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Imagination and Evil Spirits in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Part 2)

January 20th, 2011

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(I, iv., 30.) He not only listens to the ghost’s lengthy epilogues but also takes them up with fiery emotions. Mr. Eliot, a critic whose main goal was to show that Shakespeare took on a work too much for him, notes how “Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear.” (Eliot) After he sees the ghost, his emotions rise to overflowing and he acts very oddly with those he knows, making no sense at times. He is bold and brazen, unkind and uncouth; alternating between all at once. Some in King Claudius’ court interpret it as lovesickness for Ophelia, who eventually loses her own sanity and kills herself, and Hamlet is called insane. In his emotional state, Hamlet even doubts himself: “Yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, And can say nothing.” (II, ii, 575.) “In effect Hamlet is creating a paronomasia of performance, moving from politeness to brutality; and it seems to come out almost unbidden.” (Brown) He comes to such a low point that he becomes suicidal, his warped mind eventually turning suicidal to solve his problems. “To die: to sleep; No more; and, by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d.” (III, i, 60.) Mrs. de Grazia, PhD in English, observes of Hamlet’s problem: “Hamlet falls short of dialectical self-realization,” and “advances against his own until in the final scenes, he is ‘bandied from pillar to post’ and ends up ‘sandbanked.’” (Grazia) He talks to himself constantly, fails to kill King Claudius at an opportune moment, kills another by mistake, and eventually dies from a poisoned stab wound in a duel fought with Ophelia’s brother, Laertes. In the end, the idea planted by the spirit in his already-suspicious mind influences him enough to cause the deaths of not just one, but several people.

The turning of Hamlet’s mind and heart to the surreal is the very work of an evil spirit, who works in men’s minds to cause evil. In the play, Hamlet ponders this very fact: “The spirit that I have seen May be the devil: and the devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy As he is very potent with such spirits—Abuses me to damn me.” (II, ii, 605.) But he did not take this thought to heart and try to rid himself of the Satanic overclouding from his soul. It eventually led him to do desperate actions, and his own sad death. “Through Hamlet, this tragedy affirms the world of the mind over against the world of matter, the unresolved and independent conscience over against the answers that can be provided by others or demanded by society in its political, religious or familial manifestations.” (Brown) With truly beautiful language and eloquent poetry, Hamlet is a fascinating read; but once read through in its entirety, it is depressing and dark as well. The reader is taken up in the downward path of Hamlet’s life, and into the very intricacies of his fertile, but infected, mind. Mr. Coleridge said that in the conversations found in this play is “a proof of Shakespeare’s minute knowledge of human nature.” (Coleridge)

References

Brown, John Russell. “Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet.”

Connotations. http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/connotations/BROWN21.HTM

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare and Other English

Poets.” Shakespeare and His Critics. 2001. http://shakespearean.org.uk/ham1-col.htm

Eliot, T.S. “Hamlet and His Problems.” Bartleby Great Books Online. 2010.

http://www.bartleby.com/200/sw9.html

Grazia, Margreta de. “Hamlet’s Thoughts and Antics.” Early Modern Culture. 2001.

http://emc.eserver.org/1-2/degrazia.html

“Hamlet.” Wikipedia. May 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamlet

Shakespeare, William (2006). Hamlet. New Jersey: Wiley Publishing

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