"Speak...Tripplingly On the Tongue"
[The works cited appear at the bottom of the page.]
The Romantics understood that to explicate by exclusively accentuating particulars mars any imaginative synthesis art offers, but paradoxically it is through the appreciation of the particulars that one appreciates and transcends to the universals. In Chapter XIV of the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge argues that, In order to abstain adequate notions of any truth, we must intellectually separate its distinguishable parts...but having done so, we must then restore them in our conceptions to the unity, in which they actually coexist." (1) In the past, Shakespearean scholarship has suffered by ignoring this advice, advice which I believe is essential to Blooms thesis, as cited in Chapter I, that Shakespeare invented personality, the sum of which is a myriad of particulars. For example, a pioneer study of language in Shakespeare, Professor Spurgeons Shakespeare's Imagery and What It Tells Us catalogues image patterns, a necessary but not sufficient condition for understanding the scope and breath of Shakespeare's genius. William Leary believes that, We must not succumb to the notion that such patterns constitute the key to a plays meaning. Images and image patterns are, at most, part of the whole. (2) Bloom notes that Hamlets genius so transcends any particulars he encounters in the sterile world of Elisnore that in creating the Prince, Shakespeare dramatizes his own boundless soul. Leary and Bloom are correct, and in considering Hamlets image patterns and motifs, the thesis of ghostly malevolence and Shakespeare's use of irony in dramatizing it must constantly be kept in mind.
Image patterns are thematically and dramatically quite significant, but only insofar as they contributes to the plays grasping of the universal. Shakespeare would probably agree with Coleridges notion of organic form being innate:
...it shapes as it develops itself from within, and
the fulness of its development is one and the same with
the perfection of its outward form...Each exterior is the
physiognomy of the being within, its true image reflected
and thrown out form the concave mirror. And even such
is the appropriate excellence of...Shakespeare. (3)
In Hamlet, Shakespeare's outward form consists of the structure discussed in Chapter I, the dramatic integrity of which could not be sacrificed to preconceived patterns and motifs.
Shakespeare intends to dramatize the consciousness of a young man facing the macrocosmic horror of a murdered father, corrupted mother, vacillating girl friend, and especially a malignant ghost, and although the dramatist never formally articulated the process by which this could be most effectively realized, he undoublty would agree with Henry James:
I confess I never see the leading interest of any
human hazard but in a consciousness...subject
to fine intensification and wide enlargement. It is
as mirrored in that consciousness that the gross fools,
the fatal fools play their part...The troubled life mostly
at the center of our subject...embraces them and deals
with them for its amusement and its anguish: they
are apt largely indeed, on a near view, to be all the cause
of its trouble. The means, exactly, that the person capable
of feeling in the given case more than another of what is
to be felt for it, and so serving in the highest degree to
record it dramatically and objectively, is the only sort
of person on whom we can count on not to betray...The
great chroniclers ...have at least either placed a mind of
some sort--in the sense of a reflecting and colouring medium
--in possession of the general adventure. (4)
This is Hamlet; his troubled life embraces the fools, embraces Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia and the ghost, and the mirror in which they all are reflected is Hamlets consciousness. the play records the fine intensification and enlargement" of it, and to this end the images which make dramatization possible are significant.
Shakespeare perceived a relationship between dramatization of consciousness (end) and images (means), but he had to learn to make the synthesis work. In early plays such as Romeo and Juliet, it does not fully--the play is more poetry than drama, for the images seem to dominate the characters they ostensibly serve to illuminate. Romeo and Juliet lacks a certain self-control and is more a dramatized sonnet (Indeed one appears in the guise of dialogue) using conventional courtly love language than a play in which the images reflect the characters deepest feelings and desires. In the garden, for instance, Romeo sees Juliet and...
But soft! What light through yonder window
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid are far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious
Her vestal livery is but sick and green...
Whatever the poetic merit, the passage fails dramatically, as images exist for their own sake almost as epic similes. The initial metaphor is amplified by a personification, modified by an adjective clause. the passage then concludes with more personification and metaphor. Such compounding almost makes us forget why Romeo is there. It makes the play a dramatized sonnet.
Shakespeare's mature style reflects another significant departure from his early period. In writing the later histories such as Henry V and the great tragedies, he developed the ability to compress a wealth of ethical, metaphysical and psychological nuances in a line or phrase, thereby enabling the audience to concentrate on the dramatic situation rather than to be distracted by poetic digressions. Shakespearean tragedies are complex dramatic metaphors. His protagonists feel their situations, and metaphor becomes the means Shakespeare uses to wed (in the words of James) picture and scene.
A few lines from Henry IV illustrate how far Shakespeare had progressed, and point to what will mature in Hamlet. When upbraiding his son (certainly a Hamlet theme), for behavior undignified, Bolingbroke asks Gods pardon for his sons misconduct:
Yet let me wonder,
At thy affections, which do hold a wing
Quite from the flight of all thy ancestors.
Thy place in Council thou hast rudely lost...
The tersensess of a politician / father plagued by guilt (Claudius) reflects the skill of the dramatist who has all but mastered his craft. First Shakespeare places the image in a single subordinate clause, thus compelling syntax to forbid domination. Equally important the image accommodates the speakers mood. Bolingbroke, an embryonic Claudius (who will become an embryonic Macbeth and so on...), exhibits the craftiness and skill of a political boss using self-righteousness to mask guilt. To use flight imagery appropriately suits this man who like a comet was wondered at. Prince Hals flight, however, appears apart from his ancestors, allowing vile participation that Bolingbroke deplores. We are reminded that Hamlet will find himself too much in the sun.
Most essential, however, to dramatic intent is the lack of obscurity and length. Bolingbrokes concern, being faced with Percys rebellion, must be to present a united military defense, for which he certainly needs his sons cooperation. He knows Hals reputation seriously jeopardizes his chances, so chastisement cannot be prologued, nor can it be elaborate. Rather than pursue the flight image for its own sake, Shakespeare terminates it. Bolingbroke makes his point as will Claudius who must struggle with his limed soul.
Before considering the significant patterns in Hamlet and their relationship to the ghosts malign influence, we must examine the structural concept Shakespeare uses to make it dramatically effective. In Shakespeare Plain, Leary notes that, ...images may be repeated at intervals throughout a play so as to form a pattern. Often these patterns will suggest one plays principal meaning or will form an illuminating parallel with other elements in the drama so as to reinforce the meaning that these elements yield. (5) Patterns thus reveal universals, and the various ones that emanate from the play are called motifs and have a dramatic function similar to musical notes in a Beethoven symphony. Shakespeare understood this connection and in the major tragedies, one passage usually serves as a theme passage as opening notes in the Fifth Symphony. Identification of the passage, usually spoken by the protagonist, is critical to an understanding of what the motifs lend to Hamlets relationship to the ghost.
Even a cursory examination of Hamlet suggests one predominate motif: disease that corrupts all it invades both the macrocosm and the microcosm. Several others exist as corollaries, all deriving from the theme passage: music, blood, microcosm / macrocosm, weather, heaven / hell, garden, fate and fortune, sex, and supernatural images. When used by Hamlet, these motifs develop and enhance the dramatic situations in which they occur;
The theme passage must satisfy two criteria: it should embody the plays significant motifs and also bear significantly on dramatic action. In this instance, I have chosen I, iv, 13-38 with Hamlet speaking prior to the ghosts entry. Voicing disgust with Claudius debauchery, Hamlet responds to Horatios query regarding how customary his uncle-fathers behavior is:
Ay, marry, is't:
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduced and tax'd of other nations:
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition; and indeed it takes
From our achievements, though perform'd at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.
So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin--
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,--
Their virtues else--be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo--
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault: the dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.
The authority for the passage is Q2. Even though we do not know Hamlets future, we are allowed to observe not only the philosophical premises which govern his behavior, but also how he thinks since the murder just as Ophelias tribute explicates how he may have behaved prior to it. Without such detail, much of what Hamlet says and does would lose import. contextually the passage is crucial to a dramatization of the Princes consciousness.
The passage has a tripart structure. setting a characteristic pattern for Hamlets thinking: thesis, antithesis and synthesis (if possible). Lines 13-22 outline an objective occurrence, 23-32 provide a conceptual reaction and analysis, and 31-38 offer a (tentative) synthesis.
As Hamlet shivers on the battlements, his concentration is interrupted by the ...flourish of trumpets, and two pieces [of ordnance]... Claudius drunken revelry nauseates Hamlet who waits in dread anticipation for his the ghost. As Plato well knew when postulating the good as absolutely self-sufficient and self-contained, one cannot test any action without comparing it to some objective or subjective standard. (Click here for additional details on the influence of Plato in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.) Hamlets standard are the values of the Denmark he once knew, or at least thought he knew: achievements...[which are] / The pith and marrow of our attribute (objective) and his own moral code as articulated by Ophelia (subjective). Pith and marrow connote substantial rather than accidental changes that Claudius has occasioned. Hamlets assessment suggests that even the most virtuous situations have the potential for corruption. They clep us drunkards..., he observes. Us has more than a generic connotation as undoubtedly many of the same courtiers who so willingly acknowledged Claudius marriage once served King Hamlet. Hamlet too feels tainted by the same activity. The conditions could not be more foreboding for the ghosts appearance.
In the second part of his analysis, Hamlets thinking evolves from the condemnation of Claudius situation to a philosophically more conceptual analysis that broadens the frame to particular men who innocently in the pre-volitional sense have a vicious mole. The Variorum defines mole as a blemish of any kind. (6) In King John, Constance uses the word to express her loathing for Arthur's disfranchisement:
If thou, that bidst me be content, wert
Ugly, and slanderous to thy mothers womb,
Full of unpleasing blots and sightless stains,
Lame, foolish, crooked, swart, prodigious,
Patched with foul moles and eye-offending marks,
I would not care, I then would be content.
Continuing, she argues that at birth, Nature and fortune joined to make thee great, and that ...Fortune, oh, / She is corrupted, changed,... / She adulterates hourly....
The passage correlates with Hamlets remarks. Shakespeare speaks of foul moles in the context of blots and stains, all connoting corruption and decay. Secondly, they appear not to be indigenous to Arthur, who is more a victim of the bitch-goddess fortune, now King Johns whore: France is a bawd to Fortune and King John-- / That strumpet Fortune (III,i,60-61). The correspondence means that both Arthur and Hamlets (particular men) are innocent at birth, but when (the pre-scientific) notion fortune chooses to inflict her wiles, the mole grows and corrupts. There exists, in other words, something in human nature that has the potential to corrupt. That the ghost knows this too suits Shakespeare's intention, for it appears when Hamlet finishes. The irony implicit in its visitation will have horrid consequences.
The vicious mole acts like a cancer, corrupting the spirit and blurring mental and moral awareness. Ironically, the ghost exacerbates the condition, while Hamlet believes it mitigates. Hamlets contact is the court, but given his predispositions, we infer that Shakespeare is asking us to think of him. (7).
Hamlet argues that the mole is of nature." Location of identification of evils source in Shakespeare is difficult. Philosophers of course have debated the issue since the pre-Socratics. For a detailed examination of pertinent philosophical questions relevant to the nature of evil, consult Dr. Donna Freitas perceptive and detailed analysis. Bradley, discussing the question at length, concludes:
The whole order against which the individual part shows itself powerless
seems to be animated by a passion for perfection: we cannot otherwise
explain its behavior toward evil. Yet it appears to engender this evil
within itself, and in its effort to overcome and expel itself it is agonized
with pain and driven to mutilate its own substance and to lose not evil but
priceless good. (8)
Bradleys order / chaos hypothesis suggests the Greek perspective (Plato's Timaeus) later Christianized by Plotinus. The cosmic order ordained by God (the Artificer) is deconstructed by the evil in the form of a malignant ghost; the macrocosm becomes infected, and the good suffers much in the process, in this case Hamlet. Hamlet further explains however that all men do not posses the same degree of evil: So oft it chances... that the mole harms some more than others. Unfortunately, Hamlets own dispositions make him more than susceptible to the ghost. If the defect is natural, then guilt to a degree may be mitigated. In melodramatic fashion, Shakespeare recognized the possibility in Richard III:
I [exclaims Richard] that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time...
And therefore, since I cannot proved a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain...
Richard, although deformed and loathed at birth, freely chooses to pursue villainy. Having innate physical, psychological or moral deformities may occasion empathy, but the thrust of Shakespearean tragedy is never to deny responsibility. Milton will later make this clear in Paradise Lost when God address his Son:
Onely begotten Son, seest thou what rage
Transports our adversarie, whom no bounds
Prescrib'd, no barrs of Hell, nor all the chains
Heapt on him there, nor yet the main Abyss
Wide interrupt can hold; so bent he seems
On desparate reveng, that shall redound
Upon his own rebellious head. And now
Through all restraint broke loose he wings his way
Not farr off Heav'n, in the Precincts of light,
Directly towards the new created World,
And Man there plac't, with purpose to assay
If him by force he can destroy, or worse,
By some false guile pervert; and shall pervert
For man will heark'n to his glozing lyes,
And easily transgress the sole Command,
Sole pledge of his obedience: So will fall,
Hee and his faithless Progenie: whose fault?
Whose but his own? ingrate, he had of mee
All he could have; I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
Such I created all th' Ethereal Powers
And Spirits, both them who stood and them who faild;
Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
Not free, what proof could they have givn sincere
Of true allegiance, constant Faith or Love,
Where onely what they needs must do, appeard,
Just before the temptation scene in Book IX, Adam is appropriately warned by the Angel...
Be strong, live happie, and love, but first of all
Him whom to love is to obey, and keep
His great command; take heed lest Passion sway
Thy Judgment to do aught, which else free Will
Would not admit; thine and of all thy Sons
The weal or woe in thee is plac't; beware.
I in thy persevering shall rejoyce...
satan: Adam :: the ghost : Hamlet
Appropriately, Hamlet in a moment will ask for Angels and ministers of grace to defend him from the horror he suspects. Milton believes that the Creator has given man sufficient courage to balance reason and passion (Plato's soul), and if such is achieved, a moral victory will emerge. Bradleys argument suggests that the victory will be quite costly, perhaps even costing the protagonist his life.
Hamlet observes an important consequence of the congenital poisoning when he marks that the mole may be triggered by an ...oergrowth of some complexion... resulting in ...the pales of forts of reason,... being compromised as Ophelia later observes. If Hamlets mind in her opinion lacks balance, then Milton's argument that passion dominating reason be dangerous prevails; Professor Campbell reminds us that Shakespeare's tragic heroes are slaves to passion, and Hamlet himself expresses similar sentiments when lauding Horatios virtues.
Overgrowth demonstrates Hamlets fondness for garden imagery, a powerful motif in this play and the history plays. In Hamlet references appear in the sullied flesh soliloquy and the bedroom scene with Gertrude. Shakespeare associates the motif with decay and things rank. Complexion refers to what is overgrown and means one of the humors--in dramatics, a tragic predisposition. Given Hamlets character, how might he be disposed to act in the situation he confronts? One response on the cognitive level would be his fondness for the dialectic--Levin reminds us that he loves to question; he loves to treat first principles as assumptions (Plato), but it would be a mistake to assume that this is all Hamlet does. The implication insofar as Shakespeare inherited the classical / Medieval traditions, would be a fall from greatness, with ironically, an ascent given the pragmatics of Medieval drama; after all Everyman (including Hamlet) is saved because there is Providence in the fall of a sparrow.
Assigning a Shakespearean protagonist a dominant humor which becomes imbalance is standard Renaissance psychology, but too often it may lead to a misconception of the tragic flaw idea inherited from the Greeks, in this case stipulating that Hamlet is melancholic and therefore prone more to introspection than decisive action, a belief perpetuated by the Romantics, especially Coleridge. There indeed may be melancholic aspects to his personality, but the question of whether that humor is dominant should not be assumed as was the case in the Olivier production; recall the voice over at the films outset that Hamlet is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind. This study will offer a different hypothesis when Burtons Anatomy of Melancholy is examined.
In addition to birth and complexion, Hamlet notes that ...habit too much orleavens / the form of plausive manners... as another condition actualizing the moles potential. Habit is used in Shakespeare in the sense of a fixed mode of behavior and dress, as in Pericles: "Opinions but a fool that makes us scan / The outward habit by the inward man." (II,ii, 56-57), or thus in Duncan's words, Theres no art / To find the minds construction in the face. (I,iv, 11-12). Habit then as dramatized in Macbeth by the clothing motif (9) is a kind of subject internal clothing, or that by which we recognize a man has himself. The meaning is more substantive than a routine or behavior; it is the premise from which that routine develops.
According to the line, this habit excessively oerleavens, or invades to corrupt as weeds choke healthy flowers in a garden. In Macbeth, the analogy of ill-fitting garments expressing the same idea dramatizes Macbeth's unsuitability for the throne. What it oerleavens in Hamlet is expressed as ...the form of plausive manners... with form implying behavior sanctioned by the Divine order (Timaeus again), consistent with ones assigned place on the chain of being. Any overgrowth corrupts the proper deportment or arrangement suggested by form as Ulysses believes in Troilus and Cressida:
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,
Then 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...
Hamlet states these Renaissance correspondences regarding order and design in the macrocosm and microcosm. It all makes sense if we recall Marcellus warning, Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (I,iv,90). What a fitting way to terminate the scene in which the ghost appears to divert the calm of the married state of Denmark, a state torn by murder and an incestuous remarriage.
Thus far, Hamlet has attributed the defect of the vicious mole to birth, disposition and habit. Now he traces it to Natures livery or Fortunes star... Livery provides continuity by using clothing imagery to imply defects relationship to habit, but another connotation emerges. Livery means, in legal jargon, ...delivery of property into ones possession. (Onions). Thus nature, at ones birth, delivers one defect (the vicious mole) as if the clauses of a contract were being honored. The other alternative, fortunes star, implies something different from what has been discussed. Textual anomalies hinder interpretation. The Variorum cites Theobalds emendation of star as scar, stating the latter connotes more aptly a mark of infamy. (10) Q2 reads ftarre so the emendation lacks support, but contextually scar does convey the better sense. The moles growth apparently may be aggravated by fortunes contact so much that it becomes one the plays most important motifs and is usually thought of by Hamlet as a whore, capriciously withholding favor.
Lines 33-88 propose a synthesis. The subject of the sentence, His, changes the number, and the antecedent must be identified. The shift itself marks Hamlets fondness for vacillating between the general and particular, a characteristic of the great soliloquies. Blooms hypothesis that Hamlets intellectual sophistication transcends his contemporaries is thus validated. His means these men (l.30), and since it modifies virtues, Hamlet states a fundamental conviction that human nature is essentially good, but may too easily overcome by the mole. (11) His antecedents are undoublty Gertrude, Ophelia and his one remaining exemplar, Horatio, and no doubt how he at times views himself. Similes following His virtues else... dramatize Hamlets conviction that virtue triumph, but..."Shall in the general censure take corruption / From that particular fault. (I,iv,35-36) means virtues seeming inability to withstand the moles corrosive power, as Bradley suggests. The irony implicit in the synthesis will be impelled by Hamlets relationship to the ghost and what it commands.
The concluding lines have puzzled commentators. Q2 reads,
...the dram of eale
Doth all the noble fubftance of a doubt
To his own feandle.
The Variorum devotes over six pages of commentary, and the Arden edition three. The Variorum suggests the linguistic puzzle cannot be solved (12), while the Arden paraphrases the general sense of the lines, ...the small amount of evil in some way gets the better of the noble substance. (13). In what way? How is the ghost involved? The Arden edition is partly mistaken when the explanatory footnote for the general censure that precedes the line in question states, What the single fault corrupts is not, as so widely assumed, the mans character, but the opinion that formed of it, his reputation or image. (14) The correction resulting in public c condemnation must precede it. Reputation could not be sullied if the mole did not infect the macrocosm and the microcosm, the role assigned to the ghost by Shakespeare.
The theme passage contains many motifs. Primarily of course disease imagery suggests a devouringly predatory nature like Ulysses universal wolf." Other motifs including macrocosmic / microcosmic parallels, coldness and darkness dramatizing grief, fate and fortune, garden imagery, and the corruption of love by lust and prostitution.
I spoke of Hamlets epistemology as vacillating between abstraction and specific referents in an effort to achieve synthesis; the play dramatizes the tensions developing macrocosmically between conflicting astronomical and philosophical theories of realism and nominalism. Baconian science was on the ascent. Hamlets awareness of these tensions (notice his use of the word doubt [...that the earth doth move...] determines weltanschauung: the realities of his fathers death, his view of women, and of course the ghost. His task which he both loves and hates puts his time out of joint. The ghost intends these particulars to have a specific malevolent connotation.
The first issue concerns the oft posed question of delay. Put in the context of this discussion, it is better to demonstrate how Hamlets intense intellectual activity finally copes with the two referents most affecting his behavior: a mother and girl friend both of whom he simultaneously loves and hates, and a ghost whose malevolence he both suspects and rejects. To consider Hamlet a cognitive introvert does violence to Shakespeare's intention for two reasons: irony is obscured and only half the dialectic is recognized. The implied answer to Must I remember? is the sullied flesh soliloquy. Any so-called hesitation or intellectual paralysis reflects the cognitive struggle of a wit made diseased by the referents mentioned. Hamlets wit struggles to integrate reality as the ghost wishes to him to perceive it fragmented: a house [kingdom, mind, soul] divided against itself cannot stand. Banquo knows that the devil can speak true, and according to Hamlet assume a pleasing shape. When Hamlet strives for synthesis, the ghost counters with fragmentation as in the bedroom scene. Thus when confronted with a spirit, exercising caution would be the norm; at the very least its moral authenticity requires validation.
In the theme passage, Claudius drunken celebration is the thesis, and the antithesis reflects Hamlets willingness to derive inductively reasoned conclusions (Bacons epistemology) from it that form the cognitive elements of the antithesis insofar as there is enough evidence to suggest that he, by disposition, prefers the opposite sense of life. If that were not true, then thoughts such as his virtues else, be they as pure as grace, / As infinite as man may undergo... would not appear. Any synthesis the theme passage may express however, cannot for a mind like Hamlets be final. Hamlet is not a static character. What the theme passage does is suggest a mode of analysis; not a fully actualized conclusion. Hamlets after all is living in a time when accepted scientific and philosophical and theological conclusions were under great dispute; we recall the importance of his university. Hamlet will continue to, in Donne and Keats like fashion, absorb every paradox and dialectically test the ghost to determine what it is and what it wants. The Princes thinking thus becomes increasing complex as more paradox emerges. His experiences cause him to question formally accepted premises as any good scientist would when confronted with new evidence. In this case, does he believe after the actions of uncle, mother and girl friend that mans dispositions are good?
This dialectic continues to unfold, and the direction it assumes is influenced strongly by the ghosts direction, and Hamlets responses. The proposed synthesis, keeping in mind that Utopia means nowhere as Plato well understood, as influenced by the malevolent ghost is the major focus of this study. For now, it has been demonstrated that the theme passage reflects the way Hamlet thinks and contains images that serve as motifs.
Chapter I noted the importance of initial scenes. The dramatist creates and maintains a mood, quickly dispenses with expository information, and holds attention. Two sentinels stand the watch, and the interrogative mood dominates. Whos there? sets atone of mystery that becomes more insidious with Franciscos, Tis bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart. (I,i,8-9). Dramatically tension is sensed, paradoxically emanating from calmness suggested by Not a mouse stirring, but this is crux of the play. We are to learn quickly that mans efforts to calm and secure the state matter little when forces beyond him, which, as Eissler reminds us, the new science was struggling to understand, engage the consciousness. Shakespeare exploits the mood by forestalling what occasions this struggle until line 24, but even then, the source is only identified as a thing. We call something a thing when we do not comprehend its essence. Suspense escalates with the foreboding presence of quiet horror. Evil, as in The Turn of the Screw, manifests itself covertly and ambiguously.
Shakespeare reminds his audience of macrocosmic sickness by paralleling Julius Caesar. Horatio warns, This bodies some strange eruption to our state, (I,i,73). We recall in Caesar that graves open and blood rains from the heavens. Eruption foreshadows of course the chaos loosed in Denmark and Hamlet; something is rotten. The thing cannot be good.
Although Horatios encounter with the ghost fails to elicit a response, his mentioning that, ...it started like a guilty thing... (l.153). denotes a poetic imagination. Under normal circumstances, the imagination might occasion optimism, but the mood here is gothic. The moles progress appears unrelenting. What has appeared is still a thing, and why is it guilty? Of what?
Scene ii contains a powerfully effective image which directly foreshadows the theme passage, while the context dramatically reflects Hamlets mood:
Queen: Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not forever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou knowst tis common: all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.
Hamlet: Ay madam, it is common.
Gertrude's clothing imagery suggests Macbeth's ill-fitting garments, but for Hamlet they ironically fit quite well, so he thus extends the image: "...I have that within which passes show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe." (I,ii, 85-86)
In the theme passage, oft has the same connotation as common, Both have macrocosmic / microcosmic connotations involving the ghost. Ironically, all that lives does not die (Hamlet later puns on this idea), and here Shakespeare suggests an analogy. King Hamlet passes from life to death to perhaps life eternal, while for the present Hamlet has ironically passed from life to a kind of anti-life, a condition the thing would like to see permanent. The tone of the passage suggests an embittering cynicism, occasioned by the defects of the particular men with whom Hamlet must associate, and a ghost which he will encounter shortly.
The Queen asks why King Hamlets death seems so particular with him, and her sons reply demonstrates the dialectical mode. The clothing (appearance) reflects Hamlets mental anguish which clashes with the Queens good cheer (appearance). Hamlet craves the reality, and her conduct nauseates him. (15). The clothing imagery is but a pale reflection of a deeply felt angst.
Lines 129-136 conceptually outline the angst, wherein sullied used by the Arden edition is correct. Primarily, it is consistent with the theme / motif pattern of decay and corruption, and appears elsewhere in the canon to connote the same meaning, often in terms of marital infidelity as in The Winters Tale:
Does think I am so muddy, so unsettled
To appoint myself in this vexation; sully
The purity and whiteness of my sheets...
What is sullied stains purity and carries a sexual connotation perfectly appropriate for Hamlet in that the soliloquy, from a masculine perspective, denounces women's frailty. The image of decaying, rotting flesh foreshadows the theme passage, the fishmonger scene, the Gertrude-Hamlet bedroom interview when the Prince uses blister to convey his disgust, and most significantly the language of the ghost.
In the first part of the soliloquy, disease imagery describes the macrocosm as an ...unweeded garden / That has grown to seed... (ll.135-136). Garden imagery reveals the oergrowth mentioned in the theme passage, leading to decay. All is sullied.
The second part of the soliloquy, lines 137-157, contains several foreshadowing theme passage references. As a satyr, Claudius is a man / beast, with Hamlet believing the latter in control. In Claudius, the mole has done its worst, breaking down,...the pales and forts of reason... by an ...increase of appetites... recalling again Ulysses wolf. In this connection, Hamlet speaks of a dialectic between the king and his father (hyperion), adding that ...a beast that wonts discourse of reason / would have mourned longer. This inversion of the chain of being endows the bestial with rationality God reserved for humans, but Gertrude incestuous lust negates the Divine order. Sexual appetites evidence the moles potency. A tentative thesis occurs in but one line, which in this case is definitive: It is not, or cannot come to good. (l.58). Its philosophical, dramatic and ironic base is the theme passage, as the interlacing motifs validate.
Scenes iv and v dramatize Hamlets encounter with the ghost, appropriately introduced by the theme passage. The passages philosophical and moral concepts in that passage are actualized as spirit and mortal converse. Typically, Hamlet reacts dialectically:
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intentions wicked or charitable...
But its questionable shape defies explanation, and dialectically its challenge offers Hamlet the most baffling and heartbreaking challenge he must endure. When the ghost beckons, Hamlet responds over the objections of Marcellus and Horatio. Hamlet must treat first principles as assumptions, as their dialogue echoes the theme passage:
I do not set my life at a pins fee,
And for my soul, what can it do to that,
Being a thing immortal as itself...
My fate cries out
And makes each petty atire in this body
As hardy as the neman lions nerve.
Still as I am calld. Unhand me, gentleman.
By heaven, Ill make ghost of him that lets me...
The subtle irony of the initial lines, referring to body and soul, will be central to Hamlets relationship with the ghost and bears heavily on the origin question--first principles must be treated as assumptions. Thing repeated again identifies this time Hamlets soul with how the ghost is identified. Shakespeare links images deliberately. Now, however, Hamlet must consider that identification, and he will let no one deter that inquiry. Thus prior to the interview, he achieves a potential synthesis predicated on his ability to make an unalterable decision. No paralysis of will or passion exists. In the Republic, (Desmond Lee translation), Plato uses verbs of passion to inspire cognition:
So when the current of a man's desires flows toward
the acquisition of knowledge and similar activities
his pleasure will be in things purely of the mind,
and physical pleasures will pass him by--that is if
he is a genuine philosopher and not sham...
...our true lover of knowledge naturally strives for
reality, and will not rest content with each set of
particulars which opinion takes for reality, but soars
with undimmed and unwearied passion till he grasps
the nature of each thing as it is...
Hamlet may well have written these lines!!! Hamlet's pleasure is in the mind (and elsewhere); he has also the courage to passionately find the truth--the good; in this case what the ghost is. The Neman lion. suggests this courage (the element of Plato's soul regulating reason and appetite). Ironically, though the beast was strangled by Hercules in the first of his twelve labors. Shakespeare dramatizes malignancy--it will indeed to take courage to face what is ahead for Hamlet.
The dramatist also wishes to portray Hamlets resolve to reconcile opposites. Clearly inhibitions occur only when the vicious Mole becomes sufficiently potent to break down reason allowing passion to reign unchecked; Hamlet knows this as his later pun on the diet of Worms indicates--he too must stand!! Undoubtedly, Horatio recognizes the intensity of his friends passion as he warns, He waxes desperate with imagination. (I,iv,87). Desperate means to act regardless of the danger, and imagination here implies mental activity, transcending sense perception. In excess as Sidneys Defense of Poetry warns, imagination can lead to insanity. (Click here for details.) Hamlet cannot be stopped; he may indeed be mad.
Scene iv ends with assurance that Hamlets fate is not unwatched; Horatios , Heaven will direct it, (I,v,91) validates the irony that this study intends to document. Hamlet does not hear the line, nor would it matter if it did. Whether he eventually will is contingent on his relationship with the ghost.
Hamlets interview with the ghost flows with currents of an ulcerated cancer. As in Troilus and Cressida, the enterprise is sick. In V, i the ghost in rapid succession talks of foul crimes, prison house, the freezing of blood, a foul and unnatural murder, a rank and adulterate beast, lewdness, and garbage. This intense concentration of grotesque images reflects the oergrowth. of the moles infection. At the conclusion of the interview, Hamlet achieves a synthesis that will have far-ranging implications. He is told to revenge the murder, but...
...howsomeover thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive
against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven...
As cited in Chapter One, we might recall Prosser's brilliant identification of these lines with Lady Macbeth's equivocal 'testing' of Macbeth's love as a prelude to murder. No benevolent spirit would have commanded Hamlet thus; the agony imposed by that dialectic, that testing of first principles, plagues Hamlet for the rest of the play; his reaction, And Shall I couple hell? (l.93) is what the ghost wishes. It is this that Hamlet must test. The ghosts plot to damn Hamlet beings now and is made all the more vicious by its seemingly benign intent. Never did Hamlet need the ability to reason dialectically more than now. Evil in the guise of good of course appears elsewhere in Shakespeare. Iagos,
When devils do the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,..
(II,iii,357 - 358)
mime the ghosts tactics, and just as every character in Othello is thus duped, calling Iago honest " throughout, so Hamlet too has been duped, inviting madness, death and damnation. Hamlet continues:" O most pernicious woman, / O villain, villain, smiling damned villain!" (I,v, 105-106). Pernicious echoes the them passage if other plays are recalled. In Richard II, Aumerle, Yorks son, refers to Bolingbroke as a pernicious blot, (IV,i,325), that must be removed. In Macbeth, Macduff condemns the king's tyranny as avarice which, grows with more pernicious root / Than summer-seeming lust. (IV,iii,85-86). Shakespeare uses the word to covey a sense of deep-rooted infection, capable of fantastic growth. The images of lust and garden are obviously central to Hamlet; when calling her pernicious, he incorporates images from the theme passage and the first soliloquy. The act of writing ironically dramatizes a synthesis characterized by total commitment. Perhaps the intensity of the passion required to sustain it may obscure the requisite testing.
That the ghosts commands should be his destiny is why the scene concludes with Hamlet believing,
The time is out of joint, O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right.
Does Hamlets recognition mitigate the obscurity just noted? The ghost too knows time is disjointed, and its task is to prevent Hamlet from fully realizing how much so it is, and what the consequences are.
Hamlets encounter with Polonius, the fishmonger scene, in Act II has more bawdy language directed at father and daughter. The causal agent may be the ghost; if so the vicious mole continues to grow, fed by the results of the interview plus the actions of Gertrude, Polonius and Ophelia, whose report to her father interlaces with the Hamlet-ghost interview:
...with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosed out of hell,
To speak of horrors, he comes before me.
Ironically as A seems to ascend, the toxicity of Hamlets condition grows more malignant, acquiring in the fishmonger, scene pornographic overtones. Probably taking his cue from the ghost which spoke of celestial bed, lust, and garbage, Hamlet speaks of ...maggots in a dead dog... (II,ii,181), with conception normally being a blessing except in Ophelias case. An important aspect of the conflict dramatized in Hamlet is the moral corrosion affecting every major character, leading Hamlet to suspect that the only escapes from ...the secret parts of Fortune, (II,ii,235), may be the grave or scientific inquiry . The irony persists; the ghost must be smiling, for it knows that unlike what Hamlet earlier believed, the soul can be harmed in the hereafter.
Hamlet uses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as tuning forks to sound his own convictions regarding mans nature in a corrupted macrocosm. He begins by examining (testing) the consequences of a previous thesis; His weltanschauung before the King's death; mans potential for good, and Ophelias assessment (III,i, 153), and its modification by the vicious mole theory as exacerbated by the ghost. From this union of pragmatic reality and the supernatural comes one of the clearest expressions of dialectical inquiry in the play:
wherefore 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,
If Hamlets conclusions accurately reflect his thinking, and he believes they do despite the fact that he now prefers pestilent congregation and quintessence of dust to excellent canopy and noble in reason, he feels justified in deriving a new set of dialectical premises (16); that is the elucidated principles must be treated as assumptions.
Earth and air, two of the four elements (humors in man), were thought to correspond to melancholy and blood, respectively (17). As Hamlet considers each, their beneficial and harmful effects generate the dialectical tension characterizing his mood. Earth (melancholy) is both goodly and sterile, and air (sanguine) is both brave and foul. Does he know as Macbeth will learn that fair is foul and foul is fair? The images he uses suggest an explanation for evil that parallels the vicious moles growth within the microcosm. Certainly disease imagery interlaces with the theme passage as it does when Hamlet considers the microcosm. Affirmed then is mans essential goodness: infinite, angel, god and the paragon of animals, all of which suggest the grandeur implied in the theme passage where mans virtues prior to corruption, are pure as grace. Certainly that is what Ophelia thinks of Hamlets noble mind before it is overthrown. Given the murder and the ghost, however, Hamlet now tests the opposite: the paragon becomes dust.
Each affirming synthesis resolves itself into a denial, so more testing is needed. Hamlets philosophy exhibits what appear to be retrograde tendencies as if he drops on the divided line, or deconverts back to the cave, becoming once again a prisoner. Hamlet of course sees Denmark as a prison (cave), and uses dialectical inquiry to escape it. We know from the Republic, of course, that the freed prisoner who becomes a philosopher king must against his will return to free others still entrapped by ignorance. Plato thus employs verbs of force such as compelled, and Hamlet curses the time that he must set right. The good implies the evil, with the resulting synthesis pro tem, as man delights me not. Further testing is needed. Significantly therefore, he affirms the ideal which when confronted with his present reality, becomes grossly tainted. Both macrocosm and microcosm are now unweeded, possessed by things rank and gross." Hamlets conclusions thus far inescapably verify the degree to which the vicious mole augmented by the ghost, permeates his philosophy, so the task of the ghost is to stop the dialectic. For it, the current synthesis must be final. Each ennobling thought, regardless of its felt intensity, succumbs for the moment at least insofar as a particular fault corrupts even a paragon. The existential dimension cannot be mistaken: Hamlet must chart his way.
The to be soliloquy recalls the sullied flesh metaphor of the theme passage; sleeping, a metaphor Shakespeare often uses for child like innocence (Macbeths, ...the innocent sleep / Sleep that knits up the ravelld sleee of care... (II,ii, 35-6) for example), would for Hamlet ... end / The heartache and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to... Although Hamlet has not yet murdered, his fathers death, mothers remarriage and the ghosts commands constitute sufficient cause for his soul to crave release from its vicious mole, and given his predisposition for dialectical testing, may imply his wish to be once again untainted. The soliloquy would be life affirming. The lines suggest the same affirming / testing of assumptions mode Hamlet employs elsewhere. To be or not to be connotes not so much the desire to live or die as to exist or not to exist under the moles control. Perhaps the most significant test Hamlet must apply is whether the mole, the ghosts instrument, will ultimately prevail. Since he views the mole and the ghost as givens, and he wishes as one possibility to take arms against a sea of troubles, then how to accomplish the task puzzles his will. Renaissance psychology mandates the will cannot make proper decisions until wit purges it of error; and Hamlet does tell us his wit is diseased. He knows that, but does he know the ghost is the cause, a task made especially difficult since it mandates the exposing of a killer. Does Hamlet know that the devil can speak true, can lure us to damnation with honest trifles. Is the killing of his father a trifle, compared to the loss of his soul? Is Hamlet correct in Act I when he argues that the ghost cannot hurt his soul since it is immortal? These questions plague Hamlet in the to be passage, but Plato reminds us that ascending to the good is never easy, and never finished.
Hamlets alternatives seem intolerable, a condition deliberately encouraged by the ghost which warns that it...
...could a tale unfold whose lighest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes like stars start from there spheres...
Thus Hamlet must have these thoughts in mind when he argues that, ...the native hue of resolution / Is Sicklied oer with the pale cast of thought... (III,i,84-85. Referencing other plays helps. In II Henry IV, as York plots to seize power, he hopes to change doubt to resolution, (III,ii,332). and horrified by Burnam Woods apparent mobility, Macbeth cries to the messenger, I pull in resolution, and begin / To doubt th equivocation of the fiend... (V,v, 42-43). In each case, resolution and doubt are antonyms. Does Hamlet lack resolve because the hue of resolution is sicklied over--disease imagery interlacing with the theme passage and the first soliloquy? If so he is more easily a prey to the ghost's equivocations.
What does pale cast of thought? mean? Are the lines an attempt at synthesis? Shakespeare can use thought to mean, care, anxiety, sorrow, melancholy. (Onions). Troilus, for example, so connotes when urging Cressida to forget her cares:
To bed, to bed. Sleep kill those pretty eyes
And give as soft attachment to thy senses
As infants empty of all thought.
In the context of sleep imagery, thought contrasts with a babys innocence, and in Troilus and Cressida, Macbeth and Hamlet, irony pervades. Hamlets melancholy, occasioned by the mole-ghost construct paralyzes resolution as cancers infect healthy tissue, a condition the ghost is only too glad to see worsen. An instructive comparison using the same disease imagery in a context implying its effect on the will is Iago's polemic to Roderigo:
Virtue! a fig! 'tis in ourselves that we are thus
or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which
our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant
nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up
thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or
distract it with many, either to have it sterile
with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the
power and corrigible authority of this lies in our
wills. If the balance of our lives had not one
scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the
blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us
to most preposterous conclusions: but we have
reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal
stings, our unbitted lusts,
Virtue is likewise a fig to the ghost; it too reads well the passions, with its cold cynicism, and chooses to unbalance the triadic elements of the soul Plato described. Of course as well, Hamlet embodies disease imagery to dramatize the process of decay. Dialectical testing applies through the delineation of the opposites. The will (if check by wit and thus as free as is possible from the mole), has the corrigible authority to determine what will grow, i.e.,to make proper decisions. The thesis outlines what must have been Hamlets thinking prior to the murder and visitation if Ophelias judgment is accurate. The antithesis, reflective of disease imagery and the vicious mole / ghost spreads a a result of a murder, marriage, and ghostly mandates. The blunt truth is that Hamlet does not want her left to heaven; if the bedroom interview is any indication, he passionately desires her salvation on earth and in the afterlife, and the great angry he evidences when, for example, questioning the frailty of women generically grows from a will which must struggle with a monumental task.
The dramatics of the scene acquire such intensity from the disease imagery of the previous soliloquy that Ophelia doubts Hamlets sanity. It is in this context that her evaluation of the Hamlet she once knew, Th expectancy and rose of the fair state / The gloss of fashion and the mould of form... (III,i,154-155) acquires validity. It the feminist critics cited in the first Chapter, Pennington and Epestin, remind us.
The intensification of Hamlets agony continues as he and Horatio await the planned exposure of Claudius. As usual, his thoughts are introspective and communicative. His releases permit confirmation of Ophelias insightful evaluation, from Hamlet himself:
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 blest are those
Whose blood and judgment 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...
As Lily Campbell's title suggests, Shakespeare's tragic heroes are passions' slaves, which is the precise reason Hamlet loves Horatio; his friend has been able to achieve a synthesis--to live and love life--struggling to overcome Fortunes buffets and rewards. This transcendence, contrary to popular assumption, does not imply a metaphysics so speculative that living in the so called real world becomes something to avoid; rather it mandates embracing life with all of it hopes and fears. Hamlet would well understand (as did Plato and Pope) that man is created half to rise, and half to fall, and is ultimately the world's glory, jest and riddle. The trick of course is to maintain the proper balance between the elements of the soul and their macrocosmic correspondences. Failure to do so constituted insanity in the Renaissance.
Music interlaces confirm this evaluation. Ophelias tribute laments Hamlets lapses; the bells of reason ae jangled, and the Prince himself warns his alleged friends that they ...would play upon me... / seem to know my stops,... / sound me from my / lowest note to the top of my compass... (III,ii,344-358), while asserting, ...there is / much music, excellent voice in this little organ... Indeed this is true, though sadly almost beyond recollection, which makes his affection for Horatio all the more poignant. His friend after is ...not a pipe for Fortunes finger / To sound what stop she pleases. Except cognitively, he is the measure of what Hamlet apparently once must have been, only to a greater degree. Thus the tone invites a recollection of happier moment and is one of the essential clues to the real Hamlet, to the essence of his soul and in view of present circumstances dictated by a Fortune corrupted by the ghost, tragically ironic.
The tone of guarded enthusiasm changes, however, when Hamlet thinks of Claudius. His mood darkens, and the images suggest the mole / ghosts potential to infect the imagination, making it, ...as foul / As Vulcans stithy. (III,ii,83-4). Vulcans history explains Hamlets simile. In Book IV of The Metamorphosis, Ovid describes the liaison between Mars and Venus, Vulcans wife, which Vulcan foils...
The Sun, the source of light, by beauty's pow'r
Once am'rous grew; then hear the Sun's amour.
Venus, and Mars, with his far-piercing eyes
This God first spy'd; this God first all things spies.
Stung at the sight, and swift on mischief bent,
To haughty Juno's shapeless son he went:
The Goddess, and her God gallant betray'd,
And told the cuckold, where their pranks were play'd.
Poor Vulcan soon desir'd to hear no more,
He drop'd his hammer, and he shook all o'er:
Then courage takes, and full of vengeful ire
He heaves the bellows, and blows fierce the fire:
From liquid brass, tho' sure, yet subtile snares
He forms, and next a wond'rous net prepares,
Drawn with such curious art, so nicely sly,
Unseen the mashes cheat the searching eye.
Not half so thin their webs the spiders weave,
Which the most wary, buzzing prey deceive.
These chains, obedient to the touch, he spread
In secret foldings o'er the conscious bed:
The conscious bed again was quickly prest
By the fond pair, in lawless raptures blest.
Mars wonder'd at his Cytherea's charms,
More fast than ever lock'd within her arms.
While Vulcan th' iv'ry doors unbarr'd with care,
Then call'd the Gods to view the sportive pair:
The Gods throng'd in, and saw in open day,
Where Mars, and beauty's queen, all naked, lay.
O! shameful sight, if shameful that we name,
Which Gods with envy view'd, and could not blame;
But, for the pleasure, wish'd to bear the shame.
Each Deity, with laughter tir'd, departs,
Yet all still laugh'd at Vulcan in their hearts.
The Hamlet parallels are obvious. The foulness of sexual infidelity and defilement permeates. Homer also tells the story placing it and any supernatural occurrence in the context of divine amusement often purchased at the cost of human suffering. Supernatural forces in Hamlet either occasion or exacerbate mortal agony. The grotesque union of Claudius and Gertrude makes Hamlet sick; the sight to him is also shameful.
Chapter I argues that the play immediately following the exchange with Horatio contains Hamlets mousetrap emendations. Lucianus conjures Hecate's aid as does Macbeth, a practice according to Lavater, which is ...utterly repugnant to the Lawe of God, that he should confirme Witchcraft and Socerie... (18). Those who participate invite damnation which, if we accept Hamlets emendation, foreshadows why he wants Claudius spared at prayer. Reginald Scot reports that veneficium or murder by poison, is a popular charge against witches:
Trulie this poisoning art...of all others is most abhominable;
as whereby murthers maie be committed, where no suspicion maie
be gathered, nor anie resistance can be made; the strong
cannot avoid the weak, the wise cannot prevetn the foolish,
the godlie cannot be preserved from the hands of the wicked;
children maie hereby kill their parents, the servant the
maister, the wife hir husband... (19)
Scot provides an example of a monk who poisoned King John and persuaded the people with lies, that he had doone a good and meritorious act. (20). Scots description and example suit Hamlets intention regarding Claudius and the ghost. Since Hamlet wants desperately to believe Claudius a murderer, what better way to test him than to evoke the powers of darkness capable of performing acts that allegedly parallel his own? The existence of Hecate and immoral acts associated with witches and ghosts catered to minds only on the verge of the scientific revolution; minds that explained a macrocosm full of unknowns in terms of Grendel-like monstrosities waiting to snare the morally weak.
Shakespeares dramatization of Scot in King John is instructive. First, like Claudius, John maintains power as a result of a crime. Although he does not kill Arthur himself and indeed later regrets his death, the intent is nonetheless clear:
John: ...he is a very serpent in my way,
And wheresoer this foot of mine doth tread
He lies before me: dost thou understand me?
Thou art his keeper.
Hubert: And Ill keep him so
That he shall not offend your majesty.
Hubert: ...My Lord...he shall not live.
Later when John knows he has but moments to live, he responds to Prince Henrys empathy, using disease and supernatural images:
...Within me is a hell, and there the poison
Is as a fiend confined to tyrannize
On unrepreivable condemned blood.
A good deal of Renaissance cosmology is subsumed in Johns final gasp. The mole corrupts as a fiend; or in Hamlet a ghost.
Corruption of course pervades Hamlet. The Prince suffers from bad dreams which prevent him from becoming king of infinite space and a diseased wit which prevent him from restoring straight away a morally righteous environment; thus he must test. The ghosts presence is Shakespeares objective dramatization of the moles growth, interlacing with the microcosm in terms of the disease imagery common to both:
Though lwedness court it in a shape if heaven,
Will sate itself in a celestial b ed
And prey on garbage.
...things rank and gross in nature
possess it merely...
She would hang on him
As if increase in appetite had grown
By what it fed on.
Thus Hamlet has Lucianus speak of midnight weds, and Hectates ban thrice blasted, thrice infected. Blasted carries important connotations in the canon: In King Richard III, Gloucester, the future King Richard, weds garden and satanic imagery to explain one of his physical deformities:
Gloucester: Then be your eyes the witness of this ill:
See how I am bewitch'd; behold mine arm
Is, like a blasted sapling, wither'd up:
And this is Edward's wife, that monstrous witch,
Consorted with that harlot strumpet Shore,
That by their witchcraft thus have marked me.
Of course Macbeths use of the word is significant:
Macbeth: Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more:
By Sinel's death I know I am thane of Glamis;
But how of Cawdor? the thane of Cawdor lives,
A prosperous gentleman; and to be king
Stands not within the prospect of belief,
No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence
You owe this strange intelligence? or why
Upon this blasted heath you stop our way
With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you
Indeed the heath is blasted as Macbeth to his dismay will discover. The irony equivocation he ignores; his curiosity to learn what the witches / demons know will cost him his soul. Will the same happen to Hamlet?
Timon of Athens may be viewed as allegorical summary of the issues dramatized more substantially in the great tragedies. This love / hate allegory offers therefore a pedagogical summary:
Timon: Look thee, 'tis so! Thou singly honest man,
Here, take: the gods out of my misery
Have sent thee treasure. Go, live rich and happy;
But thus condition'd: thou shalt build from men;
Hate all, curse all, show charity to none,
But let the famish'd flesh slide from the bone,
Ere thou relieve the beggar; give to dogs
What thou deny'st to men; let prisons swallow 'em,
Debts wither 'em to nothing; be men like
And may diseases lick up their false bloods!
And so farewell and thrive.
What a summary of Hamlet if the ghost has its way. Does it? We note Ophelia use of blasted:
Ophelia: O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword;
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
Hamlets mind is blasted, the prelude to insanity. Ophelias credibility is supported if we recall Horatio warning to Hamlet that the ghost could draw him to a cliffs edge, change its shape to something horrible, and make him mad. Recalled are the theme passage, the first soliloquy, and Hamlets conversation with Ophelia that occasioned the response just cited, and of course the bedroom scene with Gertrude.
The purpose of all of this in the mousetrap is to dramatize what must be expelled--a wicked murdering king. The play apparently provokes the darkness--recognized in his prayer scene--that the Prince wants exposed, just as macrocosmically the ghost flees the dawn returning to its prison house. The interlaces persist.
The structural analysis maintains that A and B reverse during the play. Hamlets fortunes appear to decline, while his uncles seem to improve, but in each instance and not without ironic implications. To be determined is whether the disease imagery undergoes a corresponding change.
Before Hamlet has a chance to recover or plan, Gertrude ...in most great affliction of / spirit ... (III,ii,303-04) summons him, and the first time disease imagery appears thereafter is in Hamlets response to Rosencrantz: My wits diseased. (l.313). Hamlet had just triumphed in exposing Claudius and believes the ghost is honest, but ahead lies his greatest emotional and moral challenge: the salvation of Gertrude, a task which interdicts the ghosts command that she be left to heaven. Burtons Anatomy of Melancholy defines wit as
...acumen or subtilty, sharpness of invention...
which abstracts those intelligible species from
the fantasy [imagination], and transfers them to the passive
understanding...That which the imagination hath taken from
the sense, this agent judgeth of, whether it be true or false; and
being so judged he commits it to the passible to be kept. This
agent is a doctor or teacher, the passive a scholar... (21)
An interesting parallel emerges. The text associates scholar with passivity. If we recall Ophelias judgment again, Hamlet is anything but passive; the brooding introverted intellectual characterization is not sustained. The wit is an active power of the rational soul that allows Hamlet to act, but it now it is diseased. Thus for the moment it cannot teach understanding without which the will cannot make informed choices. The consequences are significant, since we understand how Hamlet thinks. The ghost is responsible. Rephrased in terms of Hamlets fondness for dialectic thinking, Burtons definition thus reads:
the cognitive ability to reach a synthesis by testing
assumptions as if they were first principles, pleasing
to Hamlet insofar as an emotional and intellectual
challenge has been successfully encountered,
But a paradox pervades. In the Intimations Ode, Wordsworth expresses a sentiment that might have appealed to Hamlet. Rather than be grateful for all opposites being reconciled with the resultant harmony, Wordsworth as an adult is more appreciative for, ...those obstinate questionings / Of sense and outward things, / Fallings from us, vanishings; / Blank misgivings of a Creature / Moving about in worlds not realised... (IX). Hamlet too is appreciative of the struggle. His all encompassing intellectual passion and zest for life could never be at home in a universe of perpetual synthesis. For him that existence would define a hell of boredom. He wants to question, so the former definition is not pleasing to Hamlet. His task now concerns his mother. If the ghost knows all of this, what role does it assume in using Hamlets virtues against him?
Hamlets concerns may thus be charted
1. loss of King Hamlet / sorrow, grief, anger
2. Gertrude's marriage / revulsion and horror
3. the ghosts revelations / horror, revenge, and a need to validate authenticity
4. Ophelia / joy and revulsion
5. the players / apparent joy
6. Horatio / security, confidant
7. the mousetrap relief / apparent joy
8. Gertrude / love-hate
These conflict, precluding synthesis, so testing is again imperative when Hamlet tells us his wit is diseased, and educated authorities like Horatio warn Hamlet the devil finds such a condition inviting. The vicious mole prevents successful testing, and we must wonder whether the ghost in the guise of assuming a pleasing shape wants the condition worried.
As Hamlet prepares for his mother, he focuses on the hoped-for result with such intensity that his youthful missionary zeal redirects his resolve to dispatch Claudius to implementation of a moral imperative: save Gertrude. Therefore, disease imagery now functions in a different context, subservient to what G. Wilson Knight calls life themes. (22), of which more will be said momentarily. A turning point for Hamlet is the soliloquy ending III, ii:
Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft! now to my mother.
O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom:
Let me be cruel, not unnatural:
I will speak daggers to her, but use none;
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites;
How in my words soever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent!
Knight compares Macbeth, Now or the one half-world / Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse / The curtained sleep Witchcraft celebrates / Pale Hecates offerings.... (II,i,49 ff.). Initially the comparison seems apt as both speakers choose supernaturally horrifying images to dramatized their tortured consciousness, but the differences emerge. Macbeth loathes the murder he will shortly commit, whereas Hamlet appears to want to invoke the powers of darkness; he ...could drink hot blood,... a metaphor for excessive passion that characterizes a sacred duty. More apt is Lady Macbeths,
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry 'Hold, hold!'
In each the speaker apostrophizes darkness for resolve, but whereas Lady Macbeth desires a substantial metaphysical change (without realizing the consequences), Hamlet speaks conditionally and metaphorically. He could drink hot blood but adds, O heat, lose not thy nature. The Nero metaphor moreover precludes the kind of horror Lady Macbeth invites, but will the results be the same? Is Lady Macbeth praying to what commands Hamlet? What would Banquo say?
The basis for the comparison, though, is the willpower of each speaker. Hamlet's lines dramatize a consciousness firmly committed, and the disease / supernatural images become subordinated to nobility of purpose. Could marks a conscious effort to overcome a diseased wit and act on a life-affirming synthesis--is THAT what the ghost wants? Hamlet thus toys with the Nero image, but he will, unlike Lady Macbeth, use no dagger.
The mole however cannot be excised so quickly. Hamlet will be cruel, quite cruel, and Polonius will die, but that cannot obfuscate the Princes conviction that Gertrude's salvation is morally necessary for both their sakes--such a view certainly explains why the ghost tells Hamlet to leave her to heaven. Although of doubtful authenticity, Q1 reading may clarify:
I will fpeake daggers, thofe fhape wordes being fpent,
To doe her wrong my foule fhall neer content.
The dialectic evidences stipulates that Gertrude deserves a more severe judgement than she will receive (thesis), but that she does not merit permanent suffering in hell (antithesis). The synthesis is forgiveness and mercy which is precisely what the ghost cannot have. The degree to which Hamlet loves his mother is the measure of the pain he feels by having to chastise her so unremittingly. The pain he suffers finds release in verbal cruelty. (23)
Claudius at prayer evidences Shakespeares skill in dramatizing consciousness using theme / motif patterns. Although Claudius never morally regenerates...
O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul murder'?
That cannot be; since I am still possess'd
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
...he does recognize the vicious moles existence in his soul and the need for repentance. Reminiscent of Hamlets ...things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely, Claudius speaks of his offense as rank and smelling to heaven itself. As with Hamlet, Claudius requires his moment of introspection; it is his turning point, but the kings willingness to enjoy the fruits of sin precludes salvation: May one be pardon'd and retain the offence?, he adds. (24)
Claudius cannot be judged exclusively from Hamlets perspective. The images in his soliloquy reveal a desire to right horrid moral offenses, a fact which becomes clear when comparing him to Macbeth. Both men commit murder for power, and may or may not earn fifth act sympathy, but however an audience may decide, the indisputable premise is that the universal bonding both characters to their damnation is supernatural malevolence. Let us note the textual parallels:
Claudius: Pray can I not... ( l.38)
Macbeth : But wherefore could I not pronounce Amen ? (II.ii,30)
Claudius: Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it [a brothers blood] white as snow?
Macbeth: Will all great Neptunes ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red. (II,ii,59-62)
Claudius: Bow, stubborn knee, and heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the new-born babe.
Macbeth: And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast... (I,vii,21-22)
Parallel sets of images reveal a potential for greatness that could have been both mens if they had not allowed passion and lust for power to corrupt their wills. The question is in each play, what external horror provides the catalyst? Does the ghost both win and lose, meaning that although Claudius is not killed, Hamlet wishes him in hell. (25), What favors the victory for Hamlet, however, rests with ability to covert Gertrude; to get her out of the cave of ignorance, incest and lust. His parting words to Claudius, This physic but prolongs thy sickly days, (l.69), places Claudius beyond redemption, but without violating Divine law. Hamlet believes Claudius fate rests with God; now his concern is for Gertrude, who, if he has anything to say, has at least a chance for salvation.
Hamlet as a moral avenger is one of Shakespeares most dynamic characters. No charge of melancholic paralysis withstands the dynamics of son confronting mother. Hamlet believes purgation possible; but does the ghost want it to occur? Further, the confrontation dramatizes the dialectical method of treating first principles as assumptions so characteristic of Hamlets epistemology as ...That I must be their scourge and minister (III,iv,177) implies.
Following the initial caustic exchange reminiscent of Anne and Richard in Richard II and in Hamlet, I,ii, the Prince defines his purpose with images recalling Cassius exchange with Brutus (26):
Queen Gertrude : Have you forgot me?
Hamlet: No, by the rood, not so:
You are the queen, your husband's brother's wife;
And--would it were not so!--you are my mother.
Queen Gertrude :Nay, then, I'll set those to you that can speak.
Hamlet :Come, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge;
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.
Two important truths emerge. Hamlet swears by the cross that Gertrude's condition has been a central (the central?) preoccupation, as the images which follow sustain. Hamlets greatest fear concerns the growth of the vicious mole within his mother, a cancer threatening spiritual annihilation. By setting up a glass, as he earlier did with the mousetrap, Hamlet hopes to achieve the same result as he did with Claudius, exposure but obviously with a different result--salvation. The question is whether the ghost so desires this result?
The volatile precariousness of Hamlets emotions--strained to the extent that for the moment, he wishes Gertrude were not his mother--accounts for Polonius death. The rash and bloody deed" morally and legally is murder, but when Gertrude asks, O me, what hast thou done?, he replies, Nay, I know not. / Is the king? (III,iv,24-25). Several interpretations appear. Either Hamlet admits he cannot rationally explain is actions, or the crime consists in killing the wrong man: has the ghost in either case scored a victory? Another possibility suggest that he does not care, since the intensity of his passions for Gertrude are the only considerations. As a parallel, we may recall his obsession with following the ghost despite Horatios warning that it could damn him. The bloody deed for Hamlet, though, is not as morally wicked as killing a king and marrying with his brother (incest). (III,iv,28-29).
Perhaps moral fanaticism best describes the mood, so that naturally any interruption, especially one construed as spying, would be met with the harshest response. Subjectively, Hamlet for the moment does not immediately consider the implications and consequences. Polonius death is a dramatization of the moles corruption of the microcosm--is the ghost pleased? Has Hamlet been damned? Blood imagery as in Macbeth verifies the moles existence.
Strong transitive verbs punctuate Hamlets resolve; every instance of the mole's presence is countered by images suggesting the ideals he wishes Gertrude to regain. Hamlet tests such an act that...
...blurs the grace and blush of modesty
Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
From the fair forehead of an innocent love
And sets a blister there, makes marriage vows
As false as dicers' oaths--O, such a deed
As from the body of contraction plucks
The very soul, and sweet religion makes
A rhapsody of words.
Personification moves toward a synthesis:
...Heaven's face doth glow:
Yea, this solidity and compound mass,
With tristful visage, as against the doom,
Is thought-sick at the act.
For compound mass read the cumulative effects of the mole [here the blister of Claudius / the ghost's presence], forced now to content with its opposite; the ideal Hamlet wishes restored. The dialectical mode parallels and reinforces the tension between mother and son. Gertrude is asked to recognize the moral dialectic within and do her own testing to remove the gross affront to Heaven implied in the synthesis.
Is the resulting synthesis, however, marred by the ghost? Tristful (F1) connotes sadness, but Q2 reads heated" which conveys the better sense of resolute anger meaning that the macrocosm itself deplores Gertrudes actions as a violation of the natural order and thus is thought-sick. (27).
Symbolic of Hamlets dialectic is the picture of his father and Claudius, one of grace (thesis), and the other like a mildewd ear (antithesis), that blasts his brother. The Arden edition notes that mildewd refers to Genesis XLI: 22-24, in which the Pharaohs dreams of seven good ears of corn is blasted and devoured by seven thin ears. (28). Utilizing the pictures, Hamlet demands Gertrude recognize the moral and sexual distinction, for,
...have you eyes?
You cannot call it love; for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it's humble,
And waits upon the judgment: and what judgment
Would step from this to this?
He can but conclude that her ...sense / Is apoplexd... (ll. 72-73), meaning paralyzed (Onions), and a sudden stop of voluntary motion (Schmidt). In II Henry IV, Shakespeare uses the word to connote a paralyzing sickness, (29), and when Hamlet applies it to Gertrude, he invokes the vicious moles (ghosts) effect.
Believing Gertrude lacks the will to discriminate morally, Hamlet continues to test, implying demoniac possession as the cause, thus marking A's ascent:
What devil was't
That thus hath cozen'd you at hoodman-blind?
Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,
Ears without hands or eyes, smelling sans all,
Or but a sickly part of one true sense
Could not so mope.
O shame! where is thy blush? Rebellious hell,
If thou canst mutine in a matron's bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax,
And melt in her own fire
As fire imagery interlaces with the ghosts pronouncements, Shakespeare identifies the source of Gertrudes affliction, but does Hamlet, especially after the successful (?) mousetrap, fully suspect the devil / ghost as the cause? (Perhaps A ascending?). Another interlace with the ghost is rebellious, frequently implying promiscuity in a play with many Hamlet affinities, Measure for Measure as in the rebellion of a codpiece (III,ii,122). Gertrudes lustful behaviour of course is the basis for Hamlets view of women, and it forfeits her right to be his moral exemplar, a role he dearly wishes she would resume. The destruction of virtue in youth is the inevitable result of the older generations misconduct as personified by the the macrocosmic transcendence of the ghosts evil intent. In effect, Gertrude like Lear, violates her place on the chain of being, since, ...frost itself as actively does burn, / And reason panders will. (I,iv,87). Certainly Hamlet knows this, or he would have used the phrase. Panders brings the dialectic to a tentative synthesis. Defined by Partridge as to subserve the lust of, the connotation implies the ghost / mole, --here thought of a sexually cancerous--intense passion for moral decay, caused when the will becomes corrupted by appetite, as Ulysses universal wolf metaphor so aptly describes. Gertrude provides a synthesis that her philosopher-king son began:
O Hamlet, speak no more:
Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul;
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct.
She is well aware of the moles existence and appears at least for the moment to be contrite, but the conclusion is not that simple. What does she know of the ghost which she cannot see? Hamlets merciless logic accepts Gertrudes admission, defining its specifics as sexually depraved:
Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty.
The language, especially to ones mother, is strong, but so is her conduct, he believes. Hamlets chastisements measure the intensity of his resolve (A) and excellently illustrate Shakespeares ability to subordinate motifs to characterization and the dramatic situation, as Henry James recognized. Hamlets indictment, with its obscene particulars, appears to suggest the moles dominance, recalling for instance, the unweeded garden soliloquy. Hamlet here enacts the particulars of that soliloquy by insisting his mother face her crimes. Enseemed denotatively means grease-stained, but in context implies release of sexual fluids, and in this case in a pig sty. "Stew'd" was in the Renaissance slang for a brothel. Dramatically, disease / corruption imagery is in dialectical tension Hamlet's resolve, paradoxically increasing its intensity.
But perhaps the most significant interlace recalls the ghost's words to Hamlet:
But virtue, as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel link'd,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,
And prey on garbage.
Certainly it is not unreasonable to assume Hamlet's accusations would take the form of the ghost's since Shakespeare intends the essence of his tragedy to emerge from so proximate an identification with the spirit's commands; the interlace involves, however, an irony essential to how the ghost scenes should be interpreted. Because the ghost is malevolent and has so profoundly affected the vicious mole's growth in Hamlet, it is not surprising to find him using such vocabulary. Is A really declining as the ghost wishes?
Following the ghost's departure, Hamlet mollifies his tone, perhaps sobered by the reminder not to forget the primary command. Hamlet, though, cannot leave his mother who must, he believes, be compelled to see Claudius' true nature. the question then becomes whether Gertrude can be saved, and this is essential to proving the spirit evil. Hamlet wants her redeemed as evidenced by two of his responses:
Gertrude: O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.
Hamlet: O throw away the worser part of it
And live the purer with the other half.
The (guarded) optimism expressed recalls Ophelia's assessment of Hamlet who, now, desperately seeks a return to what was. Further, his second response indicates he understands zeal for its own sake, and as a means necessary to compel repentance: "I must be cruel only to be kind," (III,iv,180), An axiom in Renaissance psychology is the necessity for self-knowledge. (30). It implies the rational soul in an introspective mode, fully governing passion and keeping the humors in balance. For Hamlet to acknowledge, to in effect apologize, actualizes Ophelia's judgment and is one of the most convincing proofs that he is able of wrenching free from the ghost's influence.
Hamlet tries to persuade his mother that he is not so mad that his admonitions dare be ignored:
Mother, for love of grace,
Lay not that flattering unction to your soul,
That not your trespass but my madness speaks;
It will but skin and film the uloerous place,
Whiles rank corruption, mining all within,
In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare uses "skin" to mean a symptomatic cure, "...authority / Hath yet a kind of medicine in itself / That skins the vice o'the top, " (II,iii, 134-146). The inference is clear, but 'mining' offers the more significant interlace. Microcosmically, it is the mole's presence in the recesses of Gertrude's soul to which Hamlet refers, but macrocosmically, ghostly malevolence interlaces with the 'cellarage' scene:
Ghost: (Cries under the stage.) Swear...
Hamlet: Well said, old mole, Cans't work i'th'earth so fast?...
Both Lavater's and Scot's opinion of devils tormenting miners will be considered in the next Chapter. For the present, the O.E.D., citing Hamlet's line, glosses mole as "one who works in darkness." Denotatively, mining per se is meant, but a connotative association with the devil, the prince of darkness, may be implied. The Renaissance still clung to literal interpretations of scripture, heaven was up and hell down, a belief still current, at least dramatically, in Paradise Lost where satan is cast out of heaven through uncreated chaos, down into the pit of fire that burns with no light. Such a plight, the ghost cannot describe to Hamlet.
Hamlet outlines Gertrude's salvation history with passionate intensity:
Confess yourself to heaven;
Repent what's past; avoid what is to come;
And do not spread the compost on the weeds
To make them ranker.
Now the focused anger of the 'sullied flesh' soliloquy finds a constructive outlet, not only for Gertrude but for Hamlet too. Implicit in his redemptive effort is also a selfish motive. If Claudius were removed and Gertrude saved, then non-ironically, the two conditions required for harmony would be actualized,. If the bedroom scene dramatizes Hamlet's consciousness in that regard, then he misunderstands the ghost's effect on what he is doing, something Horatio's warnings are meant to convey.
Hamlet, though, acknowledges the difficulty of Gertrude's burden by reminding her, in quasi-pornographic language, of Claudius as a moral degenerate: "bloat king," "pinch wanton," "reechy kisses,", and "Damn'd fingers," (ll.184-187), he reminds her. Is the ghost at work here?
The examination of III,iv, should conclude with Hamlet's treatment of Polonius, "I'll lug the guts into the neighbor room," (III,iv,214), he sarcastically declares. Hamlet is quite capable of simultaneously expressing gentle affection and overt cruelty. This emotionally derived dialectic occurs when his moral sensibilities are brutalized, especially by Gertrude's conduct. It is not that Hamlet regards Polonius' life as inconsequential; indeed the death will be a morally defined turning point for him, but rather Gertrude's behavior occasions such pain that the "...foolish prating knave..." seems to matter less. Has the ghost won an important victory?
Macrocosmically, the dialectic finds expression in Hamlet's awareness that Providence guides his existence, seeing to the unfolding of whatever fate he must endure. The belief is not new if we recall the end of Act I: "O cursed spite, / that ever i was born to set it right,: (I,v,196-197), but perhaps the attitude is. In other words, the resistance gradually synthesizes with acceptance, mitigating "cursed." As a moral crusader, Hamlet sees the time less 'out of joint,' and the implicit egoism in such a dialectic is indigenous to his character and must not be overlooked; it contributes to the development of the play's theological, if not scientific irony depending on how the "To be..." soliloquy is read. Is A ascending or descending?
We have discussed how Shakespeare dramatizes Claudius' abortive machinations to kill Hamlet. The disintegration implicit in his attempt--dramatized in Act IV--occurs because once allowed to grow, the 'vicious mole' becomes increasingly malignant. The characters' actions dramatize the growth, so there is only one major soliloquy in the act and none in Act V.
Early in IV,i, Gertrude, faithful to her promise, tells Claudius that Hamlet is "Mad as the sea and wind when both contend / Which is the mightier, (ll. 7-8). Ironically, Claudius' response attributes to Hamlet the very foulness he has perpetuated:
But so much was our love,
We would not understand what was most fit,
But like the owner of a foul disease,
To keep it from divulging, let it feed
Even on the pith of life.
Claudius' preoccupation with corruption and disease continues; he speaks of "Diseases desperate grown / By desperate appliance are reliev'd / Or not at all." (IV,iii,9-11) thereby creating a parallel dialectic. Although the king appears in control, (B after III) the very use of disease imagery ironically foreshadows a synthesis obviously not intended: his death. In Claudius, the 'vicious mole' defies remission.
When questioned about Polonius, Hamlet taunts with disease imagery interlacing with the 'fishmonger' scene:
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.
The interlace implies that hamlet sees Claudius as a pimp, one who has prostituted his mother; thus when he replies to the King's command that he make for England with , "I see a cherub that sees them, (l. 51), he assures Claudius that he knows his intention. The reference to 'cherub' connotes his trust in Providence, but can and will the ghost subvert the result?
Hamlet's final soliloquy, IV,iv, 32 ff., "How all occasions do inform..." contains little disease imagery beyond the significant mention of his mother being stained, (l. 57), His respect or Providence plus the impending departure make such references unnecessary. If he sees the macrocosm as subservient to God's will, then the concluding lines, "O, from this time forth, / My thoughts be bloody or nothing worth, (IV,iv,55-56) commit to public revenge unless the ghost can subvert the intent.
The dramatization of the catastrophe begins with the insane Ophelia, victim of Hamlet's brutality to her and of course Polonius. In Hamlet love can quickly become hate with the ghost's unleashing the vicious mole, but can the converse occur? Disease imagery figures incidentally but powerfully. Gertrude acknowledges her "...sick soul, as sin's true nature is..." (IV,v,17). Even Claudius is moved:
O,this is the poison of deep grief...
When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions...
Since the mature tragedies generally lack the melodramatic flavor of a Richard III, we may feel some pity for Claudius but not much; that may await the more complete treatment of the character in Macbeth. Claudius is worse than Macbeth in some respects. While the latter is a moral but not a physical coward, Claudius is both as he calls for his guards when Laertes bursts in. (IV,v,94 ff).
Shakespeare's universe operates causally, occasioned by Providence's overseeing characters who often imperfectly plot their destinies influenced by corrupted wills, lusting appetites and supernatural agents exacerbating those conditions. What makes dramatic irony possible in that context is that often the characters receive what they most desire without understanding the consequences as Macbeth and Claudius do. Laertes thus succumbs to Claudius' entrapment without realizing he is but a pawn...
But let him come.
It warms the very sickness in my heart
That I shall live and tell him to his teeth
'Thus diest thou.'
Just as the ghost "warms" Hamlet's sickness, so Claudius does for Laertes with the same result: death. Here macrocosm and microcosm symbolically converge, so that the ghost thinks what Claudius says, "For goodness, growing to a pleurisy. / Dies in his own too-much." (IV,vii,116-117). The idea expresses a fundamental paradox in Shakespearean tragedy: evil seems to generate from good which itself must suffer horribly before the good (macrocosmic / microcosmic harmony) be restored. In this play, the ghost is inextricably involved in ways alien and ironic to Hamlet's consciousness. Maybe he is too close to his situation to render objective judments--his intellect warns him of that possibility so he employs the dialectic and complements Horatio's wisdom which he may, nonetheless, not always follow, especially when the ghost is concerned.
As Shakespeare understood the power of metaphor to dramatize consciousness, he often constructed elaborate analogies to accomplish his intent. The metaphysics involved a fundamental dialectic that weds the pragmatic and observable to the intangible and supernatural:
Claudius : Laertes :: ghost : Hamlet
Each selects and attempts to manipulate a victim, each uses disease imagery, and exemplifies the 'vicious mole's' growth. What therefore is the difference between the King to Laertes:
Now must your conscience my acquaintance seal,
And you must put me in your heart for friend,
Sith you have heard, and with a knowing ear,
That he which hath your noble father slain...
and the ghost to Hamlet:
List, list, O, list!...
If thou didst ever thy dear father love--
Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder...
Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange and unnatural...
I find thee apt;
And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear:
'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.
And are not the responses likewise similar:
Laertes:To cut his throat in'th'church
Hamlet: And thy commandment all alone shall live
within the book and volume of my brain...
O villain, villain, smiling damned villain.
Both macrocosmic and microcosmic horrors correspond to promote the vicious mole's growth, dramatically and ironically. Thus Claudius proclaims, "No place indeed should murder sanctuarize; / Revenge should have no bounds." (IV,vii,126-127). The irony will visit Claudius in his own palace (B in decline), and does not the ghost demand the same revenge from Hamlet? Will irony likewise apply?
Ophelia's death inaugurates the catastrophe that culminates in Act V. Of it little is said beyond Gertrude's description and Laertes weeping which steels his revenge all the more. His "...speech of fire...' (l.189) and the water imagery suggests Lear's anguish when bound "...upon a wheel of fire that mine own tears / Do scald like molten lead." (IV,vii,46-48). Lear and Laertes suffer anguish born of their own misconceptions: Lear's from a failure to know himself, and Laertes from a failure to know Claudius. Grief can be easily manipulated to become revenge.
Death visits the final act with fury. The first scene, set in a graveyard, becomes a virtual allegory for what follows. Hamlet's participation and the tone recall the Ubi Sunt motif:
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.
The impermanence of earthly existence demands a craving for immortality in a universe that appears to betray more than fulfill. Undoubtedly recalls the Gertrude interview--"Pinch wanton on your cheek"--nothing apparently sustains tranquillity.
The gravediggers prelude a greater woe; Hamlet's wrath is the synthesis of present reality and an ideal one of family unity and love; what might have been until the murder and the ghost:
I loved Ophelia. Forth thousand brothers
could not with all the quantity of love|
Make up my sum.
Because Hamlet has do vigorously asserted the opposite even questioning her virtue, he may now be believed. Shakespeare dramatizes the synthesis, which finds an outlet ironically in a cemetery. Has the ghost won yet another victory?
The final scene is satiated with such bloody horror that the 'vicious mole' all but stalks the stage. Yet, Shakespeare carefully chooses counterpoints as if asking audience and character alike not to forget the dialectic:
Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well,
When our deep plots do pall: and that should teach us
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will,--
The synthesis resolves much of the irony to which this Chapter has referred, but in a dramatic and not necessarily supernatural context. Although the mole's effects cannot so easily be negated, the lines do evidence a maturity uncommon to youth, however intelligent, but here mustered by suffering endured and inflicted. More blatantly, Hamlet's evaluation of Claudius recalls the 'vicious mole's' presence:
He that hath kill'd my king and whored my mother,
Popp'd in between the election and my hopes,
Thrown out his angle for my proper life,
And with such cozenage--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?
Despise the validity of the charges, there remains something self-righteous in the tone; that desire for the world to be set right by revenge--God's minister. Can the ghost pervert this aim? The lines could be a second theme passage: "whor'd" and "canker" are familiar by now, so the question concerns the degree of awareness. Of course, Hamlet has changed, and the righteousness with which he views his task is evidenced when he argues that Providence directs even the sparrow's fall. (V,ii,215-216). The question however becomes to what degree a malevolent ghost may modify Hamlet's resolve. Must it too be tested dialectically?
Disease imagery appears for the final time when Hamlet slays Claudius:
Here, thou incestuous, murd'rous, damned Dane
Drink of this potion. Is the union here?
Follow my mother.
With Claudius' death, the cancer is excised, but the last line is difficult. Two opposite conclusions merit consideration. If Hamlet still wishes Claudius in hell, the implication appears to suggest that Gertrude too belongs there. Or, if Hamlet believes Gertrude did redeem herself, then Claudius deserves forgiveness after death. Considering that the Prince immediately forgives Laertes, an assumption might be that as long as public revenge has been executed, should God in his mercy forgive Claudius too?
Yet, that is countered by Hamlet's intense hatred for him, a malevolent ghost and his final lines:
O I die Horatio.
The potent poison quite o'ercrows my spirit.
Literally the explanation is clear, but if poison means the vicious mole's cancer, then Hamlet dies damning Claudius, Gertrude, and perhaps himself, so did the ghost win a great victory? The play appears to end as it began, with a question, but although it is very unwise to infer Shakespeare's personal conviction, might not Horatio's, "And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," (V,ii,365) imply that he intended Hamlet to be saved? If Boom is correct in asserting that Hamlet is a dramatization of Shakespeare's own intellect, then the bard may have had a personal reason for ending the play the way the line suggests. If so, is ghost a projection of some guilt Shakespeare felt insofar as his biography is not without marital discord? We do know he acted the ghost in productions. Bloom notes,
Two Hamlets confront each other, with virtually nothing
in common except their names. The ghost expects Hamlet
to be a version of himself...tough warlike, but as cunning
in the manipulation of his scholarly son as he was in
fending off his enemies. (32)
Dr. Johnson is Bloom's favorite critic, and there are shades of his influence in this assessment. For this study, however, a variant hypothesis might be that the ghost from hell wishes Hamlet to be more like himself, a "goblin damned."
Hamlet concerns diseases and its potential cure. The major characters become infected with moral decay, the mole's ultimate manifestation. Does Shakespeare allow Providence to restore harmony:
1. Claudius--incest, infidelity, murder, attempted murder. Death by stabbing / poison
2. Gertrude--incest, a possible accessory to murder, corruption of Hamlet. Death by poison
3. Polonius--senility, incompetence, misdirected love. Death by stabbing
4. Laertes--revenge, rashness, duped by Claudius. Death by stabbing
5. Rosencrantz & Guildernstern--accessories, attempted murder, spies. Death in England
6. Ophelia--no overt criminality, insanity--Death from insanity / possible suicide
7. Horatio--no criminality. Possible suicide 'after' the play ends
8. Hamlet--murder, accessory to Ophelia's death. Death by poison / stabbing
9. King Hamlet--former king--seen as 'goodly.' Murdered before the play opens
10. Something from beyond the grave...
Hamlet as revenge tragedy offers bloody violence, metaphysical and moral horror, and many many questions. Shakespeare transcends the genre's elementary requirements, chiefly though his mastery of poetics and depth of characterization. By establishing a dominant motif of disease and corruption and skillfully developing it through a series of carefully chosen interlaces, always present in moments of dramatic and moral tension, he enhances the genre and provides a structure suggesting macrocosmic and microcosmic horror. How the ghost contributes to irony implicit in that analogy must be investigating by first dialectically proving malevolence.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS for "HAMLET AND THE DAEMONS"
(1) S.T. Coleridge. Biographia Literaria, Chapter XIV in Elizabeth Schneider, (ed.). Coleridge: Selected Poetry and Prose. New York: Rinehardt and Winston, 1964, p. 271. (1871 edition).
(2) William Leary. Shakespeare Plain. New York: McGraw Hill, 1977, p. 174.
(3) S.T. Coleridge. Lecture Notes and Other Fragments in Thomas Raysor (ed.). Coleridge's Shakespeare Criticism. New York: Everyman, 1964, p. 198.
(4) James, p. 230.
(5) Leary, p. 172.
(6) Variorum, p. 81.
(7) Wilson, p. 207.
(8) Bradley, p. 40.
(9) Macbeth in particularly rich in theme / motifs patterns: "Blood" for example appears over one hundred times, aptly focusing attention of the depth of evil to which the protagonist is capable. Significantly Banquo's warnings regarding the supernatural ("...can the devil speak true?") are cited in this study.
(10) Variorum, p. 82.
(11) That Hamlet believes man essentially good finds expression elsewhere, His, "O God I could be bounded in a nutshell..." (II,ii,254.) and "What a piece of work is a man..." (II,ii,303, ff.) are assumptions he dialectically tests. His disgust at Ophelia and Gertrude would not exist if the assumption were false.
(12) Variorum, p. 85. The critic, White, however cannot resist the attempt.
(13) Arden, p. 451.
(14) Arden, p. 201, note 35.
(15) The lines reveal a great deal about Hamlet's mind. The sonnets employ the same language of 'courtly love' but unlike Romeo who merely repeats conventional commonplaces, Hamlet speaks more substantially. Sonnet XXIX for example regards the "bootless cries" unheard by "deaf heaven" as the speaker curses his fate. In CXIX, the lover writes of Siren tears... / foul as hell within,... / Still losing what I saw myself to win!" Further, "Wretched error" cause a "madding fever!" Were Hamlet the traditional courtly lover, the despair might dissipate as Sonnets XXIX and CXXX imply, but he is not. No such conclusion is immediately possible, especially since a malevolent ghost does all it can to prevent one from occurring.
(16) The dialectic has its corresponding emotional dynamic which pervades the play, and profoundly influences cognition. Here is such an instance wherein Hamlet confronts both grief and joy, wishing for the latter but momentarily convinced that the former is more substantial; a condition the ghost must sustain, as Hamlet himself seems to know when thinking about the 'mousetrap.'
(17) To be considered in this study is Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. Joan K. Peters in 1979 published an abridged edition, deleting the classical allusions, and noting in her introduction: "As foreign as some of Burton's terms and beliefs will be to the twentieth-century reader, it is remarkable how similar in its psychology and tone The Anatomy is to the "self help" books of our own era," See: The Anatomy of Melancholy (Milestones of Thought)., New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979, p.xv. The edition used in this study appeared in three volumes and is a reprint of the 1652 edition: New York: W. J, Widdleton, 1871.
(18) Lavater. Of ghoftes and fpirites walking by nyght. London, 1571, Part II, Chapter VII, p. 129.
(19) Scot. The Discoverie of Witchcraft. New York: Dover, 1972, p. 67.
(20) Scot, p. 68.
(21) Burton. The Anatomy of Melancholy. (Volume I) New York: J.D. Widdleton, 1871, Part I, Sec. 1. Member 2, Subsection X, p. 220.
(22) G. Wilson Knight. The Imperial Theme. London: University Paperbacks, 1965, p. 96 ff.
(23) Ernest Jones' psychological reading (Hamlet and Oedipus. New York: Doubleday, 1954 ) calls the passage "savage," suggesting that although Hamlet intends no murder, the very mention of Nero, who murdered his mother, implies a subconscious desire to kill Gertrude for whom he harbors sexual jealousy, (p. 113). Dramatically, we have accounted for this "ID" being the "vicious mole's" presence. The point is if the mole were to grow unchecked, then perhaps Hamlet would kill her, but it has not yet reached that degree of potency, being checked by his desire to save her, which is precisely why the ghost wants her left to heaven--remove that command, and the spirit wins.
(24) An instructive parallel is Satan's soliloquy in Book IV of Paradise Lost.
(25) Hence, the graveyard imagery of the "witching time" soliloquy implies a preoccupation with the ghost's revenge command, but that "bitter business" must wait until Gertrude is confronted; an event therefore the ghost does not want to see happen.
(26) See Julius Caesar, (I,ii,54-78). Cassius, speaking to Brutus, offers his own consciousness as a "glass" wherein he may "discover,,, / That of yourself which you yet not know of."
(27) Shakespeare uses "heated" to convey resolute anger. See III Henry VI, "We'll never leave till we have thee down / Or bathed thy growing with our heated bloods." (II,ii,169-170). Othello too uses similar language when his calm is tested by Iago.
(28) Arden, p. 322. See Genesis: "In another dream, I saw seven years of grain, fat and healthy, growing...Behind them sprouted seven ears of grain, shriveled and thin and blasted by the east wind." Significantly in context, the good ears consume the thin ones.
(29) See: II Henry IV: "His Highness is fallen into this same whoreson apoplexy." (II,ii,125)
(30) See Lear: "...he hath even but slenderly known himself." (I,ii,290)
(31) Compare for example the Medieval lyric "Ubi Sunt Qui Ante Nos Furent?" "Were beth they that bifore us weren, / Houndes ladden and havekes beren... / Were is that lawhing and that song,... / Al that joye is went away."
(32) Bloom, p. 387.