The Play as a Whole
’Tis a truth often noted: multiplicity exposes the contingent nature of interpretation and thus the impossibility of fixing the meaning of anything as rich with possibilities as Hamlet, its characters, and its conditions of presentation. That does not mean, however, that "anything goes." Some interpretations are simply more cogent, more persuasive than others; some will please many for a time but then give way to others more compelling at another time. Some are interesting because of their block-headedness. Below, arranged chronologically, are comments on the play as a whole; we leave it to readers to decide how to use them. In some instances, our pages on the characters, especially Hamlet, overlap with the concerns here. Since reprinted texts are more accessible, they often serve as the sources of record. Wherever possible, however, references from reprinted texts have been cross-checked against originals at the Folger Shakespeare Library and other libraries.
Peter Schjeldahl, in a review of “Regarding Beauty” at Washington, DC’s Hirshhorn Museum (New Yorker 1 Nov. 1999, 108, 110), criticizes the show for trying “to put intellectual handles on a phenomenon that suppresses intellect altogether—to the understandable horror of theorists and scholars. Beauty isn’t articulate. Beauty isn’t nice. Beauty isn’t fair. The curators, taking their eyes off the ball, reproduce vulgar misunderstandings about beauty, confusing it with lesser qualities of visual appeal, such as prettiness. They chose for the cover of their handsome catalogue an assemblage of silk flowers by Jim Hodges. It looks terrific, but its effect stands in relation to beauty as a friendly wave does to a punch in the nose. To say that beauty is mysterious to the thinking mind isn’t enough. Beauty presents a stone wall to the thinking mind. But to the incarnate mind—deferential to the buzzing and gurgling body—beauty is as fluid, bright, and clear as an Indian-summer afternoon.”
In analyzing the play, I think many people forget that it is an object of beauty (which can be a punch in the nose), that as such it is possibly unanalyzable, certainly not permanently analyzable. Perhaps that’s why few are satisfied with the analyses by a wide range of commentators. So here we list a selection of the comments that we have gathered from the works we have surveyed so far (the work of collecting continues), for readers to use as they will—as a goad to their own comments, perhaps.
On the section of the website "Search HW," entering any name will locate all the CNs for which there are entries associated with that person.
Aristotle (trans. by Heath, 1996) has defined tragedy influentially: “Tragedy is an immitation of an action that is admirable, complete and possesses magnitude; in language made pleasurable, each of its species separated in different parts; performed by actors, not through narration; effecting through pity and fear the purification of such emotions.&rdquo Many writers have dealt with the issues he raises and their applicability to Hamlet.
Bodley, c. 1600, apud Smith (HLQ 3 , p. 27): Sir Thomas Bodley [2 March 1545 – 28 January 1613] objected so much to plays that they were not to be included in the library he founded at Oxford, c. 1600. “ ‘Even if some little profit might be reaped (which God knowes is very little) out of some of our playbookes, the benefit thereof will nothing heere contervaile, the harme that the scandal will bring unto the Librarie, when it shalbe, given out, that we stuffe it full of baggage bookes.' ” Ed. note: Smith has no footnote for this quotation. Louis B. Wright wrote specifically about Bodley in HLQ 2.3 (April 1939).
Chapman, Jonson, Marston (Eastward Hoe (3.2. sig. D and D1v) 1605, apud Ingleby et al. 1932, 1: 150-1): Lucy Toulmin Smith writes: “The unusual [though not rare] name Hamlet, the question 'are you madde?' , the frequent references to the coach (possibly in reference to the anachronism committed by Shakespere in making Ophelia call for her coach , and the reference to the cold meate for the nuptial table [368-9], all seem to shew that Shakespere's Hamlet was here pointed at . . . . ” She also mentions Sh's allusions to the Children of her Majesty's Revels, the actors of Eastward Hoe, who, “by Shakespere's own confession [1386-1408, F1 only], had driven his company to travel in the country.”
Anon. 1605. 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. Sig. K, M2, apud de Grazia (2007, p. 45): Of the Godunov 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.”
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 betweene Hamlet and the gravemaker a good scene but since betterd in the Jealous Lovers [by, Vickers says, Thomas Randolph, 1632].
Pepys (1661,p. 342 apud Shakspere Allusion-Book 2: 89): “August 24.—To the Opera, and there saw 'Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke,' done with scenes very well, but above all, Betterton did the Prince's parts beyond imagination.”
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 Majesties 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. This record is also in Shakspere Allusion-Book (2: 108) whose punctuation is here used.
Downes (1663 [published 1708, p. 21] re Betterton's Hamlet, apud Shakspere Allusion-Book 2: 436): “No succeeding Tragedy for several Years got more Reputation, or Money to the Company than this. . . . ”
Pepys (1663, p. 224 apud Shakspere Allusion-Book 2: 90): “May 28.—By water to the Royall Theatre; but that was so full they told us we could have no room. And so to the Duke's house; and there saw 'Hamlett' done, giving us fresh reason never to think enough of Betterton.”
Pepys (1668, p. 347 apud Shakspere Allusion-Book 2: 95): “August 31—To the Duke of York's playhouse, and saw 'Hamlet,' which we have not seen this year before, or more, and mightily pleased with it, but above all with Betterton, the best part, I believe, that ever man acted.”
Dryden (c. 1677, apud Vickers, 1974, 1: 196-203): <p. 196> responds to Rymer in ms. comments on a copy of Tragedies of the Last Age that Tonson had sent him. He disagrees that the fable </p. 196> <p. 197> is the most important element tho' it's the foundation; to achieve fear and pity, characters and manners are required. In raising these emotions, the English dramatists are not inferior to the Greeks. Dryden outlines a program for analyzing Rymer and drama, </p. 197> <p. 198> then proceeds to discuss each pt. </p. 200> <p. 201> “ [. . .] Aristotle drew his Models of Tragedy from Sophocles and Euripedes; and if he had seen ours, might have chang'd his Mind.” </p. 201>
<p. 202> “ [. . .] the Punishment of Vice, and Reward of Virtue, are the most Adequate ends of Tragedy, because most conducing to good Example of Life [. . .] ” and here the English drama excels the Greek, where Innocence suffers and Offenders escape.
English drama has lovers, a source of fable unknown to Greeks. Dryden approves of Rymer's critique of Greek but not of English dramatists. </p. 202> <p. 203> Dryden ends by quoting Rapin who asserts that what makes a tragedy beautiful is “‘the Discourses, when they are Natural and Passionate.'
“So are Shakespeare's.” </p. 203>
Dryden (1679, apud Vickers 1974, 1: 249-67: <p. 249> Comparing Greek and English, Dryden asserts that while the former had reached perfection at the time of AEscylus, the same is not true for English in Sh.'s time. </p. 249> <p. 250> Since then, however, the language has grown so in refinement that many of Sh.'s “words, and more of his Phrases, are scarce intelligible.” Others are understandable but “ungrammatical and coarse,” as well as “pester'd with Figurative expressions” that make it “affected and obscure.” </p. 250> <p. 252> Dryden begins his discussion of tragedy in general with the essence of Aristotle: “'Tis an imitation of one intire, great, and probable action; not told but represented, which by moving in us fear and pity, is conducive to the purging of those two passions in our minds.” He goes on to delineate the unities of plot (single action, unmixed style). </p. 252> <p. 253> </p.> He continues with the proper order of beginning, middle, end. Each element should so follow from what precedes that none could be moved without loss. The action should be great [again this relates to his distaste for mixed style], with “great Persons, to distinguish it from Comedy; where the Action is trivial, and the persons of inferior rank. The last quality of the action is, that it ought to be probable, as well as admirable and great.” While the plot need not be true, it always should be probable.
“To instruct delightfully is the general end of all Poetry [. . .] .” </p. 253> <p. 254> He believes that poetic justice is a requisite: the Hero cannot be a Villain. </p. 254> <p. 255> Dryden refers approvingly to Rhymer's discussion of Sh.'s defects in all these models of tragedy. Re fear and pity: Sh. “moves more terror, and Fletcher more compassion [. . .]. ” </p. 255>
<p. 256> Next, Dryden comes to Manners. But the Foundation (discussed above) is more important. The work must have a Moral. A villain should have a reason for his villainy. </p. 256> <p. 257> Dryden speaks of characterization, referring to Horace: every character must have recognizable traits; the attributes must suit the condition of the person's age, state, rank, &c. Consistency is important, and there is a composite of various qualities (not just one per person), </p. 257> <p. 258> but one should dominate.
The hero is a tragedy must have more in him of virtue than vice, so as to earn the audience's sympathy, and sympathetic must not be divided among several characters, but focus on one. Since Manners are what's important, there should not be many turns of Fortune. “'Tis one of the excellencies of Shakespeare, that the manners of his persons are generally apparent; and you can see their bent and inclinations.” </p. 258>
<p. 263> While Sh. excels in his depiction of Passion, he obscures all with his defects in language; while conceding that Sh. is a great poet, he says “the fury of his fancy often transported him, beyond the bounds of Judgment, either in coyning of new words and phrases, or racking words which were in use into the violence of Catachresis [. . .] .” </p. 263> <p. 264> As his example of the overuse of metaphor, Dryden quotes 1533-7, 1545-59 from the player's speech in 2.2.
<p. 265> Dryden continues to explain his position: he does not object to any expression in its proper place, fitting the emotion. He does object to a false stone masquerading as diamond, to “an extravagant thought, instead of a sublime one;” to “roaring madness instead of vehemence” &c. </p. 265> <p. 266> He praises Sh. in saying that if he “were stript of all the Bombast in his passions, and dress'd in the most vulgar words, we should find the beauties of his thoughts remaining; if his embroideries were burnt down, there would still be silver at the bottom of the melting-pot: [. . .] ,” but he warns those who try to emulate him, including himself in the warning, comparing any who try to “a dwarf within our Giants cloaths.” Sh. portrays “manly passions”— friendship better than love. He calls him a “Master” and says he had a kinder soul than Fletcher, whom he describes as a “Limb of Shakespeare.”
“Shakespeare had a Universal mind, which comprehended all Characters and Passions [. . .].
Dryden concludes by saying that Aristotle and Horace are excellent only because they follow nature; </p. 266> <p. 267> they are to be heeded not because they have written but only because what they have written is true and useful. [ Sig. A2v-b2v].
Dryden (Essay of Dramatic Poetry, 1668, apud Clemen, p. 11): “ 'He was a man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were present to him, and he drew them not laboriously but luckily: when he describes anything, you more than see it, you feel it too.' Dryden, though, faulted Shakespeare for being perhaps 'too bombastic, too irregular and, often enough, too obscure.' ” Ed. note: See web ed. by Jack Lynch http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/drampoet.html
Hazelton Spencer on Dryden apud Vickers (1974, 1: 16-17): “Dryden's famous characterization of Shakespeare as the man 'who of all modern and perhaps ancient poets had the largest and most comprehensive soul' is a striking and sonorous saying; but it means little, especially when compared with Dryden's other utterances. When he and his colleagues turn from phrase-making to detailed examination and criticism, there is much more of objection than of praise.”
Gould (1688, pp. 176-7 apud Shakspere Allusion-Book 2: 296) says that when he reads Ham. or Oth. “My Hair starts up, and my Nerves shrink with dread. / Pity and fear raise my concern still higher, / Till, betwixt both, I'm ready to expire!” He says nothing explicit about Ham. but cites examples from Oth.. Note he is reading rather than seeing the plays.
Mountfort (1691, apud Allusion Book 2: 343): “ . . . our Wits would have the first Plays which are now written, equal to the best of Ben Johnson, or Shakespeare: And yet they do not shew that esteem for their Works which they pretend to, or else are not so good Judges as they would be thought: When we can see the Town throng to a Farce, and Hamlet not bring Charges: But notwithstanding they will be Criticisks, and will scarce give a man leave to mend.” From the Dedication of Greenwich Park: A Comedy.
Anon. (1698, pp. 32-3, contra Mr. Collier's view, apud Allusion Book 2: 412-13): <p. 32; 412> Hamlet, among other plays, “are so far from pent up in Corneilles narrow Unity Rules, viz. The Business of the Play confined to no longer Time then it takes up in the Playing; or his largest Compass of 24 Hours; that nothing is so ridiculous as to pretend to it ” </p. 32; 412>
<p. 33; 413> Because of the way time is treated in the plays, “the Audience, who come both willing and prepar'd to be deceiv'd . . . can pass over a considerable distance both of Time and Place unheeded and unminded, if they are not purposely thrown too openly in their way, to stumble at. Thus Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and those Historic Plays shall pass glibly . . . . ” </p. 33; 413>
rowe] (ed. 1709, 1: xxi, xxxi-xxxiii) <p. xxi> says that Hamlet is one of only three plays that follow the rule of one action (the others are Oth. and Rom. </p. xxi>
<p. xxxi> “Hamlet is founded on much the same Tale with the Electra of Sophocles. In each of 'em a young Prince is engag'd to Revenge the Death of his Father, their Mothers are equally Guilty, are both concerned in the Murder of their Husbands, and afterwards married to the Murderers. There is in the first </p. xxxi> <p. xxxii> Part of the Greek Tragedy, something very moving in the grief of Electra . . . ” but the action devolves into horror. Rowe criticizes this representation on stage (or partly just off stage) severely. “On the contrary, let us only look a little on the Conduct of Shakespear. Hamlet is represented with the same Piety towards his Father, and Resolution to Revenge his Death, as Orestes; he has the same Abhorrence for his Mother's Guilt. which to pro- </p. xxxii> <p. xxxiii> voke him the more, is heightened by Incest: But 'tis with wonderful art and Justness of Judgment, that the Poet refrains him from doing violence to his Mother. To prevent any thing of that Kind, he makes his Father's Ghost forbid that part of his Vengeance. [quotes But . . . her, 769-73, from his 5: 2386].
This is to distinguish rightly between Horror and Terror. The latter is a proper Passion of Tragedy, but the former ought always to be carefully avoided. And certainly no Dramatick Writer ever succeeded better in raising Terror in the Mind of an Audience than Shakespear has done [and he goes on to Macbeth for a few sentences].
“I cannot leave Hamlet, without taking notice of the Advantage with which we have seen </p. xxxiii> <p.xxxiv> this Master-piece of Shakespear distinguish it self upon the Stage, by Mr. Betterton's fine Performance of that Part . . . No Man is better acquainted with Shakespear's manner of Expression, and indeed he has study'd him so well, and is so much a Master of him, that whatever Part of his he performs. he does it as if it had been written on purpose for him, and that the Author had exactly conceiv'd it as he plays it.” </p. xxxiv>
Gildon (1710, pp. 395-8) offers a summary of the plot as he understood it: <p.395> “Hamlet Son of the former King of Denmark is put aside the Election by his Uncle Claudius, who marry'd his Mother soon after his Father's Death; which was succeeded by the walking of the Ghost of the deceas'd King; Hamlet being inform'd of it goes to the Watch sees and speaks to the Ghost, who tells him, that his Uncle who now possesses his Throne and Wife, murder'd him as he lay asleep in his Garden by pouring poison into his Ear. So desiring Revenge the Ghost vanishing, Hamlet obliges all who had seen it to keep the Secret and by no means discover, that they had beheld any such Sight. Hamlet assumes a sort of Madness, and the Queen loving him very well is solicitous to know the Cause, which Polonius the Lord Chamberlain persuades to be the Love of his Daughter, on her rejecting his Letters and Address according to her Brothers and Fathers Orders. Hamlet willing to discover whether the Ghost had told him true order some Players who came then to Elsinor to Act such a Part, as the Ghost had inform'd him the King had been guilty of, desiring Horatio his Friend to observe him all </p.395> <p. 396> the Action, but when the Poisoning of his Brother in the Garden came to be Acted the king unable to see more rises up and breaks off the Play. This confirms Hamlet in his Resolution of the revenging his Father's Death. But the King highly affected with this retired while his Mother is order'd to check him for his Conduct, but Polonius advises the King to let him hide himself to over hear what passes betwixt them for fear the Mother's Indulgence shou'd not discover all. As Hamlet is going to his Mother he finds the King at Prayers, and therefore will not kill him because he took his Father in his Sins. He is so rough with his Mother, that she crys out help, and Polonius alarm'd does the same but Hamlet taking him for the King kills him behind the Arras, then charges the Queen home with her fault of marrying her Husband's Brother, &c. owns that he is not Mad, the Ghost of his Father comes into the Room, which heightens her Agony. They part the Queen promising not to reveal ought to the King. The King is resolv'd to send Hamlet to England with Rosencross and Guildenstern, with private Orders for him to be put to Death there, but Hamlet aboard getting their Commissions from them found the fatal Order and keeps it, supplying the Place with a fresh Order to put the Ambassadors to Death; so he comes back and in the Church finds a Grave digging for Ophelia, who running Mad on her Father's Death, was Drowned and Laertes coming back from France was but just hinder'd from revenging his Father's Death of the King, but is assur'd, that he would help in his Revenge by ingaging Hamlet to try his Skill with him at Foils whilst Hamlet shou'd have a Blunt and Laertes a Sharp which he poison'd. But in the Scuffle the </p.396><p.397> Queen drinks to Hamlet but drinks the Poison prepar'd by the King for Hamlet, who being now wounded got the Sharp from Laertes and wounds him, the Queen crys out that she is Poison'd, and so Hamlet kills the King; Laertes confesses the Contrivance and Dies, as Hamlet does immediately after.
“Tho' I look upon this as the Master-Piece of Shakespear according to our Way of Writing; yet there are abundance of Errors in the Conduct and Design, which will not suffer us in Justice to prefer it to the Electra of Sophocles, with the Author of his Life [Rowe in rowe1]; who seems to mistake the Matter wide when he puts this on the same Foot with the Electra. Hamlet's Mother has no Hand in the Death of her Husband, as far as we can discover in this Poem, but her fault was in yielding to the incestuous Amour with her Husband's Brother; that at least is all that the Ghost charges her with. Besides Shakespear was Master of this Story, but Sophocles was not. Orestes farther was commanded by the Oracle to kill his Mother and therefore all moral duties yielding to the immediate Command of the Gods, his Action according to that System of Religion under which Sophocles wrote had nothing in it of Barbarity but was entirely pious; As Agamemnon's Sacrificing his own Daughter Iphigenia on Diana's Order.
“This Play indeed is capable of being made more perfect than the Electra, but then a great deal of it must be thrown away and some of the darling Trifles of the Million, as all the comical Part entirely and many other things which relate not to the main Action, which seems here to be pretty entire tho' not so artfully Conducted as it might be. But I wander from my Point, I pro- </p.397><p.398> pos'd not to show the Errors especially when this Play contains so many Beauties. . . . . ” </p.398>
Ed. note: Beyond providing a summary, Gildon (1710, pp. 398-404) extracts from the play various passages illustrative of some idea: “Vertue and Lust ” [but vertue . . . Garbage, 739-42]; “Ambition” [1303-5]; “ On Man” [What . . . world &c, 1350-4]; Shakespeare on the drama [1849-92]; on fame and greatness [1479-85 &c.]; “On Players and Plays” [let them . . . time, 1564-5; I haue heard . . . malefactions, 1628-32], &c.
Gildon (1710, p. 404) also provides two examples of extraneous matter in the play: “The Discourse betwixt Hamlet and the Grave Maker is full of moral Reflections and worthy minding, tho' that Discourse it self has nothing to do there, where it is, nor of any use to the Design, and may be as well left out; and what ever can be left out has no Business in a Play, but this being low Comedy has still less to do here. The character Hamlet gives of Osrick is very Satirical and wou'd be good any where else. ”
Stubbs (1736, pp. 18-19): Speaking of Shakespeare's propensity to put comic diversions in even the most serious plays: <p. 18> “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 <p. 18> <p. 19> 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.” </p. 19>
Johnson ([john1] ed. 1765): “If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be characterised, each by the particular excellence which distinguishes it from the rest, we must allow to the tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents are so numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably diversified with merriment and solemnity; with merriment that includes judicious and instructive observations, and solemnity, not strained by poetical violence above the natural sentiments of man.[<bwk> <I think he means, no bombast./bwk>] New characters appear from time to time in continual succession, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes of conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness, and every personage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that in the first act chills the blood with horror, to the fop in the last, that expresses affectation to just contempt.
“The conduct is perhaps not wholly secure against objections. The action is indeed for the most part in continual progression, but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. 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. He plays the madman most, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
“Hamlet is, through the whole play, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem of the play, convicted the King, he makes no attempt to punish him, and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet has no part in producing.
“The catastrophe is not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necessity, than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily have been formed, to fill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
“The poet is accused of having shewn little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification which would arise from the destruction of an usurper and a murdered, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.”
Steevens ([v1773] ed. 1773, 10: 277 n. 7): “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 importance of its beginning. After this last interview with the Ghost, the character of Hamlet has lost all its consequence.”
Schlegel (1808, tr. 1846, p. 404): “Hamlet is singular in its kind: a tragedy of thought inspired by continual and never-satisfied meditation on human destiny and the dark perplexity of the events of this world, and calculated to call forth the very same meditation in the minds of the spectators. This enigmatical work resembles those irrational equations in which a fraction of unknown magnitude always remains, that will in no way admit of solution. Much has been said, much written, on this piece, and yet no thinking head who anew expresses himself on it, will (in his view of the connexion and the signification of all the parts) entirely coincide with his predecessors. What naturally most astonishes us, is the fact that with such hidden purposes, with a foundation laid in such unfathomable depth, the whole should, at a first view, exhibit an extremely popular appearance. The dread appearance of the Ghost takes possession of the mind and the imagination almost at the very commencement; then the play within the play, in which, as in a glass, we see reflected the crime, whose fruitlessly attempted punishment constitutes the subject-matter of the piece; the alarm with which it fills the King; Hamlet’s pretended and Ophelia’s real madness; her death and burial; the meeting of Hamlet and Laertes at her grave; their combat, and the grand determination; lastly, the appearance of the young hero Fortinbras, who, with warlike pomp, pays the last honours to an extinct family of kings; the interspersion of comic characteristic scenes with Polonius, the courtiers, and the grave-diggers, which have all of them their signification,—all this fills the stage with an animated and varied movement. The only circumstance from which this piece might be judged to be less theatrical than other tragedies of Shakespeare is, that in the last scenes the main action either stands still or appears to retrograde. This, however, was inevitable, and lay in the nature of the subject. The whole is intended to show that a calculating consideration, which exhausts all the relations and possible consequences of a deed, must cripple the power of acting [. . . ].”
[But is it about the possible consequences of his act that Hamlet thinks? He doesn’t think about usurpation, the effect on his mother, on the kingdom, on himself.]
Drake (1817, 2,392): “ . . . Shakspeare had a clear and definite idea of [the play] throughout all its seeming inconsistencies . . . . [quotes from “To Be, TLN 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.” [See 1738 CN.]
Drake (1817, 2: 398), after declaring that Hamlet is the play's main interest, says: “We should bear in mind, however, that the favour of the public must, in part, have been attached to this play through the vast variety of incident and characters which it unfolds, from its rapid interchange of solemnity, pathos, and humour, and more particularly from the awful, yet grateful terror which the shade of buried Denmark diffuses over the scene. ”
Coleridge (-1818 [Lectures on the Principles of Judgement, Culture, and European Literature, Lecture 6, 1818, BM ms Egerton 2800; rpt. Coleridge, 1987, 5.2:137-40): <p.137>“The significancy of the names of Shakespear’s Plays, the Twelfth Night, Midsummers Night’s Dream, As you like it, Winter’s Tale, when the total effect is produced by a co-ordination of the Characters, by a wreath of Flowers: but Coriolanus, Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Moor of Venice, when the effect arises from the subordination of all to a one, either as the prominent person or the principal Object. Cymbeline is the only exception and even that has its advantages by and preparinges the audience for the chaos of Time, Place, and Costume by throwing the date back into a King Olim’s Reign—
“But as of more importance, so more striking is the Judgement displayed by our truly dramatic Poet as well as Poet of the Drama in the management of his first Scenes.
Caldecott ([cald1] ed. 1819, pp. 169-74), after recording Johnson’s and Malone’s comments on the play as a whole and Hamlet, continues with a “dialogue” with Steevens (the numbered points): <p. 169> “Of this play, a modern writer, with just conception of the interest it raises, has said; ‘Such an infinite and subtle discrimi- <p. 169> </p. 170> nation of character , and feeling, is displayed in it; it is rendered so exquisitely interesting, yet without the help of a regular plot, almost without a plan; so like is it in its simplicity to the progress of nature itself, that it appears to be an entire effusion of pure genius alone.’
“There are in the last editions some representations of the character of Hamlet, which, though in our judgment unfounded, yet being to such an extent injurious to it as in some measure to throw reproach upon our author, we have thought fit, without going more at large into his character, to give our view of the subject, as applicable to these points.
“Mr. Steevens charges, I. ‘Hamlet, at the command of his father’s ghost, undertakes with seeming alacrity to revenge the murder; and declares he will banish all other thoughts from his mind. He makes, however, but one effort to keep his word, and that is, when he mistakes Polonius for the King; on another occasion he defers his purpose, till he can find an opportunity of taking his uncle when he is least prepared for death, that he may ensure damnation to his soul.’
“We answer, that a compliance with the injunction from his father to revenge his death, is deferred at first to enable him to satisfy himself of the truth of the ghost’s representation, and whether (as he intimates an apprehension at the close of A. II) he might not, in the broken state of his spirits, have been abused by a fiend. It must here also be taken into consideration, that if Hamlet’s vengeance had been presently executed, the curtain must at once have dropped; no art of address could, after such event, have much longer sustained the drama, and carried it on to a fifth act. Having made choice of such a subject, our author was, therefore, obliged to give his character the features of irresolution, and afterwards to cover this blemish with such a veil and train of circumstances as he had address enough to introduce and throw over them. A hesitating and indecisive mind would, by these considerations, be naturally led to pause; and even if this view of the subject should not be thought fully satisfactory in a strict investigation of character by a biographer, yet as he was to fall, to reconcile the audience to his fate, and do poetical justice, some part of the character should be left imperfect, or, at least, questionable. To the remaining charge, it is answered, that the principle under which he afterwards waves a fair opportunity of effecting his purpose, was in conformity with prevailing notions, insisted upon, however revolting, by all popular authors, and the best dramatic writers of that and the succeeding age (see note at the close of III.3), and thence to a degree imperative upon the playwright; and this sentiment is again found and insisted upon in Othello.
“Then as is above admitted, the first opportunity that early offered was eagerly seized: and though the blow fell upon a wrong person, the act done was in some sense an answer to the charge. <p. 170> </p. 171>
“2. ‘He deliberately procures the execution of his school-fellows, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who appear not, from any circumstances in this lay, to have been acquainted with the treacherous purposes of the mandate they were employed to carry. To embitter their fate\, and hazard their punishment beyond the grave, he denies even the few moments necessary for a brief confession of their sins. Their end (as he declares in a subsequent conversation with Horatio) gives him no concern; for they obtruded themselves into the service, and he thought he had the right to destroy them.’
“Though it does not distinctly appear in any part of this drama that Hamlet knew that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were privy to this murderous project, yet throughout he perfectly well understood their insidious aims, under the mask of an old school friendship, and that they were creatures of the King, placed and brought from a distance for the sole purpose of being spies upon him: but it was not till after he discovered that his own murder was to be effected by means in which they were at least chosen agents and instruments, that ‘benetted round,’ as he says he was, ‘with villainies,’ in the moment of discovery and resentment, he retorts upon them as principals, and takes the course of retaliation which that moment naturally suggested, the death to which he was himself destined.
“Mr. Malone presumes, that Shakespeare, who ‘has followed the novel of the Hystorie of Hamblet pretty closely, probably meant to describe Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the representatives of the King in the novel, and who were apprised of the contents of their packet, as equally criminal with those ministers, and combining with the King to deprive Hamlet of life.’ The passage runs thus: ‘Now to beare him company were assigned two of Fengon’s faithful ministers, bearing letters ingraved in wood, that contained Hamlet’s death. But the subtil Danish prince, being at sea, whilst his companions slept, having read the letters, and knowing his uncle’s treason with the wicked and villainous mindes of the two courtiers, that led him to the slaughter, raced out the letters that concerned his death, and instead thereof graved others, with commission to the King of England to hang his two companions; and not content to turn the death they had devised against him upon their own neckes, wrote further that king Fengon willed him to give his daughter to Hamblet in marriage.’ Signat. G2.
“3. “From his brutal conduct to Ophelia, he is not less accountable for her destruction and death.”
“Now it does not appear that any part of his conduct to her was the occasion of either. On his most offensive carriage towards her (III.i.) she is so perfectly satisfied that it proceeded from distraction, that immediately upon it, she twice implore heaven to help and restore him; and, upon his leaving her, exclaims, ‘O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.’ <p. 171> </p. 172>
“So far, then as respects Ophelia and her personal feelings, these declarations prove that she was no otherwise a sufferer from this supposed offensive carriage, than as by sympathy partaking in his sufferings: and so far as respected himself and his main purpose, this carriage towards a beloved object, and such a personage, was the surest method to impress a belief of his madness upon all, and particularly upon the father of that beloved object, the confidential minister of the King; whose apprehensions might, by such device be laid asleep, till Hamlet should find his scheme ripe for execution.
“And this charge is still further unjust, as the distraction of Ophelia, under which she met her death, is throughout this drama represented to have been the consequence of her father’s sudden and melancholy end.
“4. ‘He interrupts the funeral designed in honour of this lady, at which both the King and Queen were present; and, by such an outrage to decency, renders it still more necessary for the usurper to lay a second stratagem for his life, though the first had proved abortive.’
“As the interruption to this ceremony, and in this presence, was first given by Laertes, who first leapt into the grave, and who immediately, upon Hamlet’s so doing, became the aggressor in an assault there, it seems little less than wilfully injurious both to overlook this assault, and otherwise charge the interruption upon Hamlet; and the more so, as his conduct in this assault was also temperate and meritorious.
“It is still more strange to say that Hamlet’s offence, at the worst not even charged as amounting to more than a violation of decency, could become an argument for the ‘necessity’ of the King’s ‘laying a second stratagem for his life,’ i.e. for assassinating him. Further, even if this strange consequence were admitted, the thing is without foundation in point of fact; for that second stratagem was concerted before the time of the funeral.
“5. ‘He insults the brother of the dead, and boasts of an affection for his sister, which before he had denied to her face; and yet at this very time must be considered as desirous of supporting the character of a madman, so that the openness of his confession is not to be imputed to him as a virtue.’
“We have already noticed, that to this denial of his love, the party interested at the time the denial was made, herself attached no credit to it. This open avowal of it, and the whole of his conduct at the grave, were natural ebullitions of that passion in an ardent mind; and had nothing of resemblance to a designed insult upon the brother of the dead. They were, on the contrary, in the highest degree conciliatory; and as far as he dared, true: and such qualities, wherever found and disclosed, are of the character of virtue.
“6. ‘He apologizes to Horatio afterwards for the absurdity of his behaviour, to which he was provoked by that <p.172 > </p.173> “nobleness of fraternal grief,” which, indeed, he ought rather to have applauded than condemned.’
“For his intemperance and want of self command, in which Laertes repeatedly set him the example, he does, indeed, reproach himself; but, though curses were imprecated also upon the head of Laertes, he does no more than insist on the title, which the character of a lover gave him, to indulge in wilder transports than any that the affection of a brother could raise; and, instead of condemning that expression of passion, he in terms applauds the ‘nobleness’ of the source from which it sprang.
“7. ‘Dr. Johnson has observed, that to bring about a reconciliation of Laertes, he has availed himself of a dishonest fallacy; and to conclude, it is obvious to the most careless spectator or reader, that he kills the King at last to revenge himself, and not his father.’
“The ‘dishonest fallacy’ imputed was, that ‘he was visited with a sore distraction.’ The principle of self-preservation had long dictated to Hamlet that he must not allow that his conduct was under the guidance of sober reason; and as he knew, from the expected return of the ambassadors from England, that his time was short, now, and in the presence of the king, it became more than ever necessary that he should continue to wear this mask: and as this character had been long before assumed by Hamlet, the charge of dishonesty had with much more propriety have been preferred against the adoption of it at all, than at so late an hour against this apology: for nothing, no new device, dishonest or fallacious towards Laertes, exists in any part of Hamlet’s conduct.
“Then as to the remaining part of the charge, as no reason is offered, the reader must be equally at a loss with ourselves to conceive why Hamlet, how much soever alive to his own personal wrongs, should not also have been actuated by a sense of those of his father. But that a sense of those of his father was uppermost in his thoughts at the moment of taking his revenge, his words ‘Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane’ speak unanswerably. These point solely to his father’s cause and injuries; and are in direct correspondence with what he had just said to Horatio; when, enumerating the various considerations that constitute a justification of this act, he classes these first: ‘He, that hath kill’d my father, whor’d my mother.’
“Much the same view is taken of this subject by Mr. Richardson, in his Essays upon Shakespeare’s dramatic Characters, 8vo. 1797, p. 101.
“He says, ‘engaged in a dangerous enterprize, agitated by impetuous emotions, desirous of concealing them, and, for that reason, feigning his understanding disordered: to confirm and <p. 173> </p. 174> 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. He would seem frivolous, when the occasion required him to be sedate: and, celebrated 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, and because his affection for her was passionate and sincere.’
“He adds, ‘let Hamlet be represented as delivering himself in a light, airy, unconcerned and thoughtless manner, and the rudeness, so much complained of, will disappear,” </p. 174>
Ed. note: * Even before Q1 was discovered, evidently there was a theatrical tradition of Hamlet leaping into the grave after Laertes.
Ed. note: A few critics would not call Hamlet’s irresolution a defect of character.
Hunter (1845, 2:205-9) <p. 205-6> outlines the basic plot, which, if Shakespeare had stuck to it, would have made for a coherent whole and would have allowed scope for “that diversity of character, and that variety of incident, which we find in it as it now is.” “[T]he piece is spotty. The spots are beautiful when contemplated in themselves, still they are but spots.” Defects: however contrary to our own views, we are led to believe that vengeance for a great crime is correct, </p. 206><p.207> but to have Ham. desist for the reason he gives is “hideous.” It’s also wrong to bring Ophelia on “in a state of mind, which, if ever it did exist in nature, ought to be screened from every human eye, nor should the sex be prophaned by the remotest suspicion of its possible existence.” Also, the English system of killing everyone off, the introduction of new characters late in the play—Osric and Fortinbras—though the latter can be </p. 207> <p. 208> “tolerated, as Horatio must have some one to listen to his summing up.” He continues about ghosts in general. </p. 208 > <p. 209> Shakespeare is justified in depicting ghosts as they were understood to behave. </p. 209>
Hudson (1848, 2.132-4) <pp. 132-3> quotes Goethe: “the hero is without any plan, but the play itself is full of plan” The play is in a class by itself, “a tragedy of thought; and of all Sh’s this undoubtedly combines the greatest strength and widest diversity of faculties,” including “amazement and terror; of lust and ambition and remorse; of hope and friendship and anguish and madness and despair; of wit and humour and pathos and poetry and philosophy; now congealing the blood with horror, now melting the heart with pity, now launching the mind into eternity, now shaking the soul at its centre with thoughts too deep for mortal reach, / now startling conscience from her lonely seat with supernatural visitings: —it unfolds a world of truth and beauty and sublimity; which our thoughts may indeed aspire to traverse, but which our tongues must despair to utter.” </pp. 132-3> He proceeds to the less obvious excellencies.
Hudson praises the graveyard scene: 5.1, TLN 3189-3498: <p. 133> “The heterogeneous elements which are brought together in the graveyard scene, with its strange mixture of songs and witticisms and dead man’s bones, and its still stranger transitions of the grave, the sprightly, the meditative, the solemn, the playful and the grotesque, make it one of the most wonderful and yet most natural scenes the poet has given us.”
Hudson also writes of <pp. 133-4> “The overpowering intensity/ of interest in the miniature scene [play-within?], with its Niagara of thoughts and images and emotions . . . .” <pp. 133-4>
<p. 134> Hudson approves of the catastrophe, which “is a frightful abyss of moral confusion over which the mind shudders with horror and awe. As we gaze into its dark chaotic bosom, where the guilty and the guiltless have been relentlessly swept away and overwhelmed in indistinguishable ruin, ...[we] fly for refuge to the heaven above us.” </p. 134>
Delia Bacon (1857, pp. 11-12, 17, apud David George, personal communication, March 2009) believes that in Hamlet Shakespeare (merely a front for Francis Bacon) satirizes: “the custom of so many people, who canonize the KINGS they have chosen out of their own body, and are not content only to honour, but adore them.” Kings are supposedly “far above the rest of mankind in their single virtue and judgment,” but should not defend their supposed “divine faculty” by speaking or arguing about it (pp. 11-12). Delia Bacon's remarks are attached to Hamlet's speech and Horatio's reply at 2153-7 (3.2.281-5): “For thou doost know . . . rhym'd.” In her view, Francis Bacon envisaged a new state which would be run scientifically, “the government of every man over himself” (p. 17).
Ramsay (1856, p. 126): “Much of what has been said may appear somewhat extravagant and far fetched, especially to those who have been taught to look upon Shakspere as a mere beautiful ‘lusus naturæ’—a wild and extravagant genius, deficient in learning and culture, who neither meant nor understood a tithe of the deep and beautiful ideas which critics fancy that they can discover in his wondrous soul-creations. When studies as he ought to be studied, in a humble and loving spirit, Shakspere can only appear such to ordinary and infra-ordinary minds. And as for his not meaning all the beautiful things that are to be found in his words, it is one of the surest marks of a true ;poet that the outpourings of his genius contain many hidden beauties, variously unfolding themselves to different orders of character; the greater the poet, the more living and expansive are his words, and the more truths they contain for the larger number of men of every variety of age, and every mould of mind,—truths always rising up like the waters of a spring, ever fresh and ever inexhaustible. Thus the words of a true poet, like Shakspere, will rarely, if ever, be comprehended in their full significance, by any one single individual.
“But apart from this, somewhat of the mystery in the play of Hamlet may arise from the circumstance, that is common with the highest painters and sculptors, * even Shakspeare [sic] has not wholly expressed his idea. Like the Gothic architecture, his works must remain in a great measure ideal, pointing even higher than they reach, since any one of his dramas, taken in its oneness and entirety, conveys to the mind far more than lies on the surface of the mere words themselves.”
<n.*> <p.126> “Compare Thorwaldsen’s remark: ‘My genius is decaying. Till now my idea has always been far beyond what I could execute. But it is no longer so. I shall never have a great idea again.’ Quoted by Hare, ‘Guesses at Truth,’ first series, p. 83.” </p. 126> </n.*>
Lloyd (1858, p. , summing up the effect of the play, “Hamlet the Dane is apparently by his constitution . . . of a character essentially undramatic, yet has he the leading part of unusual extent in the longest of the plays, in perhaps the most popular of all among readers, and one of the most effective even on the stage. He is the centre and the cause moreover of a series of events at the conclusion of which a larger proportion of the principal agents have met with violent deaths—the King, the Queen, Polonius, Laertes, Ophelias, and Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,—more than in any other of the Tragedies. Whence is this? it is nothing more than an expression of the natural effect when powerful but ill-harmonized energies are led into or step into a combination they are too irregular to master and conduct. Such interference only enhances complication or checks it by fits and starts that sometimes fall at random and are speedily exhausted; the catastrophe struggles to its own extrication through manifold lapse and disaster, aggravated and prolonged, and naturally involves at last the guilty and some that are chiefly unfortunate, and the author lastly, who but for our sympathies must stand equivocally between the two.
Turgenev (1860); TLS 1930: 315. In an anon. review of Turgenev's essay, “Hamlet and Don Quixote,” trans. Robert Nichols [London: Hendersons, 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 and Clarke ([c&mc ] ed. 1868, p. 375, n.1): “Men return again and again to the perusal of “Hamlet,” not so much because of its poetical beauty, its dramatic excellence, its consummate portraiture of character; but they come to it again and again, because in it they find ever-new mirroring of life’s mysteries and perplexities.”
Halliwell-Phillipps (1879, p. 11): “There is contemporary evidence to this effect in the Stationer’s Registers of 1602 in the title there given,—‘The Revenge of Hamlett.”
Nicholson (1882, pp. 57-66) argues that since Sh would certainly have made use of Kemp in Ham. if he had been around and since a fool is wanted in the play, that Sh had quarreled with Kemp, who was not in the co. at that time. The main issue here is: does the play need a fool? The gravedigger, Osric and Polonius all play the fool, deliberately or not.
Furnivall, [F. J.], respondent, to Nicholson on a clown being missed in Ham, New Shakspere Society’s Transactions. 1880-2 ser. 1, no. 8 (1882): 65: “ . . . I have no sympathy with [Nicholson’s] view that a Fool or Court-Jester is wanted in Hamlet. Hamlet himself does the main work of Lear’s fool. To adopt Dr N’s words: ‘Who forgets the biting sarcasms of [[Hamlet]], and their aptness?’ If there had been a fool in Hamlet, his chief occupation would have been to jeer at Hamlet’s way of ‘sweeping to his revenge’ through the long four acts of the play. One can fancy what short work ‘the bitter fool” who shows Lear what he was, would have made of Hamlet’s excuses and delays, flesh-melting, play-teaching, and ‘may be a devil,’ &c. If Shakspere had 18 Kemps at hand, he’d not have put one into Hamlet, —or Othello or Macbeth; —he knew his business to well for that.”
Gervinus (1883, pp. 560-1), after discussing Hamlet in relation to Laertes and Polonius, asserts that <p. 560> “the structure of the play stands in perfect unity and connection before us; the action throughout has one point in view, and the least conspicuous figures are in close and essential relation to the main subject. The truth-loving, moral hero stands in the midst of those wandering on crooked ways of hypocrisy, dissimulation, and untruth; his sensible, conscientious, and circumspect nature is opposed in strong contrast to the unprincipled conduct of all the others, and to the heartless or thoughtless heedlessness of their actions and their consequences; the king and queen, Polonius and Ophelia, even all the subordinate figures (with the exception of Horatio, who only observes and never acts), Fortinbras, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and even Osric, all fall more or less under this aspect; and the character of Laertes, the express contrast to Hamlet, is delineated with peculiar force and delicacy; in the attainment of his object he is more severely conscientious than Hamlet, but unscrupulous in his means, and this excellently prevents the subordinate hero from rising too highly in our interest. Yet, however well this whole action and its inner connection is designed and accomplished, we feel in no play more than in this . . . that with Shakespeare the action is every secondary, that it ever holds a subordinate place, and that the true point of unity in his works ever leads to the source of the actions, to the actors themselves, and to the hidden grounds from which their actions spring. We could take but little interest for its own sake in the negative action of this play, in the evasion of the deed, in the lack of outward events, and in the absence of inward energy and vigour. Yet we take the deepest interest in Hamlet—proof sufficient that the especial charm lies in the character. When we have thoroughly penetrated it, we may then feel that we have dive to the ground of the action. And not this alone; in our acquaintance with this source of the action we feel we have attained at once to an incomparably richer and more fertile perception; we can imagine this highly endowed man under other circumstances, different and yet ever the same; we learn to regard the action as a mere outlet, or merely one outlet of a </p. 560><p. 561> deep original spring, from which can be traced the tide of similar or different actions; and we perceive the moral deduced from the story only as a lesson that may be traced to a higher, more comprehensive truth.” </p. 561>
[Ed. note: Gervinus is writing about his own exultant sense of discovery in fixing for himself the meaning of the play, the characters and the action. At this point he turns to specific descriptions of Hamlet. See Hamlet doc.]
Marshall (1875, p. 13): “ . . . in work that is not only clever, but great, the style is subordinate to the matter; regularity of metre and precision of detail are sacrificed to nobility of thought and beauty of subject.”
Feis (1884, rpt. 1970, p. 114): In writing Hamlet, Shakespeare “wished to warn his contemporaries that the attempt of reconciling two opposite circles of ideas—namely, on the one hand, the doctrine that we are to be guided by the laws of Nature; and on the other, the yielding ourselves up to superstitious dogmas which declare human nature to be sinful—must inevitably produce deeds of madness.” Feis's project is to show that Shakespeare deplored Montaigne's ideas and made Hamlet's character express those ideas.
Arnold (1884, pp. 51-4): <p. 51> The interest of Jacob Feis's discovery of the connection between Montaigne and Shakespeare does not lie where Feis places it—in an argument against Roman Catholicism or an abhorrence of Hamlet. "It lies in explaining how it comes about that 'Hamlet,' in spite of the prodigious mental and poetic power shown in it, is really so tan- </p. 51> <p. 52> talizing and ineffective a play. To the common public 'Hamlet' is a famous piece by a famous poet, with crime, a ghost, battle, and carnage; and that is sufficient. To the youthful enthusiast 'Hamlet' is a piece handling the mystery of the universe, and having thru-out cadences, phrases, and words full of divine Shaksperian magic; and that, too, is sufficient. To the pedant, finally, 'Hamlet' is an occasion for airing his psychology; and what does the pedant require more? But to the spectator who loves true and powerful drama, and can judge whether he gets it or not, 'Hamlet' is a piece which opens, indeed, simply and admirably, and then: 'The rest is a puzzle'!
"The reason is apparently, that Shakspere conceived this play with his mind running on Montaigne, and placed its action and its hero in Montaigne's atmosphere and world. What is that world? It is the world of man viewed as a being ondoyant et divers, balancing and indeterminate, the plaything of cross-motives and shifting impulses, swayed by a thousand subtle influences, physiological and pathological. Certainly the action and hero of the original Hamlet story are not </p. 52> <p. 53> such as to compel the poet to place them in this world and no other, but they admit of being placed there, Shakspere resolved to place them there, and they lent themselves to his resolve. The resolve once taken to place the action in this world of problems, the problem be came brightened by Shakspere's faculties, of Shakspere's subtlety. 'Hamlet' thus comes at last to be not a drama followed with perfect comprehension and profoundest emotion. which is the ideal for tragedy, but a problem soliciting interpretation and solution.
"It will never, therefore, be a piece to be seen with pure satisfaction by those who will not deceive themselves. But such is its power and such is its fame that it will always continue to be acted, and we shall all of us continue to go and see it. Mr. Wilson Barrett [actor-managed who produced the play in 1884] has put it effectively and finely on the stage. In general the critics have marked his merits with perfect justice. He is successful with his King and Queen. The King in 'Hamlet' is too often a blatant horror, and his Queen is to match. Mr. Willard and Miss Leighton are a King and Queen whom one sees, and hears with pleasure. Ophelia too-- </p. 53> <p. 54>what suffering have Ophelias caused us! And nothing can make this part advantageous to an actress or enjoyable for the spectator. I confess, therefore, that I trembled at each of Miss Eastlake's entrances; but the impression finally left, by the madness scene especially, was one of approval and respect. Mr. Wilson Barrett himself, as Hamlet, is fresh, natural, young, prepossessing, animated, coherent; the piece moves. All Hamlets whom I have seen dissatisfy us in something, Macready wanted person, Charles Kean mind, Fechter English; Mr. Wilson Barrett wants elocution. No ingenuity will ever enable us to follow the drama of 'Hamlet' as we follow the first part of 'Faust,' but we may be made to feel the noble poetry.
"Perhaps John Kemble, in spite of his limitations, was the best Hamlet after all. But John Kemble is beyond reach of the memory of even
'An Old Playgoer.'
October 23, 1884."
Boas (1896, pp. 131-2) <p. 131> recognizes that biographical inquiry to elucidate Shakespeare’s work is suspect; however, </p. 131><p. 132> to arrange the works in order is to consider the development of genius, and thus critical biography: the plays are “enhanced when we realize that they are not due to accident, but form the stages in a continuous mental growth.” He recognizes the limits of this approach; it cannot be certain. </p. 132>
He treats the works in time order from here on, coming to Hamlet on p. 345, with discussion of the Essex conspiracy's effect on Shakespeare's works.
Boas (1896, pp. 344-5) <p. 344> thinks that a group of Shakespeare’s plays could be a reaction to the “failure of the conspiracy of Essex, followed by the execution of the Earl and the imprisonment of Shakspere’s friend Southampton. [. . . ] </p. 344> <p. 345> “It can scarcely be a mere coincidence that Julius Caesar immediately follows the Earl’s tragic end, and it is remarkable that most of the plays which with more or less warrant can be assigned to the last three years of Elizabeth’s reign, contain painful studies of the weakness, levity, and unbridled passion of young men.” He links AWW, MM, Tro. and Ham. with these traits. He classes all of these as problem plays, borrowing the term “from the theatre of to-day.” </p. 345>
[Ed. note: OED lists A. W. Pinero as the 1st to use the expression “problem drama,” 1895: Daily News 27 Nov. 3/4.
It also has 1894: Westminster Gazette 16 July 1/2. “Who invented the term ‘problem play’? . . . the phrase is new, the thing itself dates from twenty years, to go no further back.”
Boas (1896, p. 357) <p. 357> links Ham. and MM in the latter’s “deeply reflective tone, its brooding sense of the pollution spread by lust in the single soul and in society at large, and the shivering recoil of the man of phantasies from the mystery of the unknown hereafter. Claudio’s gloomy meditations on death sound like an echo from the soliloquies of the Danish Prince.” He places MM in 1604, “the revival in that year of a statute, which punished with death any divorced person who married again while his or her former husband or wife was living [. . . ].” </p. 357>
[Ed. note: Boas makes some errors: Though he says that MM begins with such a situation—divorce and remarriage—it doesn’t. Does he mean Mrs. Overdone?
[He also makes a mistake on p. 457 when he says that “Horatio is extolled as ‘more an antique Roman than a Dane.” Horatio is not extolled; he simply describes himself as such and then is quickly talked out of dying for his friend’s sake.]
Boas (1896, p. 384 n. 1): re the absence in Q1 of the dialogues between Hamlet and Horatio in 3.2 and 5.2, Hamlet's soliloquy at the end of 3.2, and the whole of 4.4, Boas finds it incredible that such omissions would be due to a reporter's forgetfulness. He thinks, with Aldis Wright and Gregor Sarrazin, that Q1 contains remnants of the older play. The 1st draft was written while the players were out of favor at court because of the Essex uprising. See Chambers, ed. Hamlet (Warwick Shakespeare), and his appendix D. [/n. 1]
Freud (c. 1900) apud Halpern (2008, pp. 468-9): <p. 468> “ . . . Freud's reading of Hamlet against Sophocles' Oedipus offers an historical narrative of the movement from tragedy of action to tragedy of thought.
Freud treats Sophocles' play in a strictly Aristotlean manner insofar as he emphasizes plot over character. What matters to Freud is not what Oedipus is or wants but what Oedipus does. In killing his father and marrying his mother, Oedipus acts out a foundational incestuous fantasy, but not necessarily his fantasy. Paradoxically, Freud's reading does not assume that Oedipus suffers from the Oedipus complex. Freud is not interested in Oedipus's character but rather in the way his actions affect the audience and bring to light their Oedipal guilt . . . . Things are different when we come to the era of Hamlet. . . . Hamlet's repressed identification with Claudius inhibits action; thus does Freud claim to solve the mystery of Hamlet's famous delay. </p. 468> <p. 469> But that identification inhibits thought as well, insofar as Hamlet's essential truth remains hidden from him. It is not that thought stops; rather, it runs on endlessly, albeit on certain obsessive pathways, without really accomplishing anything. This is the tragedy of thought: to be reduced to an ongoing but essentially empty process.”
Santayana (Intro, ed. c. 1900, p. xxxi): “The impression of utter gloom which the plot leaves when taken, so to speak, realistically, as if it were a picture of actual existence, is not the impression it leaves when we take it as lyric poetry, as music, as an abstract representation of sundry moods and loyalties traversing a noble mind. The world which is set before us may be grotesque and distracted; but we are not asked to be interested in that world.”
Santayana (1900, pp. 151-5, 163): <p. 151> “The Sonnets, as a whole, are spiritual; . . . ,” but they are not religious [with the exception of 146, 'Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth'], ” </p. 151> <p. 152> which means that “they are not Christian,” the only mold for religious thought Shakespeare would have known. </p. 152> <p. 154>Shakespeare's world, [in contrast to Homer's and Dante's, for example], is only the world of human society. . . . He depicts human life in all its richness and variety, but leaves that life without a setting, </p. 154> <p. 155> and consequently without a meaning." </p. 155> <p. 163> “Shakespeare [in contrast to the writers of antiquity] is remarkable among the greater poets for being without a philsophy and without a religion. In his drama there is no fixed conception of any forces, natural or moral, dominating and transcending our mortal energies.” What Shakespeare does have is “profuse wealth of characterization,” but that is “still inadequate” </p. 163> <p. 164> because it does not give “that unity of meaning that can suffuse its endless details with something of dignity, simplicity, and peace.” Ed. note: In this discussion, Santayana does not mention Hamlet, which has a certain degree of religious expression--by Hamlet, Horatio and Claudius (and to a more superficial extent by the sentinels); since he is like Daedalus's God of Creation, Shakespeare does not indicate if he shared the religious vision of his characters.
Santayana (1900, pp. 164-5): <p. 164> It's not that Santayana misses a particular religious “system” in Shakespeare, the value of which “ is not the value of truth, but that of victorious imagination.” Santayana claims that a cause might have been “the time and place in which he lived, when religion and imagination blocked rather than helped each other. ” A different time “would perhaps have allowed more of a cosmic background to appear behind his crowded scenes. If the Christian in him was not the real man, at least the Pagan would have spoken frankly.” <p. /164> <p. 165> If Shakespeare had been able to tap into a cosmology, “We would have been awed as well as saddened, and purified as well as pleased, by being made to feel the dependence of human accidents upon comic forces and their fated evolution. . . . For the effort of religion, says, Goethe, is to adjust us to the inevitable; each religion in its way strives to bring about this consummation. ” [This is the last sentence of Santayana's essay] </p. 165>
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, p. 33): The outcome of the tragedy is character driven: “Nothing . . . makes us think of the actions and sufferings of the persons as somewhat arbitrarily fixed beforehand, without regard to their feeling, thoughts and resolutions.”
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, p. 35): “The rigour of [the play's] justice is terrible, no doubt, . . . but in spite of fear and pity, we acquiesce, because our sense of justice is satisfied.” Ed. note: This reaction is not true of those who blame Hamlet for inaction or action. Fear and pity of course bring Aristotle to mind. So though Bradley claimed earlier that he was not relying on either Hegel or Aristotle, he uses these Aristotelian terms.
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, pp. 37-8): <p. 37> "In Shakespearean tragedy the main source of the convulsion which produces suffering and death is . . . plain moral evil. . . . The situation with which Hamlet has to deal has been formed by adultery and murder." </p. 37> . . . .<p. 38> The fact that the spectacle does not leave us rebellious or desperate in due to the more or less distinct perception that the tragic suffering and death arise from the collision, not with a fate or blank universe, but with a moral power, a power akin to all that we admire and revere in the characters themselves." </p. 38>
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, pp. 49, 51) <p. 49> discusses the oscillating movement of the plot, with points scored alternately by Hamlet and Claudius, until the point of no return is reached when Hamlet kills Polonius. </p. 49> <p. 51> For Hamlet, his zenith is the success of the play; he falls but his enemies, Claudius and Laertes, do not survive.</p. 51>
Bradley (1904, p. 55): "In Hamlet the thrilling success of the play scene [2024 ff] is met and undone at once by the counter-stroke of Hamlet's failure to take vengeance [2350 ff] and his misfortune in killing Polonius .
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, p. 66): “It will be agreed that in listening to a soliloquy we ought never to feel that we are being addressed.” Sometimes Shakespeare violates this principle, purely for the reason of giving information to the audience.
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, p. 70): Since Shakespeare didn't write for perfection, it is sometimes difficult to interpret his meaning. “It is very possible to look for subtlety in the wrong place in Shakespeare, but in the right places it is not possible to find too much. . . . [W]ho can ever feel sure that the doubts which vex him as to some not unimportant points in Hamlet are due to his own want of eyesight or to Shakespeare's want of care?”
Bradley(1904, rpt. 1963, p. 73): “Moral evil is not so intently scrutinized or so fully displayed in [JC and Ham. as in the other tragedies]. . In Julius Caesar, we may almost say, everybody means well. In Hamlet, though we have a villain, he is a small one. The murder which gives rise to the action lies outside the play, and the centre of attention within the play lies in the hero's efforts to do his duty.”
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, p. 76): &ldquoHamlet (for instance in the hero's interview with his mother) is like Julius Caesar, and unlike the later tragedies . . . ” and he quotes 156-66 and 3832-5. “But after Hamlet this music is heard no more. It is followed by a music vaster and deeper, but not the same.”
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, p. 80): &ldquoHamlet seems from the first to have been a favourite play, but until late in the eighteenth century, I believe, scarcely a critic showed that he perceived anything specially interesting in the character.”
Bradley (1904; rpt. 2007, p. 87, n. 19): comments on the importance of the incest motif, asserted three times by Hamlet (341, 2365, 3807) and twice by the ghost (729, 768): “If, as we may suppose, the marriage was universally admitted to be incestuous, the corrupt acquiescence of the court and the electors to the crown would naturally have a strong effect on Hamlet's mind.” Ed. note: Perhaps that is why, surrounded as he is by members of the king's court at the end, Hamlet has to plead with Horatio to tell his tale aright: he cannot count on the witnesses to repeat what Laertes has claimed about the king
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, p. 81) mentions two “lunatic views” that he will not discuss (and whose authors he does not name): one is that Hamlet is a woman in disguise [he probably refers to Vining's idea] and the other is that Hamlet hallucinated the ghost [this may be von Struve's idea].
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, pp. 83-94) <p. 83> argues against theories that find ways to excuse Hamlet, such as a wish to bring the king to public justice. “From beginning to end of the play Hamlet never makes the slightest reference to any external difficulty. . . .[n. 10] [Rather,] he always assumes he can obey the Ghost [see 4.4: 2743+39, ff.]. . . . Again, why does Shakespeare exhibit Laertes quite easily raising the people against the King? Why but to show how much more easily Hamlet, whom the people loved [3025 ff], could </p. 83> <p. 84>have done the same thing. . . . Hamlet did not plan the play-scene in the hope that the King would betray his guilt to the court. He planned it, according to his own account [1931-8], in order to convince himself by the King's agitation that the Ghost had spoken the truth. . . . Hamlet never once talks . . . of bringing the King to public justice.” Even after he returns with the king's damning commission, Hamlet says only that it justifies his using his arm against the king . </p. 84> Bradley continues in the following pages to disprove other theories for Hamlet's inaction: his conscience is no bar or not the main one (pp. 85-8); nor is it delicacy, as in Goethe (pp. 85-90); nor is it over-reflectiveness, as described by Schlegel, Coleridge and Dowden (pp. 90- 4).
[n. 10] "I will give one instance. When he spares the King, he speaks of killing him when he is drunk asleep, when he is in his rage, when he is awake in bed, when he is gaming [2364-6], as if there were in none of these cases the least obstacle."
[n. 11] On the side of conscience preventing Hamlet from enacting revenge, is the one line “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, ” but the context shows that this is about suicide, not about revenge. He refers to Schmidt and OED “though it unfortunately lends its authority to the misinterpretation criticized.”
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, pp. 140-1) <p. 140> “ . . . [I]n all that happens or is done we seem to apprehend some vaster power. We do not define it, or even name it, or perhaps even </p. 140> <p. 141> say to ourselves that it is there; but our imagination is haunted by the sense of it, as it works its way through the deeds or the delays of men to its inevitable end. And most of all do we feel this in regard to Hamlet and the King. For these two, the one by his shrinking from his appointed task, and the other by efforts growing ever more feverish to rid himself of his enemy, seem to be bent on avoiding each other. But they can not. Through devious paths, the very paths they take in order to escape, something is pushing them step by step towards one another, until they meet and it puts the sword in Hamlet's hand. He himself must die, for he needed this compulsion before he could fulfill the demand of destiny; but he must fulfill it.” The same is true for the king. And this is the only play by Shakespeare where we can find this drive of destiny. </p. 141>
Bradley (1904, rpt. 1963, p. 143) “ . . . while Hamlet cannot be called a 'religious drama,' there is in it a freer use of popular religious ideas, and a more decided, though always imaginative, intimation o a supreme power concerned in human evil and good, than can be found in any other of Shakespeare's tragedies.”
Bradley (1904) critiqued: J. R. Brown says (2007, p. xxvi) that Bradley's search for unity is what puts him most at odds with more current sensibilities.
On p. xxvii, Brown continues, implying that Bradley would not have understood Brecht's ideas. Brecht had written that life is not like the smooth advancement of plot without jerks, stops and regressions: "None of this is like reality, so realistic theatre must give it up" (Brecht qtd from "Appendix to the Short Organum, " Schriften 7; tr. J. Willett).
Brown lists critics who liked and disliked Bradley's ideas: Pro: Harley Granville-Barker; Maynard Mack; Kenneth Muir, etc. Con: John Styan. L. C. Knights in his famous 1959 essay exempted Bradley from the worst of character criticism. More recently, John Bayley's Shakespeare and Tragedy (1981) also gives "primacy to Shakespeare's explorations of human consciousness. The difference is that Bayley denies the tragic hero's greatness altogether."
Tolman (1904, pp. 36-41, 46) <p. 36> points out inconsistencies in the plot, including Hamlet’s age, which varies from beginning to end. </p. 36> <p. 37> Also, Horatio’s presence in Elsinore for two months before approaching Hamlet. If Ophelia “sports with wild flowers,” did King Hamlet “take his nap in a Danish orchard in mid-winter?” </p. 37> <p. 38> How does Hamlet know in 3.4 that he is to be sent to England; he’s had no opportunity to learn that, has he? Two months after Laertes has left Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he has ‘foregone all custom of exercises’; yet days later he tells Horatio he has been in continual fencing practice. Why doesn’t Horatio tell Hamlet about Ophelia’s death? “Probably the only explanation is that it best suits the purpose of the dramatist to have the hero learn of Ophelia’s death in the manner represented in the play.” </p. 38> <pp. 39-41> Tolman speculates, as have others, that inconsistencies derive from Shakespeare’s incomplete adaptation of the “old
play.” </p. 41>
Bridges (1907, pp. 332-4): <p. 332> “I conclude that Shakespeare aimed at exciting his audience to the limit of their endurance in the Othello, as he terrifies in the Macbeth, . . . harrows in the Lear, and mystifies in the Hamlet. </p. 332>
<p. 333> “The play of Hamlet may finally be taken in illustration of this view of Shakespeare's method. Why has there been such question whether Hamlet was mad or only feigning, unless it was Shakespeare's design to put his reason under suspicion [note to Bradley’s opinion] and does not the hypothesis of such a design reconcile all? The limit of madness is indefinable; to feign madness is no presumption in favour of sanity, and might itself be a kind of madness: again, if the conscious simulation led to an unconscious habit of acting insanely, how would this differ from the first degree of true madness, except in the possession of a healthy will in the background, which is precisely what Hamlet lacked? Something of this sort would seem, from Hamlet's excuse to Laertes [3678-96] to have been his own view of his case. If we must choose between sane and insane, then the better opinion of the two, namely, that Hamlet was never more than 'covering discretion with a cloak of folly,' makes him guilty of the murder of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,—which, moreover, is like a madman's unscrupulous action, inconsiderately and cunningly performed, and boasted of in full imaginative detail after—his language to Ophelia has also to be excused, though that, even if it were unparalleled in Shakespeare, might possibly be defended as the extreme of self-repudiation in a proud, and perhaps somewhat cruel, nature safe-guarding itself from reproach by making the assumed mask impossible to be mistaken for truth. Again, why are we forbidden to know anything concerning his earlier relations with Ophelia, how long he had loved her, and how deeply? Why is even the date of that strange letter hopelessly obscured, unless it were that any one definite determination about it would expose or create a contradiction?
“There must be mistakes in Shakespeare's work . . . but the class of contradictions and obscurities which I have been noticing can hardly be ascribed top unconscious error . . . . < /p. 333> <p. 334> [Shakespeare] only throws in such things as he knows he may be careless about. But an examination of those matters would tend to prove that he did not regard the reader as well as the audience of his plays. . . . If out of veneration for his genius we are led to admire or even tolerate such things, we may be thereby not conforming ourselves to him, but only degrading ourselves to the level of his audience, and learning contamination from those wretched beings who can never be forgive their share in preventing the greatest poet and dramatist of the world from being the best artist.” </p. 334>
C. M. Lewis (1907, apud Waldock 1931, p. 76) “suggested that the problem, in the form in which, since Goethe and Coleridge, it had always been understood, might not exist. That is to say, it might be that there is no psychological cause for the delay. Suppose . . . that it amounted to this: that Shakespeare had a 'delay' on his hands that in his freshly conceived plot was rather awkward to account for; suppose that he took the easiest way out of the difficulty and, instead of supplying new motivation, induced us by clever subterfuge, disguises and makeshifts to overlook the absence of motivation . . . . ” Ed. note: a search in library catalogs did not find anything by a C. M. Lewis.
Munro (1909, rpt. 1932, p. xxxvi): “The evidences of the play's [Hamlet's] profound influence are to be seen, not in the ordinary verbal allusions, but in the many imitations and plagiarisms to which it was subjected. From no other play of Shakespeare's, probably no other similar composition in the world, have so many phrases been borrowed, and of no other, probably, have so many passages and scenes been imitated.”
Munro (1909, rpt. 1932, p. xlvi): This study of allusions found only “inferior imitations of certain incidents, passages, or scenes, often, I believe, made unconsciously. . . . The dearth of plays of a Shakespearean type is . . . tributive to the subtlety of that art of which no man could win the secret.”
Munro (1909, rpt. 1932, p. xlix): The plays that most interested Shakespeare's contemporaries, as indicated by their allusions and borrowings, up to the middle of the seventeenth century were Romeo, Richard III, the Falstaff pieces, and Hamlet, with the latter providing about 43 percent of the allusions.
Trench (1913, p. 58n): One of Trench's theories is that Shakespeare wrote this play to please the wiser sort: the theatrical effects were but a small part of what he intended, which was mainly a study of character, much of which could not possibly be conveyed on stage. Trench discusses this idea throughout. He is thus a forerunner of the, most recently, Lucas Erne school, which holds that Hamlet was written for readers.
<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>
Trench (1913, pp. 260-6) supports his argument that Hamlet gave up on the idea of inserting one speech in an existing play and wrote the whole play himself.
Greg (1917, p. 420) concludes that Sh. wrote the play for two sorts of audiences: the credulous and the astute. The dumb show is the clue to the second type of audience. In his n.2, he writes: “The immediate object of the dumb-show is to prove to a critical audience that it is Hamlet's behaviour and not the King's that breaks up the court, while at the same time leaving Hamlet himself free to believe in the success of his plot.”
Campbell, Lily B. (1918, p. 192): Costume, gleaned from donors or purchased as the case might be, at first was not something designed by anyone with an overall image. Each actor fended for himself or relied on friends, what was in the barrel, and what was customary for the character. She realizes that the choices are not wrong or right but reflect notions current at the time. Any old costume will do when people are not paying attention, much, to costume. She sees the changes as functioning in an historical matrix.
T. S. Eliot (apud 'Intro,' G. Wilson Knight, 1930, p. xiii): “The danger of studying [Shakespeare] alone is the danger of working into the essence of Shakespeare what is just convention or the dodges of an overworked and underpaid writer; the danger of studying him together with his contemporaries is the danger of reducing a unique vision to a mode.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 59): “Throughout the play Shakespeare makes use of suspense. The story is, it might be said, one long essay on it; the single deed to be done, and to the last minute the doubt that it ever will be. And its incidental use is continual and various.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 31): Shakespeare “cannot, for all his skill, so assimilate character and story that no incongruities appear. For the two are of a different dramatic nature. . . . He will not let his Hamlet suffer [changes in structure]; but the other characters and their share in the action inevitably must.
“He never, I think, made this mistake again.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 39): “Here is a tragedy of inaction; the center of it is Hamlet, who is physically inactive too, has 'foregone all custom of exercises,' 'will not 'walk out of the air.' but only, book in hand, for 'four hours together, here in the lobby.' The concentration at Elsinore of all that happens enhances the impression of this inactivity, which is enhanced again by the sense also given us of the constant coming and going around Hamlet of the busier world without. The place itself, moreover, thus acquires a personality, and even develops a sort of sinister power; so that when at last Hamlet does depart from it (his duty still unfulfilled) and we are left with the conscience-sick Gertrude and the guilty King, the mad Ophelia, a Laertes set on his own revenge . . . we almost seem to feel . . . the unpurged sin of it, summoning him back to his duty and his doom. Shakespeare has, in fact, here adopted something very like unity of place; upon no principle, but to gain a specific dramatic end.
“He turns time to dramatic use also, ignores or remarks its passing, and uses clock or calendar or falsifies and neglects them just as it suits him.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 44): “Shakespeare's true concern is with tempo, not time. He uses time as an auxiliary, and makes free with it, and with the calendar to make his use of it convincing.”
Granville-Barker explains, p. 45, that “Shakespeare's freedom in time . . . is the natural product of his stage's freedom in space.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 53 and n. 8) counts seven soliloquies; eight if “My father's spirit in arms . . . [456-9; 1.2.254 ff.]” is included; “but this is no more than a flourish for the finishing of an important scene. On the other hand, while he is not alone on stage for 'Now might I do it pat . . . ' [2350-71; 3.3.73 ff.] that is a true soliloquy.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 55), on the structure of the scene from the entrance of Horatio to the end: “the pulse of the scene will beat quicker and quicker and ever more strongly. But [since] it is to finish only upon suspense of purpose, . . . the incline of the climax” cannot be steep; “so the first steps must be restrained.”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 204): “The play exists within a framework of these contrasts of character and situation [i.e., between the two family groups].” Plays require this kind of structural scaffolding.
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 234): “The turning point of the play . . . is when Hamlet postpones his vengeance on the King because it would not be cruel enough to kill him at his prayers, and passes on to wreak as cruel a vengeance as he can upon his mother, hoping only that he may stop short of killing her . For vengeance in large part this is. . . . To this impeachment of his mother, which has been expressly forbidden him, he goes with a dreadful zest.” Ed. note: Hamlet is, however, obeying the ghost's demand that he purify the throne [767-8].
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 234): “ . . . .that which is to be fulfilled at last upon the King is a duty laid on him (he has welcomed it truly, and his will and conscience are engaged in it; but the keeping them so is a hard task, and a harder the turning purpose into action).”
Knight (1930, pp. 2-3): <p. 2> “. . . when a play is understood in its totality, [its] faults automatically vanish. For instance, Hamlet's slowness to avenge his father . . . [appears] not merely as relevant and even </p. 2> <p. 3> necessary, but as crucial, and [itself] the very essence of the play . . . . ” Instead of criticizing, we should start with the experience of the play, the enjoyment of it, and work from there to the analytic: why did it have that effect on us? He asserts that there is a temporal aspect of the play, moving step by step to its conclusion, and also a thematic. He calls this the spatial aspect of the play that moves along with the temporal. Hamlet, he asserts, has a "death-theme." </p. 3> ” </p. 3>
Knight (1930, pp. 5-6): <p. 5>
“In Hamlet, the spatial element [that is, the symbolic] is mainly confined to the theme of Hamlet and the Ghost, both sharply contrasted </p. 5> <p. 6> with their environment: thus the play offers a less unified statement as a whole. and interpretation is rendered difficult and not wholly satisfactory.” </p. 6>
Knight (1930, p. 32): “The impression of the play, as a whole, is not so gloomy as the main theme [Hamlet's disease]: if it were, it would not have been popular.”
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. 43): <p. 43> “Though we instinctively tend at first to adopt the view-point of Hamlet himself, we are not forced to do so throughout. ”
Knight (1930, pp. 45-6): <p. 45> “Hamlet is a dualized personality, wavering, oscillating between grace and the hell of cynicism. The plot reflects this see-saw motion; it lacks direction, pivoting on </p. 45><p. 46> Hamlet's incertitude.”
Knight (1930, p. 47) urges the reader to “concentrate on the main elements of Hamlet's mental pain without letting our sympathy for him as the hero blur our vision of the gentler qualities of other persons.”
Robertson, J. M. (TLS, 1930, p. 534), in a response to a review of his book, The Genuine in Shakespeare, denies that he ever wrote that the “bulk” of Sh's plays were written by others. He states that though many plays have large sections authored by others Hamlet and the tragedies that followed were largely written by Sh. alone.
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, "Preface"): “Many of Shakespeare's plays have puzzling features, but Hamlet is unique in that it provokes real uncertainty concerning the dramatist's main intention. . . . We need no longer expect a solution to which all our perplexities will magically vanish. . . . Nothing, plainly, is more important than that we should be clear regarding the valid cannons of critical method.”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 2) believes that the original audience for the play would have had foreknowledge in the form of the earlier Hamlet plays; similarly, many now have foreknowledge in the critical traditions that have grown around the play. It “has been tinged by its passage through many minds.”
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. 29-30): <p. 29> After a summary of Bradley's excellences, Waldock comes to the point of his disagreement: “Bradley assumes, as self-evident, not only that Hamlet is irresolute, but that this irresolution, in short, is what the play is essentially about. Now this . . . is not quite a self-evident truth. Even if we grant (as of course we must) the existence of delay on Hamlet's part, </p. 29> <p. 30> it still remains true . . . . that most people who see the drama performed do not bother themselves greatly about this delay. ” He concludes, then, that Bradley has not proved that delay is a problem in the play. </p. 30>
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 34): “ . . . on the basis of the play [Bradley] reconstructs what really happened.”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 49): “To read Bradley apart from the play (or, for that matter, with the play) is to be entranced by an exposition built up with deft skill and masterly thoroughness. . . . Bradley's Hamlet is better than Shakespeare's: it is better in the sense that it has a firmer consistency, that it hangs together with a more irresistible logic.” But Sh's is “magnificently rugged . . . , the dovetailing is not always such a perfection, . . . not every pillar is so splendidly in line.”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, pp. 66-8) <p. 66> links the madness device to the openness of the murder in the original story: “If the murder by now [in the Ur-Hamlet] had been made secret, such a device would at least not </p. 66> have been so obviously useful. In the Shakespearean play it has become really puzzling. . . . [It has been explained as] an emotional safety-valve for Hamlet.” But the whole display of “buffoonery” and “silliness” does not “suffice to answer the question, why he put on the madness.” Waldock blames the whole mysterious business to </p. 67> <p. 68> Shakespeare's inability to assimilate what had been in the source material. </p. 68>
But later Waldock does allow the device its dramatic usefulness:
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 69): “We can easily see the purposes which Hamlet's madness serves in the economy of the play. He realises himself in and through it. And what a shield for his satiric comment! From its shelter, with the security of s jester, he launches his barbs. But the motivation is another question.”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 78): “It is, I suppose, indisputable that one is more impressed by the delay in Hamlet when one reads the play than when one sees it; and more still than when one reads it, when one reflects upon it afterwards.” Waldock's answer to this puzzle of belated apprehension is to trust the immediate play rather than what we make of it upon reflection.
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, pp. 81-2): <p. 81 > “The delay that exists in a drama is the delay that is displayed. . . ; it is necessary, for its dramatic existence, that it should be positively demonstrated. . . . </p. 81> <p. 82> The grand problem of Hamlet is . . . to know exactly how much 'delay' there is in the play . . . , to know precisely how important in the design of the play the 'delay' was meant to be. The question 'Why did Hamlet delay?' assumes the other question as solved; but it has never been solved, perhaps is insoluble.” </p. 82>
Waldock's answer (p. 83): “The antic disposition . . . seems a piece of the old design that was never quite adjusted to the new.”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 89) cannot accept Bradley's inference of a deep design in the series of events that lead to the killing of Polonius because all is clear on the face of it: the play-scene has convinced Hamlet and Hamlet brutally kills the king who just happens to be Polonius. “And then the Ghost must needs bring back our doubts.” See CN 2490.
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 91), after writing about the difficulty of 2485-91, the ghost's chastisement and Hamlet's agreement, writes: “That is our characteristic difficulty with Hamlet: to square meanings that will not square; to decide amidst apparently conflicting intentions precisely what it was that Shakespeare did intend. At least it is best to recognise that the difficulty exists.”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, pp. 96-8): <p. 96> “The play is not dyed in delay . . . The problem of inaction recedes [becoming] less obtrusive. . . . ” Inaction “does not worry us, unless we let it worry us. . . . ” .</p. 96> <p. 97> He wishes Shakespeare had made the play clearer. “But what would Hamlet be without its puzzles: the eternal piquancy of its imperfection? . . .
“For the play . . . is . . . a work of art with a design that is deceptive and intricate and somewhat misleading. . . . </p. 97> <p. 98> Nothing is to be gained by compelling system from what is not system. . . .Those few wisps of suggestions, artificially put together, make in the total design a thread that is absolutely invisible. Nothing is more obvious than that such an idea was never in Shakespeare's head. . . . A play is not a mine of secret motives.” </p. 98>
clowes] ed. Harrison (1934, 6:154-5) <p. 154> points out that the problems (of madness, of delay) disappear in performance and that the genre demanded that the victim of revenge die horribly and unsaved; </p. 154> <p. 155> therefore the prayer scene was “the least appropriate moment for vengeance. Hamlet's delay, in fact, is forced on him by circumstances, but, being impatient and impetuous by nature, he falls naturally to abusing himself for his failure.
“It must be remembered also that according to current notions a ghost might, as likely as not, be a spirit of evil, sent by the Devil to lure a man to his destruction. The revelation of the Ghost, uncorroborated, is not good enough evidence on which to kill a king. [. . . ] There is more of Shakespeare himself in Hamlet than in any other play; hence its perpetual vitality.” </p. 155>
Wilson (lectures 1932,pub. 1934, rpt. 1963, p. 232) finds a “peculiar intimacy about [Q2] Hamlet, which is not felt so strongly in” his other plays, and which F1 obliterates.
Wright (1934, pp. 73-80): scholarly studies show that performances of plays were suppressed in ordinances of 2 Sept 1642, then again on 22 Oct. 1647, and 11 Feb 1647/8. But printers sold play books, which were performed or read privately or surreptitiously. King Charles read Sh. and Jonson in prison as of 1748. Censors were not concerned with plays because they had plenty of other inflammatory and seditious paper to oversee. During the Interregnum, only three plays were printed afresh: MV (1652) and Oth. (1655) by William Leake, and Lr. by Jane Bell. The Beaumont and Fletcher Folio was published in 1647. Wright sees a political aspect—royalist, courtly—in the publication of plays. Ed. note: If plays were published for political purposes, against the puritans and for the royalists, it is interesting that there is little evidence of Sh. being used that way, perhaps because few plays present a positive view of royalty.
Wright (1934, pp. 107-8): The focusing of attention upon the reading of plays, a natural result of the prohibition of acting, tended to increase their prestige as literature.”
Wilson, J. D. (1935, rpt. 1986, p. 95) asserts that Hamlet's pretended madness affords the play its wit, its fun.
Wilson, J. W. (1935, pp. 229-31) < p. 229> discusses the structure of the play as a whole: Shakespeare took advantage of the scene structure, a series of waves, </ p. 229>< p. 230> “a series of impressions,” </ p. 230> < p. 231> with “progressive revelation.” </ p. 231>
Lewis, C. S. (TLS 1935, p. 288)), responding to J. D. Wilson's effort to ascertain the true text of Hamlet, in his What Happens in HAMLET, asserts that since Sh. wrote for the stage, the various texts that have descended to us are the valid texts; they contain the ideas, decisions, as well as the changes of the various people involved in theatrical productions, including Sh. if he conferred with these colleagues. Lewis doesn't say that F1 should be the text to follow, but perhaps that is the inference to be drawn. He thus questions, but very politely and respectfully, the J. D. Wilson project of ascertaining the real text of Hamlet.
Allen, Percy (TLS 1936, p. 316): Its length shows that “ . . . Hamlet Q2 was written by Shakespeare, not for the stage but for publication, as a counterblast to, and a protest against, the pirated Q1.” In a corrective letter, (1936, p. 400) Percy says written was a slip: the writing of Q2 preceded that of Q1; his point was that Q2 was not written solely to be performed and was printed for readers.
Schücking (1937, p. 53): “Bernard Shaw’s saying that in Shakespeare the score is of greater importance than the libretto has more truth in the case of Hamlet than in that of many other of the plays [ . . .]. From the very beginning the motives underlying the action are obscure.
Schücking (1937, p. 3): “the dramatic tension, raised to fever heat, ultimately hangs on the reaction of one single personage: in other words, the expression on the King’s face becomes the turning-point of the whole dramatic action.”
Schücking writes about the plot as a whole very regularly, including a whole chapter on “Dramatic Construction.” One of his main points: <p.64> “Clearly the play’s exceptional qualities rest on anything but consistency and method.” </p.64>
Schücking turns from criticism to praise: the exposition, the small scenes, tension, &c. </p.66> <p. 67>
“Remarkable, too, is the complexity in the relationship between the various characters. Each one of them stands in some vital relation to most of the others . [. . .]. This permits a great variety of dramatic points of view, making it possible or each of the principle characters to appear in a different light when looked at from another angle. In this way they all become so real to us that they almost take on the quality of historical figures, and are so true to life that one would give anything, for instance, to hear the Queen say something further about her first husband, or for Polonius to tell us what he really thought about what happened during the performance of the ‘Mouse Trap.’ It is because every character sees things through his own eyes, and because Hamlet himself does so in such a particularly individual was, due to his melancholic temperament, that so much in the play must always remain problematical—just as in real life, where the relations between people are always open to new interpretations.” </p.66>
Alexander (1939, rpt. 1946, p. 44), without specifics, claims that Q1 Ham. contains matter from Oth. and TN.
Alexander (1939, rpt. 1946, p. 117) denies that Richard II and Ham. have anything in common. The former is not truly a tragic hero; heï¿½s too self-regarding.
Alexander (1939, rpt. 1946, p. 142) uses TN written a year or two after Ham. to negate the idea that Shakespeare was melancholy during the period he was writing works of what Alexander calls the 3rd period. including Ham.
Alexander (1939, rpt. 1946, p. 144) denies the idea of tragic flaw as essential for tragedy. He expounds his idea in full detail in his 1953 lectures, published 1955, Hamlet, Father and Son.
Alexander (1939, rpt. 1946, p. 146): “For it is the paradox at the centre of tragedy, that what we admire most in the man undoes him. [. . . ] It is what is noble in him that makes him a tragic figure.”
Alexander (1939, rpt. 1946, p. 155), like many critics, maintains that the play must be a unified whole. He notes, however, the many “interludes,” scenes or parts of scenes that do not seem to be necessary to the plot but which add their many flavors to the whole.
Bethell (1944): His thesis is that we are over-reading into the characters if we fail to realize that Shakespeare places words in the character's mouths that he wants the audience to appreciate but that do not fit the characters. He assumes that Shakespeare's audience would have understood Shakespeare's method and not tried to read too deeply into the various characters, especially those other than Hamlet. They would have understood that there is a double consciousness in the audience about what belongs to the play, and what is there for their delectation. He seems to view characters as "flat," and any time they speak beyond that limited scope, Shakespeare is flexing his poetic muscles.
Bethell (1944, p. 26) agrees with Miss Bradbrook that a fundamental trait of Elizabethan audiences was “the ability to keep simultaneously in mind two opposite aspects of a situation.” His thesis accounts for the praise Hamlet gives to the player's bad speech in 2.2 and the badness of the play-within. It also accounts for the fact that the Elizabethan audience sees one thing and the audience of the play-within sees another.
Bethell (1944, p. 45),
contra Schücking, thinks that anachronisms were not errors but were actively sought after by Elizabethan dramatists.
Bethell (1944, p. 72; 1970, p. 83) denies that Shakespeare attempted to adjust characters' speeches to their position.
Ed. note: Bethell does not make an argument for simple characters; he just assumes it is appropriate to Shakespeare's time. Then anything beyond the simple has to be explained by some sort of dramatic necessity rather than by character development.
Bethell (1944, p. 92; 1970, p. 108): “Hamlet betrays frequent signs of immaturity and experiment. To dispute the strength and depth and brilliance of the play would be absurd; but as poetic drama it cannot compare in quality with the later tragedies. Its greater popularity on the stage is due to sheer 'entertainment value'; and it is a favorite with the critics because its imperfections leave more room for discussion, and the peculiar character of the hero provides a fascinating subject for every variety of arm-chair quackery”
Bethell (1944, rpt. 1970, p. 104): “ . . . speeches—and they include some of Shakespeare's greatest writing: the soliloquies of Hamlet, Iago, and Macbeth—remain convincing only so long as the play world is distinguished from the real world and allowed its own code of behavior. . . . Listening to Hamlet as he debates the time and manner of his uncle's death and discloses the inconsistencies of his own, we may remember that once, at a first performance, the famous Burbage, perhaps gown a trifle fattish and shortwinded, introduced in this way his newest and most complex role to a repertory audience of largely familiar faces. To them, at least the soliloquy must have retained much of the atmosphere of direct address. Indeed, if we examine them, most soliloquies seem even verbally to carry the suggestion of direct address, and it is a delicate matter to distinguish their respective tones. 'To be or note to be' [1710 ff] is reflective and best taken as 'thinking aloud,' though even here . . . there must originally have been some feeling of immediate communication with the audience. . . . The actor's mode of delivery will depend on which convention predominates . . . .”
Bethel (1944, rpt. 1970, p. 108): “ . . . Shakespeare does provide examples of episodic intensification, especially in his earlier work, where, his purposes being less serious and his technique not yet secure, there is less subordination of parts to the whole. Even Hamlet, despite notorious complications in the Prince himself, is much more a variety show than the later tragedies: we have not only an avenger, but a ghost, a traveling theater, a mad scene, and a duel. There is a general lack of unity: the mad scene, for example, focuses more attention on Ophelia than her comparative unimportance in the plot would warrant; it may have been included because mad scenes were popular at the time.”
Rylands ([cln2] ed. 1947, pp. 16-17) < p. 16> writes about how Ham. fits into the Shn canon. He claims that Henry, no matter how successful, could not be a satisfactory character for a poet. Shakespeare “had recently shown in The Merchant of Venice that he could create a figure of tragic stature and in a third dimension, Shylock; and in the same play he achieved a lucid, flexible kind of verse which could if necessary do the work of prose. Poetry in the manner of Spenser and rhetoric in the manner of Marlowe and Kyd had ceased to be a temptation or a distraction.” The next seven years were marvelously productive. After JC, whose hero is Brutus, “the </ p. 16> < p. 17> thinker, the idealist, the high-minded failure,” and “whose style is classical, chilly, and athletic, he returned to the warm bustling Elizabethan world about him. And his new hero has behind him Romeo and Richard II, Hotspur and Hall, and above all Brutus. . . . After the classical economy of Julius Caesar, in Hamlet he ‘spread himself,’ as we say. And then having written a play into which he put everything he could think of, he again tried the classical method and design and wrote Othello, from which he left out as much as he dared.”
Byrne (ShSur 2 , p. 13): “ ... in 1925 the lesson of the modern-dress Hamlet was plain enough: it was a triumph of production, in the truest sense, in that the play came over more effectively than ever before ....The new audience, already well-grounded by performances which had given them speed, simplicity and good acting, now saw interpretation take charge as it would with a modern play.” [Martin E. Browne, ShSur 9 (1956): 16-23, similarly praises Barry Jackson’s 1925 production.]
Morozov (ShSur 2 , p. 106) “ . . . definite laws govern the images of [Shakespeare’s] characters” including Hamlet, Laertes, Ophelia, Horatio, and Polonius, who “speak in their own words and not in the words of the author. The metaphors used by each of them have certain definite themes” (106).
Langston (HLQ, pp. 109-10), in discussing the death of Essex in 1601, makes the point that the dying were supposed to give up thoughts of the world and concentrate on the afterlife. Yet Hamlet and King Hamlet both are much concerned with the world, Hamlet at his death, and King Hamlet after death. It's left for Horatio to think of the afterlife in heaven; Hamlet seems to have no thought about it, but only for his reputation on earth.
Mincoff (ShSur 3 , 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”
Muir (ShSur 4 , p. 24): Roy Walker “has written detailed studies of two of Shakespeare’s tragedies. The Time is out of joint (1948) is partly a development of Max Plowman’s theory that Hamlet is a study of “moral man in an immoral society,” and Walker argues that only in his weaker moments did Hamlet “conceive his duty to be more than the murder of his uncle,” and that in the last act if the play he resolved the dilemma with which he was confronted-- inaction or violence.”
Clemen (1951, p. 33): The books that Shakespeare may have known discussed rhetorical “decorations and embellishments, ” but the “embellishment does not derive from an inner demand for adequate expression; the comparisons and images do not form an organic connection between content and mode of expression. The chief thing is rather the technical pleasure in the artistic creation of such stylistic embellishments; these ornaments are produced for their own sake.” This sort of pleasure, foreign to us, perhaps, is perfectly understandable to Shakespeare's audience. [Ed. note: though Clemen discusses rhetoric thoroughly, the index shows no reference to this topic in the Ham. chapter.]
Clemen (1951, p. 33): “In Hamlet, in Lear, and in other great tragedies the puns frequently are important clues and connecting links in the structure of the dramatic action. The ambiguous image which plays such a large part in the tragedies grows out of the play on words. With deep irony Shakespeare often lets the ambiguity of the world shine through the ambiguity of the metaphor.”
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.” </p. 109>
Clemen (1951, pp. 114-16) finds a leitmotif in the play of decay and corruption from within destroying a wholesome entity: “dram of eale,” (621+20) “canker galls the infants of the spring,” (502), “wick or snuff that will abate [the flame of love].” (3112-13), etc.
Clemen (1951, p. 116): Through the images of “strumpet Fortune,” mentioned in 1281, 1533, and 2288, 2534, “the coming catastrophe is already significantly foreshadowed.”
Clemen (1951, pp. 117-18) <p. 117> also notes the repetition of the image of weeds and their association with corruption [319, 719, 2534]. </p. 117> <p. 118> “ . . . [I]n their totality [such images] contribute considerably to the tone of the play.” <p. 118>
Wilson ("Preface," Clemen, 1951, pp v-vii) <p. vi> explains why Caroline Spurgeon's work is not useful for all purposes, especially for understanding particular plays. “Whereas her method is statistical, his is organic; her aim is to throw light upon the mind of Shakespeare the man, his to elucidate the art of Shakespeare the poet-dramatist. Thus while she is mainly concerned with the images of the canon as a whole, classified according to their content with a view to discovering the writer's views, interests and tastes; he concentrates upon the form and significance of particular images or groups of images in their context of the passages, speech or play in which they occur." [Biography is not his interest, the play is.] . . . It is in Hamlet that the two critics draw closest together and where, if anywhere, the later book is indebted to the earlier. [Yet, he says, there are also profound differences.] . . . Pointing out the dominant part played in Hamlet by images of disease and corruption, Professor Spurgeon relates the first to the state of Denmark, to the mental condition of its Prince, and by inference to the mood of the dramatist. Shakespeare, she concludes, sees 'the problem of Hamlet </p. vi> <p. vii> not as the problem of an individual at all, but as something greater and even more mysterious, as a condition for which the individual himself is apparently not responsible any more than the sick man is to blame for the infection which strikes and devours him, but which nevertheless, in its course and development, impartially and relentlessly, annihilates him and others, innocent and guilty alike. That is the tragedy Hamlet, as it is perhaps the chief tragic mystery of life” [Shakespeare's Imagery, p. 319].
Wilson describes this view, derived from Dowden: “Behind this pronouncement [by Spurgeon] looms an image of the philosophic Shakespeare, brooding upon life at the threshold of the Tragic Period which Dowden labelled 'The Depths' in 1875. In other words, it expresses the emotional reaction of the nineteenth-century school of Shakespearean criticism. ” He invites the reader to look for something different in Clemen's Hamlet chapter. Clemen agrees with the dominance of the imagery of corruption, but it is related “to the dramaturgy of the play which gave the play its artistic unity, springing as [it does] from two fundamental 'facts' [sic] of the plot: the filthy incestuous crime of Gertrude which infects the mind of her son, and the 'leperous distilment' by which Claudius had infected the body of his sleeping brother . . . . ” </p. vii>
Popovic (ShSur 4 , p. 122) discusses the rise in Shakespeare’s popularity in Yugoslavia in the post-war [WWII] age, especially Hamlet and Othello, which “indicate that the long-felt wish that Shakespeare should be worthily installed in Yugoslav literature is at last about to be realized.
Joseph (1953, pp. 21-2): <p. 21> “If we are to restore Shakespeare's ending to one play [rescuing Lr. from Tate], we ought also to restore the true nature of the Ghost's revelation and the character of Gertrude to the other. And this can be done only when we admit that Shakespeare ought to be interpreted in relation to the beliefs and ideas of the age in which he lived, rather than those in which Goethe, Arnold, or Bradley lived, or in which we ourselves happen to live. . . . But to conclude that Hamlet ought to be understood as an Elizabethan play does not necessarily put an end to our difficulties . . . . A response to a play is an aesthetic experience, and the fact that a piece of historical research can establish that any particular interpretation is not Elizabethan does not by any means nullify the aesthetic experience which is still continues to provide. No amount of evidence that incest was considered to be a form of adultery in Shakespeare's day can </p. 21> <p. 22> prevent a modern reader from insisting that he finds it aesthetically more satisfying to imagine a Hamlet who is shocked on discovering even greater depth to his mother's depravity [i.e. adultery]. But we can ask the modern reader to agree that this was not what happened for Shakespeare and his audience.” </p. 22>
Joseph (1953, p. 24) is “not concerned with what seems sensible today, but with what the Elizabethan playgoer accepted as sensible. We can, for instance, be certain that he would not have asked, like some modern readers, what was the use of killing Claudius, how could that have saved Gertrude's honour? A society in which duelling was so prevalent as to alarm the Privy Council, instead of asking such questions, knew that in a revenge play, a nobleman was bound to kill Claudius, and many of Shakespeare's audience would have expected this in real life as well. Revenge cannot wipe out the stain on Gertrude any more than it can restore the elder Hamlet to life; nevertheless it is demanded by an aristocratic code in order to maintain the honour of their son.” Ed. note: Joseph assumes a monolithic Elizabethan view.
Joseph (1953, p. 25) asserts that “popular drama in Shakespeare day, as in our own, deals with simple, clear-cut issues, easily perceived by ordinary people, who expect to be entertained in the theatre with plots that hold the attention, with characters who hold the interest, all organized in such a way that as the play progresses it is not difficult to trace a theme and to recognize implications which have a bearing outside the immediate context of the action.”
Joseph (1953, p. 41), on revenge in early modern thought: “Richard Jones in the Dedication to The Book of Honour and Arms (1950): 'This book doth not incite men to unadvised fight or needless revenge , , , but informeth the true means how to shun all offences; or being offended, showeth the order of revenge and repulse, according unto Christian knowledge and due respect of honour.' . . . [Similarly] Brandon's Virtuous Octavia [1598, 4.1.1154-7; Malone Society Reprint, ed. R. B. McKerrow (1909, sig. D)]: ' 'tis base fear, Without revenge to suffer injury: It's cowardice unworthy wrongs to bear, And madness to give way to treachery.' ”
Joseph (1953, p. 44): “In Shakespeare's work in general we cannot find an overwhelming condemnation of revenge or of the normal attitude to nobility and honour: there is nothing to suggest such strong opposition to the prevailing code as to make of Hamlet an attack upon the morality of revenge, And in this play, although the famous 'question' is posed, we are not told, in fact, that it is 'nobler in the mind' to suffer instead of fighting. Nowhere can we find an overt statement that revenge is unworthy of a noble nature, and least of all in the mouth of Hamlet, whether in soliloquy or dialogue. His ideals are traditionally those of the nobleman.”
Joseph (1953, pp. 48-9) lays out the argument of the play: <p. 48> “we are given a simple, clear-cut issue . . . . On one side everything noble in the Prince impels him to strike and avenge his father; on the other looms the terrifying possibility that the Ghost may be false, in which case to kill Claudius means eternal damnation in Hell.” [Ed. note: But is that a valid dilemma in Joseph's terms? If as he states the king has committed the crime of incest (which he says is obvious), then isn't Hamlet justified in killing him to cleanse the state of this blemish whether a ghost had told him to or not?] </p. 48> <p. 49> Joseph continues: Elizabethans . . . understood that until the problem was disposed of, Hamlet must delay. As they also did not interpret every reference to melancholy as a sign of his inability to act, but knew that the adjective 'melancholic' could be used of active, dangerous, resolute persons, the dramatist's contemporaries were not liable to be distracted easily into seeking in the distemper for an explanation of the delay.
Joseph (1953, p. 74): While others may consider the action of the play to be a duel between Hamlet and himself, or Hamlet and his father's wishes, Joseph sees the play as a duel between Hamlet and his uncle. “The progress of the play shows us more and more clearly what a triumph of evil lies in the success of Claudius, and what a victory for good is contained in his defeat. . . . [Hamlet's] task in this duel is to see, and make others see, Claudius clearly, as well as simply to kill him . . . . ”
Joseph (1953, pp. 128-9): <p. 128> “To a large extent the tragedy depends upon Shakespeare's understanding of the difference between conscience and scruple in the Elizabethan sense; a sense we find, for instance, in Sir Thomas More's rejoinder to an objection </p. 128> <p. 129> which he considers unjustified: 'it is no conscience, but a foolish scruple' [n. 1. See OED'].” </p. 129>
Joseph (1953, p. 146): “In Hamlet there is a manifest disproportion between the powers and forces of the Prince and his uncle: yet the apparently weaker wins. Elizabethans would see in his triumph . . . 'God's hand' . . . .”
Joseph (1953, p. 147): “Not only does Horatio point out in Hamlet that he has to speak of 'purposes mistook Fall'n on the inventors' heads—' [3879-80] but Shakespeare has emphasized the general truth to be drawn from these ' . . . mere casual events' . . . .
“It was possible for Elizabethans to see in this play another affirmation of the truism that God makes use of both good and evil agents in order to fulfill His purposes. [See CN 2549-51.] But the renaissance mind could also see in the play how evil is used to its own destruction . . . . ”
Joseph (1953, pp. 148-9): <p. 148> “To suggest that Elizabethans could have reacted to the play . . . [— as Joseph insists that they would have—is to be aware that they] needed little prompting to become aware of implications . . . which were always being declared to them in one form and another. People . . . heard over and over again in sermons and discussion the comments on life and death [that inform the play. They] could not have had any difficulty in perceiving the theme of this play: not only is it implied in the action . . . but the playwright has guided his audience toward his intention with the rhymed sententiae, and with the statements on providence and chance from Hamlet </p. 148> <p. 149> and Horatio which are uttered in that part of the work in which they ring true.” </p. 149>
Joseph (1953, p.150): “It becomes clear why Hamlet was unable to kill Claudius; although the mistaken decisions were made of the Prince's own free will, they, together with other incidents which look 'casual,' lead to a position in which one blow can solve everything. Claudius himself has now spun the web in which he will be caught; everything moves into position for the whole centre of filth which is poisoning Denmark to be destroyed of its own arrangement, at a moment, and in a way which enables it to be made clear to the country exactly what has happened. Now there are no loose ends; what Providence wants has been accomplished through human character and fortune.”
Joseph (1953, pp. 156-7): </p. 156> “The first scene . . . suggests grave menace to the kingdom, but does not particularize its exact nature: the next, showing Claudius to advantage, tends to reassure us, that whatever is wrong, the new king is not concerned with it; and then Hamlet's first soliloquy gives strong reasons for making us reconsider this view.” </p. 156> <p. 157> Joseph praises the opening sequence for suggesting possibilities “lucidly and economically, and above all with its imaginative undertones so adequately expressed, illuminating the characters, their situations, their mutual relationships as they existed in the poet's own mind.” </p. 157>
De Madariaga (ShSur 6 , p. 106, p. 111): <p. 106>“There are some competent [Spanish] versions of Hamlet in prose. But they cannot be counted as real translations, for Hamlet is a poem, perhaps in the deepest sense of the word, the most poetical of Shakespeare’s plays. </p.106> . . . . <p. 111> He writes of the difficulties when translating Hamlet into Spanish but concludes “that Spanish is a language singularly well adapted to express the English genius--and vice versa” </p. 111>
Chen-Hsien, Chang (ShSur 6 , pp. 112, 115): <p. 112>“Of all the difficulties of producing Shakespeare in China, the greatest are the differences in social etiquette, the language barrier, and the method of translation.</p. 112> . . . .
<p. 115> “Tien Han’s Hamlet (1922) is translated in prose. The simple fact that it is done in prose marks in itself great progress . . . . One would naturally expect him to translate his Hamlet with an eye upon the stage. But unfortunately, though it is relatively . . . readable, it is unactable. He is still thinking of his small group of readers rather than anything else.”
Alexander (lecture 1953, published 1955, pp. 57-66, 75-8), in his chapter “The Substance of Tragedy, ” 40-78, establishes the criteria with which to judge Hamlet as a tragic figure without recourse to a tragic flaw: <p. 57> Aristotle uses the word catharsis only once in the Poetics, “but it is the key to his defence of the drama against Plato's attack. The notion of hamartia or the tragic flaw is of secondary importance, being introduced to serve as one explanation of catharsis:” The term hamartia is subordinate to the idea of catharsis. </p. 57> <p. 58> Alexander points out the difficulty of defining catharsis, discussing the history of its use by scholars </p. 59> <p. 60> and continues with scholarly discussions of hamartia </p. 60> <p. 61> The problem for Alexander is that an unconscious error does not seem to deserve punishment. </p. 61> <p. 63> Alexander asserts that catharsis today must be the same as it was for Aristotle. </p. 63> <p. 64> For guidance, he turns to the Romantic poets, who discussed the phenomenon without using the word.</p. 66> <p. 75> His primary assertion is that whatever the calamity, whether caused by flaw or outside forces, the main thing is “that in tragedy . . . the mind confronts pain for some vital purpose.” The writer and the spectator gain mastery over pain, and thus, as Trilling asserts, catharsis “ 'has the sense of active mastery' ”; </p. 75> <p. 77> tragedy “takes its character and significance not from faults but from virtues.” </p. 77> <p. 78> Throughout, Alexander spars with Bradley and tries to show that Bradley is on his side though he does not realize it. </p. 78>
Alexander (lecture 1953, published 1955, pp. 152-3) <p. 152> argues against Robert Bridges's idea that because the audience operated at such a low level, Shakespeare could get away with almost any inconsistency. Bridges considered the hero superior to the action in which he was engaged. </p. 152> <p. 153> Though of course Shakespeare meant to entertain, that does not describe his whole purpose. Alexander describes some Shakespeareans who “enjoy the intellectual fun of sawing off the branch they sit on from the trunk that supports it [. . . ].” </p. 153>
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>
Rylands (ShSur 7 , p. 25): “The character is re-created in terms of the actor’s personality. In the history of the stage this collaboration often appears to be less an alliance than a rivalry and the great periods of renaissance and development, according to Granville-Barker, have almost invariably been dominated by dramatists who knew so much of actors and acting that they had no illusions left about them. ”
Honigmann (ShSur 9 , p. 33): “All in all we may say that Hamlet seems to have been written after late 1599 and before the summer of 1601, perhaps before February 1601; and the most likely date of composition seems to be late 1599 to early 1600.”
Foakes (ShSur 9 , pp. 35, 37):“The good values of the court are presented through its honor and dignity, through qualities associated with the majesty and eloquence of style in the play; the unpleasant side of the court through the imagery that springs from and extends the significance of the action. </p. 35> . . . . <p. 37>
“Significant, too, is the strong religious emphasis in the play for its part in establishing the grace and ceremony of Elsinore, and the main impression is of dignity, pomp and pompousness, so that Laertes’ complaint that his father has been given an obscure funeral stirs sympathy; it is wrong that such a high official and dignitary should receive ‘No trophy, sword, nor hatchment o’er his bones, No noble rite nor formal ostentation’ [2965-6]. </p.37> Ed. note: Others do not find much agreeable or praiseworthy in the king's pomposity or in Laertes' concern about pomp. In performance, the dignity that Foakes describes can be achieved, as in the 1980 BBC production.
West, Rebecca (1957, rpt. Greenhaven, pp. 109-10): <p. 109> “It is Shakespeare's contention that the whole of the court is corrupt: society is corrupt.” The flaw exists not only in the present court but also in the past, “for Hamlet's father, the ghost, is in purgatory, doing penance for his sins, which were of the same gross kind as those he desires his son to punish.” </p. 109> <p. 110> She quotes the ghost's lines on his “foul crimes.” [694-8] and declares: “The ghost was indeed a sinner; the voice of tradition speaks from a tainted source.” </p. 110>
Gardner (1959, p. 24). “In an essay on ‘The Sense of the Past,’ Professor Lionel Trilling observes: ‘To suppose that we can think like men of another time is as much an illusion as to suppose that they can think in a wholly different way’; and he adds: ‘It ought to be for us a real question whether, and in what way, human nature is always the same.’ [Rpt in The Liberal Imagination, 1950].
Gardner (1959, p. 34) is very skeptical about such constructions as E. M. W. Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture: “The historical approach to a work of art is, as I see it, more modest and tentative. After providing her interpretation of the character, she admits (p. 51) that she is seeing Hamlet through the lens of the 20th century and concludes: “The reward of the historical approach is not that it leads us to a final and infallible interpretation.” She implies what Geoffrey Hartman would declare some years later that the critic's construction is itself a creative process rather than the unfolding of the truth.
Gardner (1959, p. 41): “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, 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. 150> She returns to the idea of historical moment. “Although I have gone to the Elizabethans to ask how Hamlet appeared to audiences [then], it is the moral uncertainties of my own age which make me unable to see Hamlet </p. 150><p. 151>in terms of the hero’s failure or success in the task which he Ghost lays upon him. . . . [She’s writing shortly after WWII, when she could state that “Hamlet, speaking over the body of. . . Polonius, speaks for all those called upon to attempt to secure justice, the supporters of 'just wars' as well as those who fight in them. In trying to set Hamlet back into its own age, I seem to have found in it an image of my own time. The Elizabethan Hamlet assumes the look of the Hamlet of the twentieth century. . . . The reward of the historical approach is not that it leads us to a final and infallible interpretation.” That's her last sentence in this section. I think she means that the reward is that the writer understands the historical contingency of her criticism and yet hopes it will be interesting and stimulating to others who read it.
Gardner (1959, pp. 132-3): <p.132>“Methods of literary criticism develop through dissatisfaction with older methods. The method of close analysis of the work through the study of its images developed from dissatisfaction with a criticism which seemed to be always discussing something other than the work. . . . The combination of this method with a close reference to the climate of opinion or world picture of the age . . . now seems to have come to the point where its deficiencies are becoming more obvious than its merits. . . ; but the true meaning of the work—its supreme value when we re-read it, or when we go to see it acted, or when the memory of it comes back to us—seems less illuminated than obscured by the interpreter’s efforts. . . . </p,132> <p.133> It is impossible not to feel after reading much modern interpretative criticism that the author and his work have disappeared and that it is the interpreter’s insistent company which we are left alone with.”</p. 133>
Knights (1960, pp. 42-3): See 621+1-621+2 for Hamlet’s description of the “coarse pleasures” of this court. “It is made up of moral obtuseness (Polonius), sycophancy (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), base treacherous plotting (Laertes) and—since Shakespeare didn’t introduce Osric at the climax of the tragedy for the sake of a little harmless fun—brainless triviality.” </p. 42> <p. 43> Hamlet is somehow corrupted by his contact with this evil. </p. 43>
Jenkins (ShSur 14 , p. 49): “We may readily agree that Hamlet is something more than a revenge play. Yet it is though the archetypal revenge plot that Shakespeare reveals to us that larger pattern, . . . a pattern concerning good and evil which coexists in human life.”
Rossiter (1961, p. 174): “It would be a drastic over-simplification to say that the play was ‘about’ seeming and being: although Hamlet the actor in his ‘suit of solemn black’ throws out that theme in his first unriddling lines [257-67] (his fourth cue). Yet is it less of one to make the main theme Hamlet’s delay? For this is a simplification of a genuine leading theme: that of action (willed, purposive and conscience-backed) and its springs in the set and felt edge of the tempered mind, with the emotional urges that determine and make that ‘edge’ (and make it something more than ‘thought’). That this is thematic is shown by its recurrence. We hear it not only in Hamlet’s own reflections on ‘the native hue of resolution’ and ‘enterprises of great pitch and moment’ being turned awry by coward-making ‘conscience.’ It is in the mouth of the Player-King: [quotes 2054-63, 2081]. Claudius returns to the same theme too: [quotes 3112+5-3112+10, from that to easing]. ‘Action’ and ‘thought’ misdescribe this; yet I labour for terms which do not. The focus on the sensibility of Hamlet perpetually forces on us the half-unreal conflict between ‘mind-sense’ of ourselves as agents in the world of things outside the mind . . . . Hamlet often does not know Hamlet; and part of our deeper experience of the play is the awareness of that not-knowing.” </p. 174> . . . .
Rossiter (1961, pp. 177-80) <p. 177>“The distance between ‘resolution’ and ‘action,’ especially as seen by Hamlet as a contrast between the full-blooded sanguine temperament (‘the native hue’) and his own ‘pale cast,’ is the recurrent theme of the play observed by everybody. But to make Hamlet the type that steadily has a thing to do, and does not do it, is to vulgarize Shakespeare’s idea. Hamlet often see s himself in this contemptible light . . . but Hamlet’s roundings on himself are not Hamlet any more than his roundings on Ophelia, or his making rings round Polonius.
</p. 177><p. 178> “The fact is, the Hamlet who reproaches himself only exists intermittently, produced by circumstance. So too does the Hamlet who is reproached.
“Hamlet is not the tragedy of the man who ‘thinks and cannot act’; nor ‘the tragedy of a man who couldn’t make up his mind,’ as the J. A. Rank film put it (the common mind, well satisfied with its power to act, and dubious—on very reasonable grounds—of its power to think, is flattered by a thought-bound inactive genius: hence some of the play’s popularity); but much rather the tragedy of ‘conscience’: of self-awareness so acute than there is no self but only selves—or perhaps no self that Hamlet can be aware of till after the event. In sudden emergencies a Hamlet springs into existence, unknown before and hardly perhaps credited afterwards: as with his following the Ghost; his boarding of the pirate-ship; the forged letter to England. Only then is he single in purpose: and it is in the light of this other being that Hamlet reproaches Hamlet. . . . But when the deep-revolving mind looks at that apparently consummate self, what does it find? (a) That impulse is as often wrong as right. Hamlet spares the King on impulse; stabs the King (so he imagines) behind the arras: both acts of fatal consequence. He leaps into Ophelia’s grave, acting doubly like a fool; is impulsively generous in his apology to Laertes, to no effective end; is coarse and cruel to Ophelia, conduct neither worthy nor of any use. (b) That this apparently consummate self may be merely another denial of self-hood, another by-product of circumstance, no more valid than the coward-dreamer self Hamlet vilifies as a scolding bawd, a whole unpacking her heart, a stallion. [Rossiter continues with a quotation from Montaigne re the tendency “to follow the inclination of our appetite </p. 178> <p. 179> and toward “inconstancy” [Essays, Bk. II. Ch. i. (Florio’s transl.).] “But though Hamlet is like this, he does not, as Montaigne does, accept it cheerfully . . . . It is his situation—his circumstances, not his nature—which makes this impossible. . . . Shakespeare knows it [Hamlet’s changeableness] about him, but does not make Hamlet accept it about himself. . . .
“In Hamlet, Shakespeare presents a keen and philosophic mind innately inclined to believe in unchanging standards of good and evil, but placed in circumstances which result in his behaving as if nothing was absolute, everything relative, conditioned, accidental. Thus Hamlet . . . is </p.179 ><p. 180> a being never fully ‘in’ any of his experiences, because always capable of being aware that there are other experiences; and therefore other selves in posse, including a self that is one with Mephistopheles (‘der Geist der stets verneint’ [‘The spirit that always negates.’]). Hence everything is at once great and petty for him: great in respect to the absorption or emotion of the moment, petty in relation to the recognition that the moment is transient. . . . Against the fineness of being, there is constantly clumsiness and sometimes ignobility of doing. . . . That is the central conflict of the play: the clash between what we feel for the intelligence, generosity, fineness of Hamlet, and the fortuitousness, meanness and clumsiness of the forces by which he is destroyed.” </p. 180>
Rossiter (1961, p. 177): “The true theme lies . . . in Hamlet’s feelings about his own discovered irresolution; in the mystery of his irresolution (of all irresolution: what becomes of our intentions when we cease to be conscience of them?); in the problem implicit in [quotes 2743+37-2743 +40]. Cause, will, strength, means: nothing is lacking. Yet since the thing remains undone, some or all of these must be illusory. . . .” [Recorded also in 2743+37.]
Rossiter (1961, p. 185): “The central ‘moral’ theme of the play, then, appears to be this. To bring the ‘native hue of resolution’  to bear on life, and to make the deeper findings of ‘pale thought’  effective in the world of living men, the thinker must come down to that world. By coming down to that world, he accepts its terms, its ways of making things happen; accepts the necessity of managing affairs by making levers of men’s weaknesses, and so necessarily tends to live in a world, not of men, but of machines.”
Rossiter (1961, p. 187): The scepticism of Montaigne led to science: “a system of the apparent certainties of circumstance—leaving ‘values’ clean outside. “The clash between the new vision of man as ‘how like a god’ and the sceptical, real politik view (felt in the blood, not merely thought), which denied the worth of his best and finest visions, made the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.”
Craig (Stephens College lecture 1962-63, ms. Huntington Library Box. f. B5, p. 84) rejects the idea of Hamlet being a revenge tragedy, “which is a play in which a character actuated by personal animus seeks vengeance. . . . When the ghost calls on Hamlet to revenge his 'foul and most unnatural murder,' he is calling on Hamlet to do his simple duty. Hamlet is a prince and his father's heir. He is thus not an individual only. He is also a minister of justice. If Hamlet does not punish the murderer and restore his kingdom, nobody else will or can discharge these obligations. Let us therefore hear no more about Hamlet as a revenge tragedy. . . .
“In the play of Hamlet we have discovered, first that there is in humanity a natural tendency toward the true and the good. There are many reasons why this is true but we content ourselves with saying this condition is demanded by the doctrine of evolution. Secondly, we have discovered that this tendency may be blocked. Hamlet and Horatio follow human nature and do right simply because it is right. Polonius and Laertes live according to a system that they consider practical—rules, proverbial beliefs, and what we may call worldliness. They impose their system upon Ophelia, and the consequence is that we see in her fate one of the most pitiful tragedies in Shakespeare.”
Brockbank (ShSur 16 , p. 37): “To trace. . . the nuances of self-observation, self dramatization and self analysis through Hamlet would reveal a astonishing suppleness of changing relationships between soliloquy and audience.”
Jenkins (ShSur 18 , p. 39): “We cannot forget that the play of Hamlet in the nineteenth century was first and foremost the character of its hero. We must not forget that is also was a play about the universal mysteries. But another of the things it also was, was a vast congeries of problems.”
Bowers (SQ 1964: 218): “If these suggestions I have made are correct, then we may see how salutary is a return to the analysis and comprehension of the significance of dramatic structure, which is to say, plot, as a service to the accurate criticism. It is important, in my view, not to discuss any incident in vacuum but only as a part of the whole, which must be clearly seen before the parts can be tackled. It is important, in my view, to analyze dramatic characters only after the plot and its intent are thoroughly comprehended, for these characters—as Aristotle remarks—have no life except in the action of the plot.”
Burkhardt (1968, p. vii), joining the argument about whether Hamlet is a play to be interpreted by reading or by performance, asserts that Sh. has meanings that we can determine by reading. He objects to the idea that anything that cannot be performed cannot be part of his meaning. A performance, of course, is a reading—and is no better than the reading of the actors and directors, who may have purposes other than interpretation.
Muir (ShSur 24 , p. 41): “That [Sh] deliberately inserted a score of sickness images into Hamlet strains one’s credulity; but that he was completely unconscious of them strains it more.”
Sjögren (-1974, rpt. 2002, pp. 69-70): <p. 69> “On the supposition that Poland and Norway were situated on the borders of Denmark [held by many in Sh's time and possibly by Shakespeare], the Fortinbras story becomes much more realistic. Also, it provides an answer to the question of how Hamlet—on his way to the ship that was to carry him to England—could encounter Fortinbras and his army.” Sjögren reviews editorial interpretations and finds them wanting. But “ . . . if Norway extended as far south as opposite Elsinore [as in some old maps], this is where Fortinbras would cross with his army. </p. 69> <p. 70> . . . It is logical to suppose that the Norwegian prince had marched with his small army from Oslo to Helsingborg opposite Elsinore—along the same road that James and his Queen had followed after their wedding in Oslo to the repetition of the ceremony at Kronborg in Elsinore in the winter 1589-90. One may infer [given the conception of geography, which put the three countries in contiguity] that Fortinbras would also march through Denmark to the Polish border.” Thus Fortinbras returns the same way, from Poland, through Denmark towards Norway.
“The notion of the geographical contiguity of Norway, Denmark and Poland greatly enhances the plausibility of the Fortinbras subplot and from a geographical point of view it is . . . perfectly consistent with prevalent ideas of the time. ” </p.70>
Robson (1975, pp. 303-4) <p. 303> says that the play probably was never meant to be subjected to the scrutiny of literary critics. “Thus the play is silent on many matters which those who 'consider curiously' are curious about: for example, why Hamlet did not become King on his father's death; or whether the marriage of Gertrude and Claudius was regarded as incestuous by anyone besides Hamlet and the Ghost; or why Hamlet feigned madness; or </p. 303> <p. 304> what for many people is still the problem of problems — whether Hamlet delayed his revenge because he was too weak or because he was too wise, or for some other reason. Critics may try to fill in these gaps, but the fact is that the play simply does not tell us.” He refers to Waldock, Hamlet: a Study in Critical Method, 1931, who wonders at the unknowability of the play's action, what it is about. He refers also to Bradley who writes about problems that have not “been so much solved, as dropped.” Robson believes that all accept the idea that the play-scene is the “pivot of the action,” and he presents and analyzes several solutions to its problems created by the stage direction beginning with TLN 1990, which he quotes in a conflated version. </p. 304>
Robson (1975, p. 315) sees “the Play Scene as the epitome of the whole action of Hamlet: the long secret duel between Hamlet and the King. In the Play Scene, Hamlet has won the first round.”
Robson (1975, p. 322): “It has been seen as an essential characteristic of Hamlet--and a matter of adverse criticism--that the various points of view in the play are not subordinated to a single synoptic vision. But what if this was the dramatist's purpose? If so, perplexities about the conduct of the action may be as misguided as objections, by champions of academic perspective, to Cubism.”
Robson (1975, pp. 324-5) <p. 324> says that Hamlet differs from the plays that precede it, marking the beginning of “the supreme Shakespeare.”</p. 324> <p. 325>
Robson suggests that Hamlet is like Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon painted in 1907, which horrifies with its brutality and amazes with its newness. “Some of the great writers . . . have noticed the marked presence in [Hamlet] of disgust, even horror [Samuel Johnson, T. S. Eliot] . . . Yet critics also speak of a bursting of the dikes, the release of a flood of passionate poetry. . . . ” </p. 325>
Ewbank (ShSur 30 , p. 102): “To me the greatest part of the play lies . . . in its power to express so much and yet also to call a halt on the edge of the inexpressible where . . . we must learn to say ‘’Tis fit we do not understand.’ This, I think, is the hallmark of Shakespeare as a translator, into tragedy, of the human condition.”
Brockbank (ShSur 30 , p. 107): “The tragic effects of both Hamlet and the Oedipus Rex and may be set down, therefore, to a sacrificial law, working through ‘accidents’ as well as through human choice and disposition, towards discovery and purgation of guilt.”
Erlich (1977, pp. 260-1, quoted by Griffiths, 2005, pp. 60-1): <p. 60> “I find that in Hamlet Shakespeare deals not with repressed patricidal impulses but with a highly complex search, partially unconscious, for a strong father. Much more than he wants to have killed his father [as Freud theorized], Hamlet wants his father back, wants a strong man with whom to identify. Shakespeare presents to us one ambivalent father figure after another, each an imitation or a parody of King Hamlet, the seemingly titanic father who proved surprisingly vulnerable and easily forgotten by his doting wife. King Hamlet opens the play as a frightening apparition, a shell of power hiding a ghostly insubstantiality, a weak and impotent prisoner in purgatory who is unable to exact his won revenge, an absent man.
“Polonius, Osric, Yorick, the God who could not punish a Claudius murdered while praying, the hopeless Poles, Old Fortinbras, Old Norway, Adam, Priam, Achilles, the First Player, even Horatio, are all versions of the ambivalent </p. 60> <p. 61> father who constitutes part of Hamlet's identity. I see Hamlet struggling with real and imagined weaknesses of his father, vainly wishing these weaknesses away, fearing that he too has been weakened by the same processes that brought King Hamlet unexpectedly to death, unsuccessfully trying to fabricate a strong father, a model of uncompromised strength.” <p. 61>
Everett (ShSur 30 , pp. 117-19): <p. 117> states that the work "most like” Hamlet is “Molière’s La Misanthrope, sub-sub-titled ‘L’Atrabiliare amoureux’--‘the melancholic in love.’ ” <p. 117> <p. 118> The point of similarity is that the heroes are in a given mental situation that is inexplicable, that no one formulaton can resolve. Hamlet’s is delay; Moliere’s hero is being in love with a particular woman. She denies that Hamlet delayed avenging his father; rather he did not revenge him at all. In the end he revenged only himself. The ghost is a presence that fades. And this fading of the Ghost is a part of the narrative of Hamlet.... ”</p. 118>
<p. 119> The negations that are built into the play “can't in the end be resolved into inhibition, some private trouble of Hamlet’s; they are, like the sayings of Heracleitus [3 of which she quotes], laws of nature, statements of human physics.” [See Ghost and Hamlet pages for Everett’s comments.]
Beckerman (1977, p. 310) firmly believes that “ . . . The shape of a potential event inheres in the text. . . . In my opinion, engagement in theatrical performances, whether as student, actor, or playgoer, is a necessary adjunct to but no sufficient substitute for a critical understanding of dramaturgic behavior.
“What anyone who wants to grasp what is going on dramaturgically, one must look at the elements that are unique in drama—not narrative, not episode—but the enacted incident . . . . Form is imbedded in a Shakespearean text and though it permits, even more invites, variation, it also has a primary integrity of its own”
Beckerman (1977, p. 311): “Since the drama is essentially dialectic, it relies on contrasting impulses.” He then finds the contrast in the ghost's telling that induces Hamlet's response , a line that all originary texts give to the ghost, but which Beckerman calls the climax of the scene.
Frye, Northrop (1980, p. 87): Citing the instance of Hamlet's view about Claudius's salvation in the prayer scene , what he says about Polonius after killing him  and what he fated for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern , Frye notes: “deeply rooted in Hamlet's mind, whether implanted by the Ghost or already there” is the idea that salvation “depends on whether a priest gets there in time or not. So it's not very reassuring to find that the only accredited priest in the play is that horrible creature who presides over Ophelia's funeral, and who get a concentration of malice and spite into an eight-line speech that would do credit to the Devil himself, who doubtless inspired it [3415-23].”
Frye, Northrop (1980, p. 97), discussing the play's ending: “On the heroic side, the last scene reminds us what a tremendous power of mental vitality is now flowing into its delta. Against the sheer fact of Hamlet's personality, all the reminiscences of his indecision and brutality and arrogance seem merely carping: the death of so great a man is still portentous, even if he doesn't have Julius Caesar's comets [see 124+7]. On the ironic side, the immense futility of the whole action takes such possession of us that we feel, not that the action has been ridiculous, but that we can look at it impartially because it has no justification of its own.”
Frye, Northrop (1980, pp. 99-100) ends his essay with this paragraph: <p. 99> “No other play has explored the paradoxes of action and thinking about action so deeply, but because it did explore them, literature ever since has been immeasurably deepened and made bolder. Perhaps if we had not had Hamlet, </p. 99> <p. 100> we might not have had the Romantic movement at all, or the works of Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche and Kierkegaard that follows it, and recast the Hamlet situation in ways that come progressively nearer to us. Nearer to us in cultural conditions, that is, not in imaginative impact: there, Shakespeare will always be first.” </p. 100>
Barton ([pen2] ed. 1980, p. 23), comparing Ham. to the other late tragedies, says it contains more comic characters and incidents than the others. She also maintains that among the tragic heroes, Hamlet is the only one (besides Antony and Cleopatra) who has “a sense of humour. Like the witty characters of the comedies, he likes to play games with language, to parody other characters’ verbal styles, and he has a predilection for puns, bawdy double entendres, and sophisticated badinage, which links him with figures like Petruchio, Berowne, Benedick, or even Touchstone and Feste.”
Barton ([pen2] ed. 1980, p. 24): Comedic plays with a revenge theme resolve the issue with marriage; Hamlet, the only tragic hero (of the late tragedies) who is eligible for marriage, has as lover Ophelia a woman incapable of motivating the marriage solution.
Barton ([pen2] ed. 1980, p. 27): Even if Ophelia had been up to solving the revenge issue through marriage, the behavior of Gertrude would not allow it. Her vile substitution of an incestuous marriage for mourning prevents Hamlet from doing the same.
Jenkins (ed. 1982, pp. 127-8): “What . . . is the relation between Hamlet's task of revenge and the universal mysteries of man's being which occupy his mind? How is it that the first is able to suggest the second? This, as I see it, is the fundamental problem in Hamlet if the play is to be revealed as a coherent dramatic design and it's significance understood. No one will be so foolish as to suppose that a definitive answer to either question is either attainable or, since the greatness of a work of art is in its infinite suggestiveness, desirable. But I am bold enough to believe that an answer is nevertheless not impossible.”
Jenkins ([ard2] ed. 1982, p, 157): < p. 157> The essential subject of Hamlet, suggested by and focused in the old story of a son’s revenge, is . . . , as I see it, the intermingling of good and evil in all life. The world to which the hero’s human destiny commits him is one in which Hyperion and the satyr are brothers, spring from the same stock, which also lives in him. Seeing the satyr apparently triumphant, he is possessed by a sense of the all too fertile viciousness of the life in which his own life shares. It is a life in which he must yet is reluctant to participate. He longs for death, refuses marriage and procreation, his nature resistant to what nature wills. This, I think, is the fundamental conflict the play exhibits in Hamlet; and it is a conflict which accords with his neglect to perform his destined duty.”
Edwards (ShSur 36 : p. 43) argues “that this emerging view [Hamlet as a tragic hero], though necessarily a product of our own times, could restore to Hamlet something of the tragic quality that may have belonged to the play in is own day.”
Zitner (1983, pp. 195, 199, 207) <p. 195>Tragedy depends on hamartia. An author need not know Aristotle to understand that the concept is a necessary aspect of the tragic drama. The hero has to be flawed but to an extent incommensurate with his fate. </p 195> <p.199>Hamlet’s tragedy is intellectual, depending on ideas that "cannot be lived without intolerable consequences. </p 199>
Zitner (1983, p. 202)"A condition of drama is that it presents a story which cannot be told by one person, hence a story that no one fully knows.
Nuttall (1983, p. viii): His position "is that the word reality can legitimately be used without apologetic inverted commas and that literature may represent that same reality . . . ." His project is the de-mythification of deconstructionism and new historicism.
Nuttall (1983, p. 2): "Vico  disliked Descartes insistence on absolute, timeless certainties, and felt that one could understand nothing if one did not understand how it came about in time."
Nuttall (1983, p. 36) finds the "allure" of Derrida curious. He's not even original. He is curiously like those in the 2nd century who believed that convention was all; there is no truth beyond what is accepted as truth. The axioms of this 2nd century system are amusingly stupid sounding.
Nuttall (1983, pp. 37-8) builds a case for the life of the author (contrary to the structuralist idea of the death of the author, or rather the non-existence of the author).
Nuttall (1983, p. 51): Roman Jakobson published Realism in Art, in Czech, in 1921. His thesis: "our notion of what is realistic is conventional and fluid."
Nuttall (1983, pp. 80-4) <p. 80> provides examples from a position outside Hamlet and a different sort of analyses of Hamlet from a position within. He contrasts these two, not because they are either good or bad but to make a point about formalist vs. impressionistic criticism, neither of which is better than the other. Outside: “In Hamlet Shakespeare contrives that the delay should be unintelligible, because the principal figure functions not as an explanatory device but as a source of intellectual frustration.” </p. 80> <p. 81> Inside: “Hamlet delays because, once he has cut himself off from the psychic support of human society, the central structure of his original motivation decays.” </p. 81> <p. 82> The main objection to impressionistic criticism is that it confuses art and life. L. C. Knights is coarse and wrong to damn such criticism as he does. Bradley never mistook Hamlet for a real man. Neither way is better than the other, but </p. 82> <p. 83>"[a]n early consequence of this severe separation of technical [['critical']] appreciation and ordinary 'entranced' appreciation is an impoverishment of criticism itself. If the critic never enters the dream he </p. 83><p. 84> remains ignorant about too much of the work, The final result may be a kind of literary teaching which crushes literary enjoyment . . . .</p. 84>
Nuttall (1983, p. 181) " . . . artists always find new ways of imitating through form the indefinite richness of reality."
Hawkes (1985, pp. 329-30): <p. 329> Telmah is a term that hints at revolution, revolving, turning: "There is no unitary, self-presenting play for us to turn back to . . . ." No vision of the play that can be presented as the truth. </p. 329> <p. 330> He admits that Telmah is also not the answer to Hamlet. To consider it so "would be to try to reconcile, to bring to peace, to appease a text whose vitality resides precisely in its plurality: in the fact that it contradicts itself and strenuously resists our attempts to resolve, to domesticate that contradiction." The play's "contradiction has value, in that a pondering of some of the attempts that have been made to resolve it, to make the play speak coherently, within a limited set of boundaries, reveals the political, economic, and social forces to which all such 'interpretation' is respondent, and in whose name it is inevitably, if covertly, made. [n. 19]
Hawkes's purpose is to suggest that criticism should be like jazz. Interpretation "is not limited to the service, or the revelation, or the celebration, of the author's/composer's art. Quite the reverse: interpretation constitutes the art of the jazz musician. The same unservile principle seems to me to be appropriate to the critic's activity. [n. 20]"
[n. 19] A case for plurality "is incisively made" in W. W. Robson, "Does the king see the dumb-show?" Cambridge Quarterly 6.4 (1975): 303-26. [See Robson, above.]
[n. 20] Hartman, Geoffrey. Criticism in the Wilderness. New Haven: Yale UP, 1980. Hawkes praises Hartman's work for brilliantly developing this idea. <p. 330> [This was the point of Geoffrey Hartman's theory of criticism espoused when he spoke at the Andiron Club in New York City in the 1970s: it's an art. No criticism is "final."]
Hawkes (1985, p. 312) defines his goal as breaking down the perceived notion that Hamlet runs a smooth linear course from beginning to end. He suggests instead "a cyclical and recursive movement wholly at odds with the progressive, incremental ordering that a society, dominated perhaps by a persuasive metaphor of the production line, tends to think as appropriate to art as to everything else." On the contrary, Hamlet never begins with the first line or ends with the last because it is embedded in our consciousness before we enter the theater and long after we leave. And even in the theater, the actors bowing before us as actors are also still playing a role. [He continues to focus on this theme on p. 313 and announces the title, "Telmah," as presaging his purpose. See also his conclusion, p. 330.]
Hawkes (1985, pp. 313-16) discusses the many instances of "replay," where characters tell us, from their own perspective, what has happened before. He includes Horatio's information about Fortinbras (1.1.83-91 [97-106], 98-110  [p.314]), Claudius's "reinterpretation of the past" and current plans (1.2.1-18 [179-96] [pp. 314-15]). Hamlet mocks this procedure of reshaping reality in his dialogue with Polonius on the cloud (3.2.367-73 [2247-53] [p. 315]), and the reshaping is also evident in the Ghost's version of his murder (1.5.59-73 [744-58][p. 315]).
"These slow-motion 'action replays' of past events becomes a feature of the play. It seems constantly to 'revise' itself in this way, and this serves to pull back against any 'forward' progressive movement which it might otherwise appear to instigate.
Hawkes (1985, p. 316), who finds a plethora of dead fathers and bereft sons, sees "an 'avuncular' function covertly at work in Hamlet [Norway with Fortinbras, Claudius with Hamlet, Claudius with Laertes] activated by the common theme of the death of all those fathers." [See Claudius doc. for further remarks.]
Edwards ([cam4] ed. 1985, p. 6): “That Hamlet is a reworking of the basic underlying theme of Julius Caesar, namely the commitment of the philosopher-hero to violent action in order to remove an intruder from the government of the state and restore an ideal condition belonging to former times, seems to me undeniable. The unlocking of the beautifully controlled and articulated Roman play to produce the perturbed and bewildering tangle which is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark may well seem a strange progression. It is a progression which shows up Shakespeare’s sense of the increasing complexity and difficulty of the problems as he continued to think about them. [. . . ] The setting of Hamlet is not Elsinore but heaven, earth and hell.”
Ferguson (1985, p. 298) suggests that the play critiques not so much Hamlet as the genre of tragedy. In more than one play, “Certain turns of plot are made to seem somehow arbitrary, and the effect of such moments is to shift our attention from the story-line to invisible hand manipulating it. . . . ” Noting that Shakespeare blurs generic boundaries, she believes she is saying something new in declaring that this oft-remarked feature of his drama leads to “the peculiar way in which Shakespearean tragedy, in contrast to Greek or classical French examples of the genre, seems so often to imply a questioning of the necessity of casting a given story as tragedy.”
Ferguson (1985, pp. 292-309): Her theory is Freudian. Her thesis is that Hamlet becomes like Claudius right up to the last (as when Hamlet calls them both “mighty opposites” (5.2.62 ) and when he cheapens the lives of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by disdainfully having them killed. He does not learn anything from Yorick's skull, or at least, not enough. But Shakespeare gives us the Lamord section as a “letter” to the audience to let them know that Hamlet is not correct in his understanding of life and death and his role.
Weimann (1985, apud Parker, p. x, in Parker and Hartman) outlines the critique of mimesis in recent deconstructive and Girardian theory . . . but questions whether the methodologies of poststructuralism can provide a satisfactory framework for the complex question of mimesis in Shakespeare, suggesting instead an approach to this question through Marx's concept of Aneignung or 'appropriation.'"
Weimann (1985, p. 277): “. . . Shakespearean mimesis comprehends a self-conscious subversion of authority in presentation.” He says also “a reconsideration of Sh's uses of mimesis may lead to the conclusion that what is (or is not) represented in his plays is a major, open issue which the deconstructionist project is not well equipped to illuminate. . . . What his plays reveal (at least up to and including King Lear) is an increasing readiness critically to explore the sources of authority, its precarious personal or socially divided manifestations.”
Weimann (1985, p. 278) refers to Lear, "a dog's obeyed in office," which "contradicts the politics of Elizabethan rhetoric and is subversive by all standards of classical representation.. . . On the Elizabethan stage madness not only constitutes an object of representation but also forms a (nonclassical) mode of representing, as associated with the element of clowning, punning, and 'inpertinency,' the tradition of topsy-turvydom and the 'mad' nonsensical Vice." [he notes that he has discussed these traditions in his 1978 book.]
Weimann (1985, p. 279) “In Hamlet, more than anywhere else in Shakespeare the question of mimesis is central.”
Ed. note: Unfortunately, Erich Auerbach does not treat Hamlet in his Mimesis: The Representation in Western Literature Trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1953)
Ives (ShSur 38 , p. 35), in discussing Shakespeare and historical facts, says: “The conclusion is not that the world Shakespeare shows us is a contact print of the world of reality, but that in selecting from reality in the cause of artistic composition, Shakespeare becomes a guide to contemporary significance.
Tennenhouse (1986, p. 87, apud Griffiths, p. 119) “discusses Hamlet with the Elizabethan chronicle plays rather than with the later Jacobean tragedies with which it is more ordinarily grouped . . . in the belief that Hamlet and the chronicle plays share certain 'strategies of representation.' [p. 72]. [Tennenhouse] argues that the legitimacy of the monarch is </p. 119> <p. 120> underlined in the Henriad [R2, 1H4 pt. 1, 1H4 pt. 2, H5] through the monarch's ability to contain potentially disruptive elements within his own representational strategies, with the ultimate monarch being Henry V.” Tennenhouse asserts: “Hamlet marks the moment when the Elizabethan strategies for authorizing monarchy became problematic. . . . Shakespeare appears to question their adequacy [i.e. Elizabethan strategies] in representing the transfer of power from one monarch to another. History plays could not be written after Hamlet, I will argue, because this whole matter of transferring power from one monarch to another had to be rethought in view of the aging body of the queen, Elizabeth.”
Mercer (1987, p. 5) “What holds and moves [the Elizabethan audience of revenge tragedy] is the transforming of the hero from what he was to what Fate has brought him to [see below]. It is the spectacle of a loss that is, finally, beyond moral explanation; beyond reason; almost beyond bearing.” What Fate has brought a revenging hero to is (p. 6): "the transformation of the hero into a monster of revenging fury."
Mercer (1987, p. 36). "Only Shakespeare [among his fellow dramatists] . . . saw the possibility of reversing, yet again, the polarity. Only in Hamlet is the villain re-established, in the last act, as the originator of action, the deviser of plots and deceits, and the hero himself released, it seems, into the role of unsuspecting and perhaps thus innocent victim."
Mercer (1987, p. 121): “From fierce resentment at the insolence of office [Hamlet] moves through horrified contemplation of shameful and swinish lust to a dry consideration of the final irony of mortality itself, of the bare bone beyond the repair of the world's flattering unctions. It may well be, indeed, the reach of that compelling scepticism and not the extraordinary complications of revenge, that gives the play its enduring hold on our imagination . . . . None the less, many of its most teasing difficulties, and its deepest meanings, arise from this sustained duality of mode.” Unlike his contemporaries and predecessors, “Shakespeare shows [satire and revenge] as always failing to cohere, always breeding radical contradiction.
“From the perspective of the revenge plays of Kyd and Marston it must appear that Shakespeare is intent on developing the persistent ambiguities of emotion, rhetoric and acting to their ultimate riddling potential, to the point where they have power not only to delay the movement of revenge but to subvert and even to abort it.”
Mercer (1987, p. 125), commenting on the leisurely pace of the first scene, with its digressive narratives, notes: “For centuries critics have pondered on the mystery of Hamlet's delay, yet here we have, in the opening moments of the play, a minor character [Barnardo] who is quite unable to reach the main clause of the first sentence of his story [46-50]. . . . Even this early in the play one may begin to wonder how the rhetorical primitiveness of revenge, the direct translation of passionate and bloody words into bloody deeds, can hope to prevail in a world where the most insignificant of characters is given to such leisurely circumlocution, such an epic largeness of discourse.”
Mercer (1987, p. 136) argues that the discursive nature of the conversation in the first scene undercuts the single-mindedness that a revenger must achieve. Hamlet is in a world of conversation, a world with, as the men in the first scene show, “a habit of persistent subordination, a fondness for strings of relative clauses and phrases, which forces on us an overwhelming sense of the contingency of all things.”
Mercer (1987, p. 141): Where other early modern revenge plays start off with (or soon introduce) blood and gore, in Hamlet there is “no corpse, no coffin, no object for revenge to fasten on.”
Mercer (1987, p. 158): In contrast to other revenge plays where the moral norm might be “a conventionized Stoicism, . . . in Shakespeare the theme expands to include not only the idea of the gentleman but also that of the scholar, the courtier, the soldier, the prince, . . . and these stand for no simple passivity.” It is the standard against which we measure the distance Hamlet travels in exacting revenge.
Mercer (1987, p. 161): On the role of Polonius, Laertes, and Ophelia in scene three: “whatever their human faults, their pomposity, their submissiveness, their misjudgement, their harshness, none of these people remotely deserves the fate that awaits him or her. . . ; [death] because of Hamlet. At bottom that is why they [in scene three] act out their innocent anxieties upon this tragic stage.”
Mercer (1987, p. 215): “If there are no monsters, there can be no revenge, not as the tradition understands it. That is the deeper reason why Hamlet, as he comes by chance upon the praying King, cannot 'do it pat' [F1 2350]. Of course that is not the reason he offers.” Shakespeare never gives Hamlet an opportunity “to consider the morality of the murder.” Instead Shakespeare has Hamlet offer the reason that the traditional avenger would have given. The traditional revenge tragedies “require . . . that the victim be lured by the most cunning devices to an exquisitely appropriate retribution.”
Mercer (1987, p. 216}: Hamlet's rejection of the idea of revenge here “marks the beginning of the process whereby [Shakespeare] employs, again and again, the chances of Fortune to rescue his hero from the annihilating necessities of [traditional] revenge, to preserve him for some far more resonant end.
“ . . . as Ure points out [Ure, p. 37], what is really happening [in the prayer scene] is that Shakespeare is intervening in the logic of his own play, or rather in the kind of play that lies behind his play. This moment of ironic frustration [2360-2] marks the beginning of the process whereby he employs, again and again, the chances of Fortune to rescue his hero from the annihilating necessities of revenge, to preserve him for some far more resonant end.”
Mercer (1987, p. 217): “Even when the hero acts in passion and mistakenly [as when he kills Polonius], what occurs is not revenge but fate.” Ed. note: Mercer continues his project of showing how Shakespeare. subverts the revenge-tragedy model that he only partially follows.
Mercer (1987, p. 234): “If [Claudius's performance of the good, wise king in 4.5] is the consequence of Laertes' ready passion, it only confirms how right Hamlet was to reject such extravagance with contempt.
“Indeed, the superficial reversal of polarities—the projection here of Claudius as the wise King, Laertes as the outraged revenger, and Hamlet as the murderer—is swiftly corrected by the news of Hamlet's return.” After this, Claudius takes on the role of unprincipled avenger.
Mercer (1987, pp. 240-1): <p. 240> “The graveyard scene is so full of symbolic reverberations that it is hard not to feel that Hamlet is here grappling with some profound mystery, that it is some kind of great turning point where, as [Maynard] Mack puts it, 'he confronts, recognises and accepts the condition of being </p. 240> <p. 241> man [n.14]. But, at least on the surface, what Hamlet now sounds like is the moral satirist complete. . . . Hamlet is still playing, still caught up in one of his many roles. . . . [But] it is not obvious how [this graveyard encounter] advances the action, in the usual manner of recognition scenes.” </p. 241> [n.14, "The World of Hamlet, " Yale Review, p. 522.]
Mercer (1987, p. 245): “It is not simply a piece of facile sophistication to assert that the Providence [which Hamlet refers to in 3669] that delivers Hamlet from his fate is really Shakespeare. . . . [who has been preparing for it since] Hamlet took up the part of revenge and found it so hopelessly unactable. For the most part the action that has developed as a consequence of that inability to fill the role . . . has been the counterplot of Claudius. And yet, even in the moment when Hamlet's imagination did seize the part, after the 'play,' the chances of the plot intervened to bring him first to Claudius at prayer and then to the distraction of his mother, and finally to the mistaken killing that delivered him, it seems, to the king's power. . . . But the shape of the whole action . . . has ensured throughout that revenge in the sense that the Ghost and Hamlet and the audience understood it could never be realised on this stage.”
Mercer (1987, p. 246): In other tragedies we see the hero fall from an exalted state to a much diminished one. “But Hamlet's loss of himself, his reduction from that epitome of noble youth of which Ophelia spoke [1806-10], was almost complete at his play's beginning. . . He has moved in the end not from heroic coherence to tragic dissolution but in the exactly opposite direction. Not only is Hamlet not a revenge tragedy; it is hardly a tragedy at all.”
Mercer (1987, p. 248): “If there was any real likelihood of Hamlet's converting the fullness of his humanity and the complexity of his response to life to the murderous simplicities of the revenger's role, it is in the end because Shakespeare himself has subverted the essential logic of the form.”
Garber (1987, p. 127 apud Thompson & Taylor ed. 2006, p. 31): “In Hamlet [[. . . ]] Shakespeare instates the uncanny as sharply as he does the Oedipus complex.”
Kastan (ShSt 19 , pp. 112, 122): <p. 112> “The ghost would turn Shakespeare’s play into the old play Lodge remembered echoing the earlier ghost’s command, “Hamlet, revenge”; yet what differentiates Hamlet from Ur-Hamlet, as well as what differentiates Hamlet from old Hamlet, is that Shakespeare’s prince can never fully credit the impulse to revenge. . . . </p. 112> <p. 122>Hamlet originates in a revision of the revenge tradition, but a revision, unlike Hamlet’s own, that demonstrates, indeed advertises, the difficulty but also the possibility of escaping the reduction of belatedness. Hamlet does not repeat the Ur-Hamlet but re-imagines and revises it, performing a humane, if not humanist, act of imitation.” </p. 122>
Jonathan Goldberg (1988, pp. 307-27, apud Griffiths 2005, pp. 139, 145): <p. 139> Like Ronald Knowles, “Jonathan Goldberg has also looked at the play as being a turning point in our understanding of what constitutes subjectivity and ideas of individulation.” The influences on Goldberg have included New Historicism, Derrida and deconstruction, and his concerns include the written meaning of character. </p. 139> . . . . <p. 145> Griffiths concludes: “His particular brand of historicism inflected with deconstruction enables a thorough analysis of the ways in which such individuality is both produced and undermined by the same token, in the same signature.” </p. 145>
Coddon (1989, p. 62, apud Thompson & Taylor, ed. 2006, p. 41) “relates Hamlet to the decline and fall of Elizabeth's former favourite Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, who was finally executed in February 1601, though his star had been declining since 1597 . . . . ”
Boehrer (1992, p. 77, apud Thompson & Taylor, ed. 2006, p. 40): “In facing and surviving the death of its royal house, Hamlet enacts the promised end of Tudor imperial culture: an end feared and contemplated by English monarchs and subjects at least since Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon, and an end that was by 1599 almost inevitable. In affirming an order beyond this chaos. the play may at last manage through wishful thinking to free itself from female influence.”
According to Griffiths, <p. 124> “In his account of Hamlet, Sinfield (1992, pp. 222 ff) sees the play as existing at the crossroads between two different ways of seeing the world and human suffering—a Senecan Stoical and deeply sceptical way of approaching suffering and </p. 124> <p. 125> the Calvinist approach to suffering through the explanatory framework of God's providence. . . . . </p. 125> <p. 126> Sinfield points out that in embracing God's providence, Calvinism explicitly rejects Stoical self-sufficiency.” The play moves from Stoicism in the first four acts to a providential view in the last act. But instead of seeing these as creating two irreconcilable Hamlets, Sinfield sees them as joined: the providential view is foreshadowed in the first four acts, thus linking the two aspects of the character: “the appearance of the Ghost when Claudius seemed secure, the arrival of the Players prompting the test of the king, Hamlet's inspired discovery on the boat of the plot against his life, and then his amazing delivery from the pirates. The latter is so improbable, and unnecessary to the plot, as to suggest the specially intricate quality of divine intervention wherein even a sparrow's death is purposive ” </p. 126>
Foakes (ShSur 45  pp. 1, 5): <p. 1> “...Hamletism has a wider resonance, representing a body of ideas abstracted from a character already extrapolated from the play Hamlet.” As “a term [it] had become established by the 1840s, and came to have a range of meanings, all interconnected, and developed from an image of Hamlet as well-intentioned but ineffectual, full of talk but unable to achieve anything, addicted to melancholy, and sickened by the world around him . . . .”</p. 1>
<p.5> Emerson “saw his age as ‘infected with Hamlet’s unhappiness’ and ‘sicklied o’re with the pale cast of thought,’ so that Hamlet is identified with the nineteenth-century intellectual for whom ‘action, this way or that, is profoundly insignificant’ (‘The American Scholar,’ Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. I, Cambridge, Mass, 1971, p. 66).”
Foakes (1993, p. 1) argues that around 1960 Lear replaced Hamlet as “the best, the greatest, or the chief masterpiece of Shakespeare, ” explaining why this happened in the course of his CUP book.
Jacobs (ShSt 21 (1993): 106 “The ideological message is clear and providentialist: revenge disrupts authorized ideology, and religious discourse is one of its first victims. The memento vindicate thus became an emblem of the ideological subversion inherent in personal blood vengeance.”
Knutson (SQ 46 , p. 4): “I will argue that the passage in Q1 on 'the humour of children' reflects the Globe company's sense of the commercial threat of the boy players in 1599-1600 and that the Folio's 'little eyases' passage reflects that company's sense of a far worse commercial threat in 1606-8. Attempting to take control of the situation the King's company acted as falconer to the little eyases, calling on them publicly to curtail their flights over politically dangerous territory. The proposed new date, 1606-8, for the 'little eyases' passage enables the extant texts and stage runs of Hamlet to be aligned with shifting commercial agendas in the life of Shakespeare's company. . . . I suggest that the 'little eyases' passage does not belong to 1599, 1600, or 1601 and that it is therefore not evidence of theater companies at war. I suggest further that there is a set of London events which better fits the circumstances implied in the Folio lines and that, in the context of those events, the King's company had better motive than rivalry for commenting publicly on the boys' behavior.”
Kernan (1995, pp. 31-2, apud Wilson, 2007, pp. 235-6) infers that Hamlet was presented at court when King James, not yet crowned, celebrated Christmas at Hampton Court. He claims that "the sacramental description of Chiristmas struck the right holiday note [for the new regime]."
Stone (ShSt 23 (1995), p.90): “The androgynous sexual mixture that consummately joins male and female, I have argued, is the indistinction of death. Death returns man to the undiscovered country whence he originated, the place where he and woman are joined (foutre) in a common fault or fold, cross-coupled in nondifference. It is through metaphors of 'mixture,' 'jointure,' and 'union'—rendering the sexes 'common'—that Shakespeare plays out the poisonous consequences of androgyny.”
Srigley (2000, p. 31): “It is remarkable that in the seemingly vast world of Elsinore there is only one priest, and he does not seem to be attached to the court. The King and his entourage go to no services, hear no sermons, go to no confessional boxes. Ophelia at her orisons is involved in deceiving Hamlet. Soliloquy, the only true form of spiritual self-examination in the play, is replacing confession.”
Ryan (2002, p. 194 apud Wilson 2006, pp. 229-30). <p. 229> Wilson refers to Kiernan Ryan whose encounters with Derrida and with James Joyce's Ulysses . . . fuel Ryan's messianic belief that what marks Hamlet is precisely its untimeliness, its refusal to be intelligible in terms of its age, because the unvoiced assumption that govern it are indeed far ahead of its time . . . [Joyce's] Stephen [Daedalus]</p. 229> <p. 230> understands that Hamlet is written in the future perfect tense" [Kiernan Ryan, Shakespeare. London: Palgrave, 2002, pp. 168-9; Joyce, Penguin, 1968, p. 194]. </230>
Thompson & Taylor (ed. 2006, pp. 18-24), drawing on film, stage, and critical studies, discuss the changing reception of the soliloquies, the understanding of what they are, and how they function.
Thompson & Taylor (ed. 2006, pp. 20-2): soliloquies in Hamlet <p. 20> “fulfill a number of different </p. 20> <p. 21> functions, ranging from exposition of the plot to meditation on commonplace topics, and they are often less 'personal' than the soliloquies of” Richard III, Iago (Oth.), or Edmund (Lr.). . . . The editors note that conditions of production influence whether Hamlet, when alone, thinks aloud or confides in the audience.</p. 21> <p. 22> They instance such productions as Olivier's 1948 film (interior), Burton's 1964 stage (interior), David Warner 1965 stage (direct address). </p. 22>
Thompson & Taylor [ard3q2] (ed. 2006 p. 35) note that critics have long called Hamlet a problem play, including F. S. Boas in Shakspere and his Predecessors (1896), E. M. W. Tillyard in Shakespeare's Problem Plays (1950), and Marilyn French, Shakespeare's Division of Experience (1982).
Thompson & Taylor [ard3q2] (ed. 2006, p. 36) list the tragedies that preceded Hamlet: Tit., Rom., and likely JC, all of which had included “revenge as a motivation.”
Thompson & Taylor [ard3q2] (ed. 2006, p. 36) call attention to the fact that Shakespeare's son Hamnet (a variant of Hamlet) died in August 1598, his father John in September 1601. “It is difficult to dismiss the relevance of these experiences to the writing of Hamlet, a play that begins with the death of a father and ends with the death of a son, both called Hamlet, though it is equally difficult to define the precise nature of that relevance with confidence.”
Mallin (2007, p. 3):
“My goal in this book [ which he structures on "Dante's precedent of spiritual ascent"; for Mallin the highest position is reserved for atheists] is to suggest some of the ways in which Shakespeare's beliefs, when they can be inferred, show a mind and a spirit uncontained by orthodoxy. His faith or spiritual inclinations cannot be predicted or bound by the religious habits of thought endemic to much of his culture. While the symbolic, thematic elements of Christianity certainly find their way into his work, Shakespeare activates these features in decidedly irreligious or ironic ways.”
Mallin (2007, p. 10) affirms Shakespeare's spirituality: “The idea of a personal essence, the transcendent part of the self, animates his poetry and stagecraft. . . . Spirituality and godlessness need not be antithetical . . . Far from being an eternal or fixed experience, . . . spirituality imagines the self reaching beyond the world it knows by means of what it knows. . . .”
Derrida (1993, p. 4 apud Wilson 2007, pp. 227-8): <p. 227> " . . . everything begins by the apparition of a spectre. More precisely by the waiting for this spectre. The anticipation is at once impatient, anxious, and fascinated: this, the thing (this thing [[1.1.19]] will end up coming. The revenant is going to come. It won't be long. But how long it is taking." [Derrida, Jacques. “On a Newly Arisen Apocalyptic Tone in Philosophy.' ” Raising the Tone of Philosophy: Late Essays by Immanuel Kant, Transformative Critique by Jacques Derrida. Ed. Peter Fenves. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.] "As Alan Sinfield exasperatedly reports in his Penguin edition, 'Hamlet studies took on an unworldly air at the millennium' [2005, intro, p. lxxviii]. Thus, what the messianic turn in theory brought back was the idea of Hamlet as the gateway to futurity, open to expectation that “If it be not now, yet it will come' [[5.2.159-60]]. In the bleak 'Presentism' of Terence Hawkes this meant the author of the play was now the 'policeman of the new world order' [Shakespeare in the Present, London: Routledge, 2002, p. 82]. Yet for Derrida, the figure of Shakespeare as a night-watchman on the ramparts of a tired 'Old Europe' whose 'time is off its hinges' enough for 'poetic and thinking peepholes' to open on migrant meanings was the image of hospitality; as the receptiveness of his text to new and unintended interpretation was itself a model of a multi-cultural pluralism: </p. 227>
<p. 228> Wilson continues the quotation from Derrida: " 'Is it possible to gather under a single roof the apparently disordered plurivocality of these interpretations. . . it being understood this house will always be haunted rather than inhabited by the meaning of the original? This is the stroke of genius . . . the signature of the Thing 'Shakespeare.' ” [Derrida, Jacques. “On a Newly Arisen Apocalyptic Tone in Philosophy.' " Raising the Tone of Philosophy: Late Essays by Immanuel Kant, Transformative Critique by Jacques Derrida. Ed. Peter Fenves. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993. p. 22, n.2]
Mullaney (1994, p. 142, apud Thompson & Taylor, ed. 2006, p. 41) suggests that the demise of Gertrude figures Queen Elizabeth's death. Thompson & Taylor question this idea: “would Elizabethan audiences really have seen the ageing body of their Virgin Queen in Shakespeare's Gertrude, played by a boy actor, and, at least according to Hamlet, sexually active to an alarming degree? . . . One would not want to reduce Hamlet to a play about the forthcoming demise of Elizabeth, any more than one would want to reduce it to a play about the deaths of John and Hamlet Shakespeare.”
Parker (1994, pp. 31, 34-5, apud Thompson & Taylor, ed. 2006, p. 42) relates the “secret places of women” to the condition of spying and being spied upon in the world of the play and in England.
Watson (1994, p. 75, apud Thompson & Taylor, ed. 2006, p. 42) “sees revenge tragedy as 'a displacement of prayers for the dead forbidden by the Reformation.”
Neill (1997, 216-61, apud Thompson & Taylor, ed. 2006, p. 42) “argues that Hamlet is written against the popular genre, acknowledging that nothing can be done for the dead, though revenge can be a form of memory.”
Belsey (1999, p. 172 apud Thompson & Taylor ed. 2006, p. 33), in her chapter “Sibling Rivalry, Hamlet and the first murder,” “sees the play as a kind of Dance of Death, but one where we have to relinquish the desire for closure and allow the text to 'retain its mystery, it’s a-thetic knowledge, its triumphant undecidability—and its corresponding power to seduce.' ”
Dawson (ShSur 52 , p. 63): Hamlet “explores the way in which personal and social memory intersect, and represents theatrical performance itself as a strategy of reconfiguration, a way of transforming a personal struggle between forgetting and remembering, figured in the play as trauma, into a narrative cultural commemoration.”
Wilson (2007, p. 228) on Derrida: "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.]. . . . "[A]s 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.&rdquo in Angles on Derrida: Jacques Derrida and Anglophone Literature: Oxford Literary Review. 25 (2004): 83.]
Nuttall (2007, p. 13) tackles the religion question but does not find the Catholicism argument persuasive. There are a few references, like that of John Speed (The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, 1611): "This Papist [British Jesuit Robert Parsons or Persons] and his Poet [Shakespeare], of like conscience for lies, the one ever faining, the other ever falsifying the truth” [n. 14, p. 386: Munro, John, ed. The Shakespeare Allusion Book. 2 vols. London, 1909) 1: 224.]
The document reportedly found in the rafters of a house in Stratford (doc. lost, transcription of Edmond Malone, "who came to doubt its authenticity.” p. 13). Nuttall continues to examine the evidence by scholars, finding some weak, others less weak. The references cannot apply to Shakespeare's father.
Nuttall (2007, p. 22): “ . . . it is noteworthy that the great explorations of interiority—Richard II and Hamlet—do not feel remote or antiquated when they are played to present-day audiences. ”
Nuttall (2007, p. 202): "Empson's wish to halt all speculative criticism with the simple assertion that Hamlet is designed as an insoluble conundrum implicitly freezes and sanitizes a work that buzzes with possible explanations: the Existentialist Hamlet, the Freudian Hamlet, the man paralyzed by excess of thought, and so on. . . . It is surprising that so little has been made of a possible religious reason for Hamlet's delay. Christianity forbids revenge, but Hamlet is under an obligation to avenge the murder of his father. This gives the ethical conflict on which tragedy thrives. G. W. F. Hegel observed that tragedy is not about the conflict of right and wrong but about the conflict of right and right. [n. 31 p. 394 Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Arts. T. M. Knox, trans. 2 vols. Oxford, 1975. 1:221.]
Nuttall (2007, pp. 202-3): <p. 202>"In Greek tragedy the primitive ethic of pollution, linked to certain taboos, is in tension with a more developed moral understanding. . . . </p. 202><p. 203> What we have in English tragedy is a primitive obligation, at odds with a more developed ethic." A man is honor-bound to kill the murderer of his father, but the bible says he shouldn't kill. </p. 203>
Nuttall (2007, p. 204): All the explanations for Hamlet delay and therefore the meaning of the play have some merit, but no one "is powerful enough to displace the others." All are relevant to the play." Nuttall sees a remarkable agnosticism in the play.
Nuttall (2007, p. 205): “It is hard to think of anything in Hamlet of which one can be finally sure. Shakespeare knew, from the first second of the play—from the first two syllables—that his task was to enlarge uncertainty. . . . Someone or something is actually there, waiting: the spirit who may be Hamlet's dead father. He, or it, by a command to kill destroys Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude, as well as Claudius, who looks genuinely guilty. According to Protestant theory of the period the ghost cannot be a revenant, a dead person returned. When the Protestants abolished Purgatory they had nothing left beyond the grave but heaven, from which no one would wish to return, and hell, from which no one could escape. Most people after watching the play are pretty sure the ghost was Hamlet's father, but one can never be completely certain. In the Folio stage direction he is always called 'Ghost,' never 'old Hamlet.' Even if he tells the truth about Claudius he could still be a devil. When the play is over, we can still ask, 'Who was there?' ”
Wilson (p. 137 and n. 49) refers to Andrew Hadfield's comment on the disastrous Stuart rule. “The Power and Rights of the Crown in Hamlet and King Lear: ‘The King—the King's to blame.’ ” Review of English Studies 54: 217 (2003), 368. Wilson has a partially quoted, partially paraphrased reference: " . . . it is a sign of deep disquiet over the arrival of this foreign dynasty that Hamlet represents a nation rules by a paranoid and unstable court,' under a murderous usurper, 'haunted by a ghost from the past whose intervention brings destruction,' and when the royals finish themselves off, Denmark is in exactly the same position as it would have been had Fortinbrase senior defeated Old Hamlet.' " ed. Note: The elder Fortinbras and King Hamlet had fought over a section of land, not the whole country.
Wilson (2007, p. 228): "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.]
Wilson (2007, pp. 228-9)<p. 228> summarizes Terence Hawke's point and its effect. "Taking a cue from </p. 228> <p. 229> Hawke's perception in his famed essay 'Telmah' that reprise, back-tracking, 'running events over out of their time-sequence,' is a fundamental aspect of Hamlet [Hawkes, Rag, 96], Derrideans read the chiasmic reversals of this play as in fact a deconstruction of the illusion of laying things to rest; an anamnesis effected in letters, like Hamlet's notification of his return to Denmark [[4.7.42-51]]; the 'letter-bomb' Rosencrantz and Guildenstern carry to their doom; or the messages of the Ghost, which eerily cross the bourn from which no traveler supposedly returns [[3.1.82]] [see Samolsky, op. cit., n. 9; ... also Margaret Ferguson, "Hamlet: Letters and Spirits," Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, eds. Shakespeare and the Question of Theory. London: Methuen, 1985, pp. 292-309, esp. p. 300.] Wilson questions what the end means; when does the play begin, when end? [Comment also in 683.]
Wilson (2007, pp. 229-30) <p. 229>refers to Kiernan Ryan's encounters with Derrida and with James Joyce's Ulysses whose "intuitions fuel Ryan's messianic belief that what marks Hamlet is precisely its untimeliness, its refusal to be intelligible in terms of its age, because the unvoiced assumption that govern it are indeed far ahead of its time . . . [Joyce's] Stephen [Daedalus] </p. 229> <p. 230> understands that Hamlet is written in the future perfect tense" [Ryan, p. 168-9; Joyce, Penguin, 1968, p. 194]. </p. 230>
Wilson (2007, pp. 230-1): <p. 230> "The dire interpretations [by Derrida and others] . . . divine in this text is precognition. . . of a future terrifyingly imperfect. . . . How has this play arrived at the scarosanct status of a fortune-telling book?"
Ryan writes: "Today's criticism offers few sights more ironic or depressing than that of old or new historicism straining to immure Hamlet in the Elizabethan </p. 230> <p. 231> matrix from which it has striven to extract itself." ["Shakespeare and the Future" in Deborah Cartmell and Michael Scott, eds. Talking Shakespeare: Shakespeare into the Millennium. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001, p. 193] Wilson highly praises Francis Barker's essay, "Which dead? Hamlet and the ends of History" [Barker, Francis, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen, eds. Uses of History: Marxism, Postmodernism and the Renaissance. Manchester: U of Manchester P, 1991, pp. 48, 54, 65-6] which argues that "it is the crisis of history Hamlet historicizes: 'Indeed, near the beginning, the ghost of a father who was also a king says "remember me." At the end the son, now also dying, begs Horatio to survive to tell the story. It is the most important thing. A culture is losing its memory. Caught in a network of failing voices, this tragedy never does disclose which dead it mourns.'
Wilson writes of "Joyce's insight that Hamlet is the tragedy of a Protestant author who bought immortality by callously denying 'Our Father who art in purgatory' . . . " Wilson mentions "Stephen Greenblatt's point [Purgatory, p. 240] that 'a young man from Wittenberg, with a distinctly Protestant temperament, is haunted by a distinctly Catholic ghost, ' relating this situation to the coverup of Elizabethan persecutions for religious reasons in th 1600s, horrible incarcerations [that would overshadow Abu Ghraib] </p. 231>
Wilson (2007, p. 236) disagrees with Kernan about the play evoking a holiday spirit that King James VI of Scotland, soon to be crowned James I of England, would find congenial (see 1995, above). There are too many negative references to the season, and Wilson cites TLN 12, 164, 613, 885 as introducing dampening notes. The coming order is no more propitious than the order that has passed.
Moschovakis (2007, p. 148): Allusions to the Aeniad “may have enabled some members of Hamlet's early [reading] audience to identify the form of its revenge plot conceptually with that of Vergil's epic.”
Moschovakis (2007, p. 149), in arguing for a potential audience for Hamlet and its allusions to Aeniad, claims that readers are “most able to subject verbal allusions to deliberate scrutiny; they are also more likely than most play-goers to have had direct knowledge of a play's possible poetic intertexts . . . .” Ed. note: Moschovakis suggests why certain play-goers could return again and again to a particular play, from theater to study and back again.
Moschovakis (2007, pp. 154-5): <p. 154> “ . . . we may consider it highly probable that an early reader who knew the elements of Vergil's narrative, and recalled something of its teleological form, might have thought to compare this form with that of the revenge plot in Hamlet.” Recent work shows that the play “alludes to the Aeneid repeatedly,” </p. 154> <pp. 155-7> specifically Aeneid 6: 700-3, 759, where Aeneas learns of his destiny (parallel to the Ghost's disclosures to Hamlet in 1.5), Aeneid 4: 267, where Mercury urges Aeneas to recall his destiny (equivalent to the Ghost's chastisement in the closet scene, 3.4); and Aeneid 1, when “at the outset of Vergil's epic, the god Neptune saves Aeneas from being shipwrecked, ” placing him in Dido's care (parallel to Hamlet's fortuitous return to Denmark, recounted in 4.6, 4.7, 5.2).
“Like Aeneas, Hamlet must be saved miraculously from the sea as proof of his peculiar destiny, one appointed by the 'divinity that shapes our ends' .” </p. 157>
Kliman (2008): Many critics assert that Hamlet's pretense of madness was unnecessary, because the reason for it was not present in the revision of the source. Though Hamlet never explains his pretended madness (antic disposition), he could use it to taunt and tease the object of his revenge, to, in fact, put the king on alert, so that though he thinks his murder is secret, he has to wonder about the dangers inherent in a seemingly aberrant step-son/nephew, who could or should have been king. Hamlet may be trying to force the king's hand; he may be allowing himself the freedom of expression accorded to madmen; he may be really a little mad and, knowing this, may attempt to cover himself with the plan to act mad; and any number of other possibilities. In other words, it's not so simple as Bowers and others imply (qtd in Mercer, 1987, p. 1)--that Hamlet had to delay to make the play last for its full four hours. But this is false reasoning, because the time could very easily have been theatrically shortened. The play doesn't need a two-month hiatus between the end of act 1 and the beginning of act 2. The time span could easily have been days instead of months: thus, in a time-shortened version that Shakespeare did not write, Hamlet puts the king on tense alert by his pretended madness so that he consults with Polonius and also sends for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; a few days later the school chums arrive and try to find out what ails Hamlet; the players follow hard upon and the play-within tests the king, already worried about Hamlet. In other words, the play's time-scheme could have been short or long with or without Hamlet's pretense of madness. Shakespeare evidently has a reason to expand the time of the play, just as he has a reason for the antic disposition, and the one does not have anything to do with the other. We must look for other interpretations of the antic disposition as well as for the extension of the time of the play from a few days to two months.
Dawson, Anthony B. (2008, p. 166) thinks that F1 was probably cut not to create a short performance text but to reduce some of the spots not playable, perhaps by the particular actors then available. He counters Lucas Erne on his speculation that F1 was a text in the process of being cut from a reading text to one for performance. Dawson thinks that Shakespeare thought of his plays as appealing to both readers and play-goers.
Ed. note: The portions F1 cut add up to about 15 minutes, hardly enough to shorten a 4-hour play significantly; Dawson's reason is persuasive.
Crystal (2008, pp. 211-12 chart): 71.5 percent of Hamlet's lines are verse (a smaller percentage than in 27 other plays), 28.5 percent prose (a smaller percentage than in 11 other plays.
Halpern (2008, p. 482): “The greatness of Shakespeare's Hamlet is difficult to assess in terms of its plot—not least because the original, the ur-Hamlet, has been lost. The Freudian reading of plot threatens to reduce the play to an echo or aftershock of Oedipus. . . . Shakespeare's Hamlet seems self-consciously to have muted the accepted climax of revenge tragedy. Hence if Hamlet is made great by the magnitude of an act, that act is not Hamlet's but Shakespeare's. It is not the murder of the usurping king that constitutes the megethos [greatness] of Hamlet but rather the radical originality of the work itself.
“ . . . The paradox of Hamlet is that its immortal act is to depict the obsolescence of action. It thereby decisively shifts the very ground of dramatic art.”
Halpern (2008, p. 450): “The long philosophical arc that leads from Aristotle to [Hannah] Arendt provides the necessary context within which Hamlet's originality can be properly read and assessed . . . . I argue that Shakespeare's Hamletexplores the tensions between action and production, doing and making, in a way that anticipates [Adam] Smith and thereby constitutes a startlingly prophetic meditation on the nature of modernity.”
Halpern (2008, pp. 451, 452): <p. 451> calls Adam Smith's work in The Wealth of Nations  on political economy “the crucial linchpin. . . . Without the heightening of tensions between making and doing introduced by political economy, the conceptual fault lines of Hamlet would remain invisible. </p. 451>
<p. 452> He examines Smith's concept of productive and unproductive labor, the former being that which can be stored and “then serves as a kind of reservoir in which the labor expended in making [whatever] . . . can be ” recouped as a vendible commodity. </p. 452>
Halpern (2008, p. 461): “It is not just that Hamlet's famous delay turns on problems of how to time the murder of Claudius . . . . The play's impediments to action are various: theological, ethical, political, practical, epistemological, philosophical, psychological. All, however, can be articulated with a time that is famously 'out of joint' .”
Halpern (2008, pp. 473-4) <p. 473> shifts his attention from Hamlet to Shakespeare: “The task at hand is no longer that of avenging a murdered father but that of composing a revenge tragedy. . . . Since these two perspectives cannot be synthesized, Hamlet presents two incompatible faces. . . from inside and outside. This incompatibility, moreover, plays out across the history of Hamlet criticism.
“ . . . Those critics who consider the play's famous delay as a problem of action invariably refer that issue to Shakespeare as author, while those who consider is an issue of character refer it to Hamlet. The question becomes whether there is a problem with the </p. 473> <p. 474> construction of Hamlet as a play or whether there is a psychological, moral, or constitutional problem with Hamlet as character. . . . Hamlet is . . . a play obsessed with questions of what tragedy is and what its role or function can possibly be.”
Pequigney (2008, personal communication): “When Claudius discloses his plan to dispatch Hamlet to England to collect back tribute [1826-7 (3.1.169-70)], we learn for the first time that Denmark is a place of Vikings—or at least it is in part. Three aspects of its Viking character are adduced: first, the tribute, or Danegeld tax, levied on the Anglo-Saxons; second, the Danes' recent assault on and conquest of England [2723-8 (4.3.58-63)] and finally the English ambassador who appears at the end to receive the thanks of the king for fulfilling his command [3862-4 (5.2.368-70)]. Textual evidence, then, points to the 11th century as the most likely—or the least implausible—time-span in which the plotted incidents of these latter scenes could occur.
“Hence the country depicted in Hamlet
is at one and the same time fully Christianized and a state from which
Norse raiders set forth. There may not have been a corresponding period
in Danish history. The gradual conversion of the Danes was fully
achieved by the mid-11th century, just about the time of the Norman
Conquest, which marked the end of the Viking age.
“For Shakespeare, artistic effect and plot requirements trump historical accuracy. Anachronisms abound. There are the several references to cannon [known by the thirteenth-century], and the sailing ships waiting to take Laertes to Paris and Hamlet to England are not the Viking kind, Wittenberg dates from 1502,
though Shakespeare may well have thought that so famous a German
university would have been coeval with Oxford and Cambridge. The hero
is portrayed as a Renaissance prince, and the court at Elsinore is a
contemporaneous rather than a Norse one. The visiting 'tragedians of
the city' [1375 (2.2.328)] are modeled on a touring company of players
based in London, and the reported competition between the public stage
and the private stage on which children performed was happening there
while Hamlet was playing at the Globe—the very sign on the playhouse
being alluded to at 1408 (2.2.362): 'Hercules and his load [the
globed earth]' (Steevens [v1778]). This imitation of the
Elizabethan theater within the scope of Hamlet is a prolepsis of
Weimann and Bruster (2008, p. 65): “Shakespeare infuses certain memories of this [the Vice] figure into an antic, mad version of 'graced deformities'—one motivated by a desire to scourge the world and 'set it right.' [n. 8: See Weimann, 1978]. In the tragedy the gap between the madness and 'matter,' frivolity and 'worthiness, was projected as part of a composite structure, in its own way constituting 'two meanings' in one play . . . The result was as unprecedented as it was paradoxical. Decorum, discretion, and the kind of authority postulated in the worthy discourse of princely conduct was confronted with what Marlowe's printer had called its own great disgrace. . . .”