Hamlet: An Historical and Comparative Study

Hamlet: An Historical and Comparative Study

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Hamlet: An Historical and Comparative Study

Hamlet: An Historical and Comparative Study

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Excerpt

Enough, I hope, has been said to show what, as it seems to me, Shakespeare had in mind while, with devious and supple pen, he rewrote the old Senecan melodrama for the Lord Chamberlain's Servants. Like the thorough playwright that he was, he was interested mainly in the effectiveness of his play as a whole, not mainly in the character of the hero. He strengthened the structure, he sharpened the suspense, and in particular he pitted against Hamlet a King that was more nearly a match for him. And he elevated the character not only of Hamlet but of the King and Queen. But the problem was the motiving of the delay. By the hero's selfreproaches neither Kyd nor Shakespeare really explained the delay, for neither really motived it, that is, grounded it in character. Shakespeare's Hamlet, certainly, in reproaching himself, exhorts himself, in effect exculpates himself--he cannot lay his finger on the fault and he mends his ways. The sins of omission with which he charges himself are not to be reckoned against him any more than the like are to be in Seneca or Kyd. They are part of the story rather than of the character. And in general Shakespeare deftly avoids or suppresses pretty much everything that would reflect upon the hero or put squarely before us the duty undone. No one reproaches him but Hamlet himself; on the other hand, everybody praises, honors, and fears him. Above all, in his rôle of revenger he is kept aloof and reticent. He has no confederates, he imparts no confidences to any one but Horatio (and those mainly off the stage) and he makes and discusses no plans. His saying so little about revenge leads us, at the theatre at least, to forget his doing so little about it; while he does other things and turns the King's game against him to the end. But his aloofness and reticence do not mean evasion, and he does not shuffle or deceive himself. From all this it appears that Shakespeare, having inherited a plot in which the revenge must be deferred throughout the drama, and finding it neither in his heart nor in the heart of his audience to have a revenger who would by nature so defer it, has shifted the revenge into the background, slurred over the delay, and by every means exalted and endeared to us the revenger himself. By all the cajoleries and enchantments of his art he has obscured and eluded the problem--not solved it. But drama is art, not psychology, and that the problem was unsolved was not recognized, it seems, till long afterward. In artistically obscuring and eluding the problem in his day did not Shakespeare, then, really solve it? Art is largely relative: it is for a time and a place, as well as for all times and places. It is an accommodation of one's thought not only to . . .

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