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By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
or more than 350 years Hamlet has been one of the theater's most successful plays. More has probably been written about Hamlet, the Prince, than about any other figure in literature, for the play is enshrouded in a mystery of words about politics, theology, and morality in Elizabethan England. It is true that we cannot hope to know what Shakespeare knew or thought. But the moral truth that seems to emerge from Hamlet is that man is oftentimes no more than "a pipe for Fortune's finger to sound what stop she please." Hamlet is a tormented man in conflict with Fate, Society, and himself, and is tortured by a nagging malady, "Some vicious mole of nature," that breaks down the "pales and forts of his reason." Elizabethan men of learning and intellectual curiosity no doubt pondered the phenomena of mental disorders. Cardan's Cornforte, a book of consolation traditionally associated with Hamlet, points out that a man is nothing but his mind: if the mind is discontented, the man is disquieted though the rest of him be well. Hamlet is such a man, disquieted and melancholic, suffering from the stamp of one defect: the impediment of memory. Today, we have discovered that memory is a sensitive, delicate, and still unplumbed function of the brain. Memory, like a slate, is sometimes wiped out completely or partially, depending upon the kind of damage to the brain or the intensity of the psychological shock. Psychiatrists indicate that psychological memory blackouts can often be restored in reasonable lengths of time. Some cases, admittedly, remain baffling. My purpose is not to make a medical diagnosis of Hamlet, but rather, to point out that Shakespeare created, in the world of the play, conditions that precipitated a mental strain on Hamlet that he could not endure. Thus, the play is not just the stale plot of a disinherited Prince nor just the muddled controversy about the manifestations of the supernatural, but the intriguing dramatic idea of a man caught on the horns of a supernatural dilemma and trapped into inertia by the stamp of one defect. It is the dramatic value of the defect that is important and not the defect itself. I propose therefore to evaluate the dramatic value of Hamlet's impediment and to show how much it accounts for in the play. The Succession: Why did Hamlet not succeed to the throne upon his father's death? From Ophelia we learn that at one time he was "Th'-expectancy and rose of the fair state." This is perhaps the most glaring anomaly of the play. It is unlikely that Hamlet was simply disregarded because he was deemed too young and unproved in war. Therefore, the facts of the succession must be plumbed to the full. To be sure, the Denmark of Saxo Grammaticus was a barbarous and primitive country, but we can almost be assured that Shakespeare did not have the Denmark of Saxo Grammaticus in mind in the play but the Denmark of his own day. The right of succession in feudal Europe fell to the eldest son, or to the eldest daughter (as in the case of Mary and Elizabeth) where there were no sons to continue and where queens were
From Shakespeare in the Southwest: Some New Directions, Tony J. Stafford, Editor, El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1969
permitted to rule. Only in the event of a failure in the line of succession would the crown pass to a brother. It has been suggested that in Hamlet, Hamlet the Elder ruled jointly with Gertrude because her father, and not his, had been king of Denmark. He was king, therefore, only by virtue of his marriage to Gertrude. For this reason, the argument continues, the death of Hamlet the Elder did not void the crown but represented only Gertrude's lack of a husband, which she immediately took care of by marrying her brother-in-law. This argument accounts for Claudius' calling her the "imperial jointress" of Denmark. On the other hand, another argument suggests that Hamlet gives us a clue about the constitution of Denmark when he tells Horatio that Claudius popped in between the "election" and his hopes. An election suggests some kind of democracy in which, more than likely, the court nobility constituted an electorate council for special purposes, one of these purposes being the election of a monarch in case of lineal fault or contested claims, in the case of an heirless monarch or heir-apparent. There is some question in the play about Claudius' right to the throne, but nevertheless he was the choice of the electors of the Danish Court. In the first court scene Claudius expresses his thanks to the "electorate" for their approval of him as king and of his marriage to Gertrude, his brother's wife. At the moment there seems to be no doubt about Claudius' right to be king. But why is Hamlet not king? Notwithstanding Denmark's "elective monarchy," it seems contrary to feudal custom for the Council to have overpassed Hamlet in the succession and elected his uncle instead. And what about Gertrude? How much did she influence the electorate in Claudius' favor by marrying him? In the first court scene she addresses Hamlet, saying, ... cast thy nighted color off, And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark. Do not for ever with thy vailed lids Seek for thy noble father in the dust, which can only mean that Hamlet's condition was regarded as stemming from grief for his father's death and not from disappointment in not succeeding to the throne. Even Claudius advises Hamlet to throw off his unprevailing woe. Neither Gertrude nor the rest of the court, for that matter, show any sign of recognizing Hamlet as the rightful successor. He was entitled to the crown by right of primogeniture, but he was supplanted in this right by Claudius. Why? Claudius certainly does not feel guilty about it; nor does Gertrude at the moment feel guilty about being his wife. That it is an "incestuous" marriage does not seem to have bothered the electorate. Is it possible that perhaps the electorate may have chosen Claudius as king because Hamlet was in some way incapable of assuming the crown? Or did Claudius influence or intimidate the electorate somehow, considering the "rotten" state of Denmark? It seems likely that Hamlet's father would have naturally designated his son, and not Claudius, had the election been normal. As it was, young Fortinbras was already pressing for certain concessions since the death of Hamlet the Elder, and the country, therefore, would require a "capable" monarch. The "joint" monarchy of Claudius and Gertrude would provide this stability. As Hamlet the Elder's brother, Claudius was certainly more than qualified to head the government. Hamlet has a moral and legal claim to the throne and it is hard to dismiss it lightly with the idea of some "elective" process, his age, or lack of military prowess. If we are dealing here with a Danish feudal code, there is all the more reason for wondering about Hamlet's lack of advancement. From the text, however, we must assume that initially Hamlet accepted his nonsuccession as a matter of course since he applied for permission to return to Wittenberg. But 17
Claudius assures him that For your intent In going back to school in Wittenberg, It is most retrograde to our desire; And we beseech you, bend you to remain Here, in the cheer and comfort of our eye, Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son. And Gertrude pleads: Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet: I pray thee, stay with us; go not to Wittenberg. They both think the best place for Hamlet, bereaved and melancholic, is Elsinore. Perhaps Claudius's reason may be that he fears Hamlet's influence with the people. But in Gertrude's plea we sense a certain curious maternal urgency suggesting that by keeping her son at home she might be better able to look after him. We note that throughout all this, Hamlet is docile. Perhaps Wittenberg was nothing more than a cloister for her "afflicted" son. And it does seem strange for a thirty year-old Prince to be still in school, for as Salvador de Madariaga says, "a thirty-year-old student-prince would be a somewhat strange bird at any university." At this point, we may agree that there must have been indeed something rotten in Denmark and postulate that Hamlet's rejection as a ruler may have had something to do with Hamlet himself. What is Your Affair in Elsinore? When Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo enter to tell Hamlet about the ghost, he seems startled to see Horatio: "— Or I do forget myself!" Hamlet says. Then Hamlet asks, "And what make you from Wittenberg, Horatio? Marcellus?" But Marcellus replies, "My good lord!" which may mean that he thought Hamlet should know why Horatio is in Elsinore. Then Hamlet repeats himself, "But what, in faith, make you from Wittenberg?" Horatio replies, "A truant disposition, good my lord." The pun there is on the word "truant" which might equally be applied to mean Horatio is truant in staying away from the University or Hamlet's truant mind. Again Hamlet asks, "But what is your affair. in Elsinore?" Horatio tells him something he seems to have forgotten, "My lord, I came to see your father's funeral." The discrepancy in Hamlet's behavior here is exceptionally glaring. The only alternative in the world of the play to explain Hamlet's surprise at seeing Horatio is that Horatio has just arrived at Elsinore and that this is the first time he has seen Hamlet. But this is not so, as Horatio explains, reminding Hamlet that the reason he is in Elsinore is for Hamlet's father's funeral. The obvious inference is that he has been there all the time. Why is Hamlet unaware of Horatio's presence and purpose in Elsinore? We know that Horatio and Hamlet are both Wittenberg students. And I do not think it unreasonable to assume that they both may have journeyed together from Wittenberg to Elsinore for the funeral. Furthermore, it has been two months since the funeral and, allowing that perhaps Horatio and Hamlet did not come to Elsinore together, it seems more than reasonable that both "friends" would have met long before now. Court protocol would certainly have brought them together since the funeral. Besides, when Horatio decides to 18
take the news about the ghost to Hamlet, he says, I this morning know Where we shall find him most conveniently. Horatio seems to know Hamlet's whereabouts, and the fact that all three of them enter unannounced may indicate the relative freedom of access among the court members at Elsinore. For the moment, at least, Hamlet seems to have forgotten why Horatio is in Elsinore. An instant later, Hamlet utters, "My father — methinks I see my father." Horatio, who has not yet told him about the ghost, assumes Hamlet is seeing it and asks, "0, where my lord?" looking around. And as the audience too may have looked around for the ghost, Hamlet explains, "In my mind's eye, Horatio." The purpose of this sleight-of-word play may have been for advancing the suspense of the story and for introducing the necessary mystical element into Hamlet's already somber character. My Tables, My Tables! Hamlet encounters the ghost. It finds him apt and tells him the whole sordid story of Claudius' crime, but only after the following invocation: And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed That rots itself in ease on Lethe wharf, Wouldst thou not stir in this. The reference to forgetfulness is so obvious that it cannot be overlooked as possibly referring to Hamlet's defect. Later, when the ghost admonishes Hamlet to remember him, Hamlet replies, strangely, that he will ... while memory holds a seat In this distracted globe. Then Shakespeare has Hamlet say, Yea, from the table of my memory I'll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there; And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmix'd with baser matter. The command is to be recorded in the tissues of his brain, impressed upon it. This is very much in accord with faculty psychology and the Renaissance explanation of memory. But we know Hamlet's state of mind as a result of his father's death and his mother's "o'erhasty" marriage to his uncle. I have suggested that the whole business of the succession is questionable, if not suspicious; and I have also pointed out the discrepancy in Hamlet's audience with Horatio. Hamlet emphasizes the word "memory" in his avowal to remember. He calls for his tables. Does he write down an observation on men and manners, "That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain?" Or does he write down what he says several lines Iater?
Now to my word. It is, "Adieu, adieu! remember me." I have sworn't. In view of the emphasis upon "memory" in Hamlet's speech, and my comments on the succession, and Hamlet's audience with Horatio, I think we may reasonably assume that he probably wrote down the ghost's commandment: "Adieu, adieu! remember me" (italics mine). If we assume that this is not just a remark to show that Hamlet is going to give great emphasis to what he has been told by the ghost, but that he actually writes the commandment down in order not to forget, then the .whole process of scholarship and education at Wittenberg is immediately suspect. Or maybe Wittenberg, like Denmark, was a prison for Hamlet, a shelter for the strange prince who has trouble remembering. The Time is out of Joint. The ghost has extracted Hamlet's promise of revenge, and Hamlet in turn has extracted from Horatio and Marcellus a promise not to reveal what they have seen and also not to betray him with the slightest sign should his disposition be antic when they see him. Leaving the parapets of the castle, Hamlet utters his complaint: The time is out of joint, 0 cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right! This is a bitter cry, J. Dover Wilson thinks, and I agree. At times Hamlet has brilliant, lucid moments; then at other times, vague and sketchy moments. He lives in a dichotomous world of light and dark, of hope and despair, of memory and forgetfulness. Time eludes him, as we shall see. Yet purpose clings tenuously to his memory, and for this reason he has a mind that cannot hold to one intent. The real merges with the unreal. We may wonder (as Elizabethans no doubt wondered) what dark and sinister things prey on him when he is absent from his mind? Times that he could not remember would certainly be out of joint. One may imagine the frustration of such a defect eliciting his bitter cry: "0 cursed spite/ That ever I was born to set it right!" With his Doublet all Unbraced: Hamlet's disorder has progressed to a critical stage, for he barges into Ophelia's closet while she is sewing ... with his doublet all unbraced, No hat upon his head, his stockings foul'd, Ungarter'd, and down-gyved to his ankle; Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other; And with a look so piteous in purport As if he had been loosed out of hell To speak of horrors. She explains to her father: 20
He took me by the wrist and held me hard; Then goes be to the length of all his arm And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow, He falls to such perusal of my face As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so; At last, a little shaking of mine arm And thrice his head thus waving up and down, He raised a sigh_so piteous and profound As it did seem to shatter all his bulk And end his being. That done, he lets me go, And, with his head over his shoulder turn'd, He seem'd to find his way without his eyes; For out o' doors he went without their help, And, to the last, bended their light on me. This all follows almost on the heels of the first act. We are not sure what interval of time has elapsed between Act I and Act II, but I seriously doubt that Hamlet is to be taken in this scene with Ophelia as the distraught and rejected Renaissance lover simply because his appearance here represents the way in which such lovers were commonly characterized. Hamlet's appearance in this scene is the most characteristic thus far of his defect. I know what those who argue that he was feigning madness have said about this scene. There is nothing assumed or pretended here. Ophelia's words describe Hamlet's extreme distress. And to suppose that Hamlet's behavior here is antic, I think is as absurd as J. Dover Wilson contends it is. Hamlet is not completely out of the "fit" when he comes to Ophelia. It is pity and not romantic laughter that this scene should arouse. For here is a sick man seeking help from a world that cannot begin to understand him, much less help him. In examining Ophelia's face closely, he may have been groping desperately for memory. He says nothing at this moment. Perhaps be does not know where he is and whom he is with? He seems to be searching Ophelia's face for some sign of recognition. Then, shaking his head up and down as if perhaps recognizing her, he sighs profoundly. He releases her and goes to the door, not taking his eyes off her because perhaps at last here is a human being he knows. He is Far Gone, Far Gone! The king solicits the aid of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to pry out the cause of Hamlet's odd behavior. Polonius then reports to the monarchs Ophelia's account of Hamlet's appearance in her closet and tells them Hamlet is suffering from ecstasy. He suggests "loosing" his daughter on Hamlet to test his conclusion. At that moment Hamlet enters reading a book. Polonius beseeches the monarchs to slip away and he stays to talk to Hamlet alone. Do you know me, my lord?" Polonius asks Hamlet. Hamlet replies, "Excellent well. You are a fishmonger." This part of the scene has long been interpreted as proof of Hamlet's antic behavior. But in view of what I have already suggested about Hamlet's memory, it may be quite Iikely that he does not remember Polonius at the moment. Then Hamlet asks Polonius a most baffling question: "Have you a daughter?" And Polonius utters (aside) the truth of the matter: that Hamlet knew him not at first and called him a fishmonger. "He is far gone, far gone!"
To Be or Not To Be Hamlet's spirits have been uplifted by the appearance of the players whom he has instructed to play The Murder of Gonzago or, as he called it, "The Mousetrap." As Hamlet enters, Polonius and the king duck behind the arras to observe, for in a moment Ophelia, as part of their plan, will come by to test if the cause of Hamlet's odd behavior be love for her. "To be or not to be," Hamlet says as he enters, "that is the question." This speech represents Hamlet's preoccupation with living or dying. In terms of Hamlet's defect, I think the soliloquy also represents Hamlet's concern about the dark moments of his impediment when he cannot remember. A man who cannot remember must have a terrible fear of those moments when he drifts off to sleep, not knowing if he will awaken or not. Life is memory; and if there is no memory, then there is no life, but a living death for human beings, a death akin to the death of sleep. "0 God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams," Hamlet told Rosencrantz. Hamlet's real-dream world is more a place of shadow than substance as he himself said: "A dream itself is but a shadow." The first alternative to such a shadowy existence is Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. and the second alternative is whether to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them. Both are alternatives of decision, but how can a disordered mind make a decision? The simplest solution would be To die — to sleep No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to. This is wishful thinking, as he himself knows, yet 'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished. And equating death and sleep, he continues: To die — to sleep. To sleep — perchance to dream. But he recognizes the fallacy of the argument: ... ay, there's the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause. Then a lucidity enters the soliloquy that reminds us of Polonius' remark: "How pregnant 22
sometimes his replies are! a happiness that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity could not so prosperously be delivered of." Hamlet says, There's the respect That makes calamity of so long life. Then he poses an option: For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin. Here at last is the confrontation with the "undiscovered country." He wonders Who would these fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death – The-undiscovered country, from whose bourn No traveler returns — puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of. Better to suffer the ills of this world than to hazard the ills of the undiscovered country about which we know nothing. "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all," Hamlet says. By "conscience" he meant "reason," for he explains: And thus the native hue of resolution Is sickled o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry And lose the name of action. Thus Hamlet ponders about himself, his inertia, life, and death. The soliloquy does not demonstrate Hamlet's lack of memory, but, rather, the return of his memory since he is concerned here about his failure to act, to carry out the ghost's injunction. This is one of Hamlet's lucid moments. For, as I have said, there are times when Hamlet remembers and times when he forgets. He alternates between remembrance and forgetfulness. It is this alternation and Hamlet's doubts that account for the delay in executing his commission. I am not rejecting the traditionally accepted reading of this passage. I am merely suggesting that in the context of Hamlet's impediment, the passage also implies Hamlet's awareness of his mental problem. Hamlet has doubts that the ghost he has seen may be a devil, because "the devil hath power/ T'assume a pleasing shape" and that perhaps out of his weakness and melancholy the ghost may be the Devil abusing him to damn him since the Devil "is very potent with such spirits." These doubts and the doubt about the undiscovered country are part of the characterization Shakespeare 23
gave Hamlet in keeping with what I suggested may have been Shakespeare's original design, namely, the dramatization of the controversy about the manifestations of the supernatural. We know that the supernatural actuates the play and provides the revelation of Claudius' crime. This revelation coupled with the ghost's injunction weighs heavily on Hamlet's already perturbed mind. If there is something wrong with Hamlet from the beginning of the play, as I have suggested, then Hamlet's condition is worsened by the ghost's revelation. Therefore, the soliloquy demonstrates Hamlet's awareness of his inertia, which he thinks is caused by conscience. Like John-adreams, unpregnant of his cause, he has said and done nothing. But now Hamlet is aware of his problem. Awareness, of course, does not mean elimination of the problem or that he has come to grips with it, but it does indicate that a ray of light, however dim it may be, has penetrated his consciousness. The conflict between Hamlet and the supernatural has been precisely his inability to carry out the ghost's injunction. The impatient ghost appears later, visible only to Hamlet, to whet his almost blunted purpose. As I have already indicated, Hamlet's malady is at fault as well as his doubt about the ghost. Hamlet becomes confused after talking with the ghost, and his confusion reflects the superstitious confusion of Elizabethan England. In which of the three prevalent views about ghosts could Elizabethans believe? In the play we have the dramatic situation of a perturbed mind confronted with these alternatives about ghosts. Hamlet has been prompted to doubtful revenge by both heaven and hell. According to Elizabethan pneumatology, the ghost could have been the spirit of his father; it could have been the Devil abusing him to damn him; or it could have been the figment of his perturbed mind. For this reason, it appears, Shakespeare has Hamlet tell Horatio "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." It becomes readily apparent what the relationship of the supernatural elements of the play are to Hamlet's delay. They represent the elements of the controversy about ghosts. Hamlet delays because he is not sure about the ghost. Hamlet's conflict with the supernatural is that while he believes there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Horatio's philosophy, he does not trust the ghost, or his own mind for that matter. He is "crawling between heaven and earth" remembering and forgetting. Therefore, the delay is compounded by his impediment. Thus the whole play turns upon the compound nature of the delay. The dramatic situation of Hamlet's impediment is related to the supernatural elements of the play because Shakespeare meant the play to be nature's mirror, "as 'twere." If we assume that Hamlet's advice to the players reflects Shakespeare's own dramatic theory, then we may reasonably assume that Hamlet mirrors the supernatural beliefs of Elizabethan England. For as Hamlet tells the players: Suit the action to the word, the word to the action ... for anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. I Never Gave You Aught. Hamlet has reached a turning point in the play. The light of cognition is starting to illuminate the darkness of his mind. When he sees Ophelia in this new illumination, he realizes that any liaison with her is out of the question. So he fortifies himself, saying, Nymph, in thy orisons 24
Be all my sins remember'd. He will be cruel to be kind, and he is. Mercilessly he tells Ophelia she should not have believed he loved her. Get thee to a nunnery! Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. Hamlet is deliberately estranging himself from Ophelia. She wants to return his remembrances, but he insists he never gave her aught. No, he never gave her anything! Ophelia may be unhappy but Hamlet is more unhappy. It is a deliberate effort to alienate her. For later in the graveyard scene he declares I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers Could not (with all their quantity of love) Make up my sum. 'Tis Twice Two Months: The playlet is about to begin. The audience is assembled. Hamlet has given his advice to the players. Horatio has his instructions. But Hamlet seems to be overdoing everything like the man who knows something particularly secret and thinks everybody else knows he knows something. His suggestive play with Ophelia about "country matters" is certainly out of character with what has just happened between them. Ophelia may be tolerant here, not erotic. She knows there is something wrong with Hamlet. She has already had two experiences with him when he was not himself. At the moment Hamlet seems rather oblivious to all that has happened before. Like a man in a dream he may be intentionally exaggerating everything because he cannot remember the past. He has misplaced the candle, so to speak, momentarily. That this is so is borne out when he says to Ophelia, "For, look you, how cheerfully my mother looks, and my father died within's two hours." Ophelia gently reminds him, "Nay, 'tis twice two months, my lord." Hamlet is confused: "So long?" There is something awry in his "distracted globe." "0 heavens!" he cries, "die two months ago, and not forgotten yet?" He cannot comprehend that it is four months and not two since his father died. Is it The King? The king, "frighted with false fire," stops the playlet and leaves. Hamlet is convinced now that the ghost's story is true. After some repartee with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he starts for his mother's closet. En route he passes by the king's chamber and sees him kneeling at prayer. We know that if it weren't for the ghost, the king would have been secure against any possible discovery of the crime that. satisfied his ambition by netting him the crown and the queen. But the playlet was too close to the truth for comfort. Hamlet knows the truth; perhaps he even guessed it before the ghost told him. What Claudius does not know, of course, is that his 25
brother's ghost is after him through Hamlet. But Hamlet has second thoughts about killing the king and goes on to his mother's closet. In the meantime, unknown to Hamlet, Polonius has been counseling the Queen about her prankish son. Hearing Hamlet at the door Polonius hides behind the arras. Hamlet frightens Gertrude so that in calling for help Polonius gives himself away and Hamlet runs his sword through him, crying: `How now? a rat?" The Queen is aghast. And Hamlet asks: "Is it the king?" He does not remember that he left the king praying in his chamber. To counter the objection that it could have been the king, since the closet scene is a new scene, one needs to consider only that the original or prompt copy of the play was not divided into acts or scenes since the action was continuous. Hamlet leaves the king praying, and six lines later Hamlet is in the closet scene. It seems unlikely that the king, wrestling with his conscience, would hurry to Gertrude's closet in advance of Hamlet, or that he could have slipped into the room unnoticed by either Hamlet or Gertrude, because Hamlet kills Polonius sixteen lines after he enters. Some critics have suggested that there was an access covered with an arras from the king's chamber to Gertrude's. But the architecture of the times does not readily support the suggestion. The audience knows it is Polonius and not the king, which is what elevates the dramatic value of Hamlet's cry: "Is it the king?" The clue that Hamlet has forgotten where he left the king is too obvious here, I think. Hamlet is too far gone now for reasoning with him. His mind is so mixed up with bits and pieces of memory that he is "king only of shreds and patches" of recollection. Thus reading the play one may infer that it is Hamlet's pathological condition and not simple hesitance that delays his commission. In part, this essay has tried to provide reasonable answers to perhaps unreasonable questions. And one is never quite certain of the proper sequence of these questions. Some of them are, of course, easier to answer than others. Questions about the ghost and the succession, for example, I think can be answered directly and to the point. However, I do not think there is sufficient evidence in the play to support the argument that Hamlet's erratic behavior was part of a willfully thought-out plan to confuse the principals in the world of the play, even though he says that this is what he has on his mind. What has been heretofore considered "antic disposition" I have tried to show is really part of Hamlet's malady. Deliberate antic behavior would have been immediately discerned and identified as such. But none of the characters in the play thinks Hamlet is only acting oddly. Antic behavior is usually absurd, and no one thought Hamlet's behavior absurd. His malady was much too real to be dismissed so lightly. Too many people were concerned about Hamlet, to the point of pacifying him. The malady teeters Hamlet like a see-saw, now up, now down. No, Hamlet has not assumed the posture of madness out of necessity. His "madness' is not a pretense, even though he might have liked to believe it was at first and would have liked the rest of the court to believe it. It is not mad Hamlet we see stalking across the boards, but sick Hamlet, sick in heart and mind, searching desperately in the dark corridors of his mind for an exit, not knowing that the exit might only lead to another dark room. In the end, bearing himself philosophically at last, he realizes that existence is nothing more than a prison of the body, and the body, in turn, a prison of the mind. And in this prison of Chinese boxes, Fate is the jailer and the Unknown is the warder. It may be meaningless to see a delay in Hamlet, merely because the ghost's commandment is not executed at once. Naturally, the play is carrying out that command somehow, and naturally, the ghost's revenge will be done by the end of the play. But in Hamlet we are not interested in the delay per se, but in the dramatic justification for it. The idea of Hamlet as a play undoubtedly presented certain dramatic problems to Shakespeare. The most obvious problem, of course, was how to account for Hamlet's not carrying out swift and bloody vengeance on his uncle 26
immediately after learning of his father's murder. The delay in Hamlet is very purposeful, and as a consequence has been the real knotty issue of the play. Interpretations of the delay have been varied. But psychologist-critics have maintained all along that the delay is due not to external obstacles but to an inherent character disorder. The clues and impressions in the play suggesting a mentally unstable Hamlet are too many not to be part of a deliberate pattern. And perhaps the originality of Hamlet lies in Shakespeare's having taken the idea of mental disorders seriously. In the mind of Hamlet there is no delay. A man suffering from memory lapses, a man who reduces four months to two hours, a man who cannot remember his friends or what he does and says cannot possibly imagine that he is not acting with full deliberate speed and that he has lost his sovereignty of reason. Hamlet fails to act because he forgets, and perhaps has forgotten also where he put the tablet upon which he wrote the ghost's commandment not to forget. Hamlet may have achieved a turning point in his "To be or not to be" soliloquy, but the play does not achieve a turning point until after the death of Polonius. From this point on, there is no longer an incongruity between Hamlet and the play. The last appearance of the ghost, not so strangely coincidental after Polonius' death, directs Hamlet's purpose to the end of the affair. The action in the two concluding acts moves swiftly and inevitably to the confrontation between Hamlet and his uncle. The "divinity that doth hedge a king" does not save Claudius. The ghost is revenged. The wicked have been properly punished. About the moral we cannot say, except that the judgment of the audience is not the judgment of the play world outlined by Horatio:... let me speak to the yet unknowing world How these things came about. So shall you hear Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts; Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters; Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause; And, in this upshot, purposes mistook Fall'n on the inventor's heads. Plays are like dreams to which we attach our own meanings. What I perceive to be the true character of Hamlet may not necessarily be what others perceive as his true character. But early in the play Hamlet himself gives us a clue to his essential nature. 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 their o'ergrowth of some complexion, Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason, Or by some habit that too much o'erleavens 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 e'il Doth all the noble substance often doubt 27
To his own scandal. The stamp of one defect! And much later he says: ... 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. Both are references to the unknown finger of Fortune reaching from beyond — the undiscovered country — and challenging man to unequal combat.