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Hamlet: An Introduction to Interpretations


Hamlet: An Introduction to Interpretations Grand Poetical Puzzle Play best reflects the universality of Shakespeare s genius, yet most enigmatic Hamlet has caused ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Hamlet: An Introduction to Interpretations

Hamlet An Introduction to Interpretations
Grand Poetical Puzzle
  • Play best reflects the universality of
    Shakespeares genius, yet most enigmatic
  • Hamlet has caused more discussion than any other
    character in fiction, dramatic or non-dramatic

Two Hamlets in the play
  • I. Sweet Prince
  • Sensitive young intellectual and idealist
  • Expresses himself in unforgettable poetry
  • Dedicated to the truth

Two Hamlets, cont.
  • II. Barbaric Hamlet
  • Treats Ophelia cruelly
  • Slays Polonius then speaks of lugging guts into
    another room
  • Callously reports sending Rosencrantz and
    Guildenstern to their deaths
  • Did Shakespeare transmute an old play without
    reconstructing it?

Critics dont accept the idea that Shakespeare
was not careful
  • Audiences and readers find themselves sympathetic
    to Hamlet
  • Try to find the key to his character through
    intensive study of Renaissance thought

H. N. Hudson, Shakespearean critic
  • It is easy to invent with plausibility almost
    any theory respecting Hamlet, but very hard to
    make any theory comprehend the whole subject.
  • From his Introduction to Hamlet, 1870

Tragic Hero
  • Must start with the assumption that the tragic
    hero has a clear and sacred obligation to kill
    Claudius and to do so without delay
  • Basic question Why does so much time elapse
    before the young Prince sweeps to his revenge?
  • It is argued that if he had acted quickly in
    killing Claudius, that everyone, including
    Hamlet, would still be alive at the end of the

Six InterpretationsI. Hamlet, the Victim of
External Difficulties
  • Simple answer
  • Hamlet faces external difficulties which make
    immediate, positive action impossible
  • Claudius too powerful only once placed himself
    in a defenseless position.
  • If H. acted, how could he have convinced the
    people that he justifiably had executed revenge?

II. Hamlet, the Sentimental Dreamer
  • Romantic critics of the late 18th and early 19th
    centuries saw H. as gifted but incapable of
    positive action.
  • Goethe first pointed out a sentimental
    interpretation Hamlet is a young man of
    lovely, pure, and moral nature, without the
    strength of nerve which forms a hero.

II. Sentimental Dreamer, cont .
  • Goethes Prince is an impractical dreamer
  • A.W. Schleger Hamlet has no firm belief either
    in himself or in anything else in the
    resolutions which he so often em- braces and
    always leaves unexecuted, his weakness is too
    apparent his far-fetched scruples are often
    mere pretexts to cover his want of determination
  • - Dramatic Art Literature, 1810

Sentimental Dreamer, cont.
  • Coleridge Hamlet suffers from an over-balance
    of the contemplative faculty and thereby
    becomes the creature of mere meditation and loses
    his power to action
  • - Notes Lectures on Shakespeare, 1808
  • William Hazlitt At other times , when he is
    most bound to act, he remains puzzled, undecided,
    and sceptical sic, dallies with his purposes,
    till the occasion is lost
  • - Characters in Shakespeares Plays, 1818

III. The Victim of Excessive Melancholy
  • Theory comes from 18th century
  • Hamlets grief is pathological.
  • It is a destructive thing which causes him to
    procrastinate and leads to his death.
  • Melancholy called the Elizabethan malady
  • Was recognized as a disease
  • Treatises written on it

Excessive Melancholy, cont.
  • Melancholy characters of one kind or another
    appeared often in elizabethan and Jacobean plays
  • Hamlet has been classified as the intellectual
    melancholy type
  • Disease that afflicts him is most destructive
    kind, melancholy adust
  • When his mood shifts from deep depression to
    elation, he is following the pattern of behavior
    peculiar to the melancholic described by Bright
    in his A Treatise of Melancholie, 1586

IV. The Victim of the Oedipus Complex
  • Freudian, or neo-Freudian, interpretation of
    Hamlet that appeals to people today
  • Dr. Ernest Jones, disciple and biographer of
    Sigmund Freud, wrote Hamlet Oedipus in 1910
  • Hamlet suffered from an undue and unhealthy
    attachment of a son for his mother which is apt
    to be morbidly suppressed and cause great mental

Oedipus Complex, cont.
  • Harry Levin rejects the theory
  • This theory motivates Hamlets delay by
    identifying him with Claudius, through whom he
    has vicariously accomplished the Oedipal feat of
    murdering his father and marrying his mother
  • -The Question of Hamlet

V. Motivated by Ambition
  • Play seen as one of the Elizabethan ambition
  • The reason for Hamlets desire to kill his uncle
    is not to avenge his fathers foul and most
    unnatural murder, but rather to make possible
    his own advancement to the throne
  • The delays and inner conflicts are the result of
    his awareness that personal ambition and pride,
    not sacred duty, motivate him.

VI. Misled by the Ghost
  • Not all critics agree that the ghost is an honest
    ghost or that Hamlet has a solemn duty to slay
  • This denies the assumption that Hamlet is the
    instrument of divine vengeance public justice
    and is instead a sinner must suffer for his
  • Hamlet is a tragic hero who should not take
    vengeance into his own hands

Misled by the Ghost, cont.
  • Renaissance theories of revenge will help us
    understand Hs dilemma
  • The test of the Ghosts honesty is not to
    establish Claudiuss guilt, but to establish the
    nature of the Ghosts injunction
  • If Ghost is not honest, the Prince is called upon
    to execute private vengeance, an eye for an eye,
    a tooth for a tooth, which is contrary to
    Christian teaching
  • Hs problem a man who believes in heaven and
    hell and whose reason tells him that the man who
    defies divine ordinance ultimately must face

Misled by the Ghost, cont.
  • Shakespeare, then, portrays a tragic hero who
    should not take vengeance into his own hands and
    a Ghost that is a spirit damnd.
  • This is Eleanor Prossers theory Hamlet and
    Revenge, 1967
  • Instead of seeing H as one whose propensity for
    thought prevents him from performing the
    necessary action, Prosser finds him to be one
    whose conscience, which operates with reason,
    restrains him for some time from acting
    impulsively in response to instinct.

  • Shakespeares tragedy is a work of surpassing
    interest and genius, and the tragic hero is
    universally attractive and fascinating.
  • Only the naïve will start with the assumption
    that there is one obvious interpretation of the
    play and that critics, not Shakespeare, have
    introduced complexities into it.
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