A longer version of this essay appeared in John Alvis, Shakespeare's Understanding of Honor ( Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1990), pp. 59- 97.
The evil in the world is not the product of the specially corrupt
present generation, it has its roots in the generations that went
before and also were corrupt; it has its roots in the race. There
is no use pretending that we can frustrate our sinful disposi
tions by calling on tradition, because that is also the work of
sinful man. This is the situation of our kind as it is shown to us
in Hamlet, which is as pessimistic as any great work of litera
ture ever written.... What excites Shakespeare in this play is
the impossibility of conceiving an action which could justly be
termed virtuous, in view of the bias of original sin.
West gives an admirably accurate account of Hamlet's outlook upon his world. It would be a true description of the moral scene Hamlet looks out upon, however, only were it not that Shakespeare causes us to suspect that his protagonist cannot conceive the particular virtuous action he is called to perform, precisely because he attributes too much to the "bias of original sin."
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Shakespeare as Political Thinker. Edition: 2nd. Contributors: John E. Alvis - Editor, Thomas G. West - Editor. Publisher: ISI Books. Place of publication: Wilmington, DE. Publication year: 2000. Page number: 312.