Arjuna and Hamlet: Two Moral Dilemmās Author(s): Alur Janaki Ram Source: Philosophy East and West

, Vol. 18, No. 1/2 (Jan. - Apr., 1968), pp. 11-28 Published by: University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL: Accessed: 06/05/2009 09:35
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

University of Hawai'i Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Philosophy East and West.

" The Wheel of Fire (London: Methuen & Co. C." pp. G. L. 151-185. Hunter. 81. 82-102.l and also castigated for an allegedly exclusive concern with negative deathforces.. pp. 1959). 55). . 1959). "The Heroism of Hamlet. The ShakespearianEthic (London: Chatto & Windus. it functions in the play as a conflict between "the instinctive wisdom of antiquity and her heroic passions" (as symbolized in the elder Hamlet) and "the meditative wisdom of later ages" (as embodied in Hamlet himself). 1959). 47-50." pp. Knights. 1960). in particular. Harry Levin. University of Rajasthan. The Question of 'Hamlet' (New York: Oxford University Press.3 Even the Hamlet hero problem has now come to be seen in its right perspective. and also Peter Ure's essay. Jaipur. The Prince of Denmark. India. Arnold Kettle. 1955). 185). ed."The Historical Approach. as embodied in the Gita and Hamlet. G. See also Stratfordupon-Avon Studies 5. 1 See Arnold Kettle's "From Hamlet to Lear. A more recent commentator. 2 The most conspicuouscastigating criticisms of Hamlet have been those of Wilson Knight. "Characterand Role from Richard III to Hamlet. 9-28.ALUR JANAKI RAM Arjuna and Moral Hamlet: Two Dilemmas IN THIS PAPER I shall consider two classic examples of a heroic dilemma.2 Shakespeare's prince has lately regained his earlier position as a noble representative of the heroic ideal. 158. (London: Lawrence & Wishart. or in other words "the perpetual struggle to which all civilisation that is genuine is doomed"the need ". pp. even Marxianized. if not Arjuna. 90-109. psychoanalyzed. 1963). 1964). by juxtaposing these two well-known and much discussed works of East and West. p. has been the subject of varied critical comment and discussion. K. K. An Approach to 'Hamlet' (London: Chatto & Windus. p. 3 See Peter Alexander." Shakespeare in a Changing World. Mysticized. . pp. Hamlet. Father and Son (Oxford: The Clarendon Press. "The Embassy of Death: An Essay on Hamlet. Hunter's essay in particular. to be humane without loss of toughness" (p. and John Vyvyan. p. In Peter Alexander's view. 1956). deromanticized. has offered a slightly different formulation of the problem: "Hamlet represents an enormous and convulsive effort to move Alur Janaki Ram is a memberof the Departmentof English. Helen Gardner. Hamlet (London: Edwin Arnold Publishers. which regards Hamlet as "a study in degenerationfrom first to last" and also as "a deathplay" (p. The last."The Business of Criticism (Oxford: Oxford University a good example of the anti-heroic approach. 45. 11 .

cit. and the modes of their resolution. It is significant that both heroes. feel impelled to answer the call to honor. 228.Arjuna to a repertory already replete with identifications like Hamlet = Self-contemplating Intellectual. too. What Happens in "Hamlet" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. appear to be a fruitful subject for a comparative study.. another mythical figure of heroic integrity. like most other wars in history. 1951). Hamlet. BETWEENTHE DILEMMAS PARALLELS The analogies that exist between the two dilemmas are obvious. The Mahabharatawar in which Arjuna was to play a prominent role was. Clearly the heroes in question not only belong to two different cultural traditions and periods but also appear in works of literature different in scope and intention: the one is a play in a tragic form while the other is a poetical discourse on certain ethical and philosophical problems. 5Dover Wilson. insofar as it entails the shedding of his kinsmen's blood. their dilemmas. seems concerned for honor both as a higher ethical ideal and also as a received social value. for example.5 and Hamlet = Shakespeare. Even Arjuna of the Gita figures as a hero caught between inner personal integrity and the obligatoriness of a recognized social code. where Hector. without abandoning the older social and religious framework of external action. The relevance of such an analysis would seem to lie in focusing certain significant and universal aspects of the two heroic dilemmas. Nor is this meant to be an exercise in the familiar character study based on strained comparisons and contrasts."4 (Italics mine.12 ALUR JANAKI RAM forward to the heroism of the individual. It is helpful to state a reservation at the very outset. I propose to take up in this paper only an analysis of their moral paradoxes insofar as they hinge on a social code of external action. for the issue in question for Arjuna and his brothers was one of regaining their just share of a kingdom.) There is a parallel for this in the corpus of Shakespeare's work itself-in Troilus and Cressida. 108. In view of these dissimilarities. is bidden to meet the requirements of a similar code of honor. in their different ways. p. . p. Hamlet = the Earl of Essex. although it has behind it a slightly 4 Op. precipitated by an urge to satisfy honor. Arjuna's dilemma thus arises primarily over the question of meeting the exacting demands of the warrior code which. Insofar as this baffling dilemma is occasioned in both Hamlet and Arjuna by an enjoined feat appealing to the basic human sense of honor. It is not my intention here to contribute an expansion like Hamlet . appears to him as a meaningless exercise in destruction.

"Ghost Devil. as it were. Besides.. This cause.Wilson's or contribution a clarito ficationof anotherenigmatic plot elementof the play. Aside from the fact that the task of revenge is laid on Hamlet by a ghost with a suspect identity.I have tried to acknowledge debtsto the well-known critics of the play." requiring all the alertness and resourcefulness that one could possibly muster. The situation in which Arjuna finds himself is clearly less complex than Hamlet's."pp. by a like sense of being involved in defilement. Despite the apparently different motivational factors in the hesitations of the two heroes. This likeness is significant for its bearing on the nature of their sensibilities. arises out of the exigencies of the dramatic situation. stemming from the ghost's questionable identity. But the demands to satisfy an injured honor appear alike for both and.This is the passageI havereferred andalso cited subI in sequently. 7 DoverWilson. basically. finds himself engaged in a "private" war-an undeclared war of moves and countermoves against a "mighty opposite. theirs is a problem of action. of conforming to certain accepted standards of princely behavior. we should not strain or overstate the correspondences. out of a scrupulous intention on his part to be sure of his victim's guilt and the validity of the ghost's report.As far as possible.ARJUNA AND HAMLET 13 different ethos-revenge as a duty for a murdered kinsman. his own conception of his task as an act of setting right the disjointed Denmark adds. 238. stays them from sweeping to the actions expected of them gives us a measure of their heroic sensibility-a sensibility that seems to have been crippled. to some extent. Hamlet. p. 52-86.For the analogywith Arjuna'ssenseof defilement am. another dimension to the complexity of his burden. more than an external factor. Whilehalfway to through comparative my study. 21).6 Hamlet's hesitation. To be fair. Arjuna has only to fight an open war according to recognized conventions and procedures. my The Hero with a ThousandFaces (New York: Meridian Publishers. on the other hand. at least in the early part of the play. namelythe ghost and Hamlet's doubtsconcerning is so well-known it hardlyneedsany comment that it. there would seem to be a certain likeness at the core of their hesitancy.7 is manifest in the outer 6 Hamlet's senseof the guilt of life is now a widelyaccepted criticalnotion. a recognition that he has to come to terms with himself and his doubts before coming to terms with his task as such reveals only the magnitude of his tragic plight and his moral perplexities.op. 1950). The . however. for in doing so we risk ignoring some dissimilarities that evidently exist between the two hero-situations. cit. I indebted JosephCampbell's to in passagein whichthis pointis madeis quoted full towardthe close of this essay (vide n. The fact that some inward cause. here.I foundit comforting knowthat someof the pointsof analogyI had independently workedout havebeenhintedat in one in to paragraph Campbell's study. haveadapted thesis accordingly the light of whatever my clarification and illumination havebeenable to derivefroma morecomprehensive I comparative studyof the world'smythological heroicimages.

the soliloquy formulates the alternatives of choice in their relative and widest terms of reference-life and death.2. In short. . compassion. . the known and the unknowable terrors of life and afterlife. how like an angel in apprehension.14 ALUR JANAKI RAM structure of the play.editedby TuckerBrooke Press. All the subsequent edition. the hero's conflict. . 35.1. and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?"-adds up to this universal aspect of the human condition. how much less for the sake of the earth? ? What pleasurescan be ours. and the inner conflict runs as a counterpoint to the outer conflict in the play's structure. to shedding the fraternal blood. even for the kingdomof the three worlds.307-313)-". resolution and enactment. a universal image of man caught up between earth-born "passion" and "godlike reason. Radhakrishnan. .127). . fromthe Gitaare fromthis quotations Ltd. how express and admirable in action.8 Only Evidently this revulsion has in it not merely the element of reluctance to shed the blood of his kinsmen. has then two manifest aspects. 91 (I.The citationsfromHamletare fromthe Yale edition. after we have slain the sons of Dhrtarastra sin will accrueto us if we kill these malignants. trans. how like a god . the central "To be or not to be ." but also a scrupulous examination of the possible implications of the pursuit or eschewal of revenge. how noble in reason. Furthermore. as revealed in the play's action. the key soliloquy depicts not merely the conflict of choices between a stoic endurance of life or death by a "bodkin. as noted already. This conflict in sensibility is ably summed up in Hamlet's self-image as one "crawling between earth and heaven" (III. The factors motivating the conflict are manifestly grief. in form and moving. how infinite in faculties. These I would not consentto kill. but even a deeper sense of involvement in the guilt and Wherethey are unacknowledged implicit. revenge and eschewal of revenge. Arjuna is." The famous apostrophe to man (11. In effect. 1954). and an inner revulsion. But an examination of the play's inner structure reveals that the causes for his hesitation are inherent in his very sensibility. though they kill me. caught up in an inner conflict.p. 36). But this inner revulsion seems to have more to it than is usually recognized." soliloquy also focuses the crucial significance of the hero's inner conflict. Although variously interpreted. O Madhusfidhana (Krsna). (New Haven:Yale University . action and inaction.I have the alibi of what is now a critical Hamletto say exactly for that commonplace it is next to impossible anyonediscussing on how muchhe owesto the greatvarietyof scholarship the subject. .. What a piece of work is a man. at the basis of his moral dilemma and the Gitd-theme. O Krsna. 1958). like Hamlet. (London: GeorgeAllen & Unwin S. which is also at the basis of the conflict dramatized in the play's framework of action. 8 The Bhagavadgita.

And one recalls passages in Hamlet having an undertone of a comparable sense of aversion and involvement in defilement: The time is out of joint. what a great sin have we resolved to commit in striving to slay our own peoplethroughour greed for the pleasuresof the kingdom! And we may consider for a while the manner in which Arjuna comes to terms with his dilemma before we go on to examine the Hamletian kind of resolution. I. in effect. perhaps. but we shall relish of it. unlike Hamlet. And Krsna. how to satisfy honor in a limited this-worldly sense without compromising with honor in its transcending sense. . this one neither slays nor is slain. to say that war and revenge. It would be laboring the obvious. 19) He is never born.virtue cannotso inoculateour old stock. as also by the passages from the Gita quoted earlier: Alas. THE RESOLUTIONOF ARJUNA'S DILEMMA Arjuna. nor does he die at any time. That ever I was bornto set it right! (1. motivated by honor at one end of the scale. is indeed fortunate in having a Divine Counselor as his charioteer who helps him find his way out of the vexing paradox. are hard to reconcile with the concept of justice in the absolute.... O cursed spite. Arjuna is comforted. An awareness that war is a wasteful exercise for realizing certain limited ends and worldly honor is very much evidenced by the following words of Arjuna (Gitd. (111. (II. (III. as they have an immortal essence which transcends the ravages of war: He who thinksthat this [soul] slays and he who thinks that this is slain. It is futile. both of them fail to perceive the truth..117-119) . .ARJUNA AND HAMLET 15 of life for realizing limited worldly ends.187-188) . nor having (once) come to be will . and it underlies the dilemmas of Hamlet and Arjuna.128-129) The moral dilemma or the hero problem confronting these two great mythical figures is formulable thus in its quintessential form: how to reconcile with the dictates of divine reason the received values of the social code of honor.5. 45). resolves the paradox at first from the standpoint of the Absolute. to lament for the fate of his kinsmen.. What shouldsuch fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves all . This is one of the eternal enigmas of man.1.1. in his symbolic role of charioteer or guide through the battle of life.

(XIII." by reference to war for a righteous cause as an obligatory duty of a soldier. knowing that it is only the modes that act. This is clearly elaborated in chapters XIII and XIV: He [the "Knower"-the Brahman] appearsto have the qualities of all the senses and yet is without (any of) the senses. it seems to stress the neutral position of the Self vis-a-vis the gunas ("modes" or "qualities. would seem to have a meaningful function when read in its immediate context. 20) This piece of advice. slandering thy strength. In the context of the Mahabharata epic. He is not slain when the body is slain. He is unborn.: Harvard University Press. gain and loss. victory and defeat. having regard for thine own duty. who stands apart. Further. 23) He who is the same in honour and dishonour and the same to friends and foes. then get ready for battle. there exists no greater good for a Ksatriya [soldier] than a battle enjoined by duty. 25) The enigma is also resolved from the standpoint of the "relative. 39 (Cambridge. Vol. (II. without wavering. (II. free from the gunas (dispositions of prakrti [Nature]) and yet enjoying them. eternal. Besides being meant to remove Arjuna's sorrow and compassion for the kinsmen he is pitted against. (XIV. (II." as they are variously translated). Harvard Oriental Series. Could anything be sadder than that? (II.16 ALUR JANAKI RAM he again cease to be. vide n. p. 31) But if thou doest not this lawful battle. Part II. thou shouldst not falter. he is said to have risen above the modes. are the primary source of one's action in the world. 36) Treating alike pleasure and pain. 35) Many unseemly words will be uttered by thy enemies. unperturbed by the modes. is asked to consider his duty as a meaningful course of action.Mass. unattached and yet supporting all. the Kuruksetra war is a "lawful battle" for the Pandavas. and Arjuna. permanentand primeval. 37. (II. and the gunas. and who has given up all initiative of action. as a member of the warrior class. (XIV. then thou wilt fail thy duty and glory and will incur sin. 60. 14) He who is seated like one unconcerned. 33) The great warriors will think that thou hast abstained from battle through fear and they by whom thou wast highly esteemed will make light of thee. (II. often enough misconstrued by the commonsense approach as an ethical sanction for killing in general. according to the Gita. . 1952). 38) The foregoing quotation admittedly strengthens Franklin Edgerton's contention9 that the Gita justifies war on one of the lower grounds involving an 9 The Bhagavad Gitt. Thus thou shall not incur sin.

10) The soul earnest (or devoted) attains to peace well-founded. (V. steadiness. as also on the ground that if Arjuna avoids battle he will be guilty of dishonor and disgrace. see Radhakrishnan's Eastern Religions and Western Thought (London: Oxford University Press.self-control.resourcefulness. that the injunction to fight is also justified later on higher levels. If each individual . follows the law of his being. we are righteous. 1940). these are the duties of the Brahmin. a non-attached enactment of a "pure action. Arjuna is told that he who fights gallantly as a warrior becomes mature for the peace of wisdom.born of his nature. then God would express himself in the free volitions of human beings. . and if we dedicate it to God. (V. This theme is better understood in terms of the Gita-concept of "duty" (dharma) as something related not only to one's station in life.austerity." performed to further the evolution of one's inner self as well as the fellow spirits in a given social order. 349-378. 42) not Heroism. 12) The association of "duty" (dharma) with righteous action is a recurring theme of the Gitd. 364-365) might clarify what I have been constrained to state briefly in my argument. svabhava. pp. and is attachedto the fruit (of action) and is (therefore) bound." 10 For a fuller discussion of the Hindu social order in its earlier essential aspects and for its universal relevance. . having given up attachment.Each individual is a focus of the Supreme. even as a lotus leaf (is untouched)by water. and one of these is by reference to the soldierly commitment to the social code as a moral duty-as a ritualistic enactment in a spirit of non-attachment and of submission to a Higher Will. So long as our work is done in accordance with our nature. edge (XVIII. The Gita has also formulated what constitutes a "pure action" as distinguished from an action motivated merely by "passion. . but he whose soul is not in union with the Divine is impelledby desire. generosity and leadership.knowland faith in abandoningattachmentto the fruit of works. . (XVIII. It needs to be noticed..10 and Serenity. in a broader sense.ARJUNA AND HAMLET 17 appeal to honor. His destiny is to bring out in his life this divine possibility. . He who works." . All that is essential for the world will be done without a conflict.forbearance uprightness. 43) With its connotations of obligatory action in its social and supra-social terms of meaning.and to make it effective in his life is his duty. "Each individual has his inborn nature.. but also to the dominant guna in one's nature. "duty" as defined in the Gitd is not just a categorical imperative but is also. .resigning his actions to God.purity. our work becomes a means of spiritual perfection. though. svadharma..these are the duties of a Ksatriya born of his nature. fleeing even in a battle. his svadharma.a fragment of the Divine. is not touchedby sin. vigour.. A brief reference to Radhakrishnan's commentsin his translationof the Gita (pp.

The sattvic doer who achieves a measure of freedom from selfmotivation and desires represents the normative ideal among the three kinds of agents: The doer who is free from attachment. (XVIII."(XVIII. death. 24) It is thus in relation to the agent."(XVIII. whether it is agreeable or disagreeable. every embodied spirit has to go through. 27) At the very basis of the leitmotif of non-attachment are two fundamental assumptions. of harmfulnature. righteous duty and the ideal of non-attachment. (XIV.he attains to My being. and the tamasic (dull or ignorant). that is said to be of "goodness. italics added) When the embodiedsoul rises above these three modes that spring from the body.without love or hate by one undesirousof fruit. (XIV. it is freed from birth. impure. 19. (XIV. which is performedwithout attachment."(XVIII. that the classification of action as pure or passionate is made. 20) Leading up to this state is the discipline of action and work (karma-yoga) which. there is no getting away from action as such for any created being. Disinterested performance of one's duty and action. and the limitations that hedge all actions on the other hand. O mighty-armed(Arjuna). The ultimate ideal held up is the beyond-ethic state of self-realization-the state in which the human soul transcends the temporal chain of action and being by realizing its affinity with the Supreme Self. passion (rajas). who is greedy. Insofar as all actions are "defective" from the standpoint of the Absolute. defiling or liberating. the transcending nature of the inner self in relation to the gunas on the one hand. and knows also that which is beyondthe modes. old age and pain and attains life eternal. and dullness (tamas) born of nature (prakrti) bind down in the body. 23) But that action which is done in great strain by one who seeks to gratify his desires or is impelledby self-sense is said to be of the nature of "passion. The same ideal of non-attachment also governs the division of the agents into three kinds: the sattvic (good). .who eagerly seeks the fruit of his works. The three modes (gunas) goodness (sattva).who is moved by joy and sorrow-he is said to be of "passionate" nature. in the created world-order of the gunas.18 ALUR JANAKI RAM An action which is obligatory. who has no speech of egotism. the dweller [soul] in the body. [sic] full of resolutionand zeal and who is unmovedby success or failure-he is said to be of the nature of "goodness. 5) imperishable When the seer perceivesno agent other than the modes. the rajasic (passionate). 26) The doer who is swayedby passion.

He who sees that the ways of renunciationand of action are one-he sees (truly). for both have the same ultimate end in view: the identity of the individual self with the cosmic or Supreme Self (Brahman): The status which is obtainedby men of renunciationis reached by men of action also.. whose nature is of goodness. contributes toward the right kind of self-knowledge and fulfillment. O Son of Kunti (Arjuna). Basic to its theme and message is its well-known insistence that conformity to the social code or ritual is not necessarily incompatible with the realization of the inner shape of greatness. 48. italics added) The emphasis then is not on the renunciation of duty or works as such. as also to the maintenance of the social order: It is indeed impossible for any embodiedbeing to abstain from work altogether. 8) But he who performsa prescribedduty as a thing that ought to be done. italics added) . (XVIII. The way of social participation is only complementary (and not antithetical) to the way of contemplation or renunciation. though it may be defective. But he who gives up the fruit of action-he is said to be the relinquisher. performsonly the relinquishment the "passionate" (XVIII. (XVIII.(XVIII. renouncing all attachmentand also the fruit-his relinquishmentis regardedas one of "goodness. 7) He who gives up a duty because it is painful or from fear of physical suffering. The ideal doer of the sattvic kind will attain this transcendent wisdom-and freedom from the sense of defilement-if he performs his duties by perceiving a higher reality and purpose behind all actions: of Verily the renunciation any duty that ought to be done is not right. whose doubts are dispelled. (V.. . of kind.. but the renunciation of only their underlying causes-selfish desires or passions. has no aversion to disagreeableaction and no attachmentto agreeable action. This makes for illumination and liberation of the spirit."(XVIII.. 10) From the foregoing discussion it should be obvious that. the Gita does not see any conflict between action and spiritual integrity. (XVIII. 9) The wise man who renounces. 11) One shouldnot give up the work suited to one's nature. for all enterprises are clouded by defects as fire by smoke. 5. with its focus on the relation of the individual doer to the outer world and the inward self.ARJUNA AND HAMLET 19 however.

Ltd. An intense experience of reality. and action. Walton's in of essay"TheStructure Hamto in line let. by going through the labyrinth of doubt. Arjuna resolves his moral dilemma and eventually prepares himself for his mission with a new identity and vision. HAMLET'S RESOLUTIONOF THE PROBLEM Facing a similar conflict of choices.op. (V. Patternsin Shakespearian & p.87-89. of a judicious commingling of "blood" and "judgment"-an ideal present in the background and also adhered to... it is a fairly established notion that the problem of reconciling reason with passion is very much at the play's tragic center. he is not tainted by works. The other relevant dramatic fact for our purpose here is Hamlet's admiration of the ideal of moderation. 11This ideahas beenwell developed J. Shakespeare has intended them to counterpoint Hamlet's behavior-pattern in relation to the revenge code.1960). See also IrvingRibner. early in the play. admittedly. The enigma is part of Hamlet's consciousness insofar as it happens to be the central consciousness of the play. Tragedy(London:Methuen Co. . recur quite often in the drama as two juxtaposed concepts. and Laertes at a later stage. rather than any divine voice.. as lately recognized. by the hero at the end. appear as two versions of revenge as a passionate mode of behavior. 96.1 Also of some significance is the fact that Pyrrhus. although apparently attached to them in its embodied form. Hamlet arrives at similar insights by the route of the tragic mode of experience.. 7) The ascetic way leads to the above end through a recognition that the spirit in all of us is above the gunas and the outer world. Even the way of this-worldly participation also entails a similar recognition: the essential oneness of the individual core with the core of society and. that the purposes of the hero and the saint have an identical end and require alike the subordination of individual wills to a Higher Will. helps him achieve the final perceptions of truth and wisdom with which he accepts his task in the final part of the play. K."pp.53-88. who has conqueredthe senses. Passion and reason. at the other end of the chain. With the help of this revealed is also not irrelevant Hunter's of argument his essay. in part. questioning. At the present stage of Hamlet criticism. suffering. whose soul becomesthe self of all beings.pp. though he works. cit.20 ALUR JANAKI RAM He who is trained in the way of works . Equally well-recognized is the idea that the play may be read as an extended metaphor of a paradox-of action explored in its aspect of an enigma. with the core of the universe.

"Melancholy. 1963)..A. as of p. It has long been usual to regard this issue as a master theme of the drama and to point up the contradiction between the revenge-ethic and the Christian ethic as going against the hero's nobility and the play's profundity of meaning.. TheyLikedIt (New York: Harper& Bros. cannot be answered. 12 See . it needs to be remembered that the play "does not fit into the pattern of pure revenge. as Professor Sisson and others12 have convincingly argued. Sissontreats Hamlet'sdilemma a problem justiceagainsta King of power and quality.. (1.." Belleforest's characterization of Hamlet as God's "minister and executor of just vengeance"13and of Claudius as a despicable tyrant constitutes persuasive external evidence for a proper appreciation of Hamlet's role. andAlfredHarbage. . And the Hamlet of the last act would seem to achieve a measure of this reconciliation. Shakespeare's Tragic Justice (London:Methuen& Co. But.1961). without reference to a vital crux of the play. (111.210-216.I also acknowledge debthere to an excellentsourcestudyof the play. II (New York: Dover Publications. P.AlfredHarbageappliesthe epithet"multiple" only to Hamlet'srole but not and also to Claudius even Hamlet's dilemma. Let not the royal bed of Denmarkbe A couch for luxury and damnedincest .1966).p." PMLA. relevant to the argument of this paper. Sisson." and that Hamlet is essentially a "multiple" revenger against a "multiple" criminal-a satyr-uncle-murderer-"cutpurse of the empire. 94. J.5. p.. 13I am quoting fromCapell's The as translation. How does Hamlet then resolve his uncertainties and arrive finally at some sort of certitude about his task? This question. The ghost's "multiple" imperative. 112.187) and as Heaven's "scourge and minister" C. Ambition.ARJUNA AND HAMLET . . That crux is the vexed issue of private revenge.68-72) 21 Clearly there is a case for a reading of the play's action as indicating Hamlet's inner development in a significant direction. Revengein Belleforest's Hamlet.. a direction in which some sort of reconciliation is achieved between the two pulls of the human make-up. my and Stabler.2.5. Ltd. at the center of many a recent critical evaluation of the play. and bless'd are those Whose blood and judgment are so well co-mingled That they are not a pipe for Fortune'sfinger To soundwhat stop she please. Hystorieof Hamblet.. The internal evidence too argues strongly against the view that personal revenge is central to the play's theme. 67. As 1964). reprinted in the New VariorumHamlet edition. LXXXI (June. Give me that man That is not passion'sslave . however.82-83) together with Hamlet's self-image on two occasions-as one born to set right the time "out of joint" (1.Vol.

." The point of reference to this approach is to provide an ethical basis for Hamlet's dilemma. the inner dialectic of passion-honor-reason would assume its proper significance as a basic constituent of the enigma.175)-only function. in the prayer-scene soliloquy.. however. But neither this state of vacillation nor even the earlier state of readiness for "hot blood" is reached again thereafter. and Hamlet's progress in this dialectic is correlative to the resolution of his dilemma.476-483). into the state of "a neutral to his will" or "a painted tyrant"-the state of a rugged Pyrrhus stayed for a while from his "black" purpose by Ilium's crashing "flaming top" (11. What would he do..2. Hamlet's last soliloquy (the Fortinbras soliloquy) does contain certain insights. are examined in this key soliloquy in the light of "conscience" (or reason). In this view. When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathesout Contagionto this world. Some of Hamlet's major soliloquies may be read as pointing up his zigzag progress in the dialectic of honor. (II. the wider implications of the problem of action.4. shows him at the middle stage of a dilemma. there is a noticeable veering toward passion at the other end of the scale: 'Tis now the very witching time of night.22 ALUR JANAK1 RAM offers further confirmation of the hero's multiple-avenger (III. And do such bitterbusinessas the day Wouldquaketo look on. Although ending on a note of resolution to be "bloody" in thoughts." soliloquy... The soliloquy on the occasion of the player's recitation shows Hamlet aspiring after the passionate ideal of conduct. But in the soliloquy following the playlet. (111. important for the consideration of his career in the dialectic of honor: ... Now could I drink hot blood. by forcing "his soul so to his own conceit. Had he the motiveand the cue for passion That I have? He would drown the stage with tears..2. The player's enactment of Hecuba's passion." is seen as an exemplary mode of behavior full of possibilities: . primarily a problem of action and justice. or what is sometimes described as the "muddle of two moralities.563-565) The next "To be or not to be . alluded to earlier in part.2. .391-395) Ironically enough. from this passionate state of readiness for "bitter business" he relapses. Such a conception undercuts the much-debated ethical contradiction between the two injunctions (the ghostly injunction to revenge and the Biblical injunction against it).

the last stage of his progress in the inner dialectic.53-56) 23 Despite the realization that the "excitements" of "blood" and "of reason" are not incompatible altogether.63-70) The knowledge that he is up against "this canker of our nature"-ripe in evil as Claudius's "deep plots" have given proof-reflects the confidence he has at last acquired in his multiple-avenger role. 95). 2)." p. (III. op. (111.2.. thinkthee. L. 14 Harry Levin. L. . Hunter. though. (supra. n. Lookingbeforeand after. C. 3). This certainty in his task would have remained flawed nonetheless if it had not been tempered by a "modesty enough" so necessary for a proper heroic identity.ARJUNA AND HAMLET Sure he that made us with such large discourse.36-39) . . 81. 2).8. Popp'din betweenth' electionand my hopes.. Shakespeare's Problem Plays (London: Chatto & Windus.l5 the Hamlet of the fifth 15 See Tillyard. Thrownout his angle for my properlife. . But greatly to find quarrelin a straw When honour's at the stake . 15-17. and whor'dmy mother. pp. cit. gave us not That capabilityand godlike reason To fust in us unus'd. cit. p. p. p. op. (supra. and John Vyvyan. 59. The Question of 'Hamlet' (supra. standme now upon? He that hath kill'dmy king. 94. The humility that goes with this certitude is in fact the outcome of a much larger perspective-a new reliance in Heaven-itself the consequence of a journey "of exile and return" analogous to an epic-hero experience. Knights. op. . Hamlet's acceptance of the princely concept of honor represents at best "a subjective valuation of experience" (cf. . 1951).14The much-discussed sea-change in Hamlet is better perceived in terms of the contrast between the earlier Hamlet self-image as God's "scourge" and the emergent objective hero-image in the play's final movement. n.. Despite the dissenting notes of Tillyard. This does not represent. "There is no regenerationin the last act. C. Hamlet's further progress from this stage is better seen in terms of his career in the fifth act. Rightly to be great Is not to stir without great argument.. This development is evident not merely in the cessation of the inner debate but even in his understanding of reality: Does it not. And with such cozenage-is't not perfectconscience To quit him with this arm? And is't not to be damn'd.8. To let this canker of our nature come In further evil? (V. cit. n. John Vyvyan. Knights.

. The importance of this confidence in Heaven may be appreciated when we then realize the circular kind of progression of this insight running through the familiar words of the player-king. (New Haven: Yale University Press. 17GunnarBoklund.1.208-218). in other words. an acknowledgment of a vaster power than the human will.24 ALUR JANAKI RAM act does seem a regenerate figure in a less religious sense of having attained to a true heroic identity. if it be not now. We need only glance at the oft-quoted passages for confirmation of this identity: There'sa divinitythat shapesour ends. "Our thoughts are ours. (V. These ruminations on the "base uses" to which the whole gamut of human experience ultimately leads reveal. "The World of Hamlet. 'tis not to come. as thus: Alexander died. 134."16That a hero should acquire "modesty enough" is in fact validated by the "noble dust" of Alexander and "imperious Caesar. it will be now."'7 but a new personal identity. which implies not necessarily "a personal defeat. if it be not to come. (V. of the human ambition and achievement. Alexander was buried." the ultimate limit. and likelihoodto lead considerso. we defy augury. not a jot. "The acceptance of the purposesof a Power above him implies a personaldefeat. To what base uses we may return." Essays on Shakespeare. HAM. ed. and why of that loam whereto he was converted. faith. the dust is earth. . 1965). 'Twereto considertoo curiously. as Maynard Mack has pointed out... "Judgmentin Hamlet. p. of earth we make loam..GeraldW. The notable change in the hero's mood is at its clearest in his graveyard meditations." Tragic Themes in Western Literature. both affirmatively and negatively. Such an awareness amounts to.might they not stop a beer-barrel?(V. Alexander returnethto dust. Cleanth Brooks." .." back to the not so familiar words of Horatio at the play's start: 16 Maynard Mack. Horatio! Why may not imagination tracethe nobledust of Alexandertill 'a findit stoppinga bunghole ? HOR.10) . HAM. No.If it be now.2.. yet it will come: the readinessis all.2. their ends none of our own. p. 57. there is special providencein the fall of a sparrow. Rough-hew them how we will . a selfrighteous identity very much evident in Hamlet's oration to the Danes in Belleforest. Chapman. but to follow him thither with modesty enough. (Princeton: Princeton University Press.225-226) It is indeed a far cry from the early self-image as Heaven's Justicer. ed. 1960). not just a negative concern with the fact of death but a sober perception of "the mystery of life itself"-the "mystery of human limitation.

however. cit. Heaven will direct it. 18 See Peter Ure.The Hero with a ThousandFaces (supra. op. cit. is of the view that Hamlet's character has been purposefullydesigned as "a counterblastto the received figure of the ChristianStoic hero. While one line of critical thinking has been disposed to view Hamlet's submission in terms of the renunciation of a Christian-Stoic hero. finally unjustified.89-91) 25 The fact that this perception looms large in Hamlet's consciousness in the "interim" before the duel is a significant comment on the mood of "readiness" in which he finally comes to terms with his dilemma and destiny. 68-82. where every creaturelives on the death of another." p. n. if he is to retain. 19 Irving Ribner.18 There is nonetheless a danger of overstating the case in regard to Hamlet's submission to Providence and his relative passivity in the catastrophe. Two extreme "one-pointed" readings of this aspect of the hero and the play's denouement have. . "the negative balance of mind which the sorely tried may achieve by accepting the horrors of life as inevitable and natural. basically.21 It is in respect to this mythic-heroic submission to the cosmic will that Hamlet's final coming to terms with his Destiny has its counterpart in Arjuna's acceptance of his mission.ARJUNA AND HAMLET HOR. HOR." 20 GunnarBoklund. 239).l9 the other extreme critical position has tended to regard it as a fatalistic or desperate resignation. an orientation to the mythical norm of heroism. To what issue will this come? MAR.. 101. op.. Hunter. Have after. The battle-fieldis symbolicof the field of life. on the other hand. one may invent a false. Somethingis rotten in the state of Denmark.4. contributed to what looks like an unending debate. (1. seems to be predisposed to view the play as a Christiantragedy and Hamlet as in the process of becoming a Christian-Stoicphilosopher hero. "Judgmentin Hamlet. the heroic identity proper without the self-righteous self-image of Heaven's Justicer. such a spirit of surrender to the Higher Will is necessary for the archetypal hero if he is not to lose in the world of flux and action "his centring in the principle of eternity" (p. like most of the rest of us. And it is a readiness which offers sharp contrast to the earlier readiness for passionate revenge. one may refuse to go on with it. at the same time. 21 Campbell. The very process of forcing his disposition into passion is significantly absent in this mood of readiness.. A realisationof the inevitable guilt of life may so sicken the heart that. 6)."20Both the overaffirmative and too-negative readings constitute an over-simplified evaluation of what is. like Hamlet or like Arjuna. op. On the other hand. cit. p. As Campbell well observes. 136. p. pp. 27. a norm which emerges in its universal aspects in Joseph Campbell's study of the composite hero.

" and also of the other limitations of his being a "quintessence of dust. for a certitude about man in relation to the world of action.murd'rous. p. 22 Neither a joyous and self-righteous nor even a fatalistic surrender to the unknown.. as a sober acceptance of the human condition with all its inherent dualities-of man's dualities. 238.. It need not be labored how Hamlet's behavior in the duel divagates so strikingly from the behavior-pattern of a Laertes-revenger.2. All through the duel.. not guilty as others are.. Hamlet's resignation sets thus the framework of evaluation for his progress in the dialectic of honor. in particular. but justified in one's inevitablesinning becauseone representsthe good. A further extenuating factor in favor of Hamlet is the fact that.23 we might more appropriately consider it as a subtle and just ritualistic execution of an arch defiler of the state. of angelic "apprehension"and "noble reason. Significantly enough. is despatched is evidently human-heroic rather than saintly: damnedDane. cit. only of oneself but of the nature not self-righteousness of both man andthe cosmos. p. Drink off this potion! Is thy union here? (V. ." But the rhythm of action operative during his encounter with Laertes culminates on a note of false cadence which only extends the duel on to a more meaningful level. the background duellist all through the play. Here.26 ALUR JANAKI RAM image of oneself as an exceptionalphenomenonin the world. The exercise of a certain amount of passion in the service of a just and greater cause is justifiable as coming closer to the norm of human experience. the range of Hamlet's action remains outside the pale of "passion" or "deep plots. Such leads to a misunderstanding. 23 Boklund. thou incestuous. 137. op. accomplishing his mission at the very moment he is himself killed. The spirit in which the satyr-king." As the culminating point of a search for a heroic self-identity. it is only when he has arrived at this insight of submission that he finally accomplishes his mission. he measures up to a tragic sacrificial role or what has been called "his dual role as punisher and 22Ibid.The goal of the myth is to dispel the need for such life ignorance by effecting a reconciliation of the individual consciousness with the universal will .328-329) Rather than regard this as an instance of a capitulation to the "inhuman code of duty" as Boklund tends to do. Hamlet's final trusting to Providence is to be viewed. then.

Go bid the soldiersshoot. "Hamlet of p. 49.p."Shakespeare Survey18 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. not as a saint-prince. may be said to culminate with the tragic end of a conscience-stricken prince. (V. Hamlet meets the "fell sergeant" Death. . p. . in effect. The epilogue speeches of Horatio and Fortinbras reinforce this impression. having vindicated honor in both its relative and absolute senses." a code that had almost become a ritual for one born into the princely class."24It is this which makes him. 45.ARJUNA AND HAMLET 27 punished." and not to renouncethe world and leave it to its corruption. sustained by a suggestive analogy in the final lines between the battlefield and the Hamlet-world: .404-406) It is. In Helen Gardner's view. a metaphoric summing up of the tragedy: of a soldierly soul in this world up against the battle of life.25 also has relevance for Arjuna. I have attempted to show that Hamlet and Arjuna seem to be baffled by a similar moral paradox turning on the code of "honor. Such a sight as this Becomes the field.The Business of Criticism. The impression is further strengthened by our awareness at the end of a vaster design. The dialectic of Honor. Hamlet is the representative European man in respect to his tragic dilemma and the mode of its resolution: . the purpose of this study has been to trace certain common and significant patterns in the moral enigmas of the two well-known mythical heroes of East and West. but as a soldier-king. . in a sense. a Renaissance commonplace metaphor for the human soul. the focal point of man's dual nature. Hamlet is the quintessenceof Europeanman.The Question 'Hamlet. even though he manages to survive the resolution of his dilemma. SUMMARY To sum up. 25 Helen Gardner. who holds that man is "ordained to govern the world accordingto equity and righteousnesswith an upright heart.See also HaroldJenkins. then..' 101. and having also reconciled in part the dual pulls of reason and passion in the human make-up. ThenandNow. This symbolic image of the soldier engaged in combat (literally and metaphorically) on the "field" of life.1965). as Helen Gardner reminds us.2.By that conceptionof man'sduty and destiny he is involvedin those tragic dilemmaswith which our own 24HarryLevin. but here shows much amiss. in that he too suffers a similar moral anguish on another symbolic battlefield..

For how can man secure justice except by committing injustice. 50. I have tried to demonstrate here. and how can man act without outraging the very conscience which demands that he should act?26 Arjuna of the Gita. in their different ways.. a predicament in which action for securing order and justice means some sort of involvement in guilt in the absolute sense. We have seen that the way out of this perplexing tangle the two heroes finally find. . p. is not by the abandonment of action as such but by a pursuit of it. incidentally. This convergence of attitudes reflects. the coalescence of certain strands of thought in the East and the West.28 ALUR JANAKI RAM age is so terribly familiar. Evidently the dilemma's universal frame of reference is related to the basic conflict of dualities in the human situation. 26Ibid. in respect to the answers suggested to the paradox of action underlying the so-called "righteous" wars and revenges -a paradox we often come up against in our confrontation with man's inhumanity to man." It is this near identity of their attitudes vis-a-vis an enduring code of "external action" that makes them the archetypal images of a heroic dilemma. is the analogical heroic image in the East of a similar "tragic" dilemma as well as the spirit in which it is sought to be resolved. albeit with an "upright heart" and without renouncing the world to "its corruption.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful