CN.
<p.206 >“He mistakes the seeing his chains for the breaking them, delays action till action is of no use, </p. 206><p. 207> and dies the victim of circumstance and accident.” </207>
<p. 544> “Sublimity, therefore, does not reside in any of the things of nature, but only in our own mind, in so far as we may become conscious of our own superiority over nature within, and thus over nature without us.’ See also above, Lect. 1 of the 1811-12 series (at n. 25)”]] </p. 544>
Grinfield (1850, p. 14): <p. 14>“The character of Hamlet, on account of its complexity, and its contrarieties, has been commonly represented as somewhat mysterious and inexplicable. Such it is; such is every original, imaginative, and elevated mind.” </p. 14>
[Grinfield, continues on p, 16, but his remarks are fairly standard. He says he wrote them before seeing Coleridge, Goethe, and Schlegel, but he says elsewhere (13) that he heard Coleridge lecture, “delivered at the White Lion Inn, Bristol, at the close of 1813,” and that he consulted the lectures in “Literary Remains.”]
Wade (1855, pp. 3-5) <3> sees in the “To be” soliloquy from “The dread of something” to “lose the name of action” (1732-43) the clue to Hamlet’s character, </p.3 > which Wade traces through the play. <p.4 > “ . . . that oppressive sense of the unfathomable wonder of this awful universe, . . . has been laid deeply in his being by his studies and meditations at Wittenberg . . . . </p. 4><p. 5> Hamlet’s character, he says, is determined by “that painful overwhelming sense of ‘the burthen of the mystery of the universe,’ preceding and independent of, although possibly increased by, those his personal mischances: and under that paralysing sense, surrounded by all motives to action, he writhes through a life of inaction, fulfils his vocation by chance, and perishes under the circumstances attendant upon the act of its impulsive fulfilment—an act which, in the very mode of its achievement, ‘loses the name of action.’ </p. 5>
<p. 9>“O, Prince Hamlet will think and talk, and talk and think, as long and as fast as you please; but ‘an act hath three branches,’ as his gossip, the Grave-digger, says—‘to act, to do, and to perform’—and in no one of these is the Lord Hamlet an especial practitioner.” </p. 9>
<p. 13> “When Hamlet’s tongue threatens actions, it is ever the hypocrite to his soul.” </p.13>
<p. 21> “This breaking into rhyme [3400-3] is a trick with Hamlet, and characteristic of the man; the sole business of whose life is to think and rant, and rant and think. He is a philosopher who is often fain at the close of his moralising to cut a fantastic caper in the air, in impatient ridicule of his own unavailing </p. 21> <p. 22> philosophy. Decorum not permitting this, his resource is the jingle of a quatrain or a couplet. Yet is Hamlet no poet, we may passingly observe: he is a thinker merely; no creator: dull death, not glorious life, is his ever recurrent theme. The poet spurns at ‘The grave’s abysmal and inglorious hole;’ feeling, knowing, that it never yet was the prison of one divine human soul. For the soul of Hamlet, the grave, alas! seems, not always, but too often, the only futurity! And no marvel that he whose thoughts are thus incessantly as ghouls and vampires haunting tombs and charnel-houses, should be incapable of high action, of the fulfilment of great human religious duty! </p. 22>
<p. 35>“Yet, ‘take him for all in all,’ in the Prince of Denmark was much of a free, generous and exalted disposition—at the worst, he was a Thinker out of his place: and when he dies, we feel with Horatio, ‘There cracks a noble heart!’ and with Horatio, too, are fain to exclaim— ‘Good night, sweet prince And flights of angles sing thee to thy rest!” </p. 35>
<p. 36> “Hamlet is a visible incarnation of the unseen Human Soul bowed down beneath the weight of ‘the Burthen of the Mystery of the Universe,’ and which it is marvellous how lightly and unconcernedly the vast majority of us ‘crawlers between earth and heaven’ do, by some means contrive to bear! . . . . And it is, perhaps, well that it should be so. Else, might we be all Hamlets, and the Human World as stirless ‘as a resting wheel.’
“What more shall be said of the Character of Hamlet? If asked to what question it is a reply, not a solution—for the question is not solvable by mortality—we would answer: ‘To be; or, not to be?’ </p. 36><p.37 > That is ‘the question’ to which ‘Hamlet’ is a reply. if it be demanded of us, what the Character of Hamlet ‘means,’ we must recur to the great lines with which we set forth: — [quotes 1732-43]. That, is what ‘Hamlet’ means.” </p. 37>
start here
Hudson ([hud1] ed. 1856, 10: 179-): <p. 179> “The character of Hamlet has caused more of perplexity and discussion than any other in the whole range of art. He has a wonderful interest for all, yet none can explain him; and perhaps he is therefore the more interesting because inexplicable. We have found by experience that one seems to understand him better after a little study than after a great deal, and that the less one sees into him, the more apt one is to think he sees through him; in which respect he is indeed like nature herself. We shall not presume to make clear what so many better eyes have found and left dark. The most we can hope to do is, to start a few thoughts, not towards explaining him, but towards showing why he cannot be explained; nor to reduce the variety of opinions touching him, but rather to suggest whence that variety proceeds, and why.”
He continues with a summary of opinions of Hamlet from various unnamed sources. Yet all write as if he is a real person. From the intro. to Ham.
“The question is, why such unanimity as to his being a man, and at the same time such diversity as to what sort of man he is? </p. 179> <p. 180>
“ . . . Hamlet is all varieties of character in one; he is continually turning up a new side, appearing under a new phase, undergoing some new development; so that he touches us at all points, and, as it were, surrounds us. This complexity and versatility of character are often mistaken for inconsistency: hence the contradictory opinions respecting him, different minds taking very different impressions of him, and even the same mind, at different times. . . . Doubtless he seems the more real for this very cause; . . . . [And] in Hamlet the variety and rapidity of changes are so managed as only to infer the more intense, active, and prolific vitality; though, in so great a multitude of changes, it is extremely difficult to seize the constant principle.
[He quotes and discusses Coleridge’s view </p. 180><p. 181> and praises it, but ultimately disagrees: “our main ground of doubt as to the view thus given is, that Hamlet seems bold, energetic, and prompt enough in action, when his course is free of moral impediments; as, for instance, in his conduct on shipboard, touching the commission, where his powers of thought all range themselves under the leading of a most vigorous and steady will. . . . Our own belief is, though we are far from absolute in it, that the Poet’s design was, to conceive a man great, perhaps equally so, in all elements of character, mental, moral, and practical; and then to place him in such circumstances, bring such motives to bear upon him, and open to him such sources of influence and reflection, that all his greatness should be morally forced to display itself in the form of thought, even his strength of will having no practicable outlet but through the energies of the intellect.” Hudson next summarizes the reasons for his belief.
Hamlet has never had occasion to distrust anyone. “While the caste forms of young imagination had kept his own heart pure, he had framed his conceptions of others according to the model within himself.” </p. 181>
<p. 182> Hudson does a lot of speculating—about Hamlet’s innocent new love for Ophelia, his idealization of his father, [Hudson does not account, though, for what Hamlet would have learned through his intellectual labors, including reading skeptics, philosophers, Ovid, &c., though he does mention those studies.] Hudson continues in a flowery vein about Hamlet’s prospects after his father’s death: “he could compensate the loss of some objects [such as the throne] with a more free and tranquil enjoyment of such as remained [including his mother and his lover]. Hudson surmises that Hamlet immediately upon the marriage suspected her infidelity and his uncle’s “treachery.” [note in 729 √] Even these suspicions would not have upset Hamlet’s equilibrium, but the Ghost’s command conflicts with Hamlet’s moral nature. </p. 183> He’s asked to murder, to assassinate, without judicial procedure, without proving his uncle’s guilt. [Hudson is wrong here; the Ghost asks no such thing.] He must make the crime public knowledge. He turns from one position to another, the Ghost’s request and his own moral understanding. [Yet of course Hamlet never says anything of the sort: couldn’t Sh. have managed to have him soliloquize on this conflict or confide it to Horatio? The only time he does soliloquize, Hamlet weighs not murder vs. justice, but murder and more horrible murder.]
Wood (1870, pp. 1-27): Following a brief summary of the action, he examines “the two great component elements&rdquo of the play: the character of the hero and the circumstances in which he was placed. Wood's argument is that there is a “distinct incompatibility&rdquo of Hamlet's nature with the circumstances in which he was “artificially placed&rdquo (20): “We see him in that stage of what has been called 'reflective indecision'—before the conceptions are systematized, before his will has been fashioned, and before the individual has placed himself thinkingly and, as far as he can, actually, in harmony with the circumstances by which he is surrounded&rdquo (26). Conclusion: Hamlet is 'a specimen of humanity, full of promise, but arrested in his development, and that too in the very blossoming of his powers; called to a career and placed among circumstances for which he was utterly unfit, driven through want of healthier outlets for his activity to brooding self-consciousness, the victim at last of melancholy and despair&rdquo (27).
Hudson (ed. 1872): “Observe how, in this speech [313-43], Hamlet’s brooding melancholy leads him to take a morbid pleasure in making things worse than they are.”
Hudson may be the 1st to express the idea later expressed by T. S. Eliot, that Hamlet’s feelings are in excess of the facts. Trench (1913, p. 60) also has this idea.
In the Introduction, Hudson disagrees with Goethe and Coleridge on Hamlet’s character but agrees with George Henry Lewes (Quarterly Review 79 [1847]: 310-35). Without mentioning Lewes by name (since the essay was written anonymously), Hudson quotes pp. 333-5 on his p. 515.
Lewes (1875, pp. 137-9): <p. 137> “Much discussion has turned on the question of Hamlet’s madness, whether it be real or assumed. It is not possible to settle this question. Arguments are strong on both sides. He may be really mad, and yet, with that terrible consciousness of the fact which often visits the insane, he may ‘put an antic disposition on,’ as a sort of relief to his feelings. Or he may merely assume madness as a means of accounting for any extravagance of demeanor into which the knowledge of his father’s murder may betray him. Shakespeare has committed the serious fault of not making this point clear; a modern </p. 137> <p. 138> writer who should commit such a fault would get no pardon. The actor is by no means called upon to settle such points. One thing, however, he is called upon to do, and that is, not to depart wildly from the text, not to misrepresent what stands plainly written. Yet this the actors do in Hamlet. They may believe that Shakspeare never meant Hamlet to be really mad; but they cannot deny, and should not disregard, the plain language of the text—namely, that Shakspeare meant Hamlet to be in a state of intense cerebral excitement, seeming like madness. His sorrowing nature has been suddenly ploughed to its depths of horror so great as to make him recoil every moment from the belief in its reality. The shock, if it has not destroyed his sanity, has certainly unsettled him. Nothing can be plainer than this. Every line speaks it. We see it in the rambling incoherence of his ‘wild and whirling words’ to his fellow witnesses; but as this may be said to be assumed by him (although his motive for such an assumption is not clear, as he might have ‘put them off’ and yet retained his coherence), I will appeal to the impressive fact of his irreverence with which in this scene he speaks of his father and to his father—language </p. 138> <p. 139> which Shakspeare surely never meant to be insignificant, and which the actors always omit. Here is the scene after the exit of the ghost:— [quotes 804-29, probably Knight’s edition by the lord in 829] </p. 139><p. 140> [quotes from 830- 60, italicizing: that let me tell you (831), the trupenny lines: Ha, ha . . . cellarage (846-7), the mole lines: Well said . . . pioner! (859-60). </p. 140><p. 141> Now, why are these irreverent words omitted? Because the actors feel them to be irreverent, incongruous? If spoken as Shakspeare meant them to be—as Hamlet in his excited and bewildered state must have uttered them—they would be eminently significant. It is evading the difficulty to omit them; and it is a departure from Shakspeare’s obvious intention. Let that actor enter into the excitement of the situation, and make visible the hurrying agitation which prompts these wild and whirling words, he will then find them expressive, and will throw the audience into corresponding emotion.” </p. 141> [see 776 CN]
Trollope (1875, George Eliot Letters 9,166), in a letter to George Henry Lewes with whom he disagrees, says: “I have always fancied that Shakespeare intended Hamlet to be, not mad, but erratic in the brain, ‘on and off’—first a little ajar, and then right again, and then again astray. In the scene which you quote as displaying want of reverence it has seemed to me that the language has been intended to ape want of reverence,—to pretend to Horatio and the others that he was at ease etc. etc.” As Lewes says, however, Hamlet could easily have misled them some other way.
Marshall (1875, p. x): “ . . . Salvini’s interpretation was the most tender, Rossi’s the most passionate, and Irving’s the most intellectual.”
Marshall (1875, p. 9): “Hamlet has more in common with all mankind than any other hero. His very weakness, which has been so severely censured by some critics, is greatly the cause of this; for most tragic heroes are endowed with such gigantic intellect, and monstrous passions, as to place them beyond both the understanding and sympathy of ordinary mortals.”
Marshall (1875, p. 12): “One feature in the character of Hamlet, which most attracts us, is his keen sympathy with all that is good, his contempt for what is mean and evil; this he shows without regard of place or person; and it is more admirable in a prince, whose temptations to acquiesce in things as they are, and to accept the world’s standard of right and wrong are greater than those of one in a lower station of life.
“The fidelity which Hamlet shows to his friends, few indeed, but chosen for their merit alone; as well as the dignified courtesy, with which he treats all but those whom he knows to be practising some treachery towards him, add to the affection with which we regard him.”
Marshall (1875, p. 34): “ . . . during the whole of his conversation with [R&G] Hamlet does not assume the madman; all that he says is full of humour, of satire, and notably in one instance, the speech in which he accounts for his melancholy, it is full of poetry.”
Marshall (1875, p. 65): “ . . . while he is very ready to suspect some evil purpose in the minds of those about him, and though these suspicions are in most cases justified by the event, he receives the confirmation of them with as much astonishment as if he had never had any suspicion at all. There is something of childish exultation at the proofs of his shrewdness; there is also that which shows us that his cynicism was of the mind and not of the hear—that however ill he thought of the world in general, his indignation against particular instances of evil-doing was in no degree blunted.”
Marshall (1875, p. 69): “ . . .this brave, accomplished, eccentric prince was unlike others in this, that he judged conduct by a higher standard than that of the courts, or of the fashionable world; he loved good for its own sake, not for what could be got by it; and in his indignation at the despicable weakness of these two courtiers, in the scorn which he felt for their time-serving cowardice, he allowed himself to be hurried into the commission of an act of cruelty, because, at the time, it wore an appearance of an exquisitely ironical punishment. It is possible that Shakespeare meant to mark as strongly as he could, the hatred of a noble, honest nature for that complicity in crime which is the result of wilful blindness and self-interested negligence.”
Marshall (1875, p. 71): “ . . . the morbid self-consciousness which lies at the root of that very incapacity for action, so bitterly, yet so vainly censured by himself—an incapacity which he is ever confessing but never correcting—finds in this rash aggression of the fiery young Fortinbras new food for cynical reflection.”
Marshall (1875, pp. 109-110): <p. 109>“In spite of his constant hesitation, of his overstrained conscientious- </p. 109><p. 110> ness, of his fitful and fruitless energy, of his misplaced tenderness and his equally misplaced bitterness—in spite of the painful contrast between the vigour of his words and the feebleness of his actions, we have seen so much that is noble, and generous, and grand in his character, that, in spite of all his weakness we honour him as much as we love him. When we analyse this feeling, we find that our admiration for Hamlet is chiefly excited by the strong love of virtue and hatred of vice which never fail to distinguish him and from the excess of which his very worst faults arise. Nor is his standard of right and wrong based on that comfortable compromise with Heaven, which is the foundation of the world’s morality. . . . It matters nothing that we ourselves may not have the courage to do anything but swim with the stream, and bow our heads gracefully before the wind of popular opinion; our own pliability in no way interferes with the admiration we feel for the uncompromising scorn with which Hamlet ridicules, exposes, and denounces, the falseness and baseness of those around him.” </p. 110>
Marshall (1875, pp. 110-11): <p. 110>“What, then, is the chief moral defect of Hamlet’s character? ‘L’Amleto c’è il dubbio,’ says Signor Salvini,* in his musical voice, and with that charming manner which almost carries conviction with it. ‘Doubt’ or ‘hesitation’ is certainly one main characteristic of Hamlet’s nature, and it may arise, in great part, from his over-reflective habit of mind. But the ‘diagnosis,’ so to speak, of this mental disease of ‘hesitation’ is difficult to determine. It seems to me that the principal flaw in Hamlet’s character is the want of humility and consequently of faith. I do not mean that humility which is the brightest jewel in the martyr’s crown, that patient and cheerful submission to every provocation, that glorious self-abasement which our Saviour first taught and practised; but rather that humility which is the backbone of enthusiasm, which consist of a complete subordination of one’s own prejudices and desires and will to some great pur- </p. 110><p. 111> pose, and of a belief, so thorough and unquestioning in the justice of that purpose, as to render any hesitation, in one’s efforts to accomplish it, impossible. Had Hamlet possessed this humility he would never have doubted for one moment that the Ghost’s charge of vengeance was to be fulfilled at any cost; he would never have thought of the consequences to his body or to his soul; but would have openly slain Claudius, and would have stood before the people with the blood fresh on his hands, indifferent as to their judgment an fearless of their punishment. Such humility does not always lend itself to the accomplishment of great or good ends; the fanatic shares it with the enthusiast, the assassin with the liberator. . . . . [All these attributes of the possessed man seem to be rather dubious as a source for praise.] I do not for one moment believe that Shakespeare intended to represent Hamlet as an infidel, but rather as one of those men, whom we meet not infrequently in real life, who are deficient in that intellectual humility which is content to receive supernatural truths on some grounds other than natural evidence. The moral natures of such men are frequently of the noblest of purest type; but their practical power for good, in this world, is fettered by a constant tendency to doubt the principles of their faith just at the very moment when that prompt action, which can only spring from perfect trust and entire conviction, is necessary. . . . . [He goes on with the people’s yearning for the kind of truth Catholicism had offered and bewildered into thinking that there was no sure ground for belief.]
“Of such minds Hamlet’s is a striking type. and the creation of his character might well be the outcome of an intellect perplexed and agitated by such doubts as I have described, with a yearning desire to be convinced, but with its power of conviction hopelessly debilitated.”
<n*><p. 110> “* In a conversation which I had the privilege of enjoying with the great Italian actor, he drew an eloquent comparison between Hamlet and Orestes, whose circumstances present so much similarity, while their characters form so great a contrast. It would be interesting to know if reading the story of Orestes suggested to Shakespeare the creation of Hamlet’s character. Horatio, the ‘Pulades’ of Hamlet, has no parallel in the old history of Saxo Grammaticus. </p. 110></n*>
Fleay (n.d. [c1875], pp. 91-2, 94): <p. 91>“It is easy enough for him to kill the king: but he has also to protect himself from after result and secure his succession or rather election to the crown: he has to provide himself with evidences that will convince others of the King’s guilt. To do this he must catch him unawares: hence his eccentric and antic behaviour to divert attention from his designs and draw it on himself. Hence his revenge, swift as it is, is not swift enough, and his rough hewn ends are shaped against him by a higher power. For the very means he uses to screen himself is brought </p. 91><p. 92> against him as a reason for ridding him as a mad man: and to get sufficient grounds for this accusation of madness, Polonius is set to listen, and this old man’s murder causes a new revenge for a father to be required at Hamlet’s hands and so his secondary object of securing himself is apparently lost. Had he forgotten self in the task imposed on him he would probably have succeeded; but the very completeness of his scheme is his cause of failure. . . . </p. 92> <p. 94>
Fleay continues on p. 94 to discuss Hamlet’s madness; see 621+11 CN.
“His plan then is twofold; the first to lead his enemies to think him mad for Ophelia’s love; the other to induce the King to betray himself at the play. He never thinks how this inferential madness may affect the girl, nor how he may be led into pitfalls by his adopting a mousetrap. He is impetuous, he is for a time a man of one idea; but he is no monomaniac. No madman ever asserts his own madness as Hamlet does in [3682] . . . . ” </p. 94>
Furness ([v1877] ed. 1877, 1: ix): “Hamlet is neither mad, nor pretends to be so. And in view of the fact that he has faithfully read and reported all the arguments on that side, the Editor begs the advocates of the theory of feigned insanity to allow him, out of reciprocal courtesy, to ask how they account for Hamlet’s being able, in the flash of time between the vanishing of the Ghost and the coming of Horatio and Marcellus, to form, horror-struck as he was, a plan for the whole conduct of his future life?”
[His plan would be compatible with feigned madness. It might not be compatible with actual madness, but then again, the mad are not without ability to plan.]Furness (ed. 1877, 1: xii): “No one of mortal mould (save Him ‘whose blessed feet were nailed for our advantage to the bitter cross’) ever trod this earth, commanding such absorbing interest as this Hamlet, this mere creation of a poet’s brain. No syllable that he whispers, no word let fall by any one near him, but is caught and pondered as no words ever have been, except of Holy Writ.”
Stearns (1878, pp. 352-71) <p. 352> believes Hamlet’s madness to be feigned. “A madness so skilfully feigned, and in so moderate and exact a degree as to deceive not only those whom </p.352 ><p. 353> it was intended to deceive, but also to deceive alike spectators and readers, who are always privileged to know more of the action and the real characters in a play than do the personages themselves . . . serves to make the plot more ingenious and interesting than it would be, if the hero’s mental aberration had been made to appear unmistakably real. . . . Not real, but only feigned madness, could answer at once the double purpose of a cloak and a shield . . . .” The actual passion he suffers allows him to expand it to the appearance of madness. </p. 353><p. 354>“Perhaps [Sh.] purposely contrived </p. 354> <p. 355> this uncertainty to still further increase the interest of the plot.” Since Sh. neither shows him to be mad or feigning madness, Stearns judges that feigned madness makes for more interesting character development, </p. 355> <p. 358> After describing Hamlet’s general characteristics is a standard way (contemplative, “fondness for seclusion which is apt to breed cynical habits of thinking,” not readily active), </p. 358> <p. 359> Stearns concludes that the shocks to his nerves causes him to appear mad to others. He guesses that Hamlet decided on pretended madness in the moments he promised the ghost and acts mad to distract his friends. </p. 359> </p. 360>
Then he considers the argument that if Hamlet were not mad he is exceptionally cruel to frighten Ophelia with a display of madness. </p. 360> <p. 361> But since his madness was well-known by then, and since she had already behaved coldly to him, he cannot have considered himself so cruel in approaching her. </p. 361> <p. 362> “Hamlet may therefore be partly excused for having deliberately made use of the fact of his known fondness for Ophelia to help on his plan of imposture, and mislead opinion and surmise as to its true cause . . . .” </p. 362> <p. 363> Intellect is not an argument one way or another because brilliant people can be mad. He conceives of the use of the players </p. 363> <p. 364> and carries it out rationally. He slips into mad behavior after realizing he is speaking too rationally. </p. 364><p. 365> Here is a nicely snobbish opinion: Stearns says that some say that Hamlet’s familiarity with the humble players shows his madness. But Stearns finds it reasonable that Hamlet would enjoy the company of artists. </p. 365> <p. 366> Stearns guesses that Hamlet has placed Horatio in some position where he can discover state secrets. That’s how he knew of the plan for England. Horatio never says anything about madness in an aside or directly; he would have if he thought so. </p. 366><p. 367> Horatio would not have entered into Hamlet’s plans if Hamlet were mad. </p. 367> <p. 368> Delay does not support the claim of madness. He does not want his mother to believe he is mad because that “would act as ‘a flattering unction’ to the wounds he wished to make in her conscience . . . ” His declaration that he is ‘mad in craft’ is not something usual in a madman. Hamlet knows he can speak frankly to his mother because with the death of </p. 368><p. 369> Polonius, he knows there are no further spies. “[F]rom the moment that Hamlet leaves for England, his vagaries of act and speech cease entirely; with the single exception, after his sudden return, of his strife with Laertes at Ophelia’s grave; where, indeed, his conduct is hardly more extravagant than that of her brother.” The next problem is his apology to Laertes. </p. 369><p. 370> Stearns asserts that this was an act of kindness to Laertes; it is not at all as serious as Laertes’ lie. He realizes he cannot support all his inferences—such as that about Horatio as an agent and Hamlet delay to prove his uncle’s guilt. </p.370 ><p. 371> Once more people believed the madness was feigned; now more that it is real, but perhaps the tide is turning again. </p. 371>
Stearns (1878, p. 366n): “ . . . Hamlet is sullen, insolent, and defiant toward the king; sarcastic and reproachful to his mother; satirical and quizzical with the old lord-chamberlain; contemptuous of the courtiers and spies; fantastic and desponding to Ophelia; courteous and kind to his humble acquaintances the players. But to Horatio,, and to him alone, he is, from first to last, sincere, unreserved, humorous, and familiar, and never makes him the subject of the least of his extravagances.”
Halliwell-Phillips (1879, pp. 9-10): <p. 9>“The problem was to </p. 9> <p.10> revenge the murder without leaving a tainted name.” </p.10>
<p. 16> “There seems to have been in Hamlet, so far as regards the commands of the apparition, an almost perpetual conflict between impulse and reason, each in its turn being predominant. The desire for revenge is at times so great that it is only by the strongest effort of will he resists precipitate action, then losing no pretext to find causes for its exercise overpowering the dictates of his penetrative genius.” </p. 16>
<p. 73>“In all that pertains to the revenge of Hamlet it is English not Scandinavian thought which pervades the tragedy. There was no available practical evidence of the crime to be avenged, and if Hamlet had slain the King before the guilt of the latter had been publicly determined, he would have appeared before the nation as a vulgar assassin who had murdered his mother’s husband with the selfish object of ascending the throne. Conscious that his own single belief in the accuracy of the supernatural revelation could not satisfy that public opinion to which he is so nervously sensitive, there is ever a </p. 73><p. 74> struggle between resentment and consciousness with a fear lest the former may be victorious. He is further restrained by the possession of a tender conscience and by what, notwithstanding outbursts of violence under irritation, was an intense gentleness of character. Both these qualities make him shrink from decisive action in cold blood, that is to say, in a case in which the provocation was not immediately precedent. When such a provocation does occur, as when he suspects Claudius of treachery behind the arras, he forgets for a moment the consequences of action, while similarly, on the next occasion, the announcement that ‘the king’s to blame’ [ precedes and justifies to his immediate conscience the final catastrophe that anticipated merely by a few hours the promulgation of other evidence that would have sanctioned to the world a retaliation for the first crime.” </p. 74>
According to Leo (1885, p. 97), Halliwell-Phillipps says on p. 9: “The problem to be solved by Hamlet was, to revenge the murder without leaving a tainted name.” See Leo, below:
Halliwell-Phillipps (1879, p. 10): “Procrastination in decision upon affairs of importance, excepting where immediate action is stimulated or necessary, is the inevitable accompaniment of a highly reflective nature. It is true that Hamlet reproaches himself for the delay, but it is easy to see that all the time that delay arises from an excessive reflection over all the possible combinations that might result from action.”
Halliwell-Phillips (1879, pp. 11; 14-15; 72-3): <p. 11> “ . . . the character of Hamlet, the development of which appears to have been the chief object of the author not only in the management of the plot, but in the creation of the other personages who are introduced” [is his topic].</p. 11>
<p. 14>“So far from Hamlet being indecisive, although the active principle in his character is strongly influenced by the meditative, he is really a man of singular determination, and, excepting in occasional paroxysms, one of powerful self-control. . . . </p.14> . . . <p. 15> The compliance with the advice of his Father’s spirit, in strict unison with his own natural temperament, that the pursuit of his revenge was to harmonize with the dictates of his conscience, involving of course his duties to others, was attended by obstacles apparently insurmountable; yet all were to be removed before the final catastrophe, however acutely he might feel the effort of suppressing his desire for vengeance, that obligation the fulfilment of which was postponed by subtle considerations and by the fear lest precipitate action might leave him with ‘a wounded name,’ but a duty which, it is important to observe, was never sought to be relinquished. These influences practically render delay a matter of necessity with him, and having a murderer to contend against, one who, as he must have felt, would not have scrupled to design his assassination if at any moment safety could be in that way secured, his determination to assume the garb of insanity in the presence of the King and of those likely to divulge the secret, is easily and naturally explained.” </p. 15>
<p. 72>“Few actors or readers can be found to agree respecting Shakespeare’s conception of the character. This, however, may be safely asserted, that no criticism on Hamlet will ever be permanent which does not recognise the sublimity of his nature. Horatio understood Hamlet better than any one, and his judgment of him doubtlessly expresses Shakespeare’s own estimate,— ‘Now cracks a noble heart; —Good night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!’ a ‘noble heart’ that ever shrank from an act that would have resulted in his own aggrandizement, for, although the monarchy was elective not hereditary, the succession of Hamlet had been proclaimed by the King and tacitly accepted. </p. 72><p. 73>
“It is, I hope, unnecessary to observe that, in venturing to conclude with my own notion of Hamlet, I have no confidence that the interpretation will meet with any general acceptance. It should of course be taken for granted that Hamlet, like other impetuous men of genius, and, indeed, like other men of all kinds, does not always in the moment of irritation or unexpected surprisals say exactly what he would on reflection, for otherwise, if isolated utterances are in every case to be received as valid evidences, no theory in the world can ever extricate us from the labyrinth of inconsistencies.” </p. 73>
Halliwell-Phillips (1879, p. 49): “It is not rashness in Hamlet on one occasion and procrastination on another, but a power of instantaneous action that could be controlled by the very briefest period of reflection, the great feature in his intellect being a preternaturally rapid reflective power, and men of genius almost invariably do meditate before action.”
Halliwell-Phillips (1879, p. 52): “Those critics who depreciate the love of Hamlet for Ophelia overlook the fact that, notwithstanding the bitterness of his regret for the death of his father, he was making love to her in the very depth of that sorrow. There appears to be something in his intense affection for her that is important in the construction of the tragedy, the complete effect of which I do not profess to understand.”
Halliwell-Phillips (1879, p.61): “Those critics who fancy that Hamlet’s insanity was real would do well to peruse the history [Belleforest, Saxo Grammaticus]. Shakespeare was far too practical a dramatist to make an alteration that would have materially weakened the plot of the tragedy.”
Anon. (1879, pp. 467-8): <p. 467> Hamlet’s “great and noble manhood” can be glimpsed through the current struggle. Anon. cites instances such as his happy greeting of his friends, including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern until he recognizes them for what they are. </p.467><p. 468> He someone who knows players, and is warm with them. He’s enjoyed fencing. Like others of his age, Hamlet has played at being in love, and even written bad verses (Polonius’s criticism of the vile phrase is just). </p. 468> See also 319 CN.
Anon. (1879, p. 471): “ . . . it is scarcely possible for the reader to imagine a delusion more absurd than that the great and princely Hamlet had gone mad for the love of Ophelia. Though her pretty simplicity and hapless fate give a factitious interest to her, it is manifest that this soft submissive creature, playing into her father’s hands as she does, is in no way a possible mate for Hamlet; neither does he say a word which would justify us in thinking that any serious passion for her increased the confusion of pain and misery in his mind.”
Anon. (1879, p. 479): “Hamlet is, in fact, roused into heroic action whenever the question of his father’s murder is really before him; he vacillates about his vengeance; but in the great scenes with the ghost, the arrangements for the players, and also the interview with his mother, there is neither hesitation nor weakness about him. It is only when outside the range of that inspiring excitement that the darker misery seizes possession of his soul.”
Swinburne (1880, pp. 166-9) < p. 166> objects to the idea that “the keynote of Hamlet’s character is the quality of irresolution. Rather, “the signal characteristic of Hamlet’s inmost nature is by no means irresolution or hesitation or any form of weakness, but rather the strong conflux of contending forces. That during four whole acts Hamlet cannot or does not make up his mind to any direct and deliberate action against his uncle is true enough; true, also, we may say, that Hamlet had somewhat </ p. 166>< p. 167 > more of mind than another man to make up, and might properly want somewhat more time than might another man to do it in; but not, I venture to say in spite of Goethe, through innate inadequacy to his task and unconquerable weakness of the will; not, I venture to think in spite of Hugo, through immedicable scepticism of spirit and irremediable propensity to nebulous intellectual refinement. He asserts, “There is absolutely no other reason, we might say there was no other excuse, for the introduction or intrusion of an else superfluous episode into a play which was already, and which remains even after all possible excisions, one of the longest plays on record. The compulsory expedition of Hamlet to England, his discovery by the way of the plot laid against his life, his interception of the King’s letter and his forgery of a substitute for it against the lives of the King’s agents, the ensuing adventure of the sea-fight, with Hamlet’s daring act of hot-headed personal intrepidity, his capture and subsequent release on terms giving no less patent proof of his cool-headed and </ p. 167>< p. 168> ready-witted courage and resource than the attack had afforded of his physically impulsive and even impetuous hardihood—all this serves no purpose whatever but that of exhibiting the instant and almost unscrupulous resolution of Hamlet’s character in time of practical need. But for all that he or Hamlet has got by it, Shakespeare might too evidently have spared his pains; and for all this voice as of one crying in a wilderness, Hamlet will too surely remain to the majority of students, not less than to all actors and all editors and all critics, the standing type and embodied emblem of irresolution, half-heartedness, and doubt.
“That Hamlet should seem at times to accept for himself, and even to enforce by reiteration of argument upon his conscience and his reason, some such conviction or suspicion as to his own character, tells much rather in disfavour than in favour of its truth. A man whose natural temptation was to swerve, whose inborn inclination was to shrink and skulk aside from duty and from action, would hardly be the first and last person to suspect his own weakness, the one only unbiased judge and witness of sufficiently sharp-sighted candour and accuracy to estimate aright his poverty of nature and the malformation of his mind. But the high-hearted </ p. 168>< p. 169> and tender-conscienced Hamlet, with his native bias towards introspection intensified and inflamed and directed and dilated at once by one imperative pressure and oppression of unavoidable and unalterable circumstance, was assuredly and exactly the only man to be troubled by any momentary fear that such might indeed be the solution of his riddle, and to feel or to fancy for the moment some kind of ease and relief in the sense of that very trouble. A born doubter would have doubted even of Horatio; hardly can all positive and almost palpable evidence of underhand instigation and instigation and inspired good intentions induce Hamlet for some time to doubt even of Ophelia.” </ p. 169>
Grosart on Scoloker (1880, 13: ix): <p. ix>“In my judgment, the whole substance and suggestion of this extremely noticeable passage [from Daiphantus by Anthony Scoloker (1604)—whereof mere snips have been taken (two stanzas) by Douce, Furness, Ingleby, and others—makes it clear that the impression made on Scoloker and the ‘vulgar,’ or people generally, was (1) That Hamlet went mad, (2) That his madness was rooted in broodings over his ‘revenge.’ Then (3) The appearance of ‘Prince Hamlet’ (p. 36, st. 3, ll. 5-6) seem decisive, that Burbage, the great actor, dressed for the part as a mad-man. This he never would have ventured to do without Shakespeare’s sanction; and so (meo judicio) the thing determines itself, whatever be our theory of Hamlet’s insanity, real and assumed. Shakespeare-students will find it rewarding to think-out the present vivid portraiture of the lover-lunatic in its completeness.” </p. ix>
Davies, C. K. (1882) Hamlet is most real to us because he cannot be fathomed.
Gervinus (1883, pp. 561-82): “His mother depicts Hamlet, as to his appearance, as ‘fat and scant of breath’ [3756] ; . . . he lacked, therefore, says Goethe, the external strength of the hero, or we might say, more simply, the strength of a practical and active nature. His temperament is quiet, calm, phlegmatic, and free from choler; his mother, in an expressive image, compares his patient repose to that of the turtle-dove sitting over her ‘golden couplets’ [3485]. In violent passion with Laertes, Hamlet says of himself that he is not ‘splenetive and rash,’ yet he has in him something dangerous, which the wisdom of his enemy may fear [3457-9]. This ‘something dangerous’ is his sensitive excitability, which originates in a heated imagination, and which supplies the passive nature with a goad for defence and a weapon for assault, but only at a moment of extreme necessity. For this very imagination is the source also of Hamlet’s faintheartedness, and of his anxious uneasiness and weakness; it is a psychological circle, only too often verified by human nature. . . . .
From this point, he goes on to whole nations, a point he picks up when he discusses German Hamletism
Hamlet’s busy imagination suggests to him a condition with its fearful and remote results; he sees himself surrounded by dangers and snares, and seeks to obviate them with elaborate preparation. He believes in ghosts and there-</p. 561> <p. 562> fore sees them. . . .
Gervinus goes on to Horatio in contrast to Hamlet [see Horatio]; then continues with Hamlet:
When the ghost appears to Hamlet, when his ‘fate cries out,’ in the excitement of the moment he fears not death and ‘each petty artery’ in his body is ‘as hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve’ [668-70]; but then too, according to Horatio’s expression, he is ‘desperate with imagination’ [675]. After the play, in the ‘witching time of night’ [2259], when his imagination is heated, he could ‘drink hot blood, and do such business as the bitter day would quake to look on’ [2261-3]; then it seems to him as if the soul of Nero could enter his bosom [2265]; he sharpens the edge of his revenge, and when in this over-excited mood the occasion surprises him, and no time is left for consideration and doubt, he shows himself capable of the deed from which, in a calmer state, recollections and scruples restrain him. Nor is this excitement suddenly quieted by the disappointment of his mistaken vengeance; he torments his mother in the violence of his emotion more than his father permitted him [770-1]; he speaks bitter words over the corpse of Polonius, and only subsequently weeps over it; the patience of the dove then comes sorrowfully back to him. So, too, when surprised by the tidings of Ophelia’s death, he hears Laertes’ ostentatious lament over her grave, a storm of passion rises within him, and finds vent in a burst of exaggerated language. By this excess of excitement Hamlet blunts the edge of purpose and action, which is rendered dull habitual tardiness of his nature [2491]; he alternately touches the chords of the two different moral themes of the drama, namely, that intentions conceived in passion vanish with the emotion, and that human will changes, and is influenced and enfeebled by delays. These waverings of nature, this alternative inertness and passion, indolence and excitement, Hamlet perceives in himself, with all the torments, faults, and results which belong to them; nothing is, therefore, more natural than that his soul, as soon as she ‘could of men distinguish her election’ [1915], should have sealed the noble Horatio for herself, in whose contrary character she might find support and edification. Horatio is indeed just as little an energetic character as Hamlet; such a one as Fortinbras would be too dissimilar for his friendship' but Horatio is </p. 562><p. 563> a man of perfect calmness of mind; schooled to bear suffering and to take with equal thanks fortune’s buffets and rewards; he is a hero of endurance, one of those blessed one on whom Hamlet might look with envy [quotes 1920-22a through please], nor are they the resistless slaves of passion.” </p.563 >
Gervinus continues with his description of Hamlet within and outside the play: He oscillates from one extreme to another; he has a witty satirical bent, and we see him as a person who in other circumstances would be happy and merry. He also has “an elegiac sentimental character, which exhibit him a prey to deep melancholy”—all this is blended in him. He speaks about the actor:
<p. 564>“ . . . his jests and play of words mingle involuntarily with his agitated tragic moods, and the actor has to guard against nothing more than laying stress upon them and provoking laughter, or attempting glaring alternations of mirth and melancholy. . . . </p. 564> [continue in 835 doc., 3449, 368] “The acuteness of his wit as of his sorrow is therefore with Hamlet the uniform expression of his characteristic habit of mind, which from misfortune is led to speculate upon the darkest aspect of things, while under ordinary circumstances it would have exhibited itself in sparkling repartee and witty rejoinder.” </p. 564> . . .
<p. 565>“In harmony with what we have seen of Hamlet’s appearance, temperament, and natural disposition, are the rich endowments of mind and morals with which the poet has invested him. His uncle himself designates the kindly man as of a nature ‘sweet and commendable’ [268]; all gentle virtues, all tender and delicate feelings, belong to him. His childlike piety is that which at once strikes us most forcibly. The reverence with which he reflects on his deceased father is unbounded; the sorrow which he endures for him testifies to the greatest warmth and sincerity of feeling; his grief at his mother’s fickleness causes a shock to his whole moral nature; the certainty of his uncle’s crime completely overwhelms him. The heaviness of this sorrow may indeed partly result from the innate susceptibility peculiar to Hamlet’s nature; he has a kind of delight in dwelling upon gloomy ideas, and in revelling in thoughts of suicide and death. Yet the shock to his moral sensibilities adds essentially to the burden of his grief; and well may he call his indignation ‘virtue,’ when he gives it sent in the scene in which, with an ethical invective of the highest power, he urges his mother to confession and repentance [2532-3] . In great traits he is throughout placed before us, as a moral nature endowed </p. 565><p. 566> with as much depth as delicacy. He leaves the common highway of thoughtless life, as a man guided by principals. The king’s son has renounced all the restraints of conventionality; his intercourse is with players, he is the friend of the poor Horatio, and the lover of Ophelia, who is far beneath him in condition. The inclination to simple natural habits which he here manifested would also account for his aversion to all mean subterfuge and falsehood. In the churchyard he expresses his sincere abhorrence of the vain folly of women, of politicians who ‘would circumvent God’ [3271], of lawyers and courtiers; towards this kind of ‘water-flies’ [3588]. such as Polonius and Osric, the diminutives of nature,’ as they are called in Troilus, he manifests an intense antipathy or sarcastic contempt. . . .It [The scene with Osric] places him in glaring contrast to this ‘breed’ of people on whom ‘the drossy age dotes’ [3653]. . . . Thus, in the task assigned to him an inner conflict perplexes him; the strife of a higher law with the natural law of vengeance, the struggle of fine moral feelings with the instinct of nature. His irresolution results in nowise exclusively from weakness, but essentially also from conscientiousness and virtue; and it is just this subtle combination which renders Hamlet such an essentially tragic character. His doubts as to the certainty of the fact and the legitimacy of revenge, the gentleness of his soul which unconsciously struggles against the means of vengeance, the bent of his mind to reflect upon the nature and consequences of his deed and by this means to paralyze his active powers, all these scruples ‘of thinking </p.566><p. 567> too precisely on the events,’ he himself calls, in the warmth of self-blames, ‘A thought, which quartered, hath but one part wisdom, And ever three parts coward’ [2743+36-7]; but the poet has so well balanced the combination, that, in spite of Hamlet’s witness against himself, we are inclined to impute the half at least to wisdom. . . . Hamlet is robbed of his power of action by an excess of conscientiousness, gentleness, and sorrowing melancholy; ‘For goodness, growing to a plurisy, Dies in his own too-much’ [3112+4]; here and there ‘The violence of either grief or joy, Their own enactures with themselves destroy’ [2064-5].
“Refined in morals, richly endowed with feeling, Hamlet is pre-eminent also in intellectual gifts and culture; he possesses a contemplative mind, a deep inner experience and observation, and he is, according to Ophelia, ‘of noble and most sovereign reason; the observed of all observers’ [1813, 1810]. Regarded from this side Hamlet’s character is that of a man of genius; the soliloquies of this ‘prince of speculative philosophy’ are masterpieces of reflection, in which Shakespeare had recourse to the most profound depths of his wisdom; and the intricacies of his subtle thoughts mock the profundity of Scandinavian mysteries. He is essentially a man of letters, he carries memorandum-books with him; allusions to his reading are ready to him; in advanced years he was still at the university, and longs to return there; not like Laertes at Paris, but at Wittenberg, a name honoured by the Protestant hearts of England; no royal ambition urges him to the society of his equals; his associate is the scholar Horatio, the friend of his school-days and his fellow student. <[Hamlet and acting:]> We become acquainted with Hamlet as the friend and judge of acting, as a poet and a player. He has seen the players before and has had closer intercourse with them; he inserts a passage in the piece they are playing; he declaims before them, and gives them instructions. His praise of the fragment of Pyrrhus, sustained in the old Seneca-like style, is perfectly serious; it distinguishes him from Polonius, whom a </p. 567><p.568 > jig pleases better; this, as well as his instructions to the players exhibits him as a man of cultivated mind and taste, as a judge whose single appreciation is worth more than that of all the rest of the theatre. It is, therefore, natural that the idea should occur to him of ‘catching’ the king’s conscience in a play [1644-5]; he seeks, as it were, an ingenious revenge; and to accomplish this, under the touching effect of the presence of his conscience-stricken mother, had evidently a kind of theatrical charm for him. When the trial of the king by means of the play succeeds, it is characteristic of Hamlet that it is not the fearful evidence of the crime which occupies him at first, but the pleasure in his skill as an actor or poet; it is not the result so much as the art which has effected it. ‘Would not this,’ are his first words, ‘get me a fellowship in a cry of players?’ [2149-50]. This question, still more than the performance itself, would certainly appear to mark his aptitude for the position. It is from this same inclination of Hamlet’s, as much as from his character, than [?] he adopts the strangely indirect course of feigning himself mad, and that he is able to sustain his part naturally and ingeniously. He had the power of disguising himself artfully and artistically and of skilfully remaining his own master behind the mask, averse as he is to dissimulation in life. Immediately after the departure of the ghost, still agitated by the apparition, he receives his friends with a falcon-call [√803] as if in the most joyful mood, and knows how to conceal his emotion at first as well as his secret at last. To imagine himself in the position of the player, and on all occasions to study ‘the word,’ is a natural trait resulting from his intellectual life and pursuits. He goes with a kind of joyful preparation to rouse his mother’s conscience by a moral lecture and a flood of impressive eloquence, to speak daggers rather than to use them, while he neglects the deed of vengeance, which would of itself have gained his object; when Laertes bursts forth in the bombastic outpouring of his brotherly grief, he receives it as a challenge for a war of words. Hamlet is aware of the fault in himself, he recognizes it as a hindrance to his active emotion, and blames it on himself with the same vehemence as he declaims against the conscientiousness of his cowardice and the cowardice of his conscience. The soliloquy [1590-] after his first interview with the players is in this respect expressive even to ultra-distinctness. After assailing himself with every slanderous name, in order to stir up his stagnant passion, he calls himself ‘unpregnant of his </p. 568><p. 569> cause’ [1608], because he can—do nothing; we should expect, but he merely adds, ‘because he can say nothing’ [1609]; for his first desire, like the actor in playing a scene, would be to ‘drown the stage with tears, And cleave the general ear with horrid speech; Make mad the guilty [1602-4], as he subsequently does in his interview with his mother. Then follows a fresh flood of invectives; he applies to himself the deafening volleys of his eloquence; he surprise himself in the midst of his boasting, and turns upon himself fresh words of scorn [quotes 1623-8]. He deprecates this digression, and rouses himself to action. ‘About,’ he cries out—my hands! we should expect it, but, ‘my brains!’ And then he devises the play, which is to be a fresh prelude to his vengeance. Thus, from natural impulse and habit, the mind of this man of deep reflection is unconsciously the overruling agent in everything; thought has become with him the measure of things. Shakespeare invests him with a philosophical principle, which contains a most characteristic modification of the poet’s own worldly wisdom. That virtue and vice, good and bad actions, acquire their real important from the circumstances, aims, and natural characters of men, that it is not the what but the how that decides the value of an action, is a maxim of Shakespearian experience, which is too frequently and too forcibly repeated in word and example for the poet not to have well weighed every word which he wrote in this sense. This maxim is thus modified in Hamlet’s lips: ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’ [1295-6].
“In this maxim lies the origin of all the doubts which perplex Hamlet upon the duty of revenge, and which would make him tremble and delay at every weighty call to action. This revenge is not in itself determined as a good or a bad action on the part of Hamlet; but the circumstances render it, according to Shakespeare’s representation, a duty on the part of the lawful </p. 569><p. 570> king and judge of the country, a just act of punishment for an open crime, an easier task and a better cause than that of Laertes. But ‘thinking} renders this very duty a matter of doubt and difficulty to Hamlet. The ‘thinking too precisely on the event’ excites at first the moral scruple of being unscrupulous and over-hasty, and then awakens prudence and precaution in proceeding circumspectly to the performance of the work. The phlegmatic nature of the man causes that in both conscientiousness and foresight too much is done—for his mission and action nothing. His mental acuteness sees through this defect in his nature, and half with envy, half with esteem, he acknowledges the able qualities of Laertes and Fortinbras; his just acknowledgment of that which invests men with worth and esteem causes him to reproach himself vehemently for his deficiencies, even to a pitch of passionate excitement; he urges himself to a passing ardour in which he casts aside his hindering considerations, but he has once for ever lost the sure instinct of action, and at last, at the moment of the deed, he makes a mistake. For passing irritability can just as little as hesitating deliberation make a man of action; earnest persistency and constancy are alone necessary, because any comprehensive action of important consequences is not to be accomplished hastily, but only by time. After he has erred in the murder of Polonius in a manner so important in its results, Hamlet loses himself in a kind of fatalism which weakens him entirely. . . . ”[discussion of “To be” pp. 570-1 </thought> </p. 571>; discussion of Sh.’s intention 571-2: to show that by concentrating on mind, a man weakens his active principle:
<p. 572>[Shakespeare] “has endowed him with great gifts of heart and mind; if we take hold of this side of the character we are captivated by his amiable qualities, and are tempted to believe that the poet intended to magnify the inner life of man above the outer one of action; for he has placed the figures of this opposite colouring, Laertes and Fortinbras, very much in the background compared with Hamlet. . . .[Gervinus thinks that Sh. approves more of Prince Hal and Percy: </p.572 ><p. 573> Hamlet is also only a eulogy and a glorification of the active nature from a picture of the contrary. . . . In Hamlet a social character of modern times is, at it were, depicted, one which is inclined to abandon the heroic customs of the age in which fate has placed him, of an age in which everything hinges upon physical power and the desire for action, which nature has denied to him. . . . </p. 573> <p. 574> Our modern sensibility is anticipated, as it were, by two centuries in Hamlet. . . . The honour of being in advance of the age is in most cases only equivocal. A man should belong to his age, and the work which lies nearest he should advance according to his ability. </p. 574 > <p. 575> [After a bit more in this vein, Gervinus discusses Germany as an example of Hamletism (though he does not use the word); I am not sure what he is talking about at that time, pp. 575-8).
<p. 578> Thus, too, in Hamlet, to return to him from the last point of this digression, as soon as he rises to his vocation for action, in the manner of one uncalled to the task, the beautiful qualities of his character become damaged and injured, and we see at last before us a man who has himself spoiled the best properties of his nature. He who bore the sufferings of humanity with such a feeling soul, becomes in his egotism cruel and severe toward those who stand nearest to his heart. [and he continues with similar contrasts between what Hamlet was and what he has become, what he does to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern </p. 578> <p. 579> and Ophelia.] “Thus it is that the conscientiousness, foresight, and consideration which restrain Hamlet from the murder and from the just punishment of a single man, bury at last the guilty and guiltless in one common ruin; his own want of determination, the avenging rage of Laertes, the poisoned cup of his uncle, the careless weakness of his mother. the officiousness of his friends, the inoffensive folly of Polonius, the innocence of the devoted lover, each and all these—virtue, and pardonable faults. and inexpiable mortal crimes—suffer the same ruin, so that scarcely any of the living remain upon the stage. </p. 581>.<p. 582>[Sh. uses] this unnecessary bloodshed as part of the characterisation as well as punishment of his hero, who had not courage to shed necessary blood. . . . Thus then this bloody conclusion is not the consequence of an aesthetic fault on the part of the poet, but of a moral fault on that of his Hamlet, a consequence which the sense of the whole play and the design of this character aim at from the first.” </p. 582>
[Any portrait of Hamlet has to be built out of elements from the play, not all of them. Gervinus neglects the possibility that revenge itself may be repugnant to Hamlet on moral grounds. Gervinus begins with the simple statement that revenge at that time was considered appropriate, and he goes on from there.]
Feis (1884, rpt. 1970, pp. 74-5): <p. 74> Unlike any other of Sh.'s creations, “Hamlet incessantly mentions God, Heaven, Hell, and the Devil, the Heavenly Hosts, and the Saints. . . . An overwhelming grief and mistrust in his own nature filled Hamlet's bold imagination with the desire </p. 74> <p. 75> of receiving a complete mandate for his mission from the hands of superior powers. So he enters the realm of mysticism, where mind wields no authority, and where no sound fruit of human reason can ripen.” </p. 75> Ed. note: Feis thinks that Sh. thus builds a negative character, one whom we pity, perhaps, but do not admire.
Feis (1884, rpt. 1970, p. 78): “the voice of Nature . . . admonishes him to fulfil the duty of his life—the deed of blood—that inner voice of his nobler nature which impels him to seize the crown in order to guide the destinies of his country; given over, as the latter is, to the mischievous whims of a villain.”
Feis (1884, rpt. 1970, p. 103): “Because Hamlet gives utterance to high-sounding thoughts, to sentimental dreams, and melancholy subtleties, it has been assumed that his character is one nourished with the poet's own heart's blood. . . ; on account of his fine words he has been more taken a fancy to than any other Shaksperian figure. But that was not the poet's object. Great deeds were more to him than the finest words.”
Feis (1884, rpt. 1970, p. 128): Sh. “recognised that it was everyone's duty to set a time out of joint to right. Shakspere showed . . . a gifted and noble man whose life becomes a scourge for him and his surroundings, because he is not guided by manly courage and conscience, but by superstitious notions and formulas ”
Leo (1885, p. 93): <p. 93>[quotes 3112+5-3112+10, 4.7.114-23] “These words contain the fullest solution of the King’s character as well as of that of Hamlet. How is it possible, reading these lines, to believe that Shakespeare intended to give to the portrait of Hamlet any touch of energy!” </p. 93> [But one has to accept 1st that Sh intended the king’s lines to apply to Hamlet—and they need not. Leo waxes sarcastic about Halliwell-Phillipps’ Memoranda, pp. 93 ff.]
MacDonald (ed. 1885) CN re 653-6: “Note here Hamlet’s mood—dominated by his faith. His life in this world his mother has ruined; he does not care for it a pin: he is not the less confident of a nature that is immortal. In virtue of this belief in life, he is indifferent to the form of it. When, later in the play, he seems to fear death, it is death the consequence of an action of whose rightness he is not convinced.”
MacDonald ([macd] ed. 1885) CN re 806: “Here comes the test of the actor’s possible [sic]: here Hamlet himself begins to act, and will at once assume a rôle, ere yet he well knows what it must be. One thing only is clear to him—that the communication of the Ghost is not a thing to be shared—that he must keep it with all his power of secrecy: the honour both of father and of mother is at stake. In order to do so, he must begin by putting on himself a cloak of darkness, and hiding his feelings—first of all the present agitation which threatens to overpower him. His immediate impulse or instinctive motion is to force an air, and throw a veil of grimmest humour over the occurrence. The agitation of the horror at his heart, ever working and constantly repressed, shows through the veil, and gives an excited uncertainty to his words, and a wild vacillation to his manner and behaviour.”
MacDonald (ed. 1885) CN re 822: “Here shows the philosopher.” The line is “For every man hath business and desire.”
MacDonald (ed. 1885) re 824: “‘—nothing else is left me [but prayer].’ This seems to me one of the finest touches in the revelation of Hamlet.”
MacDonald (ed. 1885) re 867-8; see 847 CN: “Very speedily he grows quiet: a glimmer of light as to the course of action necessary to him has begun to break upon him: it breaks from his own wild and disjointed behaviour in the attempt to hide the conflict of his feelings—which suggests to him the idea of shrouding himself, as did David at the court of the Philistines, in the cloak of madness: thereby protected from the full force of what suspicion any absorption of manner or outburst of feeling must occasion, he may win time to lay his plans. Note how, in the midst of his horror, he is yet able to think, plan, resolve.”
MacDonald (ed. 1885) re 867: “The idea, hardly yet a resolve, he afterwards carries out so well, that he deceives not only king and queen and court, but the most of his critics ever since: to this day they believe him mad. Such must have studied in the play a phantom of their own misconception, and can never have seen the Hamlet of Shakspere. Thus prejudiced, they mistake also the effects of moral and spiritual perturbation and misery for further signs of intellectual disorder—even for proof of moral weakness, placing them in the same category with the symptoms of the insanity which he simulates and by which they are deluded.”
MacDonald (ed. 1885, p. 62) summing up act one: “This much of Hamlet we have now learned: he is a thoughtful man, a genuine student, little acquainted with the word save through books, and a lover of his kind.”
MacDonald (ed. 1885, p. 115): “The delay . . . falls really between the first and second acts, although it seems in the regard of most readers to underlie and protract the whole play.”
MacDonald (ed. 1885) CN 984-97: “He may by this time have begun to doubt even the reality of the sight he had seen. The moment the pressure of a marvellous presence is removed, it is in the nature of man the same moment to begin to doubt: and instead of having any reason to wish the apparition a true one, he had every reason to desire to believe it an illusion or a lying spirit. Great were his excuse even if he forced likelihoods, and suborned witnesses in the court of his own judgment. To conclude it false was to think his father in heaven, and his mother not an adulteress, not a murderess! At once to kill his uncle would be to seal these horrible things irrevocable, indisputable facts. Strongest reasons he had for not taking immediate action in vengeance; but no smallest incapacity for action had share in his delay. The Poet takes recurrent pains, as if he foresaw hasty conclusions, to show his hero a man of promptitude, with this truest fitness for action, that he would not make unlawful haste. Without sufficing assurance, he would have no part in the fate of either of the uncle he disliked or the mother he loved.”
MacDonald (ed. 1885) CN 984-97: “In the meantime Ophelia, in obedience to her father, and evidently without reason assigned, has broken off communication with him: he reads her behaviour by the lurid light of his mother’s. She too is false! she too is heartless! he can look to her for no help! She has turned against him to curry favour with his mother and his uncle!
“Can she be such as his mother! Why should she not be? His mother had seemed so good! he would give his life to know her honest and pure. Might he but believe her what he had believed her, he would yet have a hiding-place from the wind, a covert from the tempest! If he could but know the truth! Alone with her once more but for a moment, he would read her very should by the might of his! He must see her! He would see her! In the agony of doubt upon which seemed to hand the bliss or bale of his being, yet not altogether unintimidated by a sense of his intrusion, he walks into the house of Polonius, and into the chamber of Ophelia.
“Ever since the night of the apparition, the court, from the behaviour assumed by Hamlet, has believed his mind affected; and when he enters her room, Ophelia, though such is the insight of love that she is able to read in the face of the son the father’s purgatorial sufferings, the picture of one ‘loosed out of hell, to speak of horrors,’ attributes all the strangeness of his appearance and demeanour, such as she describes them to her father, to that supposed fact. But there is, in truth, as little of affected as of actual madness in his behaviour in her presence. When he comes before her pale and trembling, speechless and with staring eyes, it is with no simulated insanity, but in the agonized hope, scarce distinguishable from despair, of finding, in the testimony of her visible presence, an assurance that the doubts ever tearing his spirit and sickening his brain, are but the offspring of his phantasy. There she sits!—and there he stands, vainly endeavouring through her eyes to read her soul!, for alas, ‘there’s no art To find the mind’s construction in the face!’ [Mac. 1.4.? (000)]—until at length, finding himself utterly baffled, but unable, save by removal of his person, to take his eyes from her face, he retires speechless as he came. Such is the man whom we are now to see wandering about the halls and corridors of the great castle-palace.
MacDonald (ed. 1885, p. 277): “It seems to me most admirable that Hamlet, being so great, is yet outwardly so like other people: the Poet never obtrudes his greatness. And just because he is modest, confessing weakness and perplexity, small people take him for yet smaller than themselves who never confess anything, and seldom feel anything amiss with them. Such will adduce even Hamlet’s disparagement of himself to Ophelia when overwhelmed with a sense of human worthlessness [1778-83], as proof that he was no hero! They call it weakness that he would not, foolishly and selfishly, make good his succession against the king, regardless of the law of election, and careless of the weal of the kingdom for which he shows himself so anxious even in the throes of death! To my mind he is the grandest hero in fiction—absolutely human—so troubled, yet so true!” [Last comment in his edition; he sees Hamlet as a hero.]
Mull (ed. 1885, pp. xix-) <p. xix> quotes and refers to MacDonald (ed. 1885) approvingly; </p. xix><p. xx>“the true solution or key to the heart of the mystery is supplied, not in his uncle’s treachery and usurpation, but in his mother’s guilt and depravity.” </p. xxix>
Mull also mentions Gervinus (who is wrong, he says), Goethe and others. He makes these pts: <p. xxi> that Hamlet clearheadedly determines to use madness when he needs to; that he behaves mad only when it serves his purpose. He propels rather than is propelled—as some have asserted (Mull mentions knt1). He also speaks “far-reaching and most elevated principles of morals and philosophy </p. xxi> <p. xxii> as well as of wit and repartee, which reveal a perfectly controlled mind—now soaring in the loftiest sphere of morals, as when justly denouncing his mother and when sparing his uncle while on his knees [!]—now charging himself, in undeserved self-reproaches, to fulfill the “remember me” of the Ghost—now delivering his incomparable instructions to the strolling players—now exhibiting his charming and sterling character, as in the deeply moving regard he expresses for Horatio and the confiding trust he reposes in him . . . . In all this is Hamlet himself, noble and transcendent, moved to ‘fine issues,’ self-controlled as the soaring eagle, firm as the stable pole-star. [quotes pulse speech 2523-7]. . . . His ‘antic disposition’ is marvelously accommodated to the several individuals before whom it is exhibited; and his well-timed banter and drollery were eminently calculated to throw them all off the scent of what was his determined but apparently ‘dull revenge.’ He was ‘wild and irregular’ [Charles Knight] with a very serious purpose, covering and leading up to tragic issues.” </p. xxii>
Very (1886, pp. 53-66) attempts to show, with little success, that Hamlet is not a coward but a person caught up in speculations about the after-life. See 846 CN.
Corson (1889, p. 194): “If he is deranged, and the poet has presented through him correct phenomena of mental disease, the play may be regarded as a valuable contribution to pathology, but is not entitled to a niche in the great temple of Art.”
Boas (1896, p. 387) accepts Goethe's view of Hamlet, but rather than express sympathy for his weakness, mildness, and nobility of character, as Goethe does, Boas expresses contempt.
Boas (1896, p. 398, on 868) believes that the antic disposition is not part of a plan but is evidence of Hamlet’s loss of control over himself. His method is all wrong: the savior of Denmark should be open and sincere, not underhanded. He begins to be tainted with the disease of his enemies. “Moreover Hamlet becomes absorbed in the intellectual fascination of his rôle; he revels in the opportunities it gives him of bewildering those about him, of letting fly shafts of mockery, here, there, and everywhere. But these verbal triumphs are Pyrrhic victories, which draw him further and further from his legitimate task.”[Boas loses track of the dramatist who revels also in all the verbal play for which Hamlet’s antic disposition gives him opportunities.]
Santayana (Intro, ed. c. 1900, pp. xviii-xix): <p. xviii> "Those who have maintained that Hamlet is really mad had this partial justification for their paradox, that Hamlet is irrational. He acts without reflection, as he reflects </p. xviii> <p. xix> without acting. At the basis of all his ingenuity and reasoning, of his nimble wit and varied feeling, lies this act of inexplicable folly: that he conceals his discovery, postpones his vengeance before questioning its propriety, and descends with no motive to a grotesque and pitiful piece of dissimulation." This unreason is not madness, because "his intellect remains clear, his discourse sound and comprehensive [. . . ] . " <p. xix>
Santayana (Intro, ed. c. 1900, pp. xxiv-xxvi): <p. xxiv> "Towards his mother Hamlet maintains throughout the greater part of the play a wounded reserve appropriate to the situation. He speaks of her with sarcasm, but addresses her with curt respect. Only in the closet scene does he unbosom himself with a somewhat more emphatic eloquence, which shows touches of dignity and pathos; yet this scene, central as it is in the plot, hardly rises in power above the level of its neighbors. In comparison, for instance, the scenes with Ophelia are full of wonder and charm. There the poet's imagination flowers out, and Hamlet appears in all his originality and wild inspiration. [. . . ] </p. xxiv> <p. xxv> He loved Ophelia before the catastrophe came that unhinged his life; afterwards he remembers her, when he comes across her, as one might remember some tender episode of childhood. His feeling is sentiment rather than passion. He grows sentimental under the influence of her sensuous charm and of her innocence. [. . . ] His love of her plays no part in his essential resolutions. She does not console him at all, even in his initial bereavement and first suspicions. The speeches in his first scene are not those of a man in love. His pleasure in Ophelia's presence, his interest in his own love, has been undone by enterprises of greater pith and moment. When face to face with her grief, he is not impelled to explain and appeal to her constancy and trust, or invite her to share his calamity. His impulse is merely to despair and throw the blame on the world at large. 'Get thee to a nunnery, go.' 'Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?’ There is doubtless a shade of </p. xxv> <p. xxvi> jealousy in this cry, with a touch of tender solicitude to save and screen her from his own troubles. Yet the dominating sentiment is one of helpless regret. He is sorry, very sorry; but it does not occur to him that he can do anything or can find in Ophelia any resource or inspiration. His love, though sincere, seems to him now one of the frail treasures of his youth, blasted by destiny. It had never taken deep enough root in his soul to ensure the blasts of fortune, and be, like his love for his father, one of the moving forces in his destiny itself." </p. xxvi>
Chesterton (1901, rpt. 1971, p.42): “Hamlet was not a weak man fundamentally. Shakespeare never forgets to remind us that he had an elemental force and fire in him, liable to burst out and strike everyone with terror.
Yet have I something in me dangerous
Which let thy wisdom fear.
“But Hamlet was a man in whom the faculty of action had been clogged, not by the smallness of his moral nature, but by the greatness of his intellectual. Actions were really important to him, only they were not quite so dazzling and dramatic as thoughts . . . . Hamlet failed, but through the greatness of is upper, not the weakness of his lower storey. He was a giant, but he was top-heavy.
“But while I warmly agree in holding that the moral greatness of Hamlet is enormously underrated, I cannot agree that Hamlet was a moral success. If this is true, indeed, the whole story loses its central meaning; if the hero was a success, the play is a failure.”
Chesterton (1901, rpt. 1971, p.43): “The truth is that Shakespeare's Hamlet is immeasurably vaster than any mere ethical denunciation or ethical defence. Figures like this, scribbled in a few pages of pen and ink, can claim, like living beings, to be judged by Omniscience. To call Hamlet a 'witty weakling' is entirely to miss the point, which is his greatness; to call him a triumphant hero is to miss a point quite as profound . . . . Hamlet was not fitted for this world; but Shakespeare does not dare to say whether he was too good or too bad for it.”
Verity ([ver] ed. 1904, p. xlviii): Hamlet admires in Horatio what he most lacks. Horatio's serenity contrasts with Hamlet's passion: vide his behavior after the ghost leaves, to Ophelia, after the play-scene, in his mother’s closet, and at the graveside.
Verity ([ver] ed. 1904, p. li): “The equipoise of Hamlet’s mind has been disturbed in some degree.”
Bradley (1904, p. 21):If Hamlet were actually insane, the work could not be called a tragedy.
Bradley (1904, p. 27), speaking of tragic heroes as a whole, says that “in the circumstances where we see the hero placed, his tragic trait, which is also his greatness, is fatal to him. . . . He errs, by action or omission; and his error, joining with other causes, brings on his ruin.” Ed. note: anti-Hamlet critics do not see that his error is his greatness.
Bradley (1904, p. 28): Hamlet feels he is neglecting a duty. Bradley thinks that we should accept Hamlet's view of the matter.
Bradley (1904, p. 30): Sh. presents the tragedy so “one, that it is and remains to us something piteous, fearful and mysterious; the other, that the representation of it does not leave us crushed, rebellious or desperate. ”
Bradley (1904, p. 32): “Hamlet, recoiling from the rough duty of revenge, is pushed into blood guiltiness he never dreamed of, and forced at last on the revenge he could not will.”
Bradley (1904, pp. 37, 39): <p. 37> Even when the Shn tragic hero is comparatively innocent, he "shows some marked imperfection or defect--irresolution, precipitancy, pride . . . and the like." </p. 37> <p. 39> What we feel about Hamlet is that he is somehow not true to the moral goodness that is part of his nature. That is his tragedy. </p. 39> [In discussing the moral order, Bradley objectifies it as if it were a concrete element of existence.]
Bradley (1904, pp. 72-3) connects Hamlet and Brutus. <p. 72> “Both Brutus and Hamlet are highly intellectual by nature and reflective by habit. . . . Each, being also a 'good' man, shows accordingly, when placed in critical circumstances, a sensitive and almost painful anxiety to do right--to deal successively with their circumstances, the failure in each case is connected rather with their intellectual nature and reflective habit than with any </p. 72> <p. 73> yielding to passion. . . . </p. 73>
Bradley (1904, p. 79): “ . . . the whole play turns on the peculiar character of the hero . . . . First, we find by the side of the hero no other figure of tragic proportions . . . so that, in Hamlet's absence, the remaining characters would not yield a Shakespearean tragedy at all. And, secondly, we find among them two, Laertes and Fortinbras, who are evidently designed to throw the character of the hero into relief, Even in the situations there is a curious parallelism . . . [but] a strong contrast in character: for both Fortinbras and Laertes have in abundance the very quality the hero seems to lack . . . .”
Bradley (1904, p. 80): “ . . . [H]aving a fair understanding of him, we feel how strange it is that strength and weakness should be so mingled in one soul, and that this soul should be doomed to such misery and apparent failure. . . . . [But] no theory [of Hamlet's failure] will hold water which finds the cause of Hamlet's delay . . . in external difficulties. . . . ”
Bradley (1904, pp. 94-9) discusses Hamlet's attributes: <p. 94> Hamlet tended to have sharp shifts of mood, what would have been named melancholia at the time. </p. 94> <p. 95> He had, as well, “exquisite sensibility . . . . [that] makes all his cynicism, grossness and hardness appear to be morbidities, and has an inexpressibly attractive and pathetic effect.” He loved those around him, particularly his father: “The words melt into music whenever he speaks of him.” </p. 94> <p. 95> His tendency is to see only the good in people until events suggest otherwise. </p. 95> <p. 96> “And the negative side of his idealism [is] an aversion to evil [including his] disgust at his uncle's drunkenness, his loathing of his mother's sensuality, his astonishment and horror at her shallowness, his contempt for everything pretentious or false, his indifference to everything merely external.” </p. 96> <p. 97> His “intellectual genius . . . shows itself in conversation chiefly in the form of wit or humour; and, alike in conversation and soliloquy, it shows itself in the form of imagination . . . .” </p. 97> <p. 98> He is not a philosopher, as such, and for him the idea that "There is a divinity that shapes our ends" “is a discovery hardly won.” </p. 98> <p. 99> Bradley denies that “the gift and the habit of meditative and speculative thought tends to produce irresolution in the affairs of life.” Besides, Hamlet is a do-er as well as a thinker, a fencer, a soldier. </p. 99>
Bradley (1904, p. 101) asserts that Hamlet's abhorrence of his mother's alliance with his uncle is “perfectly natural” given the sensitivity of Hamlet's feelings and perceptions. In him, the marriage “ brings bewildered horror, then loathing, then despair of human nature. His whole mind is poisoned. He can never see Ophelia in the same light again . . . . ”
Bradley (1904, p. 107), after discussing at some length (pp. 102-7) Hamlet's melancholy, asserts that “to omit it from consideration or underrate its intensity is to make Shakespeare's story unintelligible.”
Bradley (1904, p. 120) is sure that Hamlet has an obligation “to fulfill the appointed duty . . . . what is believed to be the will of Providence.” Ed. note: The tortured syntax of Bradley's prose suggests how difficult his conclusion is.
Bradley (1904, p. 125): Hamlet's punning “betokens a nimbleness and flexibility of mind which is characteristic of him and not of the later less many-sided heroes.” Bradley speaks of “the real Hamlet”, that is the Hamlet of his imagination, who is unlike the emasculated Hamlet of some critics.
Ed. note: That Bradley so confidently distinguishes his Hamlet as the real Hamlet is a telling aspect of his criticism.
Bradley (1904, p. 126): “ . . . Hamlet, we may safely assert, is the only one of the tragic heroes who can be called a humorist, his humour being a first cousin to that speculative tendency which keeps his mental world in perpetual movement.” The more successful quips “reveal the misery and bitterness below the surface . . . . ” Not all the quips are equally successful is revealing character: “The truth probably is that it was the kind of humour most natural to Shakespeare himself, and that here, as in some other traits of the poet's greatest creation, we come in close contact with Shakespeare the man.”
Bradley (1904, p. 142): “As at the beginning of the play, we have this intimation, conveyed through the medium of the received religious idea of a soul come from purgatory, so at the end, conveyed through the similar idea of a soul carried by angels to its rest, we have . . . a reminder that the apparent failure of Hamlet's life is not the ultimate truth concerning him.”
Bradley (1904, Note A, fn. 1) assumes that Hamlet's attachment to Ophelia began after his father's death. In Q1 Hamlet signs “unhappy. . . Hamlet”: “'Unhappy' might be meant to describe an unsuccessful lover, but it probably shows that the letter was written after his father's death.”
Tolman (1904, p. 44): From his conclusion, the only part of his essay I have “It is probably safe to say that Shakespeare has given in ‘Hamlet’ the ultimate example of character-portrayal in drama. The completeness with which the nature and disposition of the Prince, his entire mental and moral being, are put before us is something which we are accustomed to find only in the wide-ranging, loosely constructed novel, not in the intense, concentrated, and sharply limited drama.”
Tolman argues (pp. 45-6) <p. 45> that no one theory works for all but that several can be combined, and one’s view is apt to change over time. Tolman favors three reasons for delay: <p. 46> “an excessive tendency to reflection, weakness of will, and especially a melancholy temperament and extreme sensitiveness.” Other plausible but not sufficient reasons include “Hamlet’s conscientious scruples against blood-revenge, and his natural aversion to killing the King. It seems to me entirely reasonable and natural that all these qualities should be associated in one person.” He mentions that he opposes Werder’s explanation, which no doubt I will find somewhere.
<p. 46> Solving the mystery of the character is not possible; always “some passage from the play comes to mind which accords but poorly with our elaborate solution.” </p. 46>
Porter & Clarke (ed. 1905, p. xix): “The energy that has been felt in Hamlet supplements and tends to correct the subtlety also felt in him.” He is as inconsistent as a person alive.”
Tolstoy (Shakespeare and the Drama [1906] in Reflections and Essays, tr. A. Maude) apud Robson, 1975, pp. 323-4: <p. 323> “Shakespeare [[ . . . ]] destroys all that forms Hamlet’s character in the legend. Throughout the whole tragedy Hamlet does not do what he might wish to do, but what is needed for the author’s plans: now he is frightened by his father’s ghost, now he begins to chaff it, by calling it 'old mole’; now he loves Ophelia, now he teases her, and so on. There is no possibility of finding any explanation of Hamlet’s actions and speeches [[. . . . ]] In none of Shakespeare's figures is, I will not say his inability, but his complete </p. 323> <p. 324> indifference to giving his people characters, so strikingly noticeable as in the case of Hamlet [[ . . . ]] ” Tolstoy does have some faint praise for Sh’s skill in some scenes where he overcomes somehow his maladroit construction. </p. 324> Ed. note: The ellipses are Robson's.
Rolfe ([rlf] ed. 1907) refers to “The Impediment of Adipose—A Celebrated Case.” Popular Science Monthly (May 1860), (apud Rolfe, 1907, p. 2 n. 1), and “Loening (as quoted by Tolman) (apud Rolfe, 1907, p. 2 n. 1) ‘thinks that the evidence points to an internal fatness, fatness of the heart; and he believes that this physical infirmity helps to explain the inactivity of the hero.’”
Rolfe (ed. 1907, “intro,” p.36): Though there remain elements of the old Norse hero in Hamlet, which prompt “the impulse to ‘sweep to’ his revenge before he hears the circumstances,” upon mature reflection, he considers more deeply what the Ghost means; the last words are ‘remember me,’ which do not point toward murder.
Rolfe ed. 1907, notes:
<p. 15> the Klein-Werder (and Fletcher) theory accepted by Furness, Corson, Hudson in ed. 1882. </p. 15>
<p. 16> Tolman, Alfred H. Views About Hamlet and Other Essays. Boston, 1904, counter-opinion. </p. 16>
Trench (1913, p. 56), writing of Hamlet's quick apprehension of foul play [457], declares: “For Hamlet has by temperament a special affinity for all that is outside the range of merely sensuous experience.”
Trench (1913, pp. 78-9): <p. 78> Hamlet, “characterised by a scrupulous morality, and possessed of the </p. 78> <p. 79> highly nervous temperament often associated with great refinement, is as unfit as an academic mind of the twentieth century for the primordial responsibility of the avenger of blood, a responsibility from which civilisation relieves the individual. . . . Made for something immeasurably better than Danish politics and regicide, [Hamlet] finds those to be his uncongenial sphere and this his burdensome duty.” </p. 79>
Trench (1913, p. 81) frequently uses the expression “he lets himself go,” a pejorative assessment of Ham.
Trench (1913, p. 83 and p. 83 n. 1) calls Hamlet “this very religious man, who desires to go and pray [824], who is careful to distinguish grace from mercy [876; n.1], and who [at 883] says 'God willing' with actions in futurity . . . . [n.1] "The only other character of Shakespeare's who makes this distinction is the pious and ineffective Henry VI.”
Trench (1913, pp. 85-7): <p. 85> “Why is Hamlet going to be a failure at the end? Because of his attitude in relation to circumstances at the beginning.” His defect is an absence of will, figured by his attraction to suicide. </p.85> <p. 86> “Hamlet, before ever he got the ghost's revelation . . . was . . . predisposed to insanity.” Horatio had warned him that madness could ensue from following the ghost [662-3], but Hamlet enjoyed letting himself go in this way, which is why he resolves to put on an antic disposition [868]. </p. 86> <p. 87> “Unable to decide on a course of action, Hamlet decides on a course of inaction.” Trench looks to alienists [Drs. H. Maudsley and C. Williams] for support. </p. 87>
Trench (1913, p. 115): “Made for a philosopher, he has been put into the situation of a politician; made for a moralist, he is required to be a manslayer; suited for the production of theory and idealism, he is asked by Fate to produce energy and practical efficiency.”
Lunt (1915, pp. 153-4): <p. 153>“Hamlet was moody, speculative, over </p. 153><p. 154> thoughtful, incapable of deliberate action.”
Russell (1919, rpt. 1993, pp. 169-70. Excerpt provided by John Ongley, Russell scholar): “To Maintain that Hamlet, for example, exists in his own world, namely, in the world of Shakespeare's imagination, just as truly as (say) Napoleon existed in the ordinary world, is to say something deliberately confusing, or else confused to a degree that is scarcely credible. There is only one world, the 'real' world: Shakespeare's imagination is a part of it, and the thoughts that he had in writing Hamlet are real. So are the thoughts we have in reading the play. But it is of the very essence of fiction that only the thoughts, feelings, etc., in Shakespeare and his readers are real, and that there is not, in addition to them, an objective Hamlet. When you have taken account of all the feelings roused by Napoleon in writers and readers of history, you have not touched the actual man; but in the case of Hamlet, you have come to the end of him. If no one thought about Hamlet, there would be nothing left of him; if no one had thought about Napoleon, he would have soon seen to it that someone did. The sense of reality is vital in logic, and whoever juggles with it by pretending that Hamlet has another kind of reality is doing a disservice to thought. A robust sense of reality is very necessary in framing a correct analysis of propositions about unicorns, golden mountains, round squares, and other such pseudo-objects.”
T. S. Eliot (1919, Selected Prose, ed. Kermode, p. 145, apud Thompson & Taylor (ed. 2006, p. 38): “ 'Hamlet is up against the difficulty that his disgust is occasioned by his mother, but his mother is not an adequate equivalent for it; his disgust envelops and exceeds her'; hence the play lacks an 'objective correlative'—an appropriate matching of emotion to object.” Ed. note: See Hudson [hud] 1872, above]
Chesterton (1923, rpt. 1971, pp. 49-53): “The psycho-analysts continue to buzz in a mysterious manner round the problem of Hamlet. They are especially interested in the things of which Hamlet was unconscious, not to mention the things of which Shakespeare was unconscious. . . . It seems just possible that a man might be quite conscious of not liking a job. Where he differed from the modern morality was that he believed in the possibility of disliking it and yet doing it.
“But to follow the argument of these critics one would think that murdering the head of one's family was a . . . gay and innocent indulgence into which the young prince would naturally have thrown himself with thoughtless exuberance, were it not for the dark and secretive thoughts that had given him an unaccountable distaste for it. . . . .
“Shakespeare certainly did believe in the struggle between duty and inclination. The critic instinctively avoids the admission that Hamlet's was a struggle between duty and inclination and tries to substitute a struggle between consciousness and subconsciousness. . . . He is driven to this because he will not even take seriously the simple and, if you will, primitive morality upon which the tragedy is built. For that morality involves three moral propositions . . . : first, that it may be our main business to do the right thing, even when we detest doing it; second, that the right thing may involve punishing some person, especially some powerful person; third, that the just process of punishment may take the form of fighting and killing. And in order to avoid this plain and obvious meaning of war as a duty and peace as a temptation, the critic has to turn the whole play upside down, and seek its meaning in modern notions so remote as o be in this connection meaningless. He has to make William Shakespeare of Stratford one of the pupils of Professor Freud. . . .
“The point about Hamlet was that he wavered, very excusably, in something that had to be done; and this is the point quite apart from whether we ourselves would have done it. That was pointed out by Browning in The Statue and the Bust. . . . Whether or not the tyrannicide of Hamlet was a duty, it was accepted as a duty and it was shirked as a duty.” Chesterton compares the inaction of modern leaders against tyrants. “At least Hamlet did not spare Claudius solely because he hoped to get money out of him . . .”
“It is therefore natural that men should be trying to dissolve the moral problem of Hamlet into the unmoral elements of consciousness and unconsciousness. The sort of duty that Hamlet shirked is exactly the sort of duty that we are all shirking, that of dethroning justice and vindicating truth.”
Farjeon (1924, rpt. 1949, pp. 140-2): < p. 142>In so far as it was a glowering, sleepless Hamlet, Mr. Isham’s performance [for the Oxford University Dramatic Society] was in the spirit of the part, In so far as it was a mannerless, humourless Hamlet, it fell short. His attitude towards Polonius was not so much that of a young wit amusing himself at the expense of a dispised old fool as of a lout kicking a football. At the end of it all I could no more tell what Mr. Isham thought about Hamlet than I could have told twenty years ago, when he was in swaddling-clothes. Nevertheless, the Hamlet of an actor. And, perhaps, in another twenty years, a Hamlet worth recalling.” </ p. 142>
Farjeon (1925, rpt. 1949, pp. 146-8): “Mr. Barrymore’s Hamlet”: < p. 146> “The meaning of the words came through, a mercy deserving the warmest gratitude. But if the thoughts were the thoughts of Hamlet, they were not thought in Hamlet’s way. The true temper of the character did not emerge.” Barrymore’s was a Hamlet “who was not by birth a thinker, a Hamlet who suffered from no rush of philosophy to the head, but a Hamlet who was capable of concentration and who had had philosophy dinned into him by university professors.
“Mr. Barrymore spoke deliberately, he showed you each idea in the making, like a slow-motion picture. But while a slow-motion picture of a flash of lightning might reveal many fascinating mysteries, it would not present a true picture of a flash of lightning.”
[Here is Farjeon on Ham.:] “And Hamlet’s brain was a lightning brain, an intensely emotional brain, a brain that leapt in the dark and suffered sudden revulsions, a fevered brain that drove him to cry (and not to ;ponder) ‘Fie on’t’ and ‘Pah!’ and ‘Foh!’ and ‘Ha!’ and ‘O God, O God!’ When Hamlet exclaimed: ‘O what a rogue and peasant slave am it!’ It was an exclamation, not an explanation.” [See CNs for √ 319, 1590, 1628] </ p. 146>
< p. 147> Farjeon again discusses Ham. He wishes Barrymore had “presented himself to the rest of the Court more dishevelled in appearance, in manner, and in mind. For it seems to me that, under the cover of pretending to be mad, Hamlet really does go a little mad, losing his self-control, letting himself rip, and saying things that surprise and perhaps even appal him. His motley releases him. [. . . ] And so Hamlet heaps insults on the head of Polonius and the others which he has long yearned to utter, but which he would never have uttered had he not been assured that his manner would convince the listener that he was a stark, staring lunatic.” </ p. 147>
In another review of Barrymore (“Hamlet Goes Slow,”Farjeon again discusses Ham.: Farjeon (1925, rpt. 1949, p. 150): “If Hamlet was the greatest thinker in literature, he was also the most multitudinous, or—to kill two birds with a single stone—tumultitudinous. He thought by inspiration, not by perseverance. But Mr. Barrymore gave us a persevering rather than an inspired thinker, a two-and-two makes four soliloquizer, a man who tackled problems instead of a man whom problems were always attacking. The result of this was that the character came out, somehow, too small, lacked fire, elasticity, flow. And I think it was largely due to the tardiness of Mr. Barrymore’s utterance that in a performance lasting nearly four hours we got, comparatively, so little of the play. The more I see Shakespeare’s plays, the more convinced I become that they need a small intimate theatre, in which rapidity of utterance is easily caught by every member of the audience.”
Bradby (1926, pp. 47-8): <p. 47>“There are other puzzles in Shakespeare, connected with the reading of character; notably in Hamlet. Hamlet attracts us from the first,— the scholar, poet, gentleman; and we feel sure that he was also one of Shakespeare’s favourite creations. We find in him many points of contact with ourselves: he seems often to express our own feelings, thoughts, and perplexities, The difficult is, that whether we assume his madness to be wholly feigned or partly real, his actions and behaviour do not always square with our conception of his character. We think that there must be some explanation of this apparent discrepancy. We form theories about him: but none satisfies us completely, or accounts for all the facts. Do we, because we like him, read into him too much of ourselves </p. 47> <p. 48> and of our personal standard, and see him, not through Shakespeare’s eyes, but through our own? Or is it possible, because Shakespeare invented him, unconsciously, with so much of his own personality that we find this difficulty, at times, of reconciling him with the story? Whatever may be the true explanation, he remains the most perplexing of all Shakespeare’s characters, and, for that reason, the most interesting.” </p. 48>
adams (1929, pp. 213-15): <p. 213> By arguing that Hamlet believed his mother guilty of murder as well as adultery and incest, Adams explains Hamlet's delay, exacerbated by melancholia. Only after her exclamation [as Adams points it] 'As kill a king?' [2411] does he realize his error; only then can he proceed. </p. 215>
Chesterton (1930 rpt. 1971, p.69): Hamlet is not mad. “He must be sane in order to be sad . . . . No lunatic ever had so good a sense of humour as Hamlet . . . The whole point of Hamlet is that he is really saner than anybody else in the play; though I admit that being sane is not identical to what some call being sensible. Being outside the world, he sees all around it; where everybody else sees his own side of the world, his own worldly ambition, or hatred or love. But, after all, Hamlet pretended to be mad in order to receive fools. We cannot complain if he has succeeded.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 232-3): <p. 232> He takes on “three quite distinct guises. . . . There is the black-suited Hamlet, rebelliously singular amid the peacock brilliancy of the Council. Then, in drastic contrast, there will be the Hamlet of the 'antic disposition' [868]. . . . ” </p. 232> <p. 233> This second Hamlet, contrary to stage tradition, should cast off the mourning clothes and at least pretend to be adhering to his mother's advice [248]. The third will be his after-voyage demeanor: “By the wistfully humorous detachment of his mood we are to know that the fever in his brain is now burned out.” </p. 233>
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 31): “Shakespeare does marvels with this Hamlet who is neither mad nor sane . . . ; the man . . . at war within himself; and a traveler, with that passport, into strange twilight regions of the soul.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 61-2): From the beginning of the play until the journey towards England Hamlet is at least a little mad. . . . <p. 62> “ Hamlet will also pretend to be mad, and the pretense and the reality will not easily be distinguished.” </p. 62>
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt.1946 1:32): Hamlet the character is too well-developed for Hamlet. “Shakespeare has not . . . finally dramatized Hamlet. Here is the character, at which he has had more than one immature and fragmentary try, fully and vividly imagined at last—what character was ever more so? But he does not submit it to the final discipline which would make it an integral part of the play. He could do so by reducing it to an equality with the rest. Such limitation would bring clarity. But this is just what he now will not do. . . . He is pioneering a new world of drama. Later he will learn how to shape and economize that to his theater’s needs. Meanwhile—and we may be thankful for it—no lesser considerations turn him back.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 56-7): <p. 56> Knowing what we do about Hamlet's mood since the death of his father, we cannot be very confident about the strength of his love for Ophelia. “What will such as he have to do with love- </p. 56> <p. 57> making, honorable or other? He is to wreck her life indeed, but in far other fashion than father and brother fear.” </p. 57>
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 231-2): <p. 231> “The unfitness of the man for his task is at once plain.” His “continuing effort to be—so to put it—Kyd's hero and Shakespeare's reveals deeper incongruities. It involves him in a rupture of the entire spiritual treaty between </p. 231> <p. 232> himself and the world in which he must live, and in a conflict between two selves within him, the one that would agree with this world, the other that cannot. There is the fundamental tragedy, exhibited by seeing him with a variety of his world's inhabitants . . . . [Sh.] makes [Hamlet's madness] a dramatic symbol of the true tragedy of his Hamlet, which is the tragedy of a spiritual revolution.” </p. 232>
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 244-5): <p. 244> Besides the Hamlet we see during the action, Sh. contrives “to give us also some refracted glimpses of a more normal man.
“The Players are put to this use. . . . Here is a man of fastidious taste . . . [who is] princely in welcoming a common Player as his friend.” Similarly his advice to the players reflects his character [see CN 1849]. </p. 244> <p. 245> However, his soliloquies do not accomplish as much in this regard as we might think: “In a tragedy of spiritual struggle, discord will be at its worst when a man is left alone with his thoughts. . . . </p. 245> <p. 246> And while the play may seem to be but one long opportunity for Hamlet to express himself, the simple truth about him is rather that which is reflected from the few moment's self-forgetful praise of his friend. . . ” </p. 246> <p. 247> in which there is an “implicit confession of his own contrasted weakness. . . . Misfortunes do not change a character, they but bring out its weakness or its strength.” </p. 247> Granville-Barker believes Hamlet is the opposite of what he praises in Horatio—and that he would have been so whether his father had been murdered or not.
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 148): “ . . . Hamlet, from the very outset [see, e.g., 885-6], is inwardly divided and weakened.” All this leads to the suicidal "To be" soliloquy. What he must do is submerge his better nature. “And what we watch in him is the dire process of the conversion. His finer traits must be blunted. Gentleness, simplicity, generosity; of what use are they? In the unexacted courtesy towards Marcellus and Bernardo and the Players is the old Hamlet; in the mockery of Polonius, the overt contempt for Osric, is the new. Of impulsive, trustful affection, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern cure him; and they teach him to pay men back in their own coin. He must learn to be callous . . . . He must learn to be cruel.” He practices on Ophelia and on his mother.
“Now a man is always a little ridiculous when he strives to be other than he is; and Hamlet is so, if tragically so. He is conscious of it, for he is conscious of everything concerning him . . . .”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 254-5) criticizes Hamlet for his doubts about the ghost. <p. 255> He maintains that the ghost “is proved to be an honest ghost, but this does not give Hamlet back the old confident possession of his soul.”
Farjeon (“Hamlet from the Roots” 1930, rpt. 1949, p. 151): In praise of John Gielgud’s Hamlet: “Here is a Hamlet to rank with the best—a young, living, bitter, brilliant, thought-ridden, wretched Hamlet—a Hamlet who has had bad dreams—a Hamlet who cannot do the deed because he unpacks his heart with words and continually gets the satisfaction in imagination which he should reserve for action. Mr. Gielgud is splendid. [. . . ] Almost every line is spoken by Mr. Gielgud from the roots. Let the actor take care of the roots and the flower will take care of itself. How many popular performances are just cut flowers that can live only in the vase-water of public appreciation?”
Farjeon (“Simultaneous Hamlets” 1930, rpt. 1949, pp. 151-3): < p. 152> On Gielgud’s and Herr Moissi’s Hamlet, which he faulted for being weak at times, “a Hamlet seizing the scraps he finds most appetizing, rather than a sustained and lucid character,” but he also praises him for his elucidation of moments: “ He can seize a moment and make a memorable thing of it, as he seizes on the moment when Polonius insensitively comments on the tears in the First Player’s eyes, hushing the old man for his unseasonable admiration, yet himself (when he is alone) enlarging on the same miracle in more befitting speech. [. . . ]
“Herr Moissi is at his best in the more hectic passages of excitement. But if I had to describe this Hamlet in one adjective, I should describe it as a soft Hamlet—and then, since one adjective will not suffice, I should add a Hamlet of sweet bells jangled out of tune. Out of tune poor Hamlet most certainly was once he had encountered his father’s ghost. But how sweet, one sometimes wonders, were the bells even before that fateful meeting? </ p. 152>
< p. 153> John Gielgud’s “Hamlet is a really superb, vital, pitiable John-o’-dreams, never seeking to nobility, never under-stressing the quick bitterness and brutality of this crawler between heaven and earth. The sooner we get away from the tradition that Hamlet was a charming young fellow in unfortunate circumstances the better. There is too much zest in his ugly behaviour to Ophelia, in his violent behaviour to his mother, in his bullyragging behaviour to Rosencrants and Guildenstern, in his insulting behaviour to Polonius, to be palmed off as pure antic disposition. I will warrant that he made some of the young fellows at Wittenberg suffer in the old days, and I should rather like to know whether, when his father was alive, he addressed many more words to him than he did to his uncle after his uncle had taken his father’s place.
“But this has taken me from Mr. Gielgud, whom I would praise for the salt in the dry tears of his performance, for the eyes that seem so sunk with want of sleep, and for the living meaning with which he invests almost every word he speaks. [. . . ]” </ p. 153> [He’s got something here. Part of Hamlet’s appeal is his brutality, zest for cruelty, “salt.” The best Hamlets are not namby pamby.]
Farjeon (“An Ordeal for Mr. Tearle” 1931, rpt. 1949, pp. 153-5): On the actor’s taking over the part with only 24-hrs. notice, and of effecting it serviceably; < p. 154> “It was in his tenderest passages that he was most effective—notably his scene with his mother and his more melting moments with Ophelia. He was never bad. He was, however, a bit of a Dobbin [Vanity Fair , a nebbish-good guy]. Where he failed most seriously was in conveying the bitterness in Hamlet}s composition, the acidity of the tears shed by his heart, the storm of thoughts by which his brain was besieged, the charming and alarming impetuousness of his nature, the exclamatoriness of the man.” </ p. 154>
Wilson (1932 [pub. 1934], pp. 231-2) <p. 231> speculates that Hamlet’s frequent use of a for he is Sh.’s way of showing, perhaps, that “the speech of Hamlet may be deliberately intended as characteristic of one who was open and familiar with his friends of inferior social standing, in the same way as his repetitions were intended to bring out his brooding disposition.”
The same is true of the contraction a = he; as = have; and = of. Similarly, syncopated forms. </p. 231><p. 232> Wilson finds a “peculiar intimacy about Hamlet, which is not felt so strongly in” his other plays, and which F1 obliterates. On the other hand, F1 is more likely to have ordinary contractions, like who’s than Q2. </ p. 232>
Craig (HLQ 1934, pp. 30-1): “In the light of Cardan's [see Craig in CN 317] thinking, which is characteristic of the Renaissance and is freely reflected in Hamlet, one might well ask whether modern critics have not overstressed the individual psychology of Hamlet and given to his self-reproaches too intimate and personal a bearing. Hamlet's situation as a grief-stricken hero caught in the toils of innumerable difficulties and dangers is typical, and is the one presented by Cardan, who says that all men in like case and that the remedy lies in the curing of the mind so that it will rise above the trials of life. Cardan, in effect, reproaches man for allowing himself to become ‘lapsed in time and passion' . . . [,] Hamlet's reproaches against himself: Hamlet's plight is as intense as Cardan felt his own to be, and one may believe that, like Cardan's, it is to be interpreted as exemplifying the common fate of all men. . . . Hamlet is not weak as an individual; he is merely the representative of weak humanity. He rebukes himself, not for his own faults, but for those of humankind . . . .
In his praise of Horatio, “Hamlet meant, not to confess his own weakness . . . , but to express the ideal of his own character and the goal of his own striving: [quotes from 1904 - 1925].”
Wilson (1935, p.43) contra T. E. Eliot, Goethe and their critique of the character: “The datum of the tragedy is not ‘a great deed imposed upon a soul unequal to the performance of it,’ but a great, a noble spirit subjected to a moral shock so overwhelming that it shatters all zest for life and all belief in it.”
Wilson (1935, rpt. 1986, pp. 47, 48), contra Werder, <p. 47>points out that nowhere does Hamlet refer to bringing the king to public justice. </p. 47> <p. 48> Hamlet would avoid public knowledge to protect the family name; he must dispatch the king without general knowledge. But once all the principals are dead, that does not matter.
Farjeon (1935, rpt. 1949, pp. 156-7): < p. 156> Michael Macliammoir’s Hamlet was outstanding. “It had youth, vigour of mind, the self-contempt that seeks compensation in rudeness to others, and direct attack, not being embellished with those hundred-and-one little touches that are apt to make Shakespearean acting so over-subtle. Good elocution, too, with no Irish accent [. . . ].” </ p. 156> Ed. note: Farjeon does not know that Macliammoir was not Irish but made himself so.
Malleson (1936, TLS p. 15): The reason it is important, contra Dover Wilson, to understand that Hamlet does not consider Claudius a usurper is to enable us to see Hamlet as a noble character, whose only motive throughout the play is to perform “the duty of avenging the murder of his father and the dishonouring of his mother.” He is not concerned with gaining the kingship, which would be an altogether less altruistic motive.
Farjeon (1937, rpt. 1949, pp. 157-8): < p. 157> Olivier’s is an athletic Ham. and the actor is almost too handsome. Farjeon did not see anything of the Freudian in the part, though it was suggested “beforehand that this was to be an Ernest Jones Hamlet—that is to say, a Hamlet in love with his mother, and therefore incapable of behaving as a lover should towards Ophelia. [. . . ] Mr. Olivier’s interpretation of Hamlet seemed no more psycho-analytical than George Howe’s excellent performance of Polonius, or Alec Guinness’s brilliant little sketch of Osric.” Farjeon claims that Olivier was best in “moments of excitability.
“Yet these moments of excitability are not always the most satisfactory, for in conveying the general impression, Mr. Olivier scamps the detail, and words that should speak volumes convey almost nothing at all.
Knight (1930, p. 25): “Hamlet's soul is sick. . . . The disease is deeper than his loss of Ophelia, deeper than his mother's sexual impurity, and his father's death. These are the outward symbols of it, the 'causes' of it: but the thing itself is ultimate, beyond causality.”
Knight (1930, pp. 28-31): <p. 28> Hamlet's “former courteous and kindly nature . . . break through . . . but they do not last: cynicism and consequent cruelty, born of the burden of pain within him, blight the spontaneous gentleness that occasionally </p. 28> <p. 29> shows itself, strangle it. There is a continual process of self-murder at work in Hamlet's mind. He is cruel to Ophelia and his mother [because, as Knight says on p. 28, he had once loved them]. He exults in tormenting the King by the murder of Gonzago, and when he finds him conscious-stricken, at prayer, takes a demoniac pleasure in the thought of preserving his life for a more damning death . . . With a callousness and a most evident delight that shocks Horatio he sends his former school-friends to an undeserved death . . . . Hamlet thus takes a devilish joy in cruelty towards the end of the play: he is like Iago. . . . . Hamlet is cruel. He murders Polonius in error . . . .</p. 29> <p. 30> He proceeds from this to vile abuse of his own mother . . . . At the end of his scene with his mother there is one beautiful moment when Hamlet gains possession of his soul [when he expresses regret at killing Polonius, 2548-9]. And his filial love wells up in [I must be cruel only to be kind, 2554]. But it is short-lived. Next comes a long speech of the most withering, brutal, and unnecessary sarcasm . . . Even more horrible are his disgusting words about Polonius, whom he has unjustly killed, to the King [quotes 2682-98] </p. 30> <p. 31> . . . The horror of humanity doomed to death and decay has disintegrated Hamlet's mind. . . . Death is indeed the theme of this play, for Hamlet's disease is mental and spiritual Death. . . . . His consciousness, functioning in terms of evil and negation, sees hell but not heaven.” </p. 31>
Knight (1930, p. 33): “To ignore the unpleasant aspects of Hamlet blurs our vision of the protagonist, the play as a whole, and its place in Shakespeare's work.”
Knight (1930, p. 33): “Hamlet does not neglect his father's final behest--he obeys it, not wisely but only too well. Hamlet remembers--not alone his father's ghost, but all the Death of which it is a symbol. What would have been the use of killing Claudius? Would that have saved his mother's honour, have brought life to his father's mouldering body, have enabled Hamlet himself, who had so long lived in Death, to have found again childish joy in the kisses of Ophelia? Would that have altered the Universal Scheme? To Hamlet, the universe smells of mortality; and his soul is sick to death.”
Knight (1930, pp. 37-8): <p. 37> Claudius's “is the advice of worldly common sense opposed to the extreme misery of a sensitive nature paralysed by the facts of death and unfaithfulness. This contrast points the relative significance of the King and his court to Hamlet. They are of the world--with their crimes, their follies, their shallowness, their pomp and glitter; they are of </p. 37> <p. 38> humanity, with all its failings, it is true, but yet of humanity. . . . . Hamlet's philosophy may be inevitable, blameless, and irrefutable. But it is the negation of life. It is death. Hence Hamlet is a continual fear to Claudius, a reminder of his crime.” </p. 38>
Knight (1930, p. 41): “Instinctively the creatures of earth--Laertes, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, league themselves with Claudius; they are of his kind. They sever themselves from Hamlet. . . . [They] are firmly drawn, in the round, creatures of flesh and blood. But Hamlet is not of flesh and blood . . . He is a superman among men . . . because he has held converse with Death. . . . This Hamlet is an element of evil in the state of Denmark. The poison of his mental existence spreads outwards among things of flesh and blood, like acid eating into metal. They . . . fall . . . like victims of an infectious disease.”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 4) makes the pt that neither Stubbs [whom he calls “Hanmer”] nor Johnson saw any dramaturgical reason for Hamlet's madness. [Ed. note: For Stubbs and Johnson, see "The Play as a Whole."] “Later critics point out that the feigned madness at least was of service to Hamlet in that it allowed him when nearly beside himself to behave like a madman without causing surprise. This subtlety of understanding escaped Dr Johnson: and this fact again is worth noting. At all events it is remarkable that he and [Stubbs] both accept the difficulty very philosophically . . . [it's a flaw in Sh. but] no writer is perfect everywhere . . . .”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 11): Goethe's “notable criticism (which was in essentials, nevertheless, not a marked advance on what had already been said by Mackenzie and Richardson) was a pattern and starting-point for a great volume of nineteenth-century comment. . . .
“I suppose no portrait of Hamlet is quite so damaging to him as Goethe's. Both in the praise and the blame that it implies, it is shockingly unfair. The virtues it leaves him are precisely the virtues for which we have the coldest respect; the faults it alleges are the faults that . . . seem to have least . . . saving grace.”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 12): “All feel the idealism of the Prince's nature; all realise his intense and exquisite appreciation of beauty and goodness; all comprehend the rarity of his soul.” Writing for all who share his opinion, he continues: “We resent his being denied 'strength of nerve.' ”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 21): “Goethe's Hamlet reminds us of [his] Werther.” Similarly, Coleridge, in his description of Hamlet, sketches a portrait of himself.
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 24): If the play does not mention external or internal difficulties, then the critics has no recourse to such theories.
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, pp. 50-5) <p. 50> discusses Ernest Jones's psychoanalytic theory which begins from the premise that Hamlet's emotion about his mother's marriage, though obviously incestuous and indecently hasty, is not sufficient reason for his reaction. </p. 50> <p. 51> Jones, who treats Hamlet like a real person, not a dramatic construct, assumes that Hamlet himself is unaware of the cause of his psychological condition that prevents him from acting in this one instance but not in others. </p. 51> <p. 52> The familiar psychoanalytic script follows: the passion for the mother, the hatred of the father, the inability to kill the one who has accomplished what Hamlet himself had wished to do. </p. 52> <p. 53> “Jones (after Bradley) [suggests] that the behaviour of Hamlet might well represent Shakespeare's sense of what his own behaviour in such circumstances could have been.” </p. 53> <p. 54> Waldock can let that idea pass. But he questions whether Sh. did work in that way. </p. 54> <p. 55> “When a complex is made into dramatic material it becomes our business, not before.” The one thing Jones accomplishes is bringing out the play's sexual nature, which Coleridge and Goethe ignore and Bradley minimizes. “Hamlet is sick with disgust. He could retch with the thought of what his mother has been doing. ” But this is not the paralysis that Jones describes. </p. 55>
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, pp. 56-8): <p. 56> Hamlet is so upset about his mother that the death of his father takes second place. </p. 56> <p. 57> In quotations from the first soliloquy and subsequently, Waldock follows the trail of Hamlet's words and actions, starting with the reported visit to Ophelia, the talk to Polonius about his daughter, the nunnery scene with its harping on honesty, </p. 57> <p. 58> the conversation with Ophelia, etc. “It is as if [Hamlet's] experience has become woven into the very texture of his mind; he thinks of nothing else.” </p. 58 >
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, pp. 74-5): <p. 74> “Deny him 'pathology' [as Stoll does], it still remains true that there is some complexity in him, some depth (one surely gathers), something remarkable.” He is not merely a standard-issue revenge hero. </p. 74> <p. 75> Nor is he, as professor Schücking asserts, merely a conventional melancholy figure. “It is important that we should realise that there is an element of convention in Hamlet's character, that even here Shakespeare was, in a sense, drawing on given material, that he was doing over again what had been done before. Professor Schücking, like Professor Stoll, assumes that he could not do it over again differently.” Waldock relies on his intuition, which tells him that “just as Hamlet is not the ideal romantic avenger, so he is not the melancholy man. He has something of both in him, no doubt. But he is neither; he is himself.” </p. 75>
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 99) concludes: “There is no one, in history or in literature, like Hamlet. All that humanity is, all that humanity might be, seem figured in him. It is no wonder if we find it a task of some difficulty to pluck out all the mysteries of his soul.”
Wilson (1935, rpt. 1986, pp. 212-29): <p. 212> expresses more definitely in WHH than he had in MSH Hamlet's mental imbalance, </ p. 212><p. 213> which explains the seven outbursts of "ungovernable agitation," including the cellarage scene, the scene in Ophelia's closet, the soliloquy of self-reproach at the end of 2.2, </ p. 213><p. 214> the "To be" soliloquy and nunnery outburst, his exuberance after the play-within, </ p. 214> <p. 215> the bedroom scene, and the outburst at the grave. </ p. 215><p. 216> Thus Hamlet's confession to Laertes is the truth. </ p. 216> <p. 218> But he is neither merely nor entirely a madman. </ p. 220> We hear about his madness from others but never see him in that state on stage. </ p. 221 > <p. 222> He is "subject to occasional fits of madness" but his reason never fails him when we see him. </ p. 222> <p. 224> He bears responsibility for his defects and errors. His outbursts vary: delirious, savage, sarcastic, hilarious, but are alike in being hysterical. </ p. 224> <p. 226> Melancholy is its chief manifestation. </ p. 226> <p. 227> While Shakespeare knew the current theories, his depiction of Hamlet is not theory driven. </ p. 227> <p. 228> Shakespeare was influenced also by the Earl of Essex, but "Hamlet is not Essex [. . . ]." </ p. 228><p. 229> We can't discover the mystery of Hamlet because he is a dramatic illusion. </ p. 229>
Wilson (1935, rpt. 1986, p. 237) sums up Shakespeare's intent to put before us "a great, an almost superhuman, figure tottering beneath a tragic burden too heavy even for his mighty back; or, if you will, of a genius suffering from a fatal weakness and battling against it, until in the end it involves him in the catastrophe which is at once his liberation and his atonement."
Bethell (1944, p. 82): “Hamlet's delay is purposive at last, as he waits on God: [quotes 3507-10].”
Bethell (1944, rpt 1970, p. 181): calls Hamlet “the spoiled favorite among Shakespearean characters.”
Ellis-Fermor (1945, rpt. 1964, p. 54) lists Hamlet among those who do not think through the obligations of “public conduct.” She includes Hamlet among those “Jacobean” figures who represent Sh's “uncompromising declaration of individual freedom and responsibility. . . . ”
Ellis-Fermor, (1945, rpt. 1964, pp. 91-2):Hamlet's soliloquies employ <p. 91> “imagery, rather than abstract terminology, for the </p. 91> <p. 92> expression of reflection, and when he speaks of 'the native hue of resolution' is 'sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,' we apprehend in two brief lines [1738-9] a condition of mind which would need many lines or indeed speeches were it to be expounded. And so, throughout the soliloquy, moods and states of mind are revealed by single images or groups and related to each other by the apposition of the images and transitions from one to another. The effect of a long psychological diagnosis is thus given in one speech, without diluting the dramatic concentration.” </p. 92>
Morozov (1949, p. 93): "One would expect Hamlet's role to be full of lofty, poetic comparisons and metaphors. In reality we find that his role is almost totally devoid of this type of imagery. On the contrary, simple and extremely prosaic images predominate. Hamlet tends toward substantial, concrete comparisons and metaphors. The actor who gesticulates excessively while declaiming is, in Hamlet's words, 'sawing the air' [1852] 'O, it offends me to the soul', says Hamlet in the same monologue, 'to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings.' [1856-59] The verb split suggests a very concrete image here: by shouting an actor seems to chop at the ears of an audience with an axe. Poor actors, he says, make him think that ‘nature's journeymen had made men’ [1881-2].
van Lennep (1950, 1-64): For van Lennep, the ghost's wishes and motives become secondary. Once Hamlet knows that the king is a murderer and therefore not fit to be a king, he owed it to himself, and to the nation, to rid the world of Claudius. He could not do it because he was weak. In the process of making his case, van Lennep first describes Hamlet's good qualities and follows with all his many self-deluding weaknesses. He paints the king and queen as both obviously corrupt from their first appearance.
van Lennep (1950, pp. 8-9): In spite of all his faults, we like Hamlet <p. 8> “because he is loyal, chivalrous, intrepid, unassuming, accessible, intelligent, does not attitudinize nor aspire after things forbidden, never seeks his own advancement (his behaviour is often inimical to it). It is on account of his reticence concerning his private troubles, it is because even when speaking with authority unquestioned he does so without arrogance, self-complacency or superciliousness, it is because he does not pretend to a nimbus of infallibility, ridicules absurd pomp, hates the commonplace and trivial, vulgarity, cant and is contemptuous of praise and flattery. We like him for his smooth, inimitable wit, sparkling, pungent, mordant, his sense of humour that discovers laughter even in the whereabouts of a dead body, his dislike of stilted language and flowery rhetoric, his open, discriminating and disapproving eye for his infirmities. We like him because he is free from vanity or effeminacy, pose, contriving and deep down in the essence of his being a good man of quick conceit and exquisite sensibility, in a rare degree gifted, just. By 'good' I mean that Hamlet's natural inclination is to let conscience dictate the directions of his free will. I stress the word free, When he is in the throes of passion, his will is passion's slave. . . . but the predominant trait in this fictitious personage's make-up, his root feeling indubitably is melancholy . . . that has engendered indolence." Hamlet's melancholy is caused by "his revered father's sudden death and his mother's unexpected, incomprehensible, and precipitate remarriage to his uncle Claudius, a smiling villain of the deepest dye, cloaked in hypocrisy, gluttonous, malodorous, dissolute, and the queen's </p. 8> <p. 9> former paramour, who, stepping between the election and Hamlet's hopes, now disgraces his throne. This is the background on which we must keep our mind's eye fixed.” </p. 9> Ed. note: The last chapter shows that van Lennep does not excuse Hamlet.
van Lennep, C. (1950, p. 20) explains why Hamlet turns away from Ophelia and vilifies her father: Hamlet “was not dishonorably dallying with a pretty damsel . . . Demure Ophelia, he feels, acts under paternal compulsion, this explains her attitude but does not wholly excuse her distrust and silence. Gradually his interest in her wanes.”
van Lennep, C. (1950, p. 25): Hamlet's argument about more evidence is sheer procrastination. He gets Horatio to corroborate the king's behavior “at least partially caused by fear, admitted or not, that he is 'losing face.' because his friend observes and deplores his neglect of the business that dwarfs every other and should absorb him.”
van Lennep, C. (1950, p. 33): Hamlet's words over Polonius's dead body are “iron-hard, completely ruthless.” Hamlet has now taken an irreversible step towards his own destruction.
van Lennep (1950, p. 39) sums up Hamlet's attributes: his "energy . . . is intermittent"; he does not try to fight against his destiny. He is not a leader.
van Lennep (1950, p. 49): The letter he has offered to Horatio to read: Why hasn't he immediately used it to expose the king? Why does he write a polite letter to Claudius saying he will wait on him? “This parchment would be his uncle's death warrant were Hamlet a determined man. . . . But it never seems to have occurred to him to seek out the murderer and confront him . . . . ”
van Lennep (1950, p. 50): Hamlet does not care about his soul, only about his reputation: “the world of men is in his mind, not God.”
van Lennep (1950, pp. 51-2): Hamlet is not religious; he never prays. “And what God-fearing man forges a death-warrant, derides even-handed justice, and joys?”
van Lennep (1950, p. 53) observes that we need not take Fortinbras's eulogy as gospel; he questions why Hamlet "defrauded an entire nation because he did not sweep from his straight path to the throne, his lawful place, that incubus and monster, the bloated king, withholding from his people . . . the advantage of his sagacious and enlightened rule." Ed. note: van Lennep does not here mention the obligation to the ghost.
van Lennep (1950, pp. 59-61) <p. 59> concludes: Hamlet is torn in two directions, and thus cannot function: his nature, wanting tenacity of purpose and drive, constrains him in defiance of his oath . . . . </p. 59> <p. 60> Hamlet fights “this losing battle” between his two sides. Thus, he immediately accepted the task but then “chronic, ruling melancholy and its horrid offspring, indolence, reasserted themselves, and, aided by scepticism, regained the ascendancy” </p. 60> <p. 61> “Hamlet was not equal to his task.” </p. 61>
McManaway (1950, p. 28) approves of 1601 as the earliest possible date of composition, the date posited by Sir Edmund Chambers and supported by John Dover Wilson, a date connected "to the almost certain closing of the playhouses at the time of Essex’s rebellion."
Mincoff (1950, p. 64): “ . . . [A]lthough Shakespeare has no rigid structural pattern as in classical tragedy, and alters the structure freely according to the demands of circumstances, he has a fairly definite pattern in mind, following it most strictly in Hamlet.
Clemen (1951, p. 106-7): <p. 106> The play is a turning point in Sh's use of imagery, and it centers on the imagery that expresses Hamlet's "personality." The images of other characters--king, queen, Laertes, Polonius--is more ordinary because their nature is conventional. “But Hamlet's nature can only find expression is a wholly new language. This also applies to the imagery in the play. It is Hamlet who creates the most significant images, images marking the atmosphere and theme of the play, which are paler and less pregnant in the speech of other characters. Hamlet's way of employing images is unique in Shakespeare's drama. When he begins to speak, the images stream to him without the slightest effort--not as similes or conscious paraphrases, but as immediate and spontaneous visions. [n. 2. Cp Claudius's prepared similes to Hamlet's spontaneous metaphors.] Hamlet's imagery shows us that whenever he thinks and speaks, he is at the same time a visionary, a seer, for whom the living things of the world around him embody and symbolize thought. His first monologue may [i.e. will] show this; the short space of time which lies between his father's death and his ” </p. 106> <p. 107> mother's remarriage is to him a series of pictures from real life: [quotes his Niobe image (331-3), the funeral baked meats (368-9)] . . . . Hamlet does not translate the general thought into an image paraphrasing it; on the contrary, he uses the opposite method: he refers the generalization to the events and objects of the reality underlying the thought. This sense of reality finds expression in all the images Hamlet employs. . . . [which are] mostly very concrete and precise, simple, and as to their subject matter, easy to understand . . . . </p. 107> <p. 108> [T]he wealth of realistic observation, of real objects, of associations taken from everyday life, is enough to prove that Hamlet is no abstract thinker and dreamer.. . ; he is rather a man gifted withy greater powers of observation than the others. . . .
“At the same time, Hamlet's imagery reveals the hero's wide educational background, his many-sidedness and the extraordinary range of his experience. ” It includes, to paraphrase Clemen roughly, natural science, classical antiquity, Greek mythology, law, theater and acting, fine arts, falconry, hunting, a soldier's trade and strategy, a courtier's way of life. “Hamlet </p. 108> <p. 109> commands so many levels of expression that he can attune his diction as well as his imagery to the situation and the person to whom he is speaking.”
Clemen (1951, p. 109): “With no other character in Shakespeare do we find [Hamlet's] sharp contrast between images marked by a pensive mood and those which unsparingly use vulgar words and display a frivolous and sarcastic disgust for the world.” Both Schücking in The Meaning of Hamlet (London, 1937; Hamlet ed. (Leipzig, 1941) and J. D. Wilson, What Happens in Hamlet (Cambridge, 1935) ascribe the shifts in register largely to melancholy.
“ . . . Hamlet's use of imagery reflects his ability to penetrate to the real nature of men and things and his relentless breaking down of the barriers raised by hypocrisy.”
Clemen (1951, p. 110): “Hamlet's imagery, which . . . calls things by their right names [Clemen is referring specifically here to 2437-55], acquires a peculiar freedom from his feigned madness. . . . The other characters . . . continue to think he is mad, but the audience can gain an insight into his true situation,”
Clemen (1951, p. 225) summarizes: “In the chapter on Hamlet the difference existing between Hamlet's mind and the other characters' use of imagery was examined, and the value of Hamlet's imagery in revealing his mind and attitude was studied. We saw that Hamlet employed images as a mask or disguise in his role of feigned madness as well as a way of telling the truth to other people without their noticing it.” Clemen tried to show that reducing “metaphorical language into plain speech makes us lose that very element which is of greatest importance for the understanding, not only of a single passage but sometimes of the whole play. ”
Popovic (ShSur 4 [1951], p. 121) has come to consider “Hamlet as a man predominantly conscious of the ugliness and evil in the social life around him. Hamlet’s mind demands complete proofs, but when these are clear, they lead him to conscious action.”
Joseph (1953, pp. 93-4): <p. 93> At the end “the Prince has done more than avenge his father's murder; he has delivered Denmark from pollution, and wrested back from Claudius the soul of Gertrude, imperilled by her second so-called husband's domination. Nothing in Hamlet is more splendid than Shakespeare's treatment of the Prince's relationship with his mother: and when the play is read in accordance with Elizabethan habits of mind, there is not the slightest trace of any Oedipus complex. . . . [Rather] an obvious prohibition . . . causes him to delay </p. 93> <p. 94> —the knowledge that to obey an evil spirit and thereby slay a man is forbidden and will bring punishment after death. . . . [Far from being abnormal] Hamlet is the only person to respond normally to a series of horrifying lapses. The speed with which mourning ends, the speed of the second marriage, the change from 'Niobe all tears' [333] to a radiant wife, the horrible fact of incest, the shocking acquiescence of a whole court and country in deeds which should have been shunned if not denounced, all these are motive enough for Hamlet's state of mind when the play opens . . . . ” </p. 94>
Joseph (1953, p. 121): “Fundamentally Hamlet has been imagined behaving in the manner expected of a prince in the renaissance, certainly in popular Elizabethan drama, if not in life. He falls short only in his melancholy, in his feigned madness, and in his delay in killing Claudius: and none of these prevents him being a formidable, ruthless as well as sensitive character, always aware of the demands of honour and the responsibilities of noble birth. . . . The delay in killing Claudius can be accounted for in other ways than by setting it down to the development of a constitutional weakness or psychological inhibition. As for Hamlet's madness, this is his disguise . . ; it does not detract from the splendour and nobility which Shakespeare has imagined at the centre of this hero's character, For the whole of the drama, Hamlet is a most formidable young man, underrated least of all by Claudius.
“We never find Hamlet afraid of risking his life: he is concerned only about his soul.”
Joseph (1953, pp. 122-3): <p. 122> Hamlet “has no compunction in sending [Rosencrantz and Guildenstern] to death . . . . Polonius, too, gives him little remorse; instead there is an aristocratic contempt for an underling who mixes himself in the affairs of the mighty. . . . To the sensibilities of the nineteenth century which have lingered into our own, this savagery cannot be reconciled with the nobility and sweetness of disposition which are essential </p. 122> <p. 123> elements of Hamlet's nature. But the renaissance was accustomed to a combination of ruthlessness with chivalry, of courtesy and sweetness with fierce remorseless contempt for human life, and joy in slaughter. . . . And Hamlet feels himself a dedicated instrument of revenge, and more, of cleansing, of purging Denmark.” </p. 123>
Joseph (1953, p. 125): “The mockery with which Hamlet plagued Polonius . . . is meted out to the obsequious Osric at the end of the play. But in general the Prince's ferocity and wit do not destroy his sense of dignity and his understanding of how to condescend with ease and grace.”
Joseph (1953, p. 128): Hamlet “is not flawed in the sense in which Aristotle is often interpreted, though he can despise himself for cowardice. The circumstances are such that at first he hesitates, understandably, then he holds back in an error of judgment, and when next he shoots his arrow 'o'er the house,' he hurts his 'brother' instead of wiping out the enemy at whom he thought, in his blindness, he was aiming.
“But everything turns on the first mistake . . . He gave ear to a doubt, a fear, a tenderness of conscience that the really wise man ignores. . . . Barett's Alveary (1580) talks of being 'scrupulous, or curious without a cause: to make a doubt where none is.”
Joseph (1953, p. 129): “Hamlet is . . . in a truly tragic situation. Had he accepted the risk . . . his obedience to the Ghost would not have meant the damnation that he is afraid of encompassing. Yet no man in Hamlet's place could have known until the Ghost had been tested that his fear was mere scruple . . . .His fear of the risk of damnation is not something that can be called a moral flaw; yet it acts like one, paralysing his will, making him behave like a coward, not like a nobleman, the flower of manhood. And given the circumstances and Hamlet's character, all the other mistakes are equally inevitable. . . . Here is that vision of the splendour of humanity which is so weak, so much at the mercy of forces which eh cannot control, descending into adversity and death, which can rightly be called tragic.”
Joseph (1953, pp. 155-6): <p. 155> Hamlet's “scorn of the court which can acclaim Claudius does not sour him into a loss of the easy condescension to the gentlemen of the guard who have seen the Ghost; his courage and resolution are revealed in his immediate decision to watch the next </p. 155> <p. 156> night with them, and his repartee and wit are evident from the first.” </p. 156>
Alexander (lecture 1953, published 1955, pp. 143-4, 146, 150) <p. 143> sees the following parallels between Rom. and Ham.: neither attacks his enemy in the first instance and then strikes a blow that drives him into exile, from which he returns for the final catastrophe.</p. 143> <p. 144> Further, even though Rom. accuses himself of effeminacy, we don't accept his view. Alexander implies that so too should we not accept Ham.'s self-criticism. He wonders why critics cannot accept Ham.'s humane act in not killing his uncle at prayer.</p. 144> <p. 146> Like Rom., Ham. does not lack nerve. </p. 146> <p. 150> That a character behaves differently at different times does not mean that the artist has violated the principles of unity. </p. 150>
Alexander (lecture 1953, published 1955, pp. 162-7): <p. 162> “When we compare the plot of Hamlet with the original story, it is difficult to think of an adaptation of an original that could retain and develop so much of the given material and at the same time transform it so wonderfully as does the play.” Alexander outlines the parallels </p. 162> <p. 163> and variations </p. 163> <p. 164> including the fact that there is no prayer scene in Saxo; Amleth had only one opportunity for his revenge. </p. 164> <p. 165> Alexander also discusses the merits of the original story and hero, where melancholy is used in the sense of artistic, creative. </p. 165> <p. 166> Melancholy does not impede the hero's action in the old stories; “it is the gift that ensures his success.” </p. 166> <p. 167> Belleforest's hero's flaw was an overfondness for his Scottish wife. </p. 167>
Alexander (lecture 1953, published 1955, pp. 178-81): <p. 178> Hamlet's pose of madness does not protect him but calls more attention to him; the king is no danger to him but more than ready to start afresh from this point, having gained what he wanted. Alexander discusses why Sh. made Ham.'s task more difficult. </p. 178> <p. 179> Others seeking revenge would pretend friendship to the foe, but </p. 179> <p. 180> Ham. cannot be a hypocrite. His madness allows him a freedom of expression with the King that he could not otherwise have. He is taunting the King into uneasiness: “the sting in his blunt remarks is for the King's private ear.” He wants the King to know who his enemy is, to torment him. </p. 180> <p. 181>Common sense is beside the point. </p. 181>
Alexander (lecture 1953, published 1955, p. 185): Hamlet is “humane without loss of toughness.”
Mahood (1957 apud de Grazia) says that Hamlet has 90 puns.
West, Rebecca (1957, rpt. Greenhaven, p. 106): “Hamlet was disgusted by his own kind” and thus had no respect for tradition. “For tradition is the distillation of human experience.”
West, Rebecca (1957, rpt. Greenhaven, p. 107): Hamlet, like the king and Gertrude, “is smeared with a slime which is the mark of sexual corruption. . . . . There is no more bizarre aspect of the misreading of Hamlet's character than the assumption that his relations with Ophelia were innocent . . . .”
West, Rebecca (1957, rpt. Greenhaven, p. 111): “It is quite certain that [Sh.] wished to present Hamlet as a bad man, because he twice makes him rejoice at the thought of murdering men who had not made their peace with God [[ . . . .]]
“But to this bad man Shakespeare ascribes one virtuous action, and the nature of that action is determined by his most lasting preoccupation. It is political action. Hamlet gives his dying thought for the future of his people; his last words choose a ruler for them: [quotes 3841-5]. Hamlet was never more a Renaissance man—a prince careful for the safety of his subjects. . . . The court is saved by its political conscience; yet it is damned by it too.”
Kernodle (ShSur 12 [1959], p. 2): “The Stratford Hamlet of 1956 was an . . . existentialist hero--a desperate individual wandering in a disconnected universe with no meaning or continuity of its own.”
Gardner (1959, p. 41), responding to Samuel Johnson’s criticism of Hamlet as more instrument than actor, writes: “The essence of any tragedy of revenge is that its hero has not created the situation in which he finds himself and out of which the tragedy arises.”
Gardner (1959, pp. 45-51<p. 45> “The view that the revenger’s role was essentially a waiting role, that he was committed by the situation in which he found </p. 45> <p. 46> himself to counter-action, and differentiated from his opponent by lack of guile, does not answer the question ‘Why does Hamlet delay?”
“Hamlet’s agony of mind and indecision when he set the man of conscience and duty against the consciouslessness and precisely worded villain. Hamlet's agony of mind and indecision are precisely the things which differentiate him from that smooth, swift plotter Claudius, and from the coarse, unthinking Laertes, ready to ‘dare damnation] and cut his enemy's throat in a churchyard.” She calls Hamlet “unwary” and “generous,” echoing the king in 4.7.
Gardner asks, “Do we really want to see Hamlet stab a defenceless, kneeling man? . . . Hamlet's baffled rage finds an outlet in the speech which shocked Johnson by its depth of hatred. . . . </p. 46><p. 47> Hamlet will destroy Claudius in his own characteristic way, also: by 'rashness' and 'indiscretion,' and not be 'deep plots.' He will catch him at the moment when his guilt has been made clear to all the bystanders, so that as he runs the sword through him he will do so not as an assassin but as an executioner.” [In MM, the role of executioner is not respected.]
Gardner explains away the blame for the killings of Polonius with the resultant death of Ophelia, and of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by the fact that they are not premeditated but “spontaneous.” </p. 47>
<p. 48>Hamlet “is borne like a soldier to the stage, a fitting ending for its beginning with soldiers, </p. 48><p. 49> for Hamlet has, soldier-like, borne all and stood on guard until the need was past.”</p. 49>
<p. 50> “Hamlet towers above other plays of its kind through the heroism and nobility of its hero, his superior power of insight into, and reflection upon, his situation, and his capacity to suffer moral anguish which moral responsibility brings. ”</p. 50> <p. 51> And now she admits that she is seeing Hamlet through the lens of the 20th century. She ends the essay: “The reward of the historical approach is not that it leads us to a final and infallible interpretation.” [She appears to say that the writer understands the historical contingency of her criticism and yet hopes it will be interesting and stimulating to others who read it.] </p. 51>
Craig (1960, pp. 2-3): “. . . no narrow hypothesis [such as Goethe's] will account for the play and its chief character . . . .” Craig accounts for Hamlet's self-reproach as “the general habit of sensitive humanity. However ingeniously Hamlet may be pigeonholed, the fact remains that he keeps hopping out of the pigeonholes. . . .” The Hamlet Craig proposes is Everyman, as in the medieval drama. See his CN 3668
Rossiter (1961, p. 181): Hamlet’s nobility does not reside in his actions but in his being: “because [his] innate goodness was unable to express itself in act.”
Rossiter (1961, p. 183): Unlike the hero-villains, “Hamlet’s opposite is either an efficient, worldly schemer or a world generally vile . . . . The effect is chiefly to enhance his nobility, disinterestedness, penetration, his ironical genius (for the irony that springs from his never being entirely absorbed in the situation is a good quality in an evil or mean world); but it is also to make us dubious of the ultimate worth of his intelligence, his acute criticism: since it seems to result only in giving him less control of his life than the other creatures have, who are native to that greasy element.”
Rossiter (1961, p. 186): “Yet [in spite of the fact that “the world of fact, in which things truly happen, shows them happening clean contrary to his inner sense of justice and right reason.”] Hamlet’s fineness is noble, though all life confute its efficacy. And much life does. That is why the play is a tragedy, and symbolizes the conflict between two antinomies, the contradictions I have called ‘circumstance’ and ‘inner values.’ It is as alive today as ever it was in 1601, because the tragedy of that opposition is man’s tragedy; and William Shakespeare was able to write it not merely because he was Shakespeare (which begs the question), but because of a historic accident, or rather, two. </p. 186>
Hamlet is the first modern man, a post Renaissance man, who had believed “in man as the measure of all things”; “the resulting problem of power, and especially of the claim of power to be an end in itself, so that Truth and the Good are only of value as means to power’; and scepticism as a method, with belief to be tested by experiment and much discarded.
Humanism came from the Greeks and was relatively new on the English stage (Tamberlaine the Great.). Machiavelli exposed the problem of power.
Craig (1962-63, Box 3, ƒ B5, pp. 79-81) <p. 79> cites unnamed critics who “have wondered whether Hamlet may not have had some inkling of the unrest of his father’s spirit . . . ” </p. 79> <p. 80> when the matter is brought before Hamlet in [1.2], the astuteness of Hamlet’s questions has again been thought to indicate that Hamlet may have had some private knowledge of the walking of his father’s spirit.”</p. 80> <p. 81> Hamlet may allude to a visitation when he refers to his weakness and his melancholy [1641] </p. 81> [The passive construction allows Craig to make assertions without attribution. Hamlet’s questions suggest skepticism and interest rather than prior knowledge]
Devlin (1963, p. 50): "As to young Hamlet's religious views (i.e. cp. to the ghost, who is a Catholic; see his CN 762), the impression one gets is that they were typically Elizabethan; he was a conforming Protestant, with Catholic inclinations counterbalanced by an increasing tendency to scepticism--a man, for example, like Ferdinando Lord Strange, or Shakespeare himself--or like Southampton or Mountjoy, whose fathers were devout Catholics."
Falconer (1964, p. 122): “Hamlet shows aptness in the terms of other arts and professions besides gunnery [detailed by Falconer in individual CNs], and this is one of Shakespeare's ways of portraying a character that, far from being self-absorbed or stolid, is responsive and quickly affected by different people and by what is going on around him. He speaks to the players in the idiom of the stage, and he is nautical in his report on the pirates and in the account of his voyage . . . .”
Schwartz (SQ 18 [1965], p. 40) "When we say . . . that so-and-so "has character," we mean that he is morally good. . . With Shakespeare's characters, however, we run into difficulty with this formula. Hamlet or Othello are somehow not fully described by moral terms, no matter how precise we make them. Hamlet is dutiful, considerate, passionate, noble, scrupulous, magnanimous. He is all of that; yet these traits are simply not adequate to our sense of 'reality' which does not seem measurable in moral terms at all"
Levitsky (ShSt 1 [1965], p. 160) “ . . . .Hamlet is made to discover that neither in suicide nor in dispassionateness lies the true nobility: Heaven has ordained that he live and act; and though his passions may render him less than a god, they raise him above the level of a beast. Placed also in juxtaposition with characters who on the one hand act rashly and on the other, according to set rules, Hamlet reacts in such a way as to cast doubts upon their greatness. If Reason alone is not the answer, neither is passion-plus-honor.”
Burkhardt (1968, pp. 14-16): “Hamlet is the exact counterpart to Brutus. Like Brutus he accepts the task to kill the ruler, to fashion a tragedy, and like Brutus he botches the job. But he botches it for the opposite reason: instead of settling too quickly for a ready-made form, he despairs of the very possibility of form. The corruption of the world he is supposed to purge enters into his very soul, so that he spends his energy probing the infection, in himself as well as in everyone about him. He is so overwhelmed by his discovery of monstrous disorder that his great enterprise loses, in his words, 'the name of action,' and the initiative passes to the king. Unlike Brutus, he knows only too well that the clock has struck upon the old style: [quotes 885-6]. But he sees, from the depth of his loathing and self-loathing, no possibility of forging a new style, of passing through the great pain to a formal feeling, a true, more valid shaping of reality. In the end he settles for a stoic resignation which is moving and impressive, but which nevertheless signifies an abdication from his task to discover a new order: [quotes 3669-71, 'if it be now [. . . ] readiness is all.']. For in the meantime there are corpses lying about of people—most tragically Ophelia—who might have lived but for his inability to rise above his pain.”
Foakes (ShSur 26 [1973], pp. 27, 31) <p. 27> Hamlet shows a kind of cruelty twice in the play, once when he turns on Ophelia, recognizing that she is a decoy, and later when he speaks savagely to his mother. He lashes verbally the two women he loves...it relates, also, and more deeply, to his imaginative engagement with, and recoil from, the horror within himself </p. 27>
<p. 31> “The combination of his full imaginative grasp of the horror of a cruelty he recognizes as potentially in himself, with a moral revulsion from it of which he is unconscious, or at best obscurely unaware, perhaps helps to explain why Hamlet remains both an enigma and Shakespeare’s best-loved hero” </p. 31>
McLaughlan (ShSur [1974], p. 44): “... [W]e see the disintegration of his wholeness as a man and, worse, watch his responses which are passionate and ultimately destructive to others and to himself, rather than rational. It is what Hamlet suffers, is, and does in the course of the play, which pre-eminently constitutes the tragedy of Hamlet.
McCombie ((ShSur [1974], p. 67): “Hamlet’s attitude towards the women in his life . . . interestingly echoes that expressed in Moriae Encomium, which was not in fact specially typical in this respect of the humanist tradition. Hamlet is not hostile and unaccommodating so much as patronizing, once his horror at woman’s disloyalty is out of his system.”
Gottschalk (SQ 24 [1974], p. 157): "For Hamlet's problem is not to be defined simply in terms of the precise doctrine between which he is torn--Christian patience versus the code of revenge, filial duty versus pneumatological caution--but also in terms of the dramatic presentation of a character thus torn. . . .
Kinnaird (SQ 28 [1977], p. 38) "In his essay on Hamlet Hazlitt does, for once, write a standard 'character' criticism, one 'abstracted' from the play as a whole; and here he does ignore design, for he wants Hamlet's detachment from the other characters to be the very meaning of his tragedy."
Coldwell (SQ 26 [1975 ], p. 194) Charles "Lamb's specific points about Hamlet refer to action which is as open to misunderstanding in the theatre of the mind as it is on stage. In either condition, Hamlet's treatment of Polonius and Ophelia seems cruel and boorish, and it requires 'a patient consideration of the situation' to see that it is dictated by a mind genuinely unhinged by grief and love. Lamb emphasizes the real mental stress Hamlet suffers in addition to the assumed madness; when he acts mad he must do so not in the manner of an accomplished actor but like an already distraught Hamlet."
Berry (ShSur 28 [1975], pp. 107, 112) <p. 107>“At the beginning, [Hamlet’s] consciousness is aligned against its situation. It rejects external events, it lacks a stable base of self-hood: it is profoundly disturbed. At the end of the play, the consciousness is fully aligned with the situation. It is sufficiently self-aware, it has a base for judgment and action...That, in broadest outline, is what happens in Hamlet. </p. 107> . . . . <p. 112>
“The features of Hamlet’s consciousness, then, I take to be these: an intuitive though not wholly rational intelligence, an egocentricity that is especially concerned with the protection of his self as it appears to others, and an actor’s capacity to appreciate that self in its maneuverings.” </p. 112>
Hibbard (ShSur 30 [1977], p. 2): “Hamlet--need I say it?--is the obverse of Falstaff: the spirit, subject of conscience, the censor, and using every resource of wit and intelligence, not to stay alive, but to find out the truth, to learn what is the right thing to do, and then to do it. ”
Everett (ShSur 30 [1977], p. 118): “The Ghost fades; and Hamlet comes into being, already a dead man. In the graveyard he says suddenly ‘this is I, / Hamlet the Dane [3452], taking on, faute de mieux, the royal title. Those who survive loss become the dead person; the prince never does revenge his father.”
Lacan (1977, apud de Grazia, pp. 20-1): <p. 20> “What Hamlet reveals is not the symptoms of repressed desire but rather of inexpiable loss; it is a play about mourning, not guilt” </p. 20> <p. 21> And she quotes him as of course associating the loss with “the primary oedipal loss of the phallus.” “I know of no commentator who has ever </p. 20> <p.21>taken the trouble to make this remark.... [F]rom one end of Hamlet to the other, all anyone talks about it mourning.' It is no coincidence that Hamlet's problem is also that of 'modern society.' The truncated and furtive rites of mourning in the play (the death of King Hamlet without final unction, Polonius' 'hugger-mugger' burial [2821], Ophelia's abbreviated service [3414]) all gesture toward the present abandonment by which loss was once compensated.” </p. 21>
[See also the Luptons in TLN 250 CN. who write about Lacan and the queen's failure to mourn.]
Lacan (1977, apud de Grazia, p. 169): “Hamlet ‘just doesn’t know what he wants’ (26); he is 'constantly and fundamentally at somebody else's beck and call' (30). Hamlet does what others ask him to do, whether it is to stay at Elsinore or duel with Laertes (18-20). For Lacan, the reason for inaction in 3.3 is Hamlet's desire for the phallus (51). “The play’s great mystery is embedded in Hamlet’s enigmatic chiasmus: ‘The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body (4.2.26-7). Substitute 'phallus' for 'king,' and both the passage and the tragedy of desire itself lose their opacity.”
Frye, Northrop (1980, p. 83): Hamlet “talks so much that he begins to sound like a guide pr commentator on the play, and one of the standard ways of misreading Hamlet. is to accept Hamlet's views as Shakespeare's. But Hamlet's views of Polonius, of his mother's sin in marrying Claudius, of the treachery of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, while they may often be reasonably close to what we’re likely to accept, are surcharged with Hamlet's melancholy—that is, they're sick. He sees what's there, but there's an emotional excess in his perception that's reflected back to him. His self-reproaches are sick too, but it's not so hard to see that.”
Vickers (ShSur 34 (1981), p. 16): “The composite picture of Hamlet created by the new critics of the 1770s and 80s was a psychological construct designed to answer criticisms of an aesthetic or moral nature. It was not introduced by a new interest in psychology, nor did it arise from a fresh analysis of the text. It was a response within the neoclassical tradition to disparaging criticisms of Shakespeare: his supposed faults in dramatic design were shown to be intentional subtleties of character.”
Frye, Northrop (1980, p. 87): “At first, though he has no use for Claudius, he has no great hatred for him either, and the real cause of his melancholy is not the loss of his father but the remarriage of his mother.”
Salingar (ShSur 34 [1981], p. 55): “...Hamlet’s part begins with his reference to the mystery of his own state of feeling, and this mystery complicates Hamlet’s response to his imposed duty of revenge until very near the end. Hamlet is agitated by the problem of himself, not only as a son, a prince, a lover, and a revenger, but as a human being, a man among men” (55).
Goldman (ShSur 34 [1981], p. 74) believes no other play’s characterization is as complex as Coriolanus, even Hamlet: “When Claudius says, ‘There’s something in his soul/O’er which his melancholy sits on brood’ [1821-2; 3.1.164-5), his language may suggest the elusiveness to description of a complex personality, but the explicit content is either that something is bothering Hamlet, or that he is up to something which, like love or ambition, is capable of simple definition and explicable as the product of an external situation. . . . ”
Jenkins (ed. 1982, p. 137): “So long as a hero is thought to be planning something it is unlikely to strike us that he ought by now to have done it. It is often remarked that through all the excitements of Shakespeare's unfolding drama it would never occur to us that Hamlet was neglecting his revenge if he refrained from saying so himself.
Jenkins (ed. 1982, p. 146): “Instead of the hero of concealed but unswerving purpose, celebrated for his revenge and virtue, we have a hero who in seeking to right a wrong commits one, whose aspirations and achievements are matched by failures and offences, and in whom potentialities for good and evil hauntingly coexist. And this is what transforms the single-minded revenger into the complex representative of us all.”
Jenkins (ed. 1982, p. 152) sees the Ophelia subplot as contributing to the whole: “Hamlet's revulsion from love and marriage and from whatever would perpetuate a loathed life is the obverse of that wish for release from life's ills which opens his first soliloquy and has its fullest expression in the soliloquy which the meeting with Ophelia interrupts.”
Nuttall (1983, p. 134) refers to Bradley's comment (Shakesearean Tragedy pp. 141-2) that if the heroes of Hamlet and Othello were exchanged, the plays would not last through one act.” Hamlet would see through Iago in the first five minutes and be parodying him in the next.” (and of course Othello having received clear [sic] instructions to kill the king would have done so immediately. “Thus, . . . the classic problem of Hamlet is the hero's delay . . . .” Ed. note: But the ghost has not given clear instructions to kill the king. He never uses the word kill.
Nuttall (1983, p. 173): "Hamlet is oppressed by a consciousness which cannot any longer connect with natural events or even natural emotion." Nuttall does not support this opinion, which he slips into comments about other plays.
Zitner (1983, pp. 200-2, 207-8): <p. 200> "Remarkably, after the killing of Rosencrantz &Guildenstern, the killing of Polonius, and much else, the impression of Hamlet's wholly untainted innocence persists for a large number of readers and critics.” Among the many mitigations are his youth, </p. 200> <p. 201> his lack of personal ambition, and his behavior with the players and gravediggers [sic]. </p 201> <p.202> Though he is no saint, he has the essential corollary of Hamartia: ignorance. He does not know what he thinks he knows (i.e. that Claudius has prayed successfully, that Hamlet can predict the heavenly response to that prayer, that Hamlet himself can determine whether the king is to be damned).</p. 202> <p. 207> "A longing for the absolute, the incontrovertible, pre-empts observation, even though it encourages thinking 'imprecisely' on the event. . . . Hamlet's need [is] to discover absolute guilt, absolute innocence, and to wreak absolute punishment. Such moral absolutism is the hamartia of this intellectual tragedy.” It's a flaw, as he has argued elsewhere in this essay, that has its mitigations, its taste of youthful idealism "that throws a sympathetic moral coloration over actions that would otherwise seem merely reprehensible." </p. 207> <p. 208>“Hamlet’s language is an anthology of binary oppositions too simple for Elsinore." Given world enough and time, Hamlet, growing up, would have led him to reject the binaries and discover "the world's native hue of grayness." </p. 208>
Zitner (1983, p. 209): . . . If . . . the reason for Hamlet's inaction is Hamlet's demand for 'perfect' proof and 'perfect' justice, and consequently for his own 'perfect' innocence, then the reasons can only be hinted at: they must remain shadowy to Hamlet himself . . . His is the tragedy of a kind of immaturity that promises greatness, indeed half achieves it in the eloquence and high aspiration of its errors. It is, however, an immaturity curiously tainted, at once noble and blasphemous in its aspiring to be 'at one' with divinity."
Wilkes ([chal] ed. 1984, p. 9) attests that the Romantic conception of the prince “meets some resistance from the text,” citing his cavalier attitude about killing Polonius, his diabolical reason for not killing the king at prayer, and his condemning (and damning) Rosencrants and Guildenstern.
Barker (1984, apud Griffiths, 2005, pp. 107-8): <p. 107> "The way we that we think of ourselves as subjects, within commonsense notions of the self, is based on an idea of interiority, an awareness that we are, essentially, not completely identical to our exterior selves. Barker sees the play, Hamlet, and the way in which the character, Hamlet, is presented in the play as representative of a crucial moment in the early development of this particularly modern form of subjectivity. Hamlet charts as moment in which modern subjectivity learns to reject corporeality </p. 107> <p. 108> in favour of a certain 'inwardness,' but Barker suggests that 'inwardness in Hamlet remains anachronistic and is merely gestured at as a foretaste of things to come.' In Barker's view everyone else besides Hamlet in the play is superficial, one-dimensional, without Hamlet's subjectivity, putting him, as Griffiths says, “at odds with the world of the play around him.”
Golden (SQ 35 [1984], p.156): "What differentiates Hamlet from Achilles, Oedipus, and Othello is that his arête [excellence] is more potential than an actual force giving momentum to the unfolding denouement of the play. . . . Hamlet is buffeted by winds of evil that control him and are neither tamed, as in Achilles' case, nor shaped and directed by him in ignorance, as in the case of Oedipus and Othello."
Belsey (1985, p. 81, apud Griffiths, p. 115): “Belsey agrees with Barker that [the] interiority [sought in speeches such as TLN 258-67] is not, in fact, there to find in Hamlet who is, she says, the most discontinuous of Shakespeare's heroes.”
Girard (1986, p. 284): “to shrink from revenge in a world that looks upon it as a 'sacred duty' is to exclude oneself from society.. . . Hamlet [is] unable to make up his mind because neither choice [revenge or not] makes sense.”
Girard (1986, p. 295): “Hamlet is certainly no coward; we saw that his inaction, following the command of the ghost, results from his failure to muster the proper sentiments.” This failure [requires but never receives] the unambiguous explanation: . . . a revulsion against the ethics of revenge.. . . Shakespeare’s genius turned this constraint [forcing silence about aversion to revenge] into an asset.”
Tennenhouse (1986, p. 88, apud Griffiths 2005, p. 120): Hamlet derives his right to the throne from two sources, patrilineal descent and the love of the people. But, says Tennenhouse, “Hamlet is not by nature capable of exercising force [a necessary component of kingsmanship, according to Tennehouse].” His speeches emphasize his preference for thought over action.
“To contrast with Hamlet, Claudius's authority comes by way of his marriage to Gertrude. Where he would be second to Hamlet and Hamlet's line in a patrilineal system, the queen's husband and uncle of the king's son occupies the privileged male position in a matrilineal system. . . . [but] the matrilinear succession [had] the weaker claim on British political thinking.” Ed. note: See Tennenhouse's further comments in play as a whole pages.
Mercer (1987, p. 122): “ . . . Hamlet's sickening sense of loss, of the intolerable corruption of faith and love, of the disease he sees in the female body, the political body, the world's body . . . is all breeding in him from the first words he speaks . . . . Such a mass of anxieties . . . cannot possibly fortify resolve, in the voracious manner of Vindice; it can only undermine and weaken it . . . . ”
Mercer (1987, p. 142): “ . . . Hamlet's appearance of persistent grief, however sincere it might be, is also, inevitably, a kind of performance, an act which keeps the hated King at a decent distance, which openly declares his aliernation from the general consent.”
Mercer (1987, p. 152): “In the face of so complex a relationship between [Hamlet's] language and reality [as Mercer has laid out in discussing the first soliloquy] it is hard to see how the terrible certainties of revenge can take hold. What place can the world of Hamlet find for that fierce unity of emotion and speech, for the final fusion of bloody words and bloodier deeds . . . . ”
Mercer (1987, p. 154): The extremity of Hamlet's pain comes because it is his mother and father. It has nothing to do with an Oedipal conflict. “In the end Hamlet feels [his mother's] betrayal with such intensity because he is . . . the hero of a tragedy . . . . Hamlet can never let go of a profound, if almost defeated, conviction in the absolutes of good and evil. This is what generates the apparently unreasonable extremes of the images in which he figures his father's love and his mother's lust.”
Mercer (1987, pp. 154-5):<p. 154> Like other heroes of Shn tragedies, Hamlet “belongs to the world of tragedy because he takes what he knows of himself and his values </p. 154> <p. 155> with profound seriousness. Hamlet is the least pompous, the most witty and ironic of all the tragic heroes. But in the end his quality of self rest upon the conviction that the things that matter matter absolutely.” </p. 155>
Mercer (1987, p. 157): In Laertes's solemn warning to Ophelia about Hamlet's will not being his own, 480, “there is . . . an unexpected irony . . . . Hamlet's will is indeed not his own, not simply because of his rank, but because the ghost of his father is about to claim him for revenge. And his struggle to discharge that duty will bring [to Ophelia] not dishonour but death . . . . ”
Mercer (1987, p. 213): Something has changed in Hamlet after the play scene. He is more aggressive, more “authoritative . . . : he seems to gain a force and a freedom . . . , a force that is turned with a devastating effect upon the impertinent Guuildenstern [quotes 2234-42]. Beneath the demeaning mask of the madness we suddenly glimpse a truly heroic temper.” His speech at the end of the scene is more like that of the typical revenge hero, except for its conditional expressions.
Mercer (1987, p. 227): the encounter with his mother in act 3 “seems . . . to have liberated him from the burden of disgust and outrage that weighed him down since the beginning of the play. If anything, he is now in some measure returned to himself. That surely is what is signified by his eagerness to encounter whatever Fate may bring.”
Mercer (1987, p. 236): “Against all the cowardly machinations [of the king and Laertes] re-emerges the image of Hamlet, one who, . . . as Claudius himself admits, . . . is most generous and free of all contriving [3125]. That image has not only survived his long absence and the superficial reversal of the moral polarities of the play. It has emerged, extraordinarily, less tarnished than ever.”
Mercer (1987, pp. 236-7): <p. 236> “The mirror situations of Fortinbras and Laertes have shown not rebuking certainties but solutions to the problems of reason and passion, of thought and action, that are so partial and distorting that </p. 236> <p. 237> they serve only to confirm our sense of the contrasting subtlety and intelligence of Hamlet's response. of the complexity of his humanity.” </p. 237>
Mercer (1987, pp. 241-2): <p. 241> “The would-be revenger has returned to Elsinore, to the scene of action, only to wander into a confrontation with an aspect of reality so absolute that it seems to </p. 241> <p. 242> argue the futility of any human endeavour at all.” </p. 242>
Mercer (1987, p. 247) says that Hamlet enters the scheme devised by the king knowing “very well that the only thing about the nets that are now cast to enclose him that is 'fabulously counterfeit' is their pretense of harmlessless.”
Mercer (1987, p. 247): “Hamlet is brought, finally, to the achievement of his revenge, but in a way which extraordinarily leaves him free of its guilt. As Peter Ure puts it, 'Providence, or the storyteller, has . . . abolished the [revenger's] role.' ” [n. 18. Peter Ure, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama: Critical Essays, ed. J.C. Maxwell. Liverpool, 1974, p. 37.]
Mercer (1987, p. 248): Though Hamlet is not the typical revenger, “in his final explosion of action Hamlet does not seem at all like one who merely waits on Fortune's cue. He leaps at last to the centre of the play, with a ferocious audacity that catches at least the accent of revenge.”
Mercer (1987, p. 248): Some heroes of Sh.'s tragedies “find in the final moments of their plays the opportunity to stage a kind of recovery . . . Like Othello and Cleopatra they bind our feelings to them with a matchless hyperbole. Only Hamlet has no need to practice on us thus, because in coming to his revenge he has come also to himself. His recovery has been the whole of the last act.”
Tennenhouse (1989, p. 88, apud Griffiths, p. 120): Hamlet derives his right to the throne from two sources, patrilineal descent and the love of the people. But, says Tennenhouse, “Hamlet is not by nature capable of exercising force [a necessary component of kingsmanship in the history plays].” His speeches emphasize his preference for thought over action.
“To contrast with Hamlet, Claudius's authority comes by way of his marriage to Gertrude. Where he would be second to Hamlet and Hamlet's line in a patrilineal system, the queen's husband and uncle of the king's son occupies the privileged male position in a matrilineal system.” Ed. note: See Tennenhouse's further comments in play as a whole and Claudius pages.
Tennenhouse (1989, p. 96, apud Thompson & Taylor ed. 2006, p. 39) “argues that it is important for Hamlet to distinguish two separate acts of treason, the seizing of the Queen's body and the seizing of political power, since it is only by separating them and by subordinating the former that the threat to the state can be diminished.”
Habicht (1989, p. 116): “When, in 1935, Lothar Müthel's Berlin production of Hamlet, in which Gustaf Gründgens played the title role in a blond wig, elicited controversial reactions, these were covered up on the intervention of Göring (who controlled the Berlin Staatstheater) by ideologically acceptable public appraisals, which in turn called forth a spate of articles from which Hamlet's heroic image emerged. Only for Klaus Mann in exile was it possible to describe Gründgens's Hamlet as a neurotic Prussian lieutenant. [n. 33]”
[n. 33:] "Klaus Mann, Mephisto (re-ed. Reinbeck, 1980), p. 333."
Cummings, Peter (1990, 81-92): Relates Sh’s fascination with hearing in the play to the discovery of the Eustachian tube by Bartolomo Eustachio in 1564, De auditus organus. He lists several other medical sources. His thesis is that Hamlet fails “to hear what another person means or needs . . . .”He refers to several places where Hamlet shows he doesn’t hear, including the nunnery scene where he does not hear Ophelia’s distress), and the graveyard scene where he mis-hears Laertes who hasn’t said anything about conjuring the stars. [Cummings is literal here; Laertes’s manner of speaking has conjured the stars.] “Hamlet’s moral failure seems to me to be very deeply and repetitively woven into the image fabric of the text.” The image-clusters of ears and hearing point “to the tragic failure of the Prince to transform what he hears into the heroic action that would both signal his princely obedience to the King, and save both the kingdom and his own life.” See 723 CN.
Rozett (SQ 41[1990], p. 213): "Although students have frequently been impatient with the way Hamlet seems to 'delay,' they have not until recently, in my experience, found a way out of their dilemma by attaching themselves, emotionally and ideologically, to Fortinbras. . . my students see Fortinbras as the brisk pragmatist who succeeds, and rightly so. They believe Shakespeare intended him to serve as an unambiguously positive example for Hamlet, inspiring him. . . ."
Adelman (1992, pp. 12-13, quoted by Griffiths 2005, pp. 75-6: <p. 75> “As his memory of his father pushes increasingly in the direction of idealization, Hamlet becomes more acutely aware of his own distance from that idealization and hence of his likeness to Claudius, who is defined chiefly by his difference from his father. Difference from the heroic ideal represented in Old Hamlet becomes the defining term common to both Claudius and Hamlet; the very act of distinguishing Claudius from his father—'no more like my father / Than I to Hercules' (1.2.152-3)—forces Hamlet into imaginative identification with Claudius. The intensity of Hamlet's need to differentiate </p. 75> <p. 76> between true father and false thus confounds itself, disabling the identification with his father and hence his secure identity as son.” </p. 76>
Siegel (ShSur 45 [1993], pp. 15-26) discusses critics who have found various reasons for Hamlet delaying his revenge on Claudius, explaining how their views have influenced interpretations of Hamlet in both positive and negative ways. For example, <p.19> “Bradley found Hamlet to be an idealist disillusioned by his mother’s shallowness and his uncle’s perfidy and plunged into a state of melancholia that is manifested by his morbid cynicism and that inhibits his action. His analysis has proved influential.” <p. 19> Siegel concludes that <p. 26> “Hamlet’s delay is not caused by a flaw of character, nor is it a creation of critics. It rises from the hero’s paralyzing depression that prevents him from taking revenge towards which the Elizabethan audience had mixed feelings.”</p. 26>
Danson (ShSur 45 [1993], p. 37) looks “at some moments in Hamlet’s cultural history when the Prince’s own sex or gender (the slippage between those terms is part of that history) have been defined in unusual ways . . . . [T]hey suggest that Hamlet, that great drama of patriarchal piety and misogynistic rage, has had under certain circumstances the power to shake the most firmly-planted binary representations.”
OED online (1993): “Hamlet2 (hæmlt). The name of the prince of Denmark who is the hero of Shakespeare's play of this name, in allusive phr. Hamlet without the Prince (of Denmark): a performance without the chief actor or a proceeding without the central figure. [1775 Morning Post 21 Sept., Lee Lewes diverts them with the manner of their performing Hamlet in a company that he belonged to, when the hero who was to play the principal character had absconded with an inn-keeper's daughter; and that when he came forward to give out the play, he added, `the part of Hamlet to be left out, for that night.'] 1818 BYRON Let. 26 Aug. (1830) II. 445 My autobiographical essay would resemble the tragedy of Hamlet.., recited `with the part of Hamlet left out by particular desire'. 1820 LADY GRANVILLE Let. 22 Aug. (1894) I. 161, I am not used to be news~monger and perhaps I leave out Hamlet. 1825 SCOTT Talisman (1883) 5 The title of a `Tale of the Crusaders' would resemble the playbill, which is said to have announced the tragedy of Hamlet, the character of the Prince of Denmark being left out. 1859 G. MEREDITH Ordeal R. Feverel I. vii. 109 `What have you been doing at home, Cousin Rady?' `Playing Hamlet, in the absence of the Prince of Denmark.' 1902 Daily Chron. 22 Apr. 3/1 Of what avail is it to promise `entirely new scenery' for `Die Meistersinger', if the part of Hans Sachs is to be practically eliminated from the performance? And yet this `Hamlet-without-the-Prince' method is consistently pursued season after season at Covent Garden. 1910 Times Weekly 17 June 452 The army without Kitchener is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. 1918 L. STRACHEY Emin. Victorians 86 The Catholic Church without the absolute dominion of the Pope might resemble the play of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. 1967 J. PRESCOT Case Counterfeit viii. 96 Without Drax one can't do a thing. Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, I guess. 1972 Publishers Weekly 3 Apr. 22/3 The article . . in the March 6th there was an attempt to stage Hamlet without the Dane. Prince of Denmark. 1967.
Hence Hamletish a.; Hamletism, an attitude resembling that of Hamlet; Hamletize v. rare, to soliloquize or meditate after the manner of Hamlet. 1844 HEBBE & MACKAY tr. Sealsfield's Life in New World 267 Halloo! Mr. Howard! Hamletizing? 1852 H. MELVILLE Pierre VII. vi. 191 In this plaintive fable we find embodied the Hamletism of the antique world. 1854 `G. GREENWOOD' Haps & Mishaps in Europe iii. 53 Herr Devrient is a handsome, Hamlet-ish man, with a melancholy refinement of voice. 1905 Daily Chron. 11 Apr. 4/7 Let us forget Hamletism and all its ills. 1920 D. H. LAWRENCE Women in Love xiv. 205 One shouldn't talk when one is tired and wretched. – One Hamletises, and it seems a lie. 1923 –– Stud. Classic Amer. Lit. ix. 180 So Dana sits and Hamletizes by the Pacific – chief actor in the play of his own existence. 1936 Times Lit. Suppl. 5 Sept. 711/2 Adams's madness is, indeed, a trifle Hamletish. 1945 W. FOWLIE in Mod. Reading XII. 210 He is the one contemporary writer who has driven out from his nature all traces of hamletism, and yet he writes constantly about Hamlet. 1952 A. R. D. FAIRBURN Strange Rendezvous 25 He has played the gravedigger to many a Hamletish posture of my soul.
Muir (ShSur 45 [1993]. p. 77): “Freud regarded the superego as the result of Oedipus Complex, but it is surely plain that the superego is more important in the interpretation of Hamlet.
Parker (1993, summed up by Griffiths 2005, p. 153): “In some way, then, Parker repeats the idea, gained from psychoanalysis, that there is a kind of Oedipal conflict played out in Hamlet, between Hamlet, his father and his mother. . . . Parker outlines the ways in which these narratives position women as both weak and dangerous, both unnatural and uncultured. Contained within Parker's [analysis] is the important story of the Fall, as important, if not more so, than the Oedipal myth for the ways in which family relationships have been represented in Western culture.“
Abraham, Nicolas (1994, apud de Grazia, 2007, p. 21) locates guilt not in the son’s desires but in the father’s crimes. “Though we have heard from Horatio how Old Hamlet won the lands of Old Fortinbras, the victory,” says Abraham, was through deceit and poison. Of course, there is no proof of this view; Abraham calls this the “phantom effect.”
***Parker, Patricia (1996, Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996
Halpern, Richard (1997, apud de Grazia, 2007, p. 22) Halpern discusses “Hamlet in terms of mechanical failure rather than psychological breakdown” in his Shakespeare Among the Moderns. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1997).
Bradshaw (1997, p. 26): Those who “suppose that if Hamlet isn’t altogether sympathetic, something must be wrong with the play. Neither [Lawrence nor Shiga Naoya] asks whether the play’s perspectives might be organising, not merely provoking, their more critical responses. . . : “once any one example is allowed to rock the Hamlet-centred boat, others will quickly follow.” He cites examples such as Hamlet’s indifference to the players’ fate once he has used them, his uncaring behavior to Ophelia after he has killed her father.
Bloom (1998, rpt 1999, pp. 383-4, quoted by Griffiths 2005, p. 129): “No other single character in the plays, not even Falstaff or Cleopatra, matches Hamlet's infinite reverberations.”
Bloom (1998, rpt. 1999, p. 408) quoted by Griffiths 2005, p. 131: “Until Act 5, Hamlet loves his dead father (or rather, his image) but does not persuade us that he loves (or ever loved) anyone else. The prince has no remorse for his manslaughter of Polonius, or for his vicious badgering of Ophelia into madness and suicide, or for his gratuitous dispatch of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their undeserved deaths. We do not believe Hamlet when he blusters to Laertes that he loved Ophelia, since the charismatic nature seems to exclude remorse, except for what has not yet been done. The skull of poor Yorick evokes not grief, but disgust, and the son's farewell to his dead mother is the heartless 'Wretched Queen, adieu.' There is the outsize tribute to the faithful and loving Horatio, but it is subverted when Hamlet angrily restrains his grieving follower from suicide, not out of affection but so as to assign him the task of telling the prince's story, lest Hamlet bear forever a wounded name. There is indeed a considerable 'case against Hamlet,' . . . but even if Hamlet is a hero-villain, he remains the Western hero of consciousness.”
Barnet [sig] (ed. 1998, p. lxxxii), remarking on the unfashionableness of the concept of “character,” points out that Ham. has many different personalities, depending on whom he is with and what he is doing.
Barnet [sig] (ed. 1998, p. lxxxv) asks what kind of revenge would spectators want, and answers that Sh. crafts a revenge that satisfies in three ways: it's done after a change in Hamlet's mood, at a suitably ceremonial event, and accomplished spontaneously, without plotting.
Ronald Knowles (1999, pp. 1046-69, apud Griffiths 2005, p. 137): “ . . . Like [Francis] Barker and Catherine Belsey, [Knowles] sees disunity in Hamlet, and that he is formed from the rags of various different kinds of rhetorical positions; his character is the by-product of a sequence of different performances. This is profoundly different from the humanist tradition of which [Harold] Bloom is a late descendant, in that [for Knowles] there is not, necessarily, anything behind the rhetoric. . . . . ”
Greenblatt (2001, pp. 224-5) Greenblatt writes of Hamlet as if he were a real person, e.g. “He knows that he has failed to fulfill the 'dread command' [2489] that he has undertaken to place at the very center of his being—'Remember me'—and it is this command that the Ghost's response recalls: [quotes 2490-1 from the closet scene 'Do not forget . . . blunted purpose].”
Thompson & Taylor [ard3q2] (ed. 2006, p. 25) assert that “centuries of debate demonstrate that in many ways Hamlet remains an opaque character, much in need of Horatio's posthumous interpretation . . . .”
de Grazia (1999, pp. 262-3): <262>"The play ends not as a tragedy but as a tragedy of </262><263> desire – not with the attainment of its end but with the disclosure of its unattainablility. The very attempt proves absurd, for the phallus is 'a ghost' and striking at it is as foolish as the 'vain blows' of the watch trying to run their partisans through the Ghost ('For it is as the air, invulnerable, / And our vain blows malicious mockery' [144-5; 1.1.145-6]])" </263>.
de Grazia (2007, p. 8): what contemporary audiences noticed about Hamlet was his madcap nature, his antic humor.
de Grazia (2007, p, 19): In her historical survey of Hamlet’s development as a character, she notes that once he began to be perceived as having psychological heft, Hamlet could look like our contemporary. [Instead of accepting that development as an inevitable evolution, de Grazia seems to regret the deviation from the Hamlet of 1601. In establishing her argument, she provides an excellent overview of Hamlet interpretation.]
de Grazia (2007, p, 22): “...Hamlet—once severed from plot and internally configured—remains open indefinitely to future modernization.”
de Grazia (2007, p. 158) devotes an entire chapter (pp. 158-204) to commentators on delay: “That a single question should be seen from one generation to the next as the question to ask of the play is a unique phenomenon in the history of criticism.” The great minds that have dealt with the issue include Coleridge, Schlegel, Bradley, Freud, Lacan, Lêvinas, and Adorno, Derrrida and Zizek. Some blame Hamlet for delaying; some excuse him.
de Grazia (2007, p. 170): Though many writers think they have found the answer to Hamlet’s delay, they all find different answers: “Nietzsche (p. 40) found in Hamlet the enervating effects not of speculation but of 'insight into the truth'; having penetrated into the absurd and cruel reality of things, Hamlet recoils in disgust: 'Knowledge kills action: action requires that one be shrouded om a veil of illusion—this is the lesson of Hamlet. . . . Answers to the question of Hamlet’s delay keep piling up, from sensitivity, to excessive meditation, to melancholia, to guilt, to the wound of castration. The list could be extended indefinitely to include post-structuralist psychoanalysis, as in Abraham’s analysis of the paralyzing encryptment of the father’s guilt or Zizek’s account of the inhibiting effects of confrontation with the Other. Deconstruction has also contributed in the form of Derrida's reading of Hamlet's delay as a waiting for an apocalyptic form of justice beyond the commensurability of a revenge ethos. However theoretically informed the reading, Hamlet remains answerable to that old question. Through this question, Hamlet is continually reopened to yield a different problem which can in turn account differently for varying textual details. When organized around it, the play lends itself to infinite reprogramming: any theory of what makes a subject, however construed, tick (or stop ticking) can be fed into the machinery of the play to set into motion some measure of its inexhaustible verbal energies.”
de Grazia (2007, pp. 170-1): <p. 170> helpfully summarizes the opinions about delay of some of the most important critics of the late 20th century: Janet Adelman attributes Hamlet’s paralysis </p. 170> <p. 171> to 'the psychic domination of the mother.' [p. 30] Terry Eagleton determines that Hamlet’s delay marks the indeterminacy of his selfhood: 'he is pure deferral and diffusion, a hollow void which offers nothing determinate to be known.' [William Shakespeare p. 72]. Jonathan Goldberg sees Hamlet's 'delays and deferrals' [99] as the result of his identification (through reiteration and inscription) with his father's command which leaves him in a state of 'Being divided by non-being.' [100]. For Catherine Belsey, on the other hand, it is precisely his resistance to his father's deadly injunction that holds him back, as he seeks to make 'ethical sense of the Ghost's command' [173]. Marjorie Garber argues that Hamlet's inability to forget the paternal command impedes his action, for 'action is inextricably bound with forgetting' [156; in her note she refers to Kerrigan]. Richard Halpern discusses Hamlet's 'dilatory tactics' or 'internal entropy' as a resistance to the Oedipal law—which if overcome would yield 'a space for new productivities'; the lapse signaled by hesitation is no telic failure but rather the opportunity for new organizations of energy [284, 287-8]. John Guillory sees in Hamlet's interrupted revenge a dynamic of sublimation that seeks to civilize the aggressive factionalism of the armigerous elite [82-109]. Steven Greenblatt explicitly raises the question ‘What has intervened to deflect a direct course of action...?’ and proposes a complicated response, at once psychological and theological, in which Hamlet's struggle to extricate himself from the ‘embarrassments of matter’ is bound up with the Reformation’s difficulty abrogating the incarnational and eucharistic beliefs and rituals of the Old Faith. [Greenblatt Purgatory, 2001, 243; 2000, 158; see also 1996, 137-45.] Linda Charnes, in the conclusion to her reading of Hamlet as a radical critique of patrilineality, rejects the old question of Hamlet’s ‘pathological delay’ in terms not of his inability to perform his dead father’s command, but of his inability to refuse to do so; as a result, the generational deadlock remains [115-23].
de Grazia calls Jenkins the 20th century's foremost editor, who put the issue this way: “a play about a man with a deed to do who for most of the time conspicuously fails to do it” [his ed. 139-40]. Critics/scholars have tried from all the perspectives she has covered: “Philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis, critical theory, history, and theology continue to provide new explanation for this old problem.” Greenblatt in his biography Will in the World thinks Sh found a new way of characterizing by leaving things out. “By withholding Hamlet’s motive, Shakespeare created a ‘strategic opacity’ that interpretation can never conclusively penetrate” [p. 324]. de Grazia asserts that for its first 200 years, delay was not an issue. </p. 171> [But 18th-century editors were not interested in that topic. They were more concerned with verbal issues and meter.]
<p. 172> de Grazia continues with Stubbs, Dr. Johnson, and Steevens. Summing up this period, she writes: “Thus on the rare occasions before the end of the eighteenth century when the delay is noted, the problem resides in the plot, and Shakespeare is thought to have addressed it in his drama as Saxo and Belleforest had in narrating the Hamlet legend: by eking out the time lag with his hero’s antics. . . . By 1800, however, the problem had migrated from plot to character. No longer is it the plot that drags but the character who hesitates. The job of the critic was to determine why the protagonist does not move ahead, not only in the prayer scene, but from the time he vows 'swoopstake' to revenge." </p. 172>
<p. 173> Empson says Shakespeare “made the play ‘life-like' by exposing it for the stage craft it is, dramatizing not the Prince’s irresolvable dilemma but the play's implausible structure. And he made it 'profound' by taking occasion to probe the complexities of theatrical performance.” In describing the appeal of the play in this way Empson takes for granted a “sophisticated audience that had attended the play with the express purpose of observing the technical ingenuity expended in converting an absurd plot into a respectable play. For him, the play grows out of the original donnée, which is that between the endpoints of a revenge tragedy lies a yawning interval."
She makes a point about both Stubbs and Empson which is also true of very many other commentators on the play, that they "both take for granted that the revenge tragedy dictated a certain structure. Once the command to revenge was issued—[1.5.25]—it was only a matter of time before it was satisfied.” Stubbs had Shakespeare fill in the time with jokes. Empson fills it with theatrical commentary and performance.
de Grazia (2007, pp. 183-) Hamlet as antic-vice: He enters and exits “running mad,” and she cites several instances (the end of 1.4, the end of 4.2, Ophelia’s description in 2.1). “As Weimann has brilliantly demonstrated, Hamlet’s antic idiom derives largely from the stock figure of the Antic-Vice.” [n. 97. p. 241, Popular Tradition, 1978, 116-60, 224.] She says that one can’t tell whether “Hamlet frequented the outer rim of the stage, as the Vice figure did the platea, but he certainly speaks as if he did.” </p. 183>
<p. 184>“Also in the tradition of the Antic-Vice, he speaks insolently or impertinently to his interlocutors, often talking down to his betters or elders. . . . On several occasions, his abuse takes the homiletic form typifying the Vice. Weimann, Popular Tradition, credits him with 71 proverbs. The King, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern don't understand him. Neither does Ophelia. “All these reactions attest to the Antic-Vice’s familiar tactic of thwarting the give-and-take of dialogue. This is most obvious in question- and-answer exchanges. [Ophelia 1761, 2003; Pol. 1228-9; </p. 184> <p. 185> King 2682; and she could have added Queen 2286-9]
de Grazia (2007, p. 185) in support of her contention that Hamlet speaks directly to the audience, notes that Lamb and Hazlitt found soliloquizing to hundreds of people ridiculous. She asserts that the Globe stage would not have allowed the actor the pretense of privacy. [Others have insisted that it’s ridiculous to think of Hamlet speaking to the audience; there is no direct address to the audience as in other speeches characters make when on stage alone, as Audacious does.***check for other direct to audience remarks]
de Grazia (2007, p. 193): After discussing all the clues that point to Shakespeare’s depiction of Hamlet as an antic-vice, she speculates about the change in understanding of what all Shakespeare’s signals meant: “Stage devils may have survived the Reformation, but not the closing of the theatres. Once the devil had disappeared from the stage, Hamlet’s grotesque malice lost its point of reference, Or rather, it became self-referential, and as such had no excuse.” The first solution was to cut the lines. “Later criticism found a way of preserving both the speech and Hamlet's character by turning to psychology; Hamlet's performative monstrosity was thereby naturalized as deep-seated emotional or psychological disturbance. It was not the old stage devil speaking in Hamlet, but rather an unconscious expressing itself in words hamlet did not mean.” Clearly, she would like to recuperate the Shakespearean meaning of Hamlet’s characterization.
de Grazia (2007, p. 194) sums up, saying that many critics did not understand Hamlet’s pose of madness, seeing it as unnecessary and irrelevant. What she has tried to do is recuperate the play as written, focusing on Hamlet as the antic-vice, speaking directly to the audience, not posing as the good reflective person that so many have seen in him.
de Grazia (2007, p. 196) summarizes her work: “Thus the role of the impertinent Antic-Vice gives way first to neo-classical judgment [aversion to the play's mixed style] and then to psychological analysis. Decorum [i.e. the neo-classical judgment] and psychology are both particularly challenged by the three scenes on which this book has focused: Hamlet’s zaniness after the appearance of the Ghost, his frenzy at Ophelia’s grave, and his fiendishness at the prayer scene. All three moments of high theatricality are recast [by the critics she has discussed] as violations of decorum or psychopathological symptoms. . . . [P]sychology de-theatricalizes Hamlet’s stunts, converting his pranks to symptoms . . . . Hamlet's interiority is so much a given of the play that it is assumed . . . .” She notes that Weimann, who has done so much to connect Hamlet to the early tradition of the Antic-Vice, nevertheless insists that Hamlet is not a Vice figure [her n. 126, p. 242 refers to Weimann, Popular Tradition, 128-9, 150.] . . . Despite all the evidence in theatrical practice to the contrary, Hamlet’s status as the inaugural modern character remains unshaken.” Last sentence of book: (p. 204): it is a possibility that “ . . . the 200-year-old critical tradition has slighted, in its enshrinement of Hamlet at the forefront of the modern, . . . the very worldly preoccupations of the play whose name he shares.”
For McDermott (2007 apud Tiffany, SNL 07/08, p. 109), Hamlet “constitutes an example of the tragicomic 'liminal' figure in Shakespeare: the tragic hero whom Shakespeare granted a 'share in the humble clown's propensity for sardonic humor.' “McDermott,” Tiffany continues, “shows how the aristocratic Hamlet’s frequent clownish passages introduced the 'Carnivalesque' into the heart of his tragedy, and had an imaginary leveling effect for his audience. Joking on apparently equal terms with a lowborn sexton in a graveyard, Hamlet reminded all watchers of their common mortality and of the ultimate vanity of class and indeed all social distinction. McDermott argues that Hamlet’s ‘purpose’ was to ‘combine the roles of prince and jester, lover and killer, son and father, judge and criminal, ‘to enforce, as does the carnival, his audience’s entire sense of 'kinship with the smallest and least.’ McDermott invokes Bakhtin’s discussion of carnival’s capacity for social subversion, and ends her article with familiar but well-expressed praise of the theater’s general role in housing and disseminating the carnivalesque. ‘[[S]]subversive [[social]] work often took place under the radar of authority, on the well-worn boards of the public stage,’ she writes.”
Wilson (2007, p. 228): "As Nicholas Royle points out, Hamlet had 'a decisive role' in Derrida's later thinking about 'the democracy to come,' a preoccupation which 'directed attention to a new sense of the political in Shakespeare.' ["The Poet: Julius Caesar and the Democracy to Come." Angles on Derrida: Jacques Derrida and Anglophone Literature: Oxford Literary Review. 25 (2004): 41-2.] And as Russell Samolsky adds, in an edition of The Oxford Literary Review in memory of Derrida, Specters of Marx revived awareness, too, of a religious incipience in the tragedy, with the awakened realisation that 'Hamlet's messianic urge, his casting himself as a scourge and minister, together with his prophetic premonitions, inscribe the play within an aspect of the apocalyptic." ["Ghostly Letters: Hamlet, Derrida and Apocalyptic Discourse." Angles on Derrida: Jacques Derrida and Anglophone Literature: Oxford Literary Review. 25 (2004): 83.] The philosophy Wilson writes about "has only served to reinforce the indeterminacy of what it is that the drama" unfolds.
Wilson (2007, p. 230): . . . Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy (39-40) noted that Hamlet's " 'longing passes over the world towards death'; a repulsion echoed by Wilson Knight in 'The Embassy of Death' [ Wheel of Fire, 29, 45] where the Black Prince was diagnosed in the terms of William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience as a 'Sick Soul' who 'murders all the wrong people, exults in cruelty, [[and]] grows more and more dangerous,' until fate 'puts an end to this continual slaughter.' " Wilson mentions others who see Hamlet in this apocalyptic way, likening his potential for harm to nuclear disasters and terrorist attacks: René Girard ["Hamlet's Dull Revenge, Stanford Literature Review (Fall 1984), 198-9], Nicholas Royle ["Nuclear Piece: Memoirs of Hamlet and the Time to Come." Diacritics 20:1 (1990): 42], Ewan Fernie [the 'Presentist critic,' "Introduction," p. 21, and "The Last Act: Presentism, Spirituality and the Politics of Hamlet ." in Spiritual Shakespeares. London: Routledge, 2005, p. 209.], Heiner Müller, author of Hamletmachine [Theatermachine. trans. and ed. Marc von Henning. London: Faber and Faber, 1995, p. 100; quoted in Ryan, Shakespeare, p. 170].
Mallarmé, quoted in Ulysses by Stephen Daedalus, recoils "from Hamlet as an angel of death whose 'black presence poisons the life out of every character' as he revels in a 'sumptuous and stagnant exaggeration of murder.' " Mallarmé finds Shakespeare's clairvoyance chilling.
Mallin (2007, pp. 62-3), <p.62> after describing Hamlet's shameful manipulation of events to allow himself to commit suicide with a clear conscience (pp. 59-61), allows that “Hamlet does have his instances of grace,” and he cites 2547, 1467, 1782-3, 1922-4. </p. 62> <p. 63> But, Mallin continues, “The play labors to suggest that its hero is redeemable. In religious terms, as far as Hamlet is concerned, the main threat to his salvation seems to lie in that troublesome desire for suicide--not in any of his countless acts and words of savagery and turpitude. If Hamlet can happily enough deal death to other, which he never seems to regard as a moral problem, then why should there be any difficulty with suicide, with his seeking his own salvation? All it takes is some clever reframing of the question, and then, blessedly, the rest is . . . ” </p. 63>
Nuttall (2007, p. 168): Hamlet is perhaps the character in all of Shakespeare most "horribly alone."
Nuttall (2007, p. 180) says that "the simplicity" of Hamlet's reasoning in 3.3 in contrast to the "known complexity and hesitancy of Hamlet's nature" exposes it as rationalization.
Nuttall (2007, p. 196): Hamlet envies the simple Stoic Horatio, but there is no doubt in our minds but that Hamlet is the greater man of the two. This is odd because he is so very close to being an anti-hero, or even a clown. . . . Hamlet has been led by a ghost out of the green area of common existence into a parched desert." Nuttall doubts that Sh. knew the name Amleth in Saxo referred to a fool or weakling. ["Hamlet" was, after all, a name used by people Sh. knew in Stratford.]
Nuttall (2007, p. 198): "The young, ordinarily likable Hamlet we glimpse in the letter to Ophelia [quotes 1148-9] has given way to one from whom all ordinary natural relationships have been withdrawn. Normal identity, which is bound in with such relationships has gone with them. The left-over darkened self is haunted by a single thought: 'I am to kill my uncle.' "
Nuttall (2007, pp. 200-2): <p. 200> In describing "Hamlet as a man paralyzed by excess of thought," Coleridge revealed his own nature. </p.200> <p. 201> Coleridge's interpretation, then, supports Empson's theory that the play is like a Rorschach test." Nevertheless, Coleridge did hit upon truths in the play about Hamlet's excessive thinking. </p. 201> . . . . <p. 202> "Hamlet is Shakespeare's prime example of a thinker, and thought is making Hamlet ill." </p. 202>
Moschovakis (2007, p. 158): Commentators over the centuries have considered Aeneas’ victory in the last book to be providential, “despite the costs that it has incurred to other individuals: to Dido, to the Trojans who are lost on the way, and to the many others who must suffer and die for sake of Rome’s eventual foundation. Like Aeneas, Hamlet makes other people endure terrible sacrifices for his cause. By killing Polonius he precipitates Ophelia’s madness and death, and this in turn tempts Claudius and Laertes to adopt a course that will bring an agonizing death to Gertrude . . . . ” Ed. note: A difference between the two, of course, is that there is no equivalent Augustan Rome implicit in Hamlet’s supposed victory.
Kliman (2008): Hamlet reminds me of Huck Finn, who agonizes about not turning in his companion, Jim, who after all is a "runaway" slave. Similarly, though Hamlet thinks killing the king is his duty, something in him does not allow him to do it.
Halpern (2008, p. 450): Hamlet “emerges as nothing less than an anticipatory hero for the age of political economy, an age we still inhabit.”
Halpern (2008, p. 467): “Players and gravemaker hold the mirror up to Hamlet, The Danish Prince has been forced to substitute acting in the theatrical sense—feigning, and sometimes clowning—for real action, and in this sense resembles the players. His relations with the gravemaker are, if anything, even more rich and complex. Hamlet frequently compares himself to lower-class characters, a 'rogue and peasant slave' [1590, 2.2.550], 'a very drab / A scullion' [1627-8, 2.2.586-7]. He repeatedly engages in witty, clownish verbal antics resembling those of the gravemaker. He even adopts at one point the metaphorical persona of the digger or delver, declaring his kinship with both the gravemaker and the old mole: [quotes Q2 only 2577+5 - 2577+8, 3.4.206-9], ”
Halpern (2008, p. 469): “ . . . Most of the play's images of nature's destructive productivity—the old mole [859], the worms dining on Polonius [2686], the sun breeding maggots in a dead dog [1218], the king going a progress through the guts of a beggar [2693], .Alexander turning into a cork [3392]—occur only in Hamlet's imagination . . . . Such images constitute not merely the content of Hamlet's thought, his obsession with death and rot, but also and more importantly the form of his thought. These processes of endless but ultimately pointless production capture, in other words, the dilemma of Hamlet's meditations, which likewise churn uninterruptedly, to no purpose or resolution.”
Halpern (2008, pp. 471-2): <p. 471> “ . . . The tradition of viewing Hamlet as symptomatic began . . . in the intellectual and cultural circles of the Scottish Enlightenment. Henry Mackenzie, the novelist and editor of the Edinburgh Mirror, was the first critic to attribute Hamlet's delay to internal fragility. . . . William Richardson—a student of </p. 471> <p. 472> [Adam] Smith's and Professor of Humanity at the University of Glasgow—developed Mackenzie's reading in even more suggestive directions. Richardson . . . attributes Hamlet action (or inaction) to something inaccessible to thought, and he characterizes Hamlet's burst of indecorous jocularity as a 'symptom, too unambiguous, of his affliction.' The modern or psychoanalytic Hamlet . . . thus first takes form within the intellectual milieu of Adam Smith.” </p. 472>
Bate (2008, p. 352): in baiting Polonius, Hamlet has taken “over the role of the dead court jester Yorick: he is at once hero and clown.”
Bate (2008, pp. 410-11): <p. 410> “If there is a single book that parallels [Hamlet's] journey, that brings us close to the workings of the mind of Hamlet, it is Montaigne's Essays. Scholars debate as to whether or not Shakespeare saw Florio's translation before it was published in 1603. The balance of evidence suggests that he probably did not, but rather than his mind and Montaigne's worked in such similar ways that Hamlet seems like a reader of Montaigne even though he could not have been one.
Imagine that Hamlet could have read Montaigne. He would </p. 410> <p. 411> have found a meditation of the pros and cons of suicide in an essay called 'A custom of the isle of Cea,' but he would most characteristically have turned to the essay in the first book, strongly influenced by Cicero's Five Questions, called 'That to philosophize is to learn how to die.' As a university-educated reader, he would have been trained to copy the pithiest wisdom from his reading into his commonplace book, known as his 'tables' [792]. Here are some of the sentences of Montaigne, as translated by Florio, that we can imagine the princely student of Wittenberg copying out (in that 'fair' handwriting which served him so well when devising the 'new commission' [3533] for the killing of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern):

CICERO saith, that to Philosophize is no other thing, than for a man to prepare himself to death: which is the reason that study and contemplation doth in some sort withdraw our soul from us and severally employ it from our body, which is a kind of apprentisage and resemblance of death; or else it is, that all the wisdom and discourse of the world doth in the end resolve upon this point, to teach us not to fear to die.

“Hamlet would have relished the double sense there. The action of study and contemplation is a little rehearsal for death, in that it involves a withdrawal from the bustle of life. At the same time, the ultimate content of philosophy is the knowledge that we are all going to die, and that we should accordingly, as the Duke puts it in Measure for Measure, 'Be absolute for death.' . . . Montaigne and Hamlet . . . seek to cultivate contempt not for the world, but for death; They teach themselves to be ready but not to be afraid.”
Slights (2008, pp. 179-80): “Even as Hamlet praises Horatio for his stoic control of his passions, he invokes the passion of a quintessential heart that binds man to man: [giue me that man That is not passions slaue, and I will weare him In my harts core, I in my hart of hart As I doe thee. TLN 1922-5]. At the level of psychological wit, the second of his memorably balanced phrases, 'my heart of heart,' redoubles the thought by translating what the Latinists in his audience had just heard as 'my heart's cor.' In philosophic terms, the introspective intensity and self-reliance of Lipsian [Justus Lipsius was an important 16th-century/early 17th century thinker of the Netherlands] neo-stoicism combines paradoxically in these lines with Hamlet's perception that the heart is the prime source of attachment to other people. . . . While Hamlet refuses to become a slave to womanish passions [3665], he declares his reliance on a confidant whom he can trust to share his most secret desires. The touchstone of interiority in the period, Hamlet combines feminine tenderness with masculine political and personal vengeance in his heart's heart. Shakespeare's Wittenberg-trained prince conceives of his predicament as an extended moral and political meditation in the tradition of the great protestant thinkers of his time. He is responsible for his own salvation (and that if his kingdom), but he is precariously dependent on friends, family, and ultimately his stern God.”
Bernice W. Kliman