Visions of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fifteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

By Allienne R. Becker | Go to book overview

3
If Hamlet's Uncle Had Been a Nicer Guy

Brian Aldiss

For many years, one had had doubts about Hamlet's conduct. Indeed, I have written to the papers about it The Shakespeare critic, A. C. Bradley, in his disquisition on the famous tragedy of Hamlet asks a number of pertinent questions concerning this moody prince. We must remember that, to the other Danes, this young man is well thought of, the glass of fashion, the university graduate, the heir to the throne. Yet he is ostentatiously rude to women.

It would be perverse not to see here a major indicator to his character. Bradley is right to complain of Hamlet's violent language to Ophelia in the nunnery scene. He also raises several problems difficult of resolution according to usual interpretations of the play: Why does Hamlet insult Ophelia? Why, in particular, does he not reflect, when he has slain good Polonius, that the poor old chap was Ophelia's father and that his death came as a devastating blow to the lady he professes to love?

Other evidences of his objectionable nature are not far to seek. Our young prince rarely speaks to Polonius without using cruel jibes, or to the king without insult. He terrifies his mother, sends his school friends to their deaths without a thought, and ruins a perfectly good funeral by unruly behavior. He is also, let us not forget, a potential suicide as well as a murderer. Unbalanced, in a word. S. T. Coleridge's considered verdict on Hamlet, after remarking on his "almost enormous intellectual activity," whatever that means, comes to the conclusion that he is crackers. Or, in Gertrude's more kindly analysis, "Mad as the sea and wind."

Everyone bar Hamlet is kind to Ophelia--possibly suspecting she lacks something in the upper story--Queen Gertrude in particular. Playgoers are shocked when Hamlet bursts into his mother's bedroom. This act is generally interpreted as part of his discourteous and sulky nature. We may perhaps more truly consider it as none too unusual an entrance, considering the time and the place. Such rude invasions may have been a sign of the laxity of manners in the Danish court, when anyone might barge into a lady's bedroom unannounced. Hasn't even Polonius done the same kind

-21-

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