A student once asked why Hamlet delayed rather than immediately kill Claudius. Two hours later, no one was in agreement except to say that if he did, Shakespeare would have written a one or two act play. If the infinite variety of questions posed by a seemingly deliberate ambiguity were absolutely resolved, debate would end, but Hamlet would not be the Hamlet that forever (to recall Keats) "teases us out of thought." Harry Levin, for instance, found that that the word "question" occurs no less than seventeen times in Hamlet.(1) Questions persist:
Is the ghost real, or a hallucination?
Is the ghost Hamlet's father or something else?
Is the ghost from heaven, hell or Purgatory?
Does it make any difference where the ghost originates?
Is the ghost a composite and if so, of what?
What bearing does the origin question have on Hamlet?
Is revenge or salvation most important to Hamlet?
How does Hamlet's relationship to Gertrude and Ophelia influence his behavior?
Is the play about public or private revenge?
How accurate is the "brooding, melancholic introvert" interpretation?
Does Hamlet delay?
What was Hamlet like before the play begins? (2)
Questions imply for this study dialectical inquiry as Hamlet's mode of thinking,. In The Republic, Plato has Socrates explain in conjunction with the cave allegory:
And can they [those in the cave] ever acquire any of the knowledge
we say they must have if they can't argue logically?...But isn't this
just the theme which dialectic takes up? It is of course an intellectual
theme, but can be represented in terms of vision, as we said, by the
progress of sight from shadows to the real creatures themselves, and then
to the stars themselves and finally to the sun [metaphor for the good]
itself. So when one tries to get at what each thing is in itself by the
exercise of dialectic, relying on reason without any aid from the senses,
and refuses to give up until one has grasped by pure thought what is the
in itself, one is at the summit of the intellectual realm...
Dialectic, in fact, is the only procedure which proceeds by the destruction
of assumptions to the very first principle, so as to give itself a firm base.
When the eye of the mind gets really bogged down in a morass of
ignorance, dialectic gently pulls it out and leads it up, using the studies
we have described to help it in the process of conversion.
(531e-534, Desmond Lee translation; Penguin Classics)
Hamlet must do precisely this in order to learn the ghost's true nature. "The studies" are the tracts this book cites, together with advice from scholars like Horatio. If Hamlet is successful, he will learn the identity of that which seeks his soul. Thus, any resolution must consider the ghost and its origin, and this study by examining Medieval and Renaissance daemonological tracts documents a case for ghostly malevolence and its implications for Hamlet. Click here for more information regarding Plato and the dialectic.
Although present and past scholarship has reviewed the matter, (3) another examination is necessary to provide the needed explication of relevant primary sources that Shakespeare either read or understood as indigenous to his culture. Eleanor Prosser's Hamlet and Revenge and Greenblatt's Hamlet and Purgatory certainly have gone along way to clarify the dilemmas posed by the questions raised, and this study hopes to accomplish the same. Either Hamlet admits to structural and imaginative integrity, or all else fails. 'Who's there?" does have an answer in terms of the play and the ghost scenes.
A structural concept has been suggested by Bradley who argues Shakespeare's ability to manipulate dramatic tension in terms of a logical sequence of events. Thus,
A = a cause appearing to advance to the third act, and thereafter retiring,
B = a cause appearing to retire to the third act, and thereafter advancing
But underlying this broad movement all through the conflict
we shall find a regular alteration of smaller, advances and retrials;
first A seeming to win some ground, and then the counteraction
of B being shown ...the result of this oscillating movement is a
constant alteration of hope and fear, or rather a mixed state predominately
hopeful and a mixed state predominately apprehensive.(4)
Although Bradley illustrates this technique using Hamlet, his references are brief. In this Chapter, I have expanded the application. For the present, let us assume...
A = Hamlet, Horatio, Gertrude, Ophelia, and (the ghost)
B = Polonius, the King, and (the ghost)
The ghost functions in ways common to A and B and will be analyzed extensively, but Bradley's application of the model to Hamlet is not consistent with Shakespeare's intention of dramatizing ghostly malevolence, Dramatically Hamlet declines after Act III, being manipulated into a fencing match that takes his life, and while observers have noticed a metaphysical ascent after III, the change functions in the context of ghostly benevolence, mandating therefore a Purgatorial interpretation. However, I will argue that evidence for the contrary exists, and that while in one sense A = Hamlet may be validated, in another sense, Shakespeare intended a fundamental irony to pervade which derives from a thesis of spiritual malevolence. This interpretation mandates an alteration of the diagram after Act III. The "queftion" then becomes whether Hamlet in this life or the next survives the ghost's onslaught. That Shakespeare understood the issues involved becomes clear when recalling Macbeth's...
But here upon this bank and shoal of time
We'll jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught return
To plague the inventor. This even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips.
As this study will document, the Macbeth's / Hamlet parallels are frequent and apt, especially regarding demoniac equivocation and Banquo's warnings about devils speaking true.
I,i is common to A. and B. First scenes in Shakespearean tragedies authenticate a mood from which subsequent conflicts evolve, Francisco's "sick at heart," (I,i,9) establishes the tone, immediately intellectualized by Horatio's skepticism:
Tush, tush, will not appear.
Skepticism however quickly becomes "...fear and wonder," when the ghost materializes. Significantly the two major characters, Hamlet and the ghost, do not appear/speak in the first scene; their presence is either witnessed (the ghost) thereby intensifying horror, or strongly felt (Hamlet).
B is likewise sensed. Horatio's long flashback (I, i, 83 ff.) establishes King Hamlet's prowess in resolving the Fortinbras' conflict, but the current Denmark, plagued by a "...strange eruption..." (I,i,72) suggests all that was gained is now forfeit:
A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;...
Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar (circa.) 1598 and Hamlet in 1601. An audience therefore might recall the macrocosm (5) imagery of destruction used by Brutus who, like Hamlet, much reach a fateful decision. The Rome = Denmark metaphor foreshadows a correlation between violent crime and the ghost's appearance, and a Renaissance audience undoubtedly inferred malevolence. I, i then embodies A and B in a Dorian Gray mosaic of horror and impending horror associated in Francisco's heart and Horatio's mind with murder and the appearance of the dead.
Act I, scene ii present Claudius' world, B. First impressions in Shakespeare often deceive, and Claudius does impress his court and the viewer with his sense of command. In rapid succession, he dispenses with "...our dear brother's death..." (I,ii,1), confirms his marriage to Gertrude and resolves the Norwegian crisis--all with a resolve demanding admiration. He appears to imply B ascending, but the irony implicit in the scene foreshadows decline. First,. Hamlet is not convinced (an A interlace), and secondly, his words, despite the rhetorical flourishes, are (to Hamlet) contrived and shallow:
With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole,
Taken to wife. Nor have we herein barr'd
Your better wisdoms, which have freely gone
With this affair long. For all, our thanks...
The antithetical nature of the lines is too pat. Sets of prepositional phrases are nicely balanced by the conjunction, preparing for the "equal scale" of "delight" ("mirth") and "dole" ("dirge"). Clearly Claudius is an effective speaker, but he betrays concern. Knowing his guilt, he feels compelled to include the endorsement (after the fact) of the court. By implication, the address is a self-justification through a perversion of Rousseau's "general will" in much the same sense as Henry IV's address to his court betrays guilt for the murder of Richard II. Thus, while placing Claudius in control (B), Shakespeare implies his insecurity, ironically foreshadowing decline.
Implied also is the role of B in the presence of Hamlet. A apparently ascends driven by Hamlet's caustic wit. Thus, his mood sharply contrasts of course with the artificial gaiety enforced by Claudius:
Hamlet (aside): (6) A little more than kin, and less than kind.
King: How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
Hamlet: Not so, my lord, I am too much in the sun.
Shakespeare increases tension by syntactically and rhetorically paralleling Hamlet's first words with Claudius (A and B in oscillation). Both son and uncle / stepfather have a flare for the rhetorical, but Hamlet speaks from the depth of his soul. while Claudius "wears his heart upon his sleeve". For him, the pun on "sun" transcends intellectual cleverness; it reflects the angst he feels in Claudius' presence and especially his mother's. The lines further exhibit his fondness for dialectical inquiry, the pun implying a synthesis. In general, the dialectical mode characterizes Hamlet's epistemological preference.
Editors debate the retention of Hamlet's initial line as an aside. it is not so marked in the Arden edition but appears in the Variorum with the explanatory note, however, favoring deletion because the king must at the outset be aware fully of Hamlet's contempt, something retaining an aside would obfuscate. When staged, the Prince's revulsion could be conveyed by tone of voice and facial expression, so even if the aside were retained, Claudius could not mistake Hamlet's scorn which is essential.
Two important moments further the scene's action. one is Hamlet's first soliloquy, "Oh that this too too sullied (7) flesh would melt..." (I,ii, 129 ff.), and secondly the revelation by Horatio of the ghost's existence. Insofar as the soliloquy implies acute depression, Hamlet appears to deteriorate, but the news about his father sparks a renewed resolve that is one of the earliest examples of the irony Shakespeare wished by creating a malevolent ghost. Thus, the scene is strongly B but foreshadows events that culminate in the A scenes of the last act. That relationship, critical to an understanding of the ghost scenes, suggests why Bradley's diagram will require modification.
Scene ii is B with another family, Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia complicate the action. Ophelia, whose knowledge of Hamlet's past before his love turned to melancholy is critical to an understanding of the Prince, must endure a strong warning from Laertes regarding her affections:
Laertes: 'Fear it Ophelia, fear It, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection
Out of the shot and danger of desire
The chariest maid is prodigal enough
If she unmask her beauty to the moon,
Virtue itself scapes not calumnious strokes.
The canker galls the infants of the spring...
Polonius, too, feels obliged:
Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers
Not of that dye which their investments show,
But mere implorators of unholy suits,
Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds
The better to beguile.
Ophelia submits, but the selection, by virtue of the imagery employed, poetically reinforces, by flashback and foreshadowing, the play's dramatics. They recall parallel images used in prior scenes, (8) notably Hamlet's first soliloquy, and foreshadow much of the dialogue between Hamlet and Horatio and Hamlet and the ghost. We recall that, "Foul deeds will rise," (I,ii, 257) Further, Shakespeare's patterns suggest the corruption implicit in the Hamlet / Ophelia relationship, A and B are poetically fused by the play's most important motifs, disease and sex perversion imagery, and the ghost is directly involved. We are meant to anticipate Hamlet's torturing Ophelia who, to a lesser degree, as experienced parallel conditioning by Polonius and Laertes.
Scenes iv and v dramatically rivet attention on one of the play's critical (9) moments: Hamlet's encounter with his father's ghost. They are A scenes but with profoundly ironic implication: Hamlet's resolve seems inviolate:
Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee?
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records...
Chapter I began by noting the importance of questions so essential to dialectical inquiry , and here they underscore the passionate vehemence of Hamlet's resolve. After languishing in doubt, he now--almost existentially--asserts his own raison d'être. Angst becomes purpose.
Act one defines the important dramatic elements Shakespeare manipulates to create his most complex characters. Working within the traditional act-scene frame, however, has disadvantages because the breaks can be disruptive; they play was presented as a continuous performance. It is therefore necessary to outline the impression Shakespeare intended.
Critics have observed that conflict as generational in which the older directs the younger, but what is essential to this investigation is that the supernatural world attempts to influence malignantly a man tormented by tragedy--his disposition is ripe for corruption. The ghost directs him to revenge and significantly to leave Gertrude to heaven. Time interlaces or oscillates, to recall Bradley's phrase, A and B:
The time is out of joint. O cursed spite
That I ever was born to set it right.
The implied macrocosmic disorder rips the fabric of the microcosm (Hamlet), creating an unbearable anxiety for the Prince who seems to loath the world into which he was born. Consciousness is dramatized in a way suggested by Henry James, "Character in any sense...is action, and action is plot," (10) and "The figure in any picture, the agents in any drama, are interesting only in proportion as they feel their respective situations..." (11). Certainly Hamlet "feels" his situation in depth, a condition pointing irrevocably to the ghost's influence; hence "sullied" better anticipates that aspect of the Hamlet's mood the ghost will find the most malleable.
With II, i the intense dramatic struggle achieves partial actuality. Polonius requests Renaldo clandestinely monitor Laertes' activities in Paris, paralleling the play's subplot of Claudius manipulating Laertes; both situations of course mirror in the macrocosm the ghost and Hamlet. Both Polonius and the ghost have motives concealed from the victims. B and A interlace before Act III. The second half of the scene dramatizes Polonius' mistrust of Ophelia, while Hamlet experiences similar misgivings regarding the supernatural.
Polonius attributes Hamlet's behavior to love, and while love melancholy may be a cause, it lacks the sufficiency to explain what Ophelia reports:
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbrac'd
No hat upon his head, his stockings foul'd
Ungarter'd and down-gyved to his ankle...
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horror, he comes before me.
The disheveled appearance, as Professor Adams notes, cannot "...be explained on the score of the sentimental, lovesick youth..." (12). What frightens Ophelia, and doubtless a Renaissance audience, is the very real suspicion of madness. Further the hell image interlaces with the ghost's presence and foreshadows its origin. In other words, the Prince's "antic disposition" is dramatized in a context suggesting the supernatural. Shakespeare weds Hamlet's alleged madness to A after the third act, but ironically so since his resolve may assume a direction counter to what the ghost intends. Pathetically, Ophelia suffers much as s result; she is hurt and numbed by Hamlet's conduct, and can only rely on her family. The scene foreshadows one of the play's most complicated and baffling questions: Hamlet's love relationships.
The import of Ophelia's evaluation deserves review in the context of the ghost's appearance: Hamlet speaks of what he sees as "a spirit of health or goblin damned," wondering if it brings "airs from heaven or blasts from hell." (I,iv, 40-41). Here in II,i, Ophelia reasons that Hamlet has been "loosed out of hell," but with a "...a look so piteous in purport." that she is disturbed and terrified. "Piteous" means compassionate, and it is one of the play's paradoxes whether the compassion may in any sense be directed toward her. We may conclude that Shakespeare dramatizes a triadic relationship consisting of Hamlet and his feelings, Ophelia's love, and the ghost's origin (A and B). The outcome is the play's story. Later Chapters will consider Ophelia's credibility as an observer and commentator. Her powers of discernment are critical to evaluating the ghost's influence on Hamlet, and as feminist critics remind us, cannot be lightly dismissed.
II,ii, the longest scene, contains over 600 lines and has four significant advances in action which simultaneously reflect what has transpired and foreshadow the 'mousetrap' of III:
1--Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are introduced,
2--The king wishes to trap Hamlet; the fishmonger scene
3--Hamlet's immediate suspicion of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
4--Hamlet plans to "catch the conscience" of the king
Shakespeare's major tragedies defy the classical norms by mixing comedy and tragedy, a practice Sidney saw fit to condemn in his Apology, but as Bloom reminds us, Shakespeare invented personality (13) and as later with Coleridge, knew that a function of art is to reconcile opposites. Wit as readers of Lear know becomes the essential mode for tragedy. Hamlet has little humor, except perhaps the graveyard variety, but Hamlet's two 'friends' provide from relief from the tension of the previous scenes while simultaneously exacerbating it. The king and queen's reversal of their names (II,ii,33-34) certainly implies they are indistinguishable nonentities; merely instruments who think they can play on Hamlet for the powers that be.
As Act III approaches, dramatization of consciousness becomes increasingly more intricate; some elements suggest A and B simultaneously. When Claudius questions Polonius who thinks he knows the "...very cause of Hamlet's lunacy," (II,ii,49), his political acumen requires an ironic response insofar as he appears to be in control, but all he says and does ultimately leads to his own demise.
The "fishmonger" scene suggests Hamlet's love melancholy, a disposition of which the ghost will exploit:
Polonius: Do you know me, my Lord?
Hamlet: Excellent well. You are a fishmonger...
For if the sun can breed maggots in a dead dog, being a
good kissing carrion--Have you a daughter?...
Let her not walk i'th' sun. Conception is a blessing,
but as your daughter may conceive...
If Polonius is a pimp, then Ophelia.... The bawdy imagery interlaces with Bradley's A and B elements recalling the first soliloquy and the ghost's language regarding Gertrude. Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia mirrors his disgust for what Gertrude has done; both women have ended relationships! Normally to walk in the sun might be a pleasant experience, but the sun according to Renaissance biology rotted flesh, producing maggots, and to Hamlet flesh is "sullied." No doubt as well, if we recall his fondness for punning, "Sun" reminds him of the "Son" to which he is overmuch exposed. The resolve is staid when love predominates. Hamlet obviously holds these thoughts as he bandies with his companions about fortune being a "strumpet." (II,ii,236). Beyond what the Arden edition recognizes as "fickleness," Hamlet provides a sexual connotation that will not be lost on Ophelia and Gertrude when he berates them both.
A and B patterns surface in moments of introspection:
O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count
myself king of infinite space--where it not that I
have bad dreams.
fore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither,
Dialectically, optimism contends with philosophical fatalism. Disease imagery mirrors a consciousness plagued with revulsion; all is sullied, but the crucial introspection implies a time that was not so "out of joint." One half of each observation is A and therefore B before III, but ironically implying the intentions of the ghost. Hamlet's skepticism pervades but not necessarily as a matter of innate conviction; dialectical inquiry demands skepticism since assumptions are initially tested, but such should not ultimately pervade. He may therefore be disposed to such reflections, but the catalysts of his father's death, mother's marriage, and the ghost's commands are needed to render the disposition potent.
The scene with the players, often omitted in productions, functions as a Medieval allegory essential to understanding Hamlet's structure. The tale of Pyrrhus, Priam and Hecuba prologues the "peasant slave" soliloquy. Further and with modifications determined by Hamlet's troubled nature, Shakespeare intends an analogy paralleling Hamlet's own situation, a theatric précis of the play's conflicts thus far.
Hamlet remembers the passage with affection, adding however that it "...pleased not the million." (II,ii,432). For Hamlet, to admit openly that he loves the scene is significant for that emotion above all torments him. The tale holds import.
Levin argues that, "Since the Elizabethans conceived of tragedy as a spectacular descent from the heights to the depths, they could conceive of no more topic worthier than the king and queen of Troy." (14) He notes a few pages later:
The speech addresses violent abjurations to the witch-goddess
Fortune...it is urged that her proverbial wheel whose revelation
determines the ups and downs of individual lives, be itself
demouthed...Fortune, it would appear, is so securely entrenched
that the impulse to denounce her is a poisonous subversion of things
as they are." (15)
The Variorum analysis suggests the speech must be admired due to its intrinsic merit, and because it, "...contains the description of a circumstance very happily imagined, namely: Ilium and Priam's falling together with the effect it had on the destroyer." (16) Further, "Shakespeare evidently wished to give us insight into his hero's studious and preeminently ideal character." (17)
That the speech reflects Elizabethan beliefs on tragedy and the cruelty of fortune and Hamlet's ideal nature requires elaboration. In his youth, Shakespeare undoubtedly witnessed vestiges of the Medieval moral plays which defined tragedy as a falling off from (theological greatness). Later, of course, the changing scientific, political and intellectual climate altered the content (Click here for details.) as readers for Mirror for Magistrates know, but in theory the falling remained. As an educated courtier, perhaps Hamlet enjoys drama in some general sense, but the Pyrrhus legend allegorizes what has happened to the Prince thus far. As he listens to the first player,
Pyrrhus at Priam drives, in rage strikes wide;
But with the wiff and wind of his fell sword
The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,
Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top,
Stoops to his base...
Pyrrhus' bleeding sword
Now falls on Priam.
Out, out thou strumpet Fortune...
he contemplates the macrocosmic decay that infects Denmark, the grotesqueness of fortune reversing his family situation from love to horror, and specifically the ghost's rage:
O Hamlet, what a falling off was there,
From me, whose love was that of dignity...
So lust, though to a radiant angel link'd,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed
And prey on garbage.
To Hamlet, Pyrrhus recalls the "serpent that did sting" his father, while the noble Priam suggests King Hamlet's tortured ghost. Hamlet anxiously asks of Hecuba and learns that she, wrapped in a blanket, gave forth a, "...burst of clamour..." [which] "...Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven / And passion in the gods." (II,ii,511-514). Whether Hamlet's analogy accurately reflects the reality of his situation is the play's irony. Is the ghost allowing A to ascend?
Blanket has sexual connotations. In Lear (II,iii,10), for instance, appears "blanket my loins." Here as she mourns for her husband's savage death, Hecuba exchanges her royal garments for a blanket. From the beginning, even before he encounters the ghost, Hamlet's heart is crushed by his mother's actions. By analogy, just as Hecuba's "blanket" covers her loins, so in Act I Hamlet's "inky cloak," his mourning clothes, are "...but trappings and suits of woe." (18). In each case, the analogy suggests clothing imagery as a veneer hiding grief. However, its effectiveness results from what it does not imply in Hamlet's mind. As the soliloquy which follows the player's speech suggests, Hamlet contrasts Hecuba's faithfulness with his own mother's betrayal. In his first soliloquy, he cannot successfully suppress tortured emotions, speaking of "wicked speed" and "incestuous sheets," again clothing imagery. Thus the two moments are interlaced.
Certainly, then, the contrast between Hecuba's fidelity and Gertrude's lapses prey on Hamlet as he listens to the players. Undoubtedly he recalls his family's recent history for just as Priam fell from greatness, so King Hamlet, Hamlet himself, and his mother experience a similar fall through murder, moral revulsion, infidelity and lack of reverence for the dead.
The second manner in which the player's speech mirrors action concerns fortune and fate. Surely Hamlet wonders why his mother fails to demonstrate Hecuba's faithfulness, so he asks what she knew and when? Has fate simply arranged destiny? Someone of Hamlet's dynamic intelligence would find the prospect revolting, and he does, The player's speech contains several references to the capriciousness of fortune. Priam's death so outrages the macrocosmic that the gods are asked to dismantle their own instrument: "All of you gods / In general synod take away her power / Break all the spokes...from her wheel..." (II,ii, 489-491). Everyone knows that fortune in the Renaissance was personified as operating a great wheel to which humanity was affixed; she is also of course seen as a whore capriciously withholding her favours. A few lines later, however, such actions are considered treason. Fortune must operate in the world as God's instrument, and all must endure her punishments as Timon learns.
From the beginning, Hamlet considers fortune's apparently incongruous behavior. Shortly before he confronts the ghost, he meditates on human nature, (the play's theme passage: "So oft in chances...") concluding that the "stamp of one defect" may irrevocably affect destiny. This defect or "vicious mole" may be occasioned either by "nature's livery" or "fortune's star" (I,iv,23 ff). Before the ghost appears, Hamlet is willing to admit the possibility that human nature's corruptibility derives from the essence of chance circumstances, but his disposition, however, will be radically influenced by the ghost.
When the ghost beckons Hamlet aside, Horatio cautions restraint, but Hamlet threatens to "make a ghost" of anyone who dares interfere: "My fate cries out," (I,i,72). The supernatural summons Hamlet to his future, but ironically he is lead to misunderstand its direction and destination; we should recall Banquo's warning, that the devil can "speak true." After hearing the ghost's commands, Hamlet's world appears forever altered. A continues to ascend as the irony intensifies. Thus, a synthesis of sorts concludes act one:
The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right.
The rest of the play will involve its testing.
Spite according to Onions means "mortifying circumstances," and is a generic term Hamlet uses, the particulars of which constitute his special fortune as seemingly ordained; he will have to use his formidable intelligence to grasp and act on the irony of his own situation. But for the present, the revulsion implies rage at having his destiny pronounced by another.
As discussed Hamlet refers to fortune as a strumpet. The image is traditional, but of course Rosencrantz and Guildenstern miss its special potency. Now as Hamlet listens to the player's lines, he wishes his fortune could be dismantled. Specifically in context, that means fortune would cease her whoring as he wishes Gertrude and Ophelia would. Unable to accept his father's death, he can only imagine himself as king of infinite space--moral, intellectual and imaginative--were Denmark not his prison. Entrapment imagery is important. Hamlet's confinement is imposed by the ghost's commands which restrict his intellectual and moral activity, so he has bad dreams regarding his destiny. Certainly Renaissance tragedy has didactic undercurrents, and Hamlet's task, if he is to combat supernatural malevolence, must be to treat the ghost's commands as assumptions. Click here for more details on Medieval / Renaissance tragedy.
The dramatic role of fortune is to shatter Hamlet's idealism, and she does so at the ghost's direction as allowed by Providence. Consequently, his bad dreams involve Gertrude and by implication all women including Ophelia. They are fortune's coconspirators, and therefore whores. The "fishmonger" scene validates. Out of the suffering, however, may come growth, awareness. Plato reminds us that conversion is not easy, and the process is not complete, however sophisticated the philosopher king may be.
The question now is what kind of man would notice the parallels and analogies outlined. Bloom reminds us of Hamlet's prodigious intellect encompassing virtually all possibilities, one of which is the ghost's presence. Although a complete answer must await the ghost scene's correlation with Renaissance daemonological tracts, we may present a portrait of Hamlet as he sees himself prior to Act III. The Hamlet of Acts I and II has...
Paradoxically, this same Hamlet deeply enjoyed life's rewards or the contrasts implied in the list would not be so heartbreaking. In varying degrees, Hamlet's values are implicit in the player's speech as is the irony he must confront. Thus, this essentially A scene summarizes the action and foreshadows what will occur.
Scene ii of Act II concludes with the "rogue and peasant slave" soliloquy (ll. 544 ff). Here, Hamlet concisely articulates the feelings just described. He does this in a confusing dialectical fashion between idealism and scorn. Hamlet had idealized his mother [seeing perhaps much of Plato's good in her?], hoping he would feel toward his father as Hecuba did Priam, so her second marriage especially to Claudius wounds beyond tears. When the soliloquy is considered with the player's speech, the two achieve a synthesis of sorts involving the ghost:
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil, and the devil hath power
T'assume a pleasing shape...
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me. I'll have grounds
More relative than this. The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscious of the king.
No resolution is possible what involving the ghost; that Hamlet understands the dialectal process is obviously evident from these lines. The play will be the thing, the test used to evaluate the veracity of the commands--first principles, of which revenge is certainly a key, will be treated as assumptions. He plans to validate the ghost's intent by the "mousetrap." Of course he does not trust the spirit; should he?
The soliloquy contains elements of B as it must if the synthesis be dramatically valid. Hamlet doubts the ghost and Gertrude's fidelity, but also he loves her with a resolve that not even the ghost's command may nullify:
This is most brave
That I, the son of dear father murder'd
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must like a whore unpack my heart with words...
While he intends to settle the heaven / hell question with the play, we cannot doubt the importance of his coming to terms with Gertrude: Does Hamlet know how close he is here to a successful dialectical inquiry? The "whore" simile interlaces with he "fishmonger" scene and is used whenever the Prince thinks of his mother. The irony of this fundamental inquiry will eventually compel Hamlet to question the ghost's commands further.
In Act II, generational mistrust continues. Polonius determines to monitor Laertes, while Claudius worries about Hamlet, who in the next act, will reverse the process by attempting to trap Claudius. Forces set in motion by the ghost precipitate the conflicts of the next act.
Bradley notes that while the first and fourth acts of Shakespearean tragedies are relatively quiet, the third act is charged with tension. (19). In Hamlet, the mousetrap scenes provide the anxiety as A and B reverse. Hamlet's attitude toward the commands of the ghost changes, and Claudius, by his attempts to silence Hamlet, faces ruin.
In the first scene of Act III, the zenith / nadir of B / A has not yet occurred. Scene i (A), finds Rosencrantz and Guildenstern still unable to comprehend Hamlet's behavior. Claudius and Polonius thus plan to observe Hamlet with Ophelia hoping for incriminating evidence. The scene suggests B elements insofar as Claudius appears to be in control. His "O'tis true / How smart a lash that speech doth give my / conscience...O heavy burden." (III,i,49-54) implies at least an awareness of guilt and prevents his character from being viewed as totally degenerate.
The confrontation between Hamlet and the unsuspecting Ophelia is foreshadowed by the "To be" soliloquy. Laced with disease imagery, it dramatizes a consciousness plagued with the awareness that fate, if not the ghost, has placed him in a situation that he may, despite his prodigious intellect, may not be able to remedy. Has the ghost deprived Hamlet of that which he needs to give his intellect direction? His treatment of Ophelia reflects the outrage such thoughts occasion; men of action and resolve resent paralysis. As a dialectical inquiry, the soliloquy is not without irony, but for the present we must observe the Prince with Ophelia.
Hamlet bitterly accosts her: "...the power of a beauty will sooner trans- / form honesty form what it is to a bawd than the / force of honesty can translate beauty into his like- / ness." Even her chastity is questioned: "Are you honest?...Go thy ways to a nunnery." (III,i,111-130). Hamlet paradoxically does love Ophelia but focuses his soul's anguish not so much or her as an individual, but as a personification of the disillusionment of his ideals. In the lines, here is more than a trace of self-pity, attributable to the anger of shattered idealism. Thus he almost enjoys tormenting Ophelia over whom he wishes to exercises complete control to hopefully redeem her. The suffering inflicted can only be measured by the suffering inflicted on him by Gertrude. If his mother can be a "whore," then all women must be the same, at least potentially. If Ophelia ended their relationship and if her mad songs imply they had slept together, than what else can he conclude? This reasoning may lack logic, but logic and truth are not the same. It does ring true emotionally. Hamlet uses her love for him against her, and in the process generalizes his own condition, thereby illustrating why he could be king "of infinite space". Like an animal, then, he is "...crawling between / earth and heaven," (III,i,128-129), another instance of the play's entrapment motif for which the ghost is responsible." (20).
When Ophelia is blamed, then, the irony in part derives from the fact that the wrong individual is accused. Feminist critics are quite correct in seeing her as battered. Michael Pennington notes that were it not for Polonius' bad parenting she might have become, "warm, tolerant and imaginative." (21) Pennington goes on to note that she finally wins the right to say what she likes but at the cost of her sanity. Norrie Epstein likewise concurs:
The lewd ballads and ditties she sings have puzzled
critics...They have been imprinted there [in her mind]
precisely by those who sought to shield her from such
knowledge. All the secret filth that lies rotting in the heart
of the Danish court rises to the surface. (22)
If we are so quick to see Hamlet's tragedy as a terrible waste of what may have been, a tragedy of unfulfilled potential, why may be not see Ophelia in the same light. Her assessment of Hamlet under these circumstances cannot be so easily dismissed as the whimpering of a "green girl" too unenlightened to evaluate Hamlet. Clearly then there is a double standard: men like Lear are admired for contending with adversities of their own making that drive them mad; while women driven mad by men who will not allow them any freedom of expression are seen as weak. Thus the reality of the terror Ophelia endures is imposed by men who force her to become that which was not meant to be.
Hamlet taunts her as one who is "proud, revengeful, "ambitious" views humanity (including himself) as "arrant knaves." Arrant has an interesting entomology. Meaning "thoroughgoing, out and out" (Onions), the word was originally applied to a thief. An "errant" was an outlawed robber, roaming the countryside. In context it connotes Hamlet's sense of alienation, his exile from those he loves and whom he thought loved him. The condition is imposed by the ghost's commands which ironically but quite intentionally are designed to entrap him. Banquo again is an authority, warning...
...But 'tis strange:
And often times the instruments of darkness tell us truths
Win us with honest trifles, to betray 's
In deepest consequence.
Does Hamlet know this? What are the "honest trifles"? If the ghost knows what Hamlet really wants, then the temptation will require excellent dialectic skills to test. Much pain exists.
Ophelia's touching response legitimizes a dimension of Hamlet's character that affirms Bloom's thesis of cognitive magnitude by affording a glimpse of his conduct prior to the play's opening, and foreshadows what will occur as the play continues:
O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue sword...
The glass of fashion and the mould of form....
This is one of the most significant revelations made by anyone; they reveal the essence of his character discerned by someone who, when liberated from intellectual exile, is well-qualified to judge. Ophelia defines Hamlet as the ideal Renaissance man, they should put to rest interpretations suggesting Hamlet as a tragedy of excessive, melancholic. reflection. Aristotle speaks of intellectually excellent activity; reflection without action is potential unactualized, and Hamlet knows this well.
The scene ends with Claudius' resolve that Hamlet must die in exile. Polonius accepts the king's words at face value; not suspecting that exile means death, literally. The operative words, "There's something in his soul / O'er which his melancholy sits on brood..." (III,i,166-177) reveal the measure of duplicity. The ghost too is aware of this disposition and will exploit it for equivocal ends as do the witches in Macbeth. The scene ends ironically. Claudius (B) believes he has once and for all settled the Hamlet problem, but unwittingly has determined his own fate. Hamlet's encounter with Ophelia dramatizes (A)
Scene ii is the second longest in the play. Traditionally the "mousetrap" and exposure of Claudius has been considered the climax, but not all critics agree including Bowers. (23). By the time the scene ends, A and B have reversed. The opening of scene ii, Hamlet's advice to the players, is conventional Renaissance aesthetics:
...suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special
observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature; for any thing so
overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now,
was and is, to hold, as t' were, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her
own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his
form and pressure.
The advice mirrors what Hamlet hopes will be Claudius' reaction: to force him to confront the enormity of his evil through the disgrace of public disclosure, thereby vindicating the ghost. What makes all this effective is Hamlet's self-assurance and sense of purpose. (A) Prior to the performance, he unburdens his troubled heart to Horatio. Although capable of much cruelty as the battering of Ophelia demonstrates, here the magnanimity implicit in her evaluation transcends:
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal'd thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks: and bless'd are those
Whose blood and judgement are so well commingled
That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.
Now, Shakespeare allows Hamlet to speak clearly about himself, and his words echo Ophelia's evaluation. The analysis of A in decline reflects the degree to which events have taken Hamlet away from what he really once was and what he believes; that a synthesis between blood and judgment is a necessary condition for stability; a stability that empowers him to accept whatever the "whore" fortune may bring. Horatio is thus admired for such insights. The passage foreshadows what Hamlet must re-achieve, and what the ghost is trying to prevent.
As Hamlet infers, Horatio provides the norm, the standard by which Hamlet wishes to evaluate his actions. Those in Shakespeare who are excessive rational (Angelo in Measure for Measure) or passionate (Lear) sooner or later suffer. Echoing Aristotle is Timon of Athens' Apemantus:
The middle of humanity thou never
knewest, but the extremity of both ends.
Since Timon is Shakespeare's allegorical summation of the prior tragedies' content, we may infer that those who follow the "mean"--as does Horatio--are exemplars to be imitated. That Hamlet recognizes Horatio's stability and opens his mind to him testifies to the closeness of his friendship. Shakespeare emphatically wishes to concretize the world Hamlet hopes to restore. That he may do so, despite the ghost's commands, is the play's most fundamental irony.
When Claudius appears, Hamlet again assumes the role of a caustic, embittered and taunting antagonist. The insulting puns again appear as he equates "chameleon's dish" and the "promised-crammed" words of Claudius; both "eat the air" amounting to nothing.
Hamlet's conversation with Ophelia recalls the "fishmonger" scene. Responding to his mother's request that he join her for the performance, he addresses Ophelia: "...here's metal more attractive." (III,ii,108). Partridge glosses "mettle" as "sexually vigorous or ardent," and the meaning of "...shall I lie in your / lap," and "...lie between maids' legs." is self-evident. The interlacing images recall the "fishmonger" scene, and the origin of his malaise, Gertrude:
...For look you how cheerfully my
mother looks and my father died within two hours.
Time is an important motif; we recall Hamlet curses time for being out of joint, and in this "mousetrap" it could not be more so. Hyperbole marks the poignancy. Prior to this exchange, Hamlet reacted to Polonius" role as Caesar, retorting with the pun that, "...it was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf..." (III,ii,104). "Calf" and bull have bawdy connotations, the latter meaning "a man regarded as a habitual copulator." (Partridge). Calf implies offspring which in the fishmonger scene means prostitute / pimp. Believing that his mother prostituted herself incestuously by marrying Claudius "two hours" later, he continues to infer that all women do the same with little regard for virtue; hence the speed of two hours for mourning before seeking another bed. Ophelia's rejection seems to validate the inference. His lust for her in the scene implies that just as Gertrude whores herself with Claudius, he too is no less capable of the same with his (self-defined) whore, Ophelia since normal grief and sexual behavior in the context of a loving marriage seem impossible.
The "dumb show" and play begin the reversal of A and B. Hamlet henceforth will intensify the tortuous process of self-integration, while Claudius never really recovers, despite the chapel scene.
Commentators examining the dumb show debate its efficacy. It reenacts the murder of King Hamlet and is seen prior to the play itself, why does not Claudius immediately react? In the Variorum, three hypotheses are offered. One suggests a flaw in the play's structure, another states that Shakespeare follows dramatic conventions of the day, and the third stipulates that perhaps the queen and king, engaged in personal intimacies, missed the show's intent . (24). Others have speculated differently; Wilson argues that as the spoke play is only a fragment, the spectators needed a "précis" so as not to miss the significance of the entrapment, but acknowledging the insufficiency of the hypothesis in terms of prematurely alarming Claudius, Wilson adds that Claudius was not watching the show or remained unmoved. Further he theorizes that Hamlet had not planned the dumb show and thus angrily mutters to Ophelia:
We shall know by this fellow. The players cannot
keep counsel: they'll tell all.
Therefore, Hamlet is quite relieved when Claudius does not respond; he had to have been looking elsewhere. (25). The Arden edition devotes our four pages of commentary to the problem, but concludes that how Claudius reacts to the dumb show"...is a question the play not only does not answer but is careful not to ask...it counts on the spectator in the theater not ask the question either." (26). "In the theater" is important. Art mirrors life Hamlet tells us; it is not real life, but is that response sufficient?
The weakness in Wilson's theory derives from his note that the show apparently escapes the king's notice, perhaps when talking to Polonius: "Polonius (aside to the King) O ho! do you mark that?" (III,ii,109). However, that stage direction is not in Q2 or F1. Probably the most startling answer appeared in MLR in 1917. Entitled "Hamlet's Hallucination," by Walter Greg, the article suggests that Claudius failed to react because,
...he actually fails to recognize the representation of his own
crime. This....is impossible. The manner which the poison
is administered makes even the shadow of a doubt absurd.
There is but one rational conclusion: Claudius did not murder
his brother by pouring poison into his ears. (27)
Greg then advances his theory that although Hamlet did see something appear, he hallucinated the conversations. Greg's theory is intriguing, but most critics do not accept it, and the controversy is thus unresolved. Why did Shakespeare have a dumb show? There seems to be no textual evidence suggesting that Claudius is distracted by Polonius or anyone else. We must presume he witnessed the entire show. If so, his alternative would then be to stop immediately the performance and exit, or do absolutely nothing and continue to watch, which a hardened criminal might well do, steeled against exposure. He does not order the performance terminated.
If Hamlet intends to "catch the conscience of the king," with the play, can it make any difference when this occurs? If Claudius had reacted to the dumb show and left early, Hamlet's reaction would have been the same. What then? Perhaps the Prince plans a performance with a double intent: to ensnare Claudius and awaken Gertrude. To involve Gertrude violates the ghost's command, but part of Hamlet's dialectical testing mandates that he do just that; thereby rendering the scene a turning point if his opinion of ghostly veracity were resolved.
Particulars follow: Hamlet's first soliloquy before the ghost appears, provides important initial clues. The king is described as,
...so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly.
...hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on...
...within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married--most wicked speed!
Later the ghost provides details of the crime: it calls Claudius "incestuous" and "adulterate," it reveals that he uses "witchcraft of his wit" to seduce Gertrude, and it refers to Gertrude as a "radiant angel" who nonetheless uses the "celestial bed" to "prey on garbage." (I,v,42-57). It concludes by swearing Hamlet to secrecy. Now when the players arrive, Hamlet, still under that injunction, must decide what to do: he has reason that the play might entrap Claudius and Gertrude; the latter's actions so intensely occupy his thoughts that when he refers to Hecuba, he thinks of his mother and is disgusted. When mourning his father's loss, he notes that a "damn'd defeat" was made on the king's "...property and most dear life..." (II,ii,565-66). The Variorum suggests that property means everything, including Gertrude (28). Although the Arden edition disputes the interpretation, (29) the fact that the context also involves Hecuba to whom Hamlet compares his family warrants the Variorum interpretation. Hamlet cannot banish Gertrude. Torn between the ghost's command to remember and revenge (30) and his love for Gertrude whom he sees has defiled, he cannot reach a synthesis:
THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE GHOST WANTS,
AND SO DEFINES THE TACTICS IT USES TO
ENTRAP HAMLET'S SOUL.
When the show is staged, Hamlet's "The players cannot / keep counsel: they'll tell all." (III,ii,137-138) is more a product of nervous tension regarding Gertrude than any fear that Claudius will disrupt the show. If that hypothesis be recognized, then the explanation is that if Claudius were to leave immediately, he would have to devise other means to warn Gertrude. It seems hard to imagine, given the treatment of Ophelia, that Hamlet would not want to cause his mother an anxious moment; he certainly does in the bedroom scene. His first soliloquy contains enough references to her whoring herself physically and morally. Even before the performance he rejects Gertrude's invitation and bawdily insults Ophelia.
Given his detailed instructions to the players, I believe that Hamlet knew and wanted the dumb show enacted (How could he not being a student of the theater?) Hamlet's pre-performance conversations with Ophelia indicates that both discovering Claudius' guilt and sexual fidelity were on his mind. Since Hamlet could not know when Claudius reacted to the show, he at least wanted to be certain that his mother heard a chronicle of her sins. Which was more important to him?
So Hamlet hoped that the infidelity would not be lost on Gertrude. He cleverly uses of the dumb show to subvert the ghost's command that Gertrude be left to heaven, for technically intermediaries are use. Hamlet will have to decide how to evaluate both Claudius' and Gertrude's reaction to the show.
Additionally, the number of parallel references between dumb show and the first soliloquy and what Hamlet hears form the ghost substantiates the connection:
S.D.: Enter a King and Queen very lovingly (F) and
...so loving to my mother
That he might not between the winds
Visit her face too roughly.
S.D.: She kneels and makes show of presentation unto him. and
2a--Soliloquy / ghost:
[Gertrude would]...hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on....
The Poisoner woos the Queen with gifts. She seems harsh awhile, but in the end accepts his love.
3a--Soliloquy / ghost:
Ghost reveals Claudius used the "witchcraft of his wit" to seduce Gertrude...
Within a month
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes
She married--O most wicked speed!
The most significant evidence, however, is : "The Queen returns, finds the King dead, makes passionate action." (S.D.). Hamlet uses the theater to test and to convey his profoundest agonies.
This reading of the dumb show offers textual evidence for its moral, dramatic, psychological importance. There is no flaw in the play's structure; the actions of the players indeed hold a mirror to nature; in this case a nature that must be tested and examined carefully since an evil ghost wants Hamlet's soul.
A and B reverse when Claudius interrupts, but the climax is dramatic; not ironic. (31). Dramatically, the performance stages the player-Queen's affections for her husband who, facing death, suggests she marry again. She protests:
Such love must needs be treason in my breast.
In second husband let me be accurst
None wed the second but who kill'd the first.
If considered superficially, then Hamlet may have suspected that Gertrude either participated in, or was an accessory to the murder, a charge of course she vehemently denies in Q1:
...I sware by heaven
I never knew of this most horrid murder.
It is probably correct to remove the lines. First, they are misplaced; it seems likely that Gertrude would have mentioned her innocence earlier when privately conversing with Claudius: (II,ii,56-58), but she only refers to how Hamlet feels about his father's death and her marriage. Secondly, Shakespeare prefers ambiguity to such an overt admission.
The player kings wants that passions have a way of changing the most ardently declared convictions, but the Queen remains faithful. When the player kings sleeps, attention focuses on Hamlet, Claudius, and Gertrude. To Hamlet's query, Gertrude replies, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." (III,ii,225), suggesting that presently, she is not willing to admit anything more substantial. Claudius, however, speaks of "offense" indicating that, despite the interrogative, his suspicions are aroused. Obviously Hamlet is not to be trusted, and perhaps his, "Have you heard the argument?" (l.227). suggests he suspects Hamlet has tampered with the script.
During the interval from Lucianus' entrance to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's, A and B dramatically reverse. The king's culpability virtually becomes public record, and Hamlet's suspicions appear confirmed. He "knows" that ghost spoke truly, but we are reminded again that the devil can "speak true." More testing must be done.
There are several reasons to believe Lucianus' lines are Hamlet's insert. They occur after he mentions "mousetrap" to Claudius, and as his anticipation rises, he provides more and more commentary. (32.) Ophelia thinks he is "...as good as a chorus..." (l.240), reflecting again knowledge of Medieval / Renaissance conventions, and Hamlet replies with a bawdy response. The Prince's intense excitement reaches white heat, which accounts for the bawdy language:
I could interpret between you and your love if I
Could see the puppets dallying.
The O.E.D. glosses "puppet" as a derogatory term for women, and "dallying" means "leisurely love play." (Onions). By implication, Ophelia's virtue is once more mocked, as any prostitutes would be. Hamlet thus tells her, "It would cost you a groaning to take the edge off." (III,ii,244). Does the bawdy imagery suggest the ghost's corruptive influence.
Turning his attention to Lucianus, Hamlet comments,
derer. Leave thy damnable faces and begin. Come,
the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.
As the "croaking raven" foreshadows the slaughter of Macbeth, so now Hamlet hopes a murderer will be exposed. F and Q1 insert "Pox" before "leave". Meaning venereal disease, its inclusion reinforces sexual and time imagery, used in Hamlet to express moral outrage and impatience. Lucianus speaks the fatal lines:
Luc. Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing;
Confederate season, else no creature seeing;
Thou mixture rank of midnight weeds collected,
With Hecate's ban thrice blasted, thrice infected,
Thy natural magic and dire property,
On wholesome life usurp immediately.
[Pours the poison in the sleeper's ears.]
A Macbeth-like tone of intense evil and supernaturally charged corruption emerges. When exposed, change must occur as the macrocosm recoils in disgust, troubled as in Macbeth, by man's act. So Claudius departs, and the performance abruptly terminates. That Hamlet composed the lines is evidenced when they are compared to his earlier thoughts:, "Foul deeds will rise / Thou all the earth o'erwhelms them, to men's eyes. (I,ii,257-258) and
That grows to see; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely,
Merely means completely. In a universe grown to seed, the garden imagery suggest the choking of good by the foul deeds of men, prompted by the ghost. Henceforth the dramatics of Hamlet reverse: A declines, and B ascends. Pro tem, Hamlet believes the ghost honest and contemplates no further delay, while the publicly exposed Claudius means to silence his accuser.
The remainder of III,ii dramatizes a series of aftershocks coming from the explosive play scene. The tension dissipates somewhat, though, when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern report the king's anger and Gertrude's summons. When they beg for a "wholesome answer," Hamlet replies, "My wit's diseased," (I,iii,313). Indeed it may well be, but since he now believes the ghost honest, the cause lies elsewhere: anticipation of the interview with Gertrude. Does he realize the connection? If not, he "lacks advancement" in the dialectical sense, and the ghost has done its work well insofar as he must save his mother after being ordered not to. Bradley's diagram will require modification if Hamlet can circumvent that command, so if salvation of Gertrude is his resolve, then ironically A paradoxically rises after Act III.
The music imagery Hamlet uses,
Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would
play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart
of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my
compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet
cannot you make it speak. 'Sblood! do you think I am easier to be played
on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me,
you cannot play upon me.
suggests he is well aware of how Claudius intends to discover his intentions; he cannot be fooled by such trivial queries, but philosophically, the motif finds its base in the famous "order and degree" speech of Ulysses: in Troilus and Cressida:
The specialty of rule hath been neglected:
And, look, how many Grecian tents do stand
Hollow upon this plain, so many hollow factions.
When that the general is not like the hive
To whom the foragers shall all repair,
What honey is expected! Degree being vizarded,
The unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask.
The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order:
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthroned and sphered
Amidst the other; whose med'cinable eye
Correct the ill aspects of planets evil,
And post, like the commandment of a king,
Sans check to good and bad: but when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues, and what portents, what mutiny,
What raging of the sea, shaking of earth,
Commotion in the winds, frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixure! O! when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
The enterprise is sick. How could communities,
Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place!
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark! what discord follows; each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
And make a sop of all this solid globe:
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead:
Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides,
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself. Great Agamemnon,
This chaos, when degree is suffocate,
Follows the choking.
And this neglection of degree it is
That by a pace goes backward, in a purpose
It hath to climb.
All instances characterizing macrocosmic / microcosmic disturbances in the passage: evil mixture, plagues, etc. occur in Hamlet as a result of the ghost's malign influence. Certainly the universe is devouring itself; the string is untuned. Hamlet sees his mission as one of restoring "the unity and married calm of states", but the ghost prefers the suffocation of degree. Will the interview with his mother provide the restoration of harmony? No wonder the ghost appears.
When Polonius appears, Hamlet and he exchange a few remarks about clouds shaped like camels, weasels and whales. Behind the imaginative repartee is purpose: came; connotes a huge, awkward and hulking fellow, weasel a ferocious and bloodthirsty individual, and whale one who is promiscuous. (33) Camel to Hamlet may suggest either Polonius' cumbersome presence or more ominously his association with Claudius and Ophelia. Whale, though, is more interesting. In All's Well, the cowardly Parolles in captivity slanders his 'friend' Bertram to save himself. When terming him a "whale to virginity," Parolles implies the count to be a womanizing seducer of virgins. The connotation his present relevance as Hamlet believes Polonius a pimp in the 'fishmonger' scene, Ophelia a whore, and Gertrude morally degenerate, but these we recall are male value judgment, a point ostensibly not lost on Branagh whose production found Polonius warning his son to avoid prostitutes while seeing one himself.
We may ask what mental qualities Hamlet evidences in these scenes. Earlier, Hamlet speaks of man as being "...in apprehension how like a god," and Ophelia refers to his "noble mind". Apprehension (Onions) means "mental perception," one of the qualities of the rational soul (Burton). Although recent events have embittered its contents, Hamlet is also blessed (?) with a sophisticated imagination, perhaps even risking insanity as Horatio warns. His interpretation of the "mousetrap' validates:
Now I could drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft, you now to my mother.
The alliteration and personification suggest the imaginative but diseased soul of a poet; the tone and imagery recall Macbeth. Hamlet's 'bitter business' with Claudius fades to softness in terms of physical violence; but the verbal assault will be devastating: he will "speak daggers to her, but use none." Shakespeare accomplishes the transition by suggesting an explosive resolve mellowing to a privately felt need or obsession. Thus the scene ends with Hamlet appearing to have the resolve to fulfill his self-appointed destiny, in direct contravention of the ghost's command. He may do so (A) in ascent) but not in the manner he thinks.
Scene iii finds Claudius apparently on the offensive, plotting Hamlet's death. The king's actions have the potential to destroy him and those he loves. When speaking of majesty as "...a massy wheel / Fix'd on the summit..." (III,iii,17-18), he utters a Renaissance commonplace reminiscent of fortune's description in Timon, and the Priam references of the players.
What follows has been the subject of much controversy. Hamlet chooses to spare Claudius 'at prayer' knowing that revenge is ineffective if damnation does not follow. The action appears barbarous, but we should be cautious in evaluations which mitigate cultural contexts. Wilson takes Hamlet's words literally, arguing that "...the very strength and genuineness of Hamlet's expression of hatred...make the excuse palatable at the moment." (34). Bradley suggests that Hamlet had "...no effective desire..." to kill the king because he felt loathe to harm a defenseless man..." (35) Levin sees "...the common stumbling block [as] the code of revenge, the cult of blood, the incongruity to a civilized man carrying out so barbaric an imperative..." (36). As a dramatic critic, Granville-Barker believes that the moment, inappropriately called the prayer scene, is the turning point of the play...
...upon what happens now--or, rather, does not happen --the
rest of the play depends; from this moment the tragedy and
is holocaust are precipitated...the whole point is that
though Claudius strives to pray he cannot, that Hamlet
spares his because he thinks he is prayer, while if he
knew what was in his mind, he would presumably dispatch him
then and there, and all, but for Gertrude's grief and the
scandal, would be well over. (37)
Why does Wilson say 'at the moment'? Does Hamlet's view of Claudius change? Is Bradley's view too influenced by the Coleridge tradition? Why does Levin say 'civilized'? Certainly Hamlet wishes to see the crime revenged, but what plagues him is Gertrude: has Hamlet stepped into the ghost's trap to damn his soul. How ironic given what Claudius is ostensibly doing. He utters, "My mother stays. / This physic but prolongs they sickly days." (III,ii,95-96). Paraphrased Hamlet argues that despite the ghost's command, attention must be given to Gertrude, for whom there is still a chance for salvation--hers and his own? How aware is Hamlet of the risk the ghost poses to his soul? We remember earlier that in passion he warns Horatio that as the soul is immortal, no harm would occur. Could the Hamlet of Bloom's assessment, the student of Wittenburg university (!!) be unaware of the ghost's threat? We do have, therefore, a turning point, but one in which Hamlet decides to concentrate his energies on Gertrude. What first principles must be treated as assumptions?
Hamlet says, "Now I might do it pat..." (III,iii,73), and perhaps 'might' is the most important word Hamlet speaks in the play. Does might imply a dialectical inquiry not yet completed? Is he about to recognize the enormity of the ghost's threat? Has his mother's salvation replaced revenge? What happens should be interpreted in this context. Irony abounds.
Scene iv overwhelms with intensity. In rapid succession, Hamlet confronts his mother, kills Polonius and faces the ghost. Is this the contemplative introvert? Polonius' murder is another turning point, or at least an indirect and unforeseen consequence of the earlier one. Bowers sees Hamlet's response,
I do repent; but heaven has pleas'd it so,
To punish me with this and this with me
That I must be their scourge and minister.
as recognition of dual consequences, salvation and damnation (38). Has the ghost succeeded? Is Hamlet damned? We recall that Hamlet thinks it is Claudius, and has spoken of being prompted to his revenge by "heaven and hell." Hamlet knows he has committed murder and accepts the consequences. To understand them, the larger issue of Gertrude's salvation must be considered. Why do her actions so disgust Hamlet beyond the obvious? Males in the play certainly seem interested in her: her conduct enrages the ghost, Claudius loves (lusts?) after her, and Hamlet of course wants her saved. She seems, as with Helen of Troy, not to judge her own moral conduct favorably.
When she recoils from the "...rash and bloody deed...," Hamlet retorts,
A bloody deed. Almost as bad, good mother
As kill a king and marry with his brother.
Is there any justification for the inference that Gertrude knew of the murder, either before or after the fact? As noted, Q1 contains a specific denial, and her reply now confirms that:
As kill a king...
What have i done, that thou dar'st wag they tongue
In noise so rude against me?
Hamlet persists, finally causing Gertrude to admit guilt, but for what; the murder or the marriage to someone her inferior and in contravention of church law? In conversation with Claudius, she attributes her son's distemper to the king's death and "our o'hasty marriage." When Polonius tells Claudius that,
...with devotion's visage
And pious action we do sugar o'er
The devil himself,
the king's aside compares a harlot's cosmetics to his deed; it is his "...heavy burden." (III,i,54). Later 'at prayer,' Claudius continues to speak exclusively of his own guilt. Surely in such private moments, Claudius would have shared the guilt if Gertrude had been involved just as he invoked the sanction of the court when justifying the hasty marriage.
As the interview continues, Hamlet's passions, ignited by his sense of mission, ruthlessly drives Gertrude to examine her conscience:
O Hamlet speak no more
Thou turn'st my eyes into my very soul
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct...
These words like daggers enter in my ears.
Her simile recalls Hamlet's vows, but the entry of the ghost prevents continuance--why now? Gertrude of course thinks her son mad, as he listens to what she cannot hear: "This visitation / Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose," and regarding Gertrude, "O step between her and her fighting soul, / Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works. / Speak to her, Hamlet." (III,iv,11-115).
Critical opinion of course varies. Wilson argues, for example, compassion for Gertrude whom Hamlet has emotionally devastated (39). G. Wilson Knight suggests,
This apparition my most easily be interpreted in
terms of conscience. Something in Hamlet warns him
he ought not to have spared the king, ought not to
have so cruelly wrung his mother's heart. This
'conscience' aptly comes as his father's ghost...
Thereafter, Hamlet is kinder to his mother. (40)
Now, the violent poignancy of Hamlet's passion to redeem Gertrude subordinates all else according to Bradley,
His chief desire is not by any means to insure his mother's
silent acquiescence in his design of revenge; it is to
save her soul. And while the rough work of revenge is
repugnant to him, he is at home in this higher work...No
father confessor could be more selflessly set upon his end of
redeeming a fellow creature from degradation...There is
something infinitely beautiful in that sudden sunshine of faith
and love. (41)
Now of course Bradley' s criticism is heir to Coleridge, so we run the risk of a romanticized, sensitive youth too unprepared for the "slings and arrows" of fortune, who wonders if he should "take up arms against a sea of trouble" or silently suffer. Prosser notes in conjunction with this soliloquy:
Is it truly nobler, Hamlet asks, to endure evil passively.
as all the voices of Church and State and society have
insisted, or does the true nobility of that which is man
demand that he actively fight and conquer the evils that
beset him? Can it really be virtue to sit back and leave
it to heaven? On one level, we are debating the morality
of private revenge, but on the other we are thrown headlong into
that metaphysical dilemma of the Renaissance...In what
does man find being?...the decision to surrender the will
to God--for example, to obey the command against private
revenge would not be ignoble retreat but the noblest
act of which the free will is capable. It is this view that
Hamlet challenges....On the one hand, the voice of
conscience tells him that it is nobler to endure than to
act; on the other , the voice of instinct raises an unsettling
question...Hamlet is trapped between two worlds. The moral
code from which he cannot escape is basically medieval, but
his instincts are with the Renaissance. Shocked from
his unthinking acceptance of the commandments of Church
and State, he is forced to find a new orientation. Can God have
created man a thinking creature and yet have ordered him not
to use the very faculty that raises him above the animals?
What is it, to be? (42)
I disagree with an overly romanticized interpretation in favor of Prosser's. Her view of the ghost's influence on Hamlet is consistent with my own as will be noted late. For the moment, Hamlet as has been argued is quite capable of existing in the "real" world if he can successfully employ the dialectic to rid it of the ghost's moral cancer. (43). Bradley's use of "sudden" poses another problem--Hamlet has never stopped loving Gertrude, but nonetheless his remarks explain why the ghost appears.
Because Hamlet's priority is not at the moment revenge, the ghost demands an account using guilt: "Do you not come your tardy son to chide..." as the means. Is this not what an evil ghost would do? Must not ghost bring Hamlet back to revenge, a revenge that would insure his damnation as Horatio well knows. In other words, the ghost must redirect Hamlet's passion for living. He says as much when responding to Gertrude's, "Hamlet, thou has cleft my heart in twain..." Hamlet replies,
O throw away the worser part of it
And live the purer with the other half."
It is axiomatic in Shakespeare that goodness often generates its opposite, so Prosser notes that Lady Macbeth for example uses the ideal of love and loyalty to tempt Macbeth to murder in much the same manner as the ghost equivocates regarding Hamlet's love for his father as a catalyst for precipitating an immoral act. (44) Parenthetically, it is worthwhile to recall how the circumstances of the ghost's initial visit elicit an opposite response: "I do not set my life at a pin's fee...," (I,iv,65). cries Hamlet. If Hamlet operates dialectically by testing assumptions, then here at this critical turning point, he does exactly that by discarding the spiritual death that the ghost brings, opting for Gertrude and life, which is precisely why the ghost told him to leave her to heaven. All well and good perhaps, but we must recall Iago's,
When devils do the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows
As I do now. For whiles this honest fool [Cassio]
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune,
And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor
I'll pour this pestilence into his ear;
That she repeals him for her body's lust
And by how much she strives to do him good,
She shall undo her credit with the Moor.
So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall emesh them all...
Such is the methodology of the ghost. Beyond the obvious poison...ear... lust parallels, we find immense tactical sophistication--virtue will become its opposite, and Hamlet's goodness will thus damn him, or so the spirit hopes. Does his happen? In the very moment of loving, he kills and must atone for murder; hence he is both "scourge and minister." Thee Queen's assurances appear to vindicate Hamlet's effort, but his knowledge of the impending trip to England perhaps reminds him that the interview is but an interlude of hope in a web of despair. Is Hamlet able to appreciate the irony; does he fully know what the ghost wants?
With the interview, the third act ends. The conflicts outline determine the direction of the final acts. Henceforth repercussions follow, and the impression Shakespeare intends is the conclusion mirror the private and public confrontations of Act III. We have seen that the younger generation initiates and with the passioned eagerness of youth, confronts the older generation with the enormity of its crimes, but not without the irony that confronts Hamlet when he murders. Claudius' evil becomes public just as Iago is finally exposed, and Gertrude must probe her darkened soul. With each, Hamlet initiates; he acts with the implicit assumption that the family life he once knew be restored, even at the price of inflicting pain. His great rage, culminating in the murder of Polonius, prevents this, but the irony lies in the ghost is orchestrations.
In Shakespearean tragedy, the macrocosm recoils, expelling evil and much good in the process believes Bradley. Hamlet's confrontations unleash forces that ultimately destroy what he hates and loves. Has the ghost won? Acts IV and V are that recoiling. Shakespeare dramatizes the effects of the previous moments on Gertrude, Ophelia, Laertes, Claudius and of course Hamlet himself. New machinations emerge as the older generation plans a counteroffensive. Hamlet world appears to decline; Claudius' appears to rise.
In the short first scene of IV, Gertrude as promised evades Claudius' questions, suggesting Hamlet is "Mad as the se and wind..." (IV,i,7). The Prince's deportation is ordered. The scene is B, but ironically Hamlet will not be forestalled so easily.
I have noted that Hamlet's punning is an outlet for his gothic-like romantic and cynical moments of despair. In scene ii, he calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sponges that "...soak up the kings' contenance, his / rewards, his authorities." In the third scene, he wittily and grimly responds to Claudius' inquiry about Polonius:
King: Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?
Hamlet: At supper.
King: At supper! Where!
Hamlet: Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of
politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat
all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king
and your lean beggar is but variable service; two dishes, but to one table:
that's the end.
King: Alas, alas!
Hamlet. A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the
fish that hath fed of that worm.
Irony grips the A / B dialectic, Hamlet 'declines' after III, as his physical death approaches, but rises in a sense to be stipulated when ghostly malevolence is substantiated beyond the assumptions offered this far.
The Prince's verbally caustic wit, with its references to 'maggots' and 'fish' recalls the language used by the ghost as it commands Hamlet to revenge, and the bawdy / prostitution imagery of the fishmonger scene with Polonius, but the parameters expand in two ways: Polonius obviously is really dead, and Hamlet killed him; there will indeed be consequences, and secondly Claudius is as good as dead morally. The question becomes, is Hamlet? The morbid tone implies all men; kings, advisors, beggars etc. are "two dishes, but to one table." (IV,iii,24). Part of the irony is whether Hamlet advances in the wrong moral direction as deliberately intended by the ghost, and certainly Claudius perceives the threat, but fears (like Macbeth) his public image:
How dangerous is it that this man goes loose!
Yet must not we put the strong law on him:
He's loved of the distracted multitude.
The grotesque mocking of Polonius in this scene affords a glimpse into Hamlet's diseased imagination; we remember that he could be "king of infinite space" even in a nutshell if he did not have bad dreams. Polonius becomes a supper guest, but "Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. (III,ii,109). Maggots recalls that Ophelia must walk in the sun lest she conceive a bastard. The parallel imagery implies that Claudius has also bred corruption, for "Something is rotten in Denmark." (II,iii,10). Is that something personified by the ghost?
Hamlet's reply to the King' sending him to England deserves explication,
King: Ay, Hamlet.
King: So is it, if thou knew'st our purposes.
Hamlet. I see a cherub that sees them. But, come: for England! Farewell, dear mother.
King. Thy loving father, Hamlet.
Hamlet. My mother: father and mother is man and wife, man and wife is one flesh, and so, my mother. Come, for England!
The 'cherub' image marks the continuation of an awareness theoretically realized at Polonius' death, a belief in the Providential universe transcending what the ghost desires: if evil comes from good; will evil just as paradoxically generate its opposite? Called a "beauteous and sudden intimation of heavenly insight and interference," (45), the lines are evidence that coexisting with the malignancy of the ghost is a theocentric order, providentially directed. Does Hamlet believe this when he argues that a Divinity shapes our ends?
Naturally Hamlet's parting words recall the marriage vows bastardized by Claudius and his mother. The use of 'flesh' occasions in Hamlet's mind the disease imagery of the 'sullied flesh' soliloquy, the 'fishmonger' scene, the interview with Gertrude, and of course the language of the ghost, prefaced by the play's theme passage which awaits analysis in the next chapter. Yet, his "Farewell, dear mother..." must carry a tone of infinite sadness, not paradoxically, without the hope that he may have accomplished some good. Is part of that a realization that the spirit is evil?
In scene iv, destiny again taints Hamlet's fortune, refusing to allow him to escape his burden from the spirit world. The soliloquy giving expression to the angst, "How all occasions do inform against me..."(IV,iv,32 ff), appears to sustain A in decline in that Hamlet once again chastises his apparent lack of resolve, vowing henceforth his "...thoughts be bloody or nothing worth." Interestingly, both Q1 and F1 omit the soliloquy; its source is Q2. The Variorum suggests two reasons for the omission: the soliloquy contributes nothing to the play's dramatic action in an already very long work, and secondly, it is illogically placed, coming when Hamlet's leaving makes revenge impossible. (46).
Does the soliloquy sustain ghostly malevolence? Insofar as it contains Hamlet's last thoughts before leaving, we may ask what the play would lack if the omission were sustained. Commentators might note the parallel between it and "O what a rouge and peasant slave am I!" (II,ii,544 ff.). That one immediately follows and is Hamlet's reaction to Priam's story. This one immediately follows and is a reaction to Fortinbras' troops and the Claudius / Gertrude scenes. As such it presents a self-evaluation and course of action nullified by the departure. The self-evaluation, more obvious, is discussed below, but the course of action requires identification keeping the ghost's influence in mind:
Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor's at the stake.
The referent appears to be revenge which Hamlet apparently recognizes as a moral imperative, an honorable action, and perhaps occasioned by the awareness that I have discussed subsequent to Polonius' death, and proximately here by the honorable actions of the troops. When honor is the question, however, action is mandated. Thus, the soliloquy cognitively dramatizes how Hamlet will theoretically behave when he returns. What does the ghost want him to do? Without the closing soliloquy, we are denied an important foreshadowing element.
His bloody thoughts have two referents: "...a father killed, a mother stain'd." Dialectically, there exists tension and while bloody seems to suggest preoccupation with Claudius which is what an evil ghost wants, my interpretation of previous scenes suggests that he hopes to rid the kingdom of its fouled ruler to give Gertrude the moral climate needed to excise the "vicious mole." Such would constitute public revenge, The ghost has set quite a clever trap, reminding us again of Banquo's warnings in Macbeth.
Act IV, scene iv therefore ends triumphantly for Hamlet unless we believe his renaissance has come too late--in other words, has the ghost been successful? One clear advantage to reading the conflicts tormenting Hamlet as aggravated by a malevolent ghost is the resolution of such questions.
As scene v unfolds, we observe a shocking consequence of previous acts: the insanity of Ophelia. In the relatively long scene, Hamlet does not appear, and several events concerning Claudius occur which prevent the audience's attention from lapsing. The King's essential cowardice is dramatized and contrasts with Laertes' moral, if reckless courage.
The Queen whose conscience Hamlet touched sets the tone and regrettably Hamlet is absent:
To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is
Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss.
So full of artless jealousy is guilt,
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.
Her moral regeneration might have taken, but the effect is shattered by the tragedy of Ophelia. Her song exemplifies why Hamlet probably does love her. Both can have delicate sensibilities marred by Hamlet's perversion of their relationship and Polonius' death. In normal times, Ophelia allowed her destiny to be guided by her father and brother, which itself is an aberration as the feminist critics previously cited have noted, but with the former's death and Hamlet's estrangement, her self-reliance quickly dissipates as a snowflake awaiting the sun's rays. She sings:
Young men will do't if they come to't
By cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, 'Before you tumbled me,
You promis'd me to wed.!
'So would I a done, by yonder sun,
and thou hadst not come to my bed.'
The innuendoes are clear. Ophelia recalls that perhaps Hamlet had offered marriage for sex, but spurned her very compliance as unchaste. To Hamlet, women all too easily surrender their virtue, and Ophelia failed as Gertrude. Her bawdy language is consistent with the sexual infidelity motif observed above, and reflects as well the results of a male dominated culture. Further, her condition mirrors Hamlet's torment as well as being a personal indication of devotion. In fact, the Variorum stipulates that the very immodesty of the language confirms she is not conscious of what she is saying and is mentally deranged, (47). We must pity Ophelia for the same reason we pity Cordelia: both are innocent, and both suffer the pains inflicted by a culture that elevates mysognistic conduct to an art. (48) The scene dramatically implies A, Hamlet in descent, since he is thus largely responsible for her condition.
Claudius' reaction exemplifies self-pity, hypocrisy and craven fear. Cataloging the evils he perpetuated, he mitigates guilt by appealing to Gertrude's sympathy through a personification of 'battalions' of sorrows. Ironically though, the king foreshadows his own death...
O my dear Gertrude, this,
Likes to a murd'ring-piece, in many places
Gives me superfluous death.
But "Cowards die may times before their deaths," and Laertes' arrival so frightens Claudius that he summons the guard. Even cowards though may master the moment, and Claudius, displaying the political acumen of Act I, calms and begins to manipulate his outraged guest, but is temporarily interrupted by Ophelia's mourning...
Nature is fine in love, and where 'tis fine
It sends some precious instance of itself
After the thing it loves.
Claudius presses his advantage, offering to abide by any decisions Laertes reaches concerning a royal conspiracy. Obviously the king intends to convince him that Hamlet bears responsibility, and the scene ends with Laertes convinced, but the irony of his final words, "And where th'offence is, let the great axe fall." (IV,v,215), proves the scene to be B.
The next scene, in Q1, finds Horatio and Gertrude conversing. Modifying the F1 dialogue in which Horatio reads Hamlet's letter, it stresses Gertrude's love for her son, and her recognition of Claudius' villainy:
O faile not, good Horatio, and withall, com-
A mothers care to him, bid him a while (mend me
Be wary of his prefence, left that he
Faile in that he goes about.
Although unreliable, Q1 offers a glimpse of Gertrude regenerated, thereby validating Hamlet's role as minister. Does the Q-F discrepancy suggest that Shakespeare intended the ghost's mission to succeed? In the Folio, the exact content of Hamlet's letter evidences his ability to act and overcome danger. Equally significant is the tone. Hamlet's behavior prior to the bedroom scene is largely self-depreciating as the soliloquies confirm. The letter, however, suggest his willingness and determination to return to England despite the risk to execute his mission as avenger. Has the dialectic failed? Has the ghost won?
Except by letter, the last scene does not feature Hamlet. Dramatically, two consequences of Acts III and IV occur. Claudius and Laertes clandestinely plot Hamlet's death, and Ophelia drowns. As Laertes demands to know why Hamlet has not been punished and Claudius attempts to mollify with assurances of justice, letters arrive from Hamlet:
High and mighty, you shall know I am set naked on
your kingdom. Tomorrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly
eyes, when I shall, first asking your pardon, thereunto recount
the occasion of my sudden and more strange return.
Quickly, the king assures Laertes that following Hamlet's death,
...no wind of blame shall breathe
But even his mother shall uncharge the practice
And call it accident.
We recall again Iago's, "When devils do the blackest sins put on, / They do suggest at first with heavenly shows..." For all his moral repulsiveness, Claudius like Iago knows human nature excellently well as he adroitly appeals to Laertes' vanity, while obliquely implying his grief might be insubstantial...
But to the quick of th'ulcer:
Hamlet comes back: what would you undertake
To show yourself in deed your father's son
More than in words?"
Enraged, Laertes vows that even the sanctity of a church would not deter him. Claudius is satisfied: "Revenge should have no bounds," and the two contrive the fencing match. Laertes' participation may be understandable; does it reveal the ghost's malevolent influence on him? Does he thus choose a wicked course of action, made all the more damning when Ophelia's warning is recalled:
But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.
Even restrained by males unrelenting in their assaults on her emotional and intellectual independence, she is capable for the moment of incisive commentary--perhaps that is why the insecure / corrupt males in her family feel compelled to restrain her.
The nature of Laertes' tragedy is not uncommon in this play, and in fact it mirrors Hamlet's manipulation by the ghost, of which it is a concrete manipulation. Laertes allows Claudius to use his grief for wicked ends, and we know Hamlet believes that devils can abuse melancholic minds. Corrupt politicians, driven by insatiable cravings for security and power, constantly see themselves in jeopardy (Hitler's military cap was lined with steel plate to deflect assassins' bullets), and Claudius is no exception. Thus he plans to use the poison chalice in case the fencing match fails. (49)
Appropriately the Queen, whose spiritual death so tormented Hamlet, informs the court of Ophelia's death. Laertes weeps, and Claudius manipulates:
How much I had to do to calm his rage.
Now fear I this will give it start again.
The scene dramatizes moral nihilism. Dramatically, Act IV is counter-offensively significant. The effects of Act III are keenly and tragically felt as the older generation plots the removal of the younger. Hamlet must be removed, and Laertes must be the instrument. Fortune's wheel seems to turn inexorably toward annihilation--just what he ghost wants. Even Q1's depiction of Gertrude's regeneration does little to change the mood which is why scholars do not accept its authenticity; it mars the tone.
Representing the older generation is Claudius and by implication the ghost. Although they appear to advance by plotting Hamlet's ruin, irony may prevent fulfillment. Claudius cares for little but his own survival, and the ghost's efforts await full analysis.
Although not present in every scene, Hamlet's spirit pervades. His presence--A descending--demonstrates Shakespeare's premise that the pursuit of justice is not without its own self-destructive potential. Ophelia dies, as prelude ot Act V's carnage.
Hamlet's last moments pattern the precariousness of uneasy alliances. Death cannot be stayed and will have its hour. The fifth Act's two scenes bring the play to a violent and bloody conclusion. Appropriately the act opens in a graveyard with two clowns digging. The major tragedies often do employ some humor, but one would be hard put to identify it in this play. Polonius might occasion a simile or two, but he is no Falstaff. So we come to the graveyard, the playground of the ghost, with Hamlet, asking what Shakespeare intended?
Levin notes that the gravedigger is an "accomplished dialectician," (50), so what principals does he treat as assumptions? Granville-Barker elaborates, seeing the episode as metaphysically significant. (51). Recalling the players' scene, we may observe that, at least in Hamlet's mind, they presented an appearance as if it were a mirror to reality; the reality of the ghost's intentions, not unconventional thinking in the Renaissance; now the gravediggers present a reality as it were other than itself. Between these two elements stands Hamlet. His sensibilities admit a metaphysical predisposition as he journey s from the "mousetrap" (appearance) to the grave (reality)--guided by the ghost. If physical death and moral damnation are the final realities, we must grimly laugh to mask the horror as Walter Raleigh understood: "Thus march we, playing, to our latest rest; / Only we die in earnest--that's no jest." ("What is our Life?"). Hamlet following Polonius' death keenly feels the presence of Raleigh's "sharp spectator" sitting and marking "who doth act amiss," but of course the ghost has been doing the same; hence the dialectic--each side is testing the others' premises. The drama of the Prince's life is almost done, and the earnestness of death, recalled in the "To be..." passage, approaches. The grave diggers burlesque these feelings in quasi-scholastic language. Their subject is the manner of Ophelia's death, but they as gravediggers personify ultimate reality: "...A grave-- / maker. The houses he makes lasts till doomsday." (V,i,58-59)
As Hamlet and Laertes enter, the gravediggers sing, and Hamlet, observing skulls being carelessly tossed, reflects on the inevitably of death with a grim cynicism. The irony indicates his ignorance of their purpose. At the grave, he endures two ghastly shocks: the discovery of a skull taken to be Yorick's and Ophelia's funeral. Dramatically these parallel, in dialectic fashion, the twin shocks he has been enduring. Yorick's skull reminds him of the death of his father:
abhorred in my imagination it is. My gorge rises at
it. Here hung the lips that I have kissed I know not
And the skull further corrupts his imagination (as Horatio warned the ghost could do) causing and intense loathing and disgust. In his first soliloquy, he sees the world growing to seed, possessed by "...things rank and gross in nature" such as the skull and it what it represents from beyond the grave. It objectifies the angst he feels and appropriately references the macrocosm the ghost is forbidden to discuss-hell.
Hamlet's second shock horrifies more than the first. The Queen's,
I hoped thou should'st have been my Hamlet's wife;
I thought thy bride-bed to have deck'd, sweet maid,
And not have strew'd thy grave.
set the tone. Ophelia's death overwhelms the Prince with grief and anger:
What is he whose grief
Bears such an emphasis? whose phrase of sorrow
Conjures the wandering stars, and makes them stand
Like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I,
Hamlet the Dane.
Do not these lines recall the anguish Hamlet feels after the player's rehearsal, expressed then in the Hecuba soliloquy? Yet here a difference may be observed because death's coldness has touched him again, the imagination bursts in macrocosmic fury; the "wand'ring stars" must share the horror too. So now, the Prince plays the scene. Laertes with whom he grapples might well believe his antagonist has "something dangerous" within, and might not that be--what?
What role does the ghost play here? His feelings occasion an abject self-examination. If the ghost were to speak now, might not it echo Iago again:
My medicine work! Thus credulous fools are
It appears to work only too well. Hamlet cries...
Be buried quick with her, and so will I:
And, if thou prate of mountains, let them throw
Millions of acres on us, till our ground,
Singing his pate against the burning zone...
Gertrude attributes all this to madness, and Claudius warns Laertes that his hour has yet to come. Neither understands Hamlet's motives for the ranting hyperbole, but the Prince's, "The cat will mew, and dog will have its day," (V,i,287), implies a metaphysical resignation foreshadowing the "sparrow" image in the last scene. Animal imagery in both instances suggests that despite the ravings occasioned by Ophelia's death, Hamlet may know that which the ghost has tried to prevent. Man as he observed before is both a paragon and dust, and here in the graveyard, it is appropriate to recall that fundamental dialectical tension between A and B. Is the graveyard the place to test both assumptions? Rather than suggest madness as his end, we must think of it as a means to a profound realization, perhaps a synthesis, a synthesis denied, though, to Ophelia. The question then becomes to ask what happens to the mission of the ghost? Shakespeare uses a similar strategy to impale and then remove Lear from his "wheel of fire" and here Hamlet, more than anyone present, approaches his separation.
The play's last scene thus finds the Prince more aloof, and in this Chapter, a dramatic reason indigenous to his situation must be discovered. Analyzed dialectically, Hamlet's soul experiences the two brutal shocks that forged an assumption: his father's death and mother's remarriage. Probed further, they raise issues of the kind of universe in which such actions are allowed to occur.
Is the ghost in command with its charges and warnings. The antithesis occurs in part during the bedroom scene with Gertrude, whom he felt he could save. In command is Hamlet which is precisely why the ghost appears--to forestall the testing from reaching a morally viable conclusion about the origin of evil. The conclusion is foreshadowed in the graveyard but dramatized in the final scene. If a man's end is death and damnation, if that be an inevitability, then the ghost is quite successful--but only dramatically; not ironically.
Hamlet's attitude implies a metaphysical preoccupation with Providence, an attitude generally not the concern of youth who either have not lived long enough or experienced enough horror to realize the need. Hamlet though has experienced much. His thoughts in the final movements of life are thus directed. His dialectical method has always involved what he thought to be the universals of love and death, and the referents generating them: love and hatred for mother and girlfriend, and the death of Claudius and by extension Polonius. What he now realizes is that any synthesis on earth cannot for him be achieved, and the agent responsible dramatizes a part of the irony Shakespeare intended. Plato of course would concur as he fully hopes readers of The Republic will do if they apply dialectical inquiry to Socrates himself! Utopias cannot exist on earth. Prosser, Eissler and Bloom argue this, but from different perspectives. (52)
Horatio dramatically functions as the norm between concept and referent, embodying the classical concept of balance between universal and particular, reason and passion etc., which is of course why Hamlet singles him for praise. To the degree therefore that Hamlet confides in him is the measure of his own pre-ghost normality; Horatio's stern warnings concerning ghostly malevolence thus have considerable merit. In the current scene, Hamlet's distance suggests a deviation caused proximately by Ophelia and Yorick. In the gravyard standing over the skull of Yorick and the corpse of Ophelia the murderer of her father and accessory to the death of his girlfriend must confront the reality of the ghost's evil in much the same way the world had to face to enormity of the holocaust. The devil was at work in both instances. Too much cannot be made of the change; it is not unempathetic, nor is Horatio completely disowned, but the tone of Hamlet's language acquires a cosmic dimension more so than in earlier moments, as his humanity sees the ghost for what it is:
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will--
Shakespeare's audience unlike our own would have recognized the garden imagery. We know of course that Hamlet believed the world strangled with weeds; but here and now, the gardener is not the devil: we as gardeners may indeed 'rough-hew' our way through the world, hacking away at the vegetation of our lives, but the master gardener, God, will shape our end to his purpose--the Bradley paradox is sustained; out of evil comes a greater good. Friar Laurence understood in Romeo and Juliet:
The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave that is her womb,
And from her womb children of divers kind
We sucking on her natural bosom find,
Many for many virtues excellent,
None but for some, and yet all different.
O! mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good but strain'd from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometime's by action dignified.
Within the infant rind of this weak flower
Poison hath residence and medicine power:
For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;
Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.
Two such opposed kings encamp them still
In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;
And where the worser is predominant,
Full soon the canker death cats up that plant.
The author of Hamlet early in his career wrote a "theme passage" not just for Romeo and Juliet, but for all the plays to follow: here, the opposed kings are God and the devil, and the soul of man is the prize. It is this context that Hamlet's mission as avenging "minister" acquires validity. Affirming his destiny, he tells Horatio:
...is't not perfect conscience
To quit him with this arm? and is't not to be damn'd
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil?
Is it? The implication seems to be that under Divine mandate and recalling Renaissance precepts on revenge to be discussed later, one has a moral obligation to act as God's instrument in purging evil, but only if very special protocols are observed as Lily Campbell, Elizabeth Pope, and Eleanor Prosser have observed. (53)
Fittingly, Orisc brings word of the King's wager. As a 'clown,' Orsic is a foppish imitation of the gravediggers, and as Claudius' emissary, he forms a new antithesis leading to the synthesis that ends the play.
Before meeting Claudius and Gertrude for the last time, Hamlet reflects:
We defy augury; there's a special providence
in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 't is not to
come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not
now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no
man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to
leave betimes? Let be.
Is this resignation or generation? Does Hamlet come to reject the capriciousness of fortune in favor of a more structured universe governed by a benevolent creator? Has the ghost been repudiated? Certainly there is resignation. Hamlet argues that since death entraps us all, what is significant is what we do when alive to merit reward or blame. The best a man can do and must do is be prepared since the macrocosm's secrets are impenetrable except to God. Therefore, if an evil ghost exists, what it mandates must of necessity fall under the gaze of God who will put its malignancy to good purpose. The operative words, are "defy," "argury," and "readiness." Augury means "divination by omens" (Onions). If the omens are the results of Hamlet's dialectic with the ghost including the reality that he is guilty of the same offense for which he hates Claudius, the murder of a father, then he accepts the judgment of Providence. In context, "readiness" means preparation and is generally used by Shakespeare to imply military preparedness. The present connotation is twofold: preparation for combat with Laertes and Claudius (referents), and secondly preparation to meet God. Probably the latter has more applicability given the present situation in that God watches all creatures from God to sparrow. If the Divinity that shapes our end, however, is no longer operative in a scientific sense, then has the ghost really won an impressive victory?
We must not forget, however, that theocentric ideas were coming under assault in Shakespeare's day. From Luther to Bacon to Galileo, the scientific method was challenging accepted conventions. Eissler notes referencing the "Providence" passage,
In the passage about Providence, Hamlet announces that
he has reached a new plateau...events had been providential
and not, as he had originally thought, arbitrary and avoidable.
In other words, he is presenting, even if obliquely, a world
view that is essentially the modern scientific view--namely, that
what may at first impress us as irregular and chaotic is in reality
determined, caused, inevitable...A new frame of reference has been
introduced: his [Hamlet's] own individuality. (54)
Eissler goes on to argue that Shakespeare had little choice but to present these ideas from a conventional theocentric perspective. He also believes that what he calls the "dilemma of modern man" begins insofar as humanity wants simultaneously to exist free while belonging to something greater. Regeneration thus poses an intricate problem. Is it theocentric, homocentric or some combination? Certainly Hamlet changes as most commentators argue, but does Eissler's paradox allow for regeneration morally? Can the play be read existentially? Bloom's argument is along these same lines. He states:
If the play were Christian, or even un-Christian, then we could
say that Hamlet bears the blessing, as David and Joseph...carry
it away in the Bible...It is very difficult to generalize about Hamlet
because every observation will have to admit its opposite...Hamlet,
as a character, bewilders us because he is so endlessly suggestive.
Are there any limits to him? His inwardness is his most radical
originality; the every growing inner self, the dream of an infinite
consciousness...What was Shakespeare to do with a new kind of
human being, one as authentically unsponsored as Hamlet is? (55)
Bloom takes Eissler's thesis further asserting that Hamlet is without any bounds--scientific or religious. The 'systems' are simply meaningless for someone of the Prince's infinite stature. They would agree however that the present analysis if limited to the theocentric perspective is too restrictive, failing as it does to account for Hamlet's uniqueness. What has been argued applies as well to Lear who learns the meaning of love and Macbeth who recognizes the futility of a life "...full of sound and fury," but signifying nothing. Interestingly, Macbeth reached this conclusion after trafficking with demons. Regeneration in Hamlet operates in a broader sense involving the ghost and the irony mentioned throughout this chapter. Hamlet may be responsible for his mother's renewal and thus partially redeemed himself in God's eyes for the murder as the Mariner whose suffering is partly alleviated when prayerful remorse follows the killing of the albatross. How this affects Hamlet as influenced by the malevolent ghost awaits subsequent chapters. If one accepts the "godlessness" of modern empiricism as corrosive to man's moral essence, then the ghost could from that perspective be a dramatization of what will destroy us as well as Hamlet perhaps. Certainly Bloom is right in noting that Hamlet is aware of this (and all?) possibilities as his letter to Ophelia indicates. First the theocentric view:
King: Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?
Hamlet: At supper.
King: At supper! Where!
Hamlet: Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of
politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat
all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king
and your lean beggar is but variable service; two dishes, but to one table:
that's the end.
King: Alas, alas!
Hamlet. A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the
fish that hath fed of that worm.
Now the scientific challenge:
Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.
Hamlet of course likes to pun, and his adroit use of wit, irony and sarcasm reveal much about what he (and Shakespeare?) saw happening not just in the Renaissance but into the future. Great writes are so gifted. Homer saw the end of a culture serving predatory violence by making Achilles in Book IX of The Iliad at least challenge if not repudiate the honor code. The Beowulf poet likewise saw Anglo-Saxon culture fusing with the new Christian dynamic, and Chaucer knew the feudalism was dead. What did Hamlet and Shakespeare see with intelligences so much more prodigious?
Death concludes Hamlet and as a revenge tragedy, it admirably fulfills the genre's requirements. Bloody mayhem is what the Renaissance wanted, and Shakespeare obliged. Does Shakespeare intend Gertrude's dying gaps to vindicate Hamlet's redemptive efforts. Her, "...the drink! O my dear Hamlet! / The drink, the drink! I am poisoned "(Dies), (V,ii,315-316) implies at least of measure of empathy and although we would like to believe the bedroom scene had its effect, the ambiguity so characteristic of this play pervades.
Claudius' death is difficult too. His last words, "O yet defend me, friends. I am but hurt." (V,ii,329) still betray concern for proprieties; he remains the Claudius of Act I, but to Hamlet, the ...incestuous, murd'rous, damned Dane..." receives what he deserves. Technically the ghost's commands have been fulfilled, although not by design, but an important stipulation in Renaissance political philosophy is whether the revenge is public, meant to restore moral order to the kingdom, or personally motivated private revenge, thereby damning the revenger, the intention of the ghost.
Hamlet's death remains. Privately, Laertes is forgiven, and Gertrude merits pity: "Wretched Queen, adieu," he says. Publicly but for a moment, Hamlet is king and honors Renaissance protocols by naming Fortinbras successor, but his thoughts also concern his own fate. For the last time, he turns from the referent, Fortinbras, to the universal, his death: '...the rest is silence. (Dies.) (V,ii,363). What is pertinent concerns' Horatio's evaluation:
Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Only in Hamlet do we find a devout wish, if not a promise, that the hero will enjoy heaven, or at least as Greenblatt believes in Hamlet and Purgatory the latter. (56) The music imagery interlaces with Ophelia's evaluation in Act III, but now there is silence for the music Hamlet enjoys is of the spheres, heavenly notes from angels quite inaudible to those still encumbered by mortality. The sweet bells of reason no longer are jangled.
To assign a dominant motif to the last act is difficult. A resolution or return to equilibrium occurs, but on what terms? The future of Denmark seems secure, but most everyone is dead. Horatio's, "I am more an antique Roman than a Dane," (III,ii,346) suggests suicide, but perhaps his own words to Fortinbras must suffice:
And let me speak to the yet unknowing world
How these things came about: so shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgements, casual slaughters,
Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause,
And, in this upshot, purposes mistook
Fall'n on the inventors' heads; all this can I
Are the unnatural acts the machinations of an evil ghost bent on damning Hamlet and if so, did it succeed? Are Horatio's flights of angels really demons or spirits bound for Purgatory? Little about Hamlet and Hamlet is certain. Critics seem to relish depreciating their contemporaries and predecessors, offering their own interpretations as definitive. Thus commentaries proliferate, and the foregoing must serve as the structure upon which my interpretation of the ghost scenes rests.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS for "HAMLET AND THE DAEMONS"
(1) Harry Levin. The Queftion of Hamlet. New York: Oxford Books, 1970), p. 20.
(2)This question is dangerous if not based on textual evidence, enough of which exists, however, to warrant a hypothesis,.
(3) See the Foreword for a brief synopsis of critical opinion on the ghost question.
(4) A. C. Bradley. Shakespearean Tragedy. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Books, n.d., p. 49. Bradley's concept suggest a dialectical tension between two universals metaphysically essential to the play's dynamic: "A" rises to Act III, and then descends, while "B" descends to Act III and then rises. Their interplay throughout a performance will occasion the irony discussed in this study relative to the ghost question.
(5) Macrocosm / Microcosm metaphors such as the ones used here are frequently employed by Shakespeare and are fundamental to my interpretation of the ghost. Probably the definitive reference is Troilus and Cressida (I,iii,75 ff.), Ulysses' speech on order and degree.
(6) Horace Howard Furness (ed.). Hamlet, A New Variorum Edition. New York: Dover Press, 1963), p. 33.
(7) I favor "sullied" rather than F1's solid, in that if a soliloquy is dramatization of consciousness, then 'sullied' more aptly suits Hamlet's mood. "Sullied" of course embodies one of the play's central motifs relevant to substantiating linguistically a malignant ghost.
(8) Image patterns are discussed by Spurgeon among others. Her Shakespeare's Imagery and What it Tells Us (Boston: Beacon Press, 1934). Such studies however do not necessarily provide biographical insights; in that regard Keats' "negative capability" must be kept in mind. However, the investigation offers valuable insights regarding the relation between image patterns and dramatics. Such patterns explicated in this study are crucial to understanding the ghost as the previous note suggests.
(9) Scene v is a continuation of iv. To divide them spoils tension aroused by the spirit world. Time here is irrelevant as ghosts transcend it. In Macbeth, or instance, Banquo asks the witches if they can see into "the seeds of time." Hamlet finds time restraints at the very least annoying (It is out of joint).
(10) Henry James. "Anthony Trollope, 1883," in James Miller (ed.). Theory of Fiction: Henry James. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1972, p. 200.
(11) James. Preface to The Princess Casamassima, p. 235.
(12) J.Q. Adams. Hamlet. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1929, p. 223.
(13) Harold Bloom. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead, 1994, p. 4.
(14) Levin, p. 145.
(15) Levin, pp. 145-154.
(16) Variorum, p. 181.
(17) Variorum, p. 184.
(18) Clothing imagery is a significant motif in Macbeth and Hamlet. The former's "borrowed robes" imply usurpation by murder.
(19) Bradley, p. 49.
(20) The reference to crawling recalls Lear's "...unburdened crawl toward death," (I,i,42) which in the Renaissance meant a lesser rank on the chain of being. Lear fails to comprehend the irony of his words as does Hamlet initially: both violate and are violated.
(21) Michael Pennington. Ophelia: Madness Her Only Safe Haven in Don Nordo (ed.). Readings on Hamlet. New York: Greenhaven Press, 1999, pp. 72-76
(22) Norrie Epstein. The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard. New York: Viking Press, 1993,pp. 332-334 as reprinted in Don Nordo (ed.). Readings on Hamlet. New York: Greenhaven Press, 1999, p. 74.
(23) I am indebted to Fredson Bowers whose article, "Hamlet as Minister and Scourge," will be considered later.
(24) Variorum, pp. 241-243.
(25) Wilson, pp. 244-262.
(26) Harold Jenkins, (ed.). The Arden Shakespeare: Hamlet. London and New York: Methuen, 1982, p. 504.
(27) Walter Greg. "Hamlet's Hallucination," MLR 12 (October, 1917), p. 401.
(28) Variorum, p. 125.
(29) Arden, p. 271.
(30) Stephen Greenblatt. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, p. 230.
(31) Identifying the climax with Claudius' departure suits the A / B diagram I have been using for dramatic structure. When the irony associated with the effect of the ghost's malevolence is explained, the climax will shift.
(32) Greg thinks it is this excitement that causes the king to depart; not what he sees.
(33) Camel: Troilus and Cressida: "Achilles! A drayman, a porter, a very camel," (I,ii.270), Weasel: I Henry IV: "A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen / As You...." (II,iii,18-82) Whale: All's Well that Ends Well: "...a dangerous and lascivious boy, who is / a whale to virginity and devours up all the fry it / finds," (IV,iii,248-250).
(34) Wilson, pp. 245-246.
(35) Bradley, pp. 114-115.
(36) Levin, p. 35.
(37) Harley Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare. (I) Princeton University Press, 1978, p. 99.
(38) Fredson Bowers. "Hamlet as Minister and Scourge," PMLA 70 (1955), pp. 740 as reprinted in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet edited by David Beevington. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1968, pp. 82-92.
(39) Wilson, pp. 252-255.
(40) G. Wilson Knight. The Imperial Theme. London: University Paperbacks, 1965, p.110.
(41) Bradley, p. 117.
(42) Eleanor Prosser. Hamlet and Revenge. Stanford: Stanford University, 1971, pp. 165-166.
(43) In Job, God punishes the three friends for their too orthodox theology, and rewards Job not only for his faith, but also for his persistent questioning--from the dialectic comes spiritual growth. "I wish to speak with the Almighty / I wish to reason with God... / Slay me though he might, I will wait / for him; / I will defend my conduct before him...." (XIII, 3, 15), and God says to the three friends, "...you have not spoken rightly concerning me as has my servant Job. (VIII, 7). Hamlet adopts a similar posture.
(44) Prosser, p. 134.
(45) Variorum, p. 320. As I have noted, the use of 'sudden' is inaccurate.
(46) Variorum, pp. 322-323.
(47) Variorum, pp. 332-333.
(48) Of course Cordelia is far more sophisticated than Ophelia, and our sympathy derives from virtues Ophelia seems to lack: fortitude, courage and a deeper understanding of love; yet a feminist readings of Ophelia poses questions that cannot be ignored.
(49) That Shakespeare may have intended a Claudius : Laertes :: ghost : Hamlet analogy follows from his most concentrated study of evil, Macbeth which, like Hamlet, probes macrocosmic / microcosmic depravities. Two metaphors in Hamlet, the corrupt teacher and the chalice (inversion of the last supper's redemptive promise) occur in Macbeth: "...We still have judgment here, and that we but teach / Bloody instructions, which being taught return / To plague the inventor. This even-handed justice / Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice / To our own lips." (I,vii, 7-12). Like Hamlet, Macbeth's tragedy is partly his failure to appreciate the irony of his own reflections, and Claudius in may respects including image patterns is an embryonic Macbeth.
(50) Levin, p. 79.
(51) Granville-Barker, p. 135.
(52) See: Prosser and Bloom as cited. K.L. Eissler. Discourse on Hamlet and Hamlet. New York: International Universities Press, 1971.
(53) See: Prosser as cited. Elizabeth Pope: "The Renaissance Background of Measure for Measure." Shakespeare Survey. 2 (1949) , 66-82. Her introduction to the play studies divine right protocols and revenge. Of course Measure for Measure share common themes. Lily Campbell, "Theories of Revenge in Renaissance England." Modern Philology. (February, 1931), pp. 281-296.
(54) Eissler. pp. 242-243.
(55) Bloom, pp. 406-418.
(56) Greenblatt, Hamlet and Purgatory. Chapter 5 : "Remember Me" pp. 205 ff.