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Feb 25, 2011

Hamlet as an Artistic Failure

It was Eliot who said that Hamlet, fat from being success. Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet is most certainly an artistic failure. We know that Hamlet is the longest play written by Shakespeare. It is also the most complex. Eliot thought that Shakespeare could not establish“objective correlative” to Hamlet’s sensibilities. Hamlet’s emotions are vague an always in excess. Yet the disgust is far in excess as compared to the queen’s error, because what she felt may have been genuine compassion. It is most surprising that Hamlet cannot fully comprehend the ferocity of his emotions; it is also not surprising that they obstruct his actions and poison his life; Eliot thought that Shakespeare failed because he was rewriting an old play, and remnants of his crude original remained. There is no doubt that the play can be criticized on certain artistic ground, the Hamlet of the soliloquies is quite different from the one who crudely abuses Ophelia, who wants to ensure not only death but also damnation of the king, and who is unrepentant at the death of Polonius. The play this looks strange. There are also a large number of things that are difficult to explain. For instance Shakespeare tells us that the beginning of the play that Hamlet is eighteen years old only to refute in this grave-digger’s scene where we are told that Hamlet is Thirty. Similarly Horatio seems to be at one moment a stranger to Denmark, and at another reveals the cause of armourments which no other character in the play whole have done with so much facility. In addition, so many events in the play appear like chance happenings. The players arrive entirely by chance, it is a chance that the king is praying on the sole opportunity that Polonius that Hamlet gets of killing him; it is a chance that Polonius dies; it is a chance that Hamlet meets the Pirates which results in his returning to Denmark. Chance in itself is not completely undesirable, for is an inherent part of existence, yet in a consumale artist like Shakespeare, such frequent use of chance appears an insult.

Despite the faults, Hamlet is a work of art—even a triumph of art. It has a distinct “form” with three distinct movements. The first is the art of exposition which established murder and revenge. The second creates the hero’s character, establishes Claudius’ guilt, and depicts the two tragic errors of Hamlet — in sparing Claudius in his prayers and in murdering Polonius. The third movement leads to the final denouncement where we are left gaping at a corpse. Hamlet this is created within the authentic parameters of dramatic construction.

In any case the play is primarily a focus on the personality of Hamlet which gives to the play a distinct unity. Critics may have interpreted his characters diversely and even arrived at conflicting decisions; yet there can be no doubt that Hamlet attracts our attention throughout the play Hamlet is shown in diverse situation and with diverse characters and his mental disposition towards each grips us with enormous intensity. It is not fair to say that Hamlet has been portrayed by Shakespeare in vague and incoherent manner. It is true that certain contradictions cannot be explained. Despite this, it is clear that Hamlet is a speculative, reflective, irresolute and a dithering man, who lacks capacity to indulge in rapid action. Hamlet is a poetic summation of Shakespeare’s art and imagination because he is a profound embodiment of the universal in the individual. Shakespeare attempted to get a great deal enacted by one human being unequal to perform it. Hamlet is a queer mixture of intellectual activity and physical inaction. He vacillates because he is extremely sensitive. He procrastinates because he thinks to the point where thought is reduced to a melody. Hamlet may calls himself a rogue and peasant slave and may dither on whether to be or not to be, still he does lot though the lot almost extremely includes impulsive action, which culminates in Hamlet killing Claudius, when  he himself gasps for breath at the end of the play.

There have been doubts as regards Hamlet’s madness. Some critics have though him to be completely mad, while others have thought him to be partially so. Despite these contrasting views it is now certain and universally accepted that Hamlet’s madness was feigned. This can be comprehensively explained through the text, as can be explained why Hamlet should be considered even partially mod. His resolve t establish truth about the ghost’s revelation that his uncle had killed his father, his devising a plan through the mock players, his duping Rosencrantz and Guildenstern into a mortal trap in England, and many similar instances unquestionably points towards Hamlet’s complete sanity. The riddle of the Hamlet-Ophelia relationship no more remains one of we understood that Hamlet considers Ophelia as a breeder of sinners. The lustful promiscuity of Gertrude makes hamlet think that Ophelia, and every other woman for that matter, is pathologically lustful lust, it is evident, can only produce illegitimate children, who have no moral place in the social system. It was also considered a sin during the puritan Elizabethan era. Since sin could only breed sinners, who would in turn be lustful, hamlet thought of conception as wicked. To think that hamlet ceased to love Ophelia when he thought she had deserted or betrayed him, is this a massive blunder.

The theme of the play is clear cut, since it leaves us in no doubt that it is about the avenging of the father’s murder by his son. The vacillation and procrastination, the dithering and the confusion do not rake away the clarity of theme which deals with filial piety, revenge and love. Its dramatic action develops this theme through distinct action.

There are other factors which make the play great, such as Ophelia’s pathos, the introduction of the supernatural, the grim honour of churchyard scene, and the contrast between the characters of Laertes and Fortinbras with that of hamlet and hamlet’s feigned madness as compared to Ophelia’s real madness. And though chance happenings are difficult to explain, in an odd way, they add to the establishment of retribution out of randomness. The play thus, unmistakably, is a work of art.

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