Sunday, June 27, 1999
THE hero of William Shakespeares play Hamlet is in a highly disturbed state of mind. The remarriage of his mother has come as a tremendous shock to him. She has married his uncle the murderer of his father and usurper of his throne. Hamlet reflects how his father loved his mother and how she pretended to be equally sincere towards him. The tragic contrast between his fathers sincerity and his mothers infidelity rends his heart. Had a religious notion not restrained him, he would have committed suicide. In a fit of disappointment, he soliloquises:
O, that this too too
solid flesh would melt,
When he suddenly appears before Ophelia (his beloved) after the remarriage of his mother, she is startled to see him. To her, he seems like a man who has come out of hell.
Although the situation Hamlet faces is quite serious, T.S. Eliot, a renowned critic, holds that it does not adequately justify his emotional reaction. In successful Shakespearean tragedies, there is a complete adequacy of the external circumstances to emotional responses but, in Eliots opinion, "Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is...in excess of the facts as they appear". Eliot thinks that the guilt of Hamlets mother is not enough to account for his disappointment. "Hamlets disgust envelops and exceeds his mother," he says. He calls Hamlet an artistic failure.
There are critics who disagree with Eliots view. Patrick Cruttwell is one of them. Expressing disagreement with Eliots notion, he says, "As far disgust for life which Hamlet expresses, isnt it very adequately accounted for by what happens to Hamlet: Eliots famous remark that Hamlet ... is dominated by an emotion which is ... in excess of the facts as they appear, has always I must confess, filled me with stupefaction; for when I consider the facts as they did appear to Hamlet the sudden death of his much-loved father, followed immediately by an indecently hasty and incestuous remarriage of his mother to a man whom Hamlet hated and despised and who then proceeded to cheat him out of throne, this followed in turn by the supernatural reappearance of his late father with the information that Hamlets step-father was his fathers murderer and the peremptory command that he, Hamlet, should set to work at once on vengeance When I consider all this, I find it hard to imagine any degree of emotion which ought to be censured as excessive.
Although Cruttwells argument carries weight, he loses sight of a vital fact which largely accounts for Hamlets mental disturbance. It is Hamlets love for Ophelia. The infidelity of his mother has engendered doubts in his mind and he looks upon women as unfaithful creatures. He now distrusts Ophelias fidelity as well and decides not to marry her. However, she continues to dominate his thoughts. His love for her makes him long to marry her. The unfulfilled longing gnaws at his heart. It is an unsound view that Hamlet is a patient of melancholia and that his melancholy, apart from making him behave like an insane person, also weakens his love for Ophelia. The fact is that his love for Ophelia never dies.
But the above words do not come from the core of his heart. What he himself says about his love for her is quite true. Standing in the pit of her grave, he says: "I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers Could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum".The death of his beloved unhinges his mind completely.
Freudians opine that Hamlet is disturbed to see his mother with his uncle because he is unconsciously in love with her without lusting for her. This view must be rejected. However, the fact cannot be denied that the remarriage of Hamlets mother has made a great difference to him. As his uncle claims most of her attention, Hamlet feels cut off from her.
Also, his consciousness that his mother has incestuous relations with his uncle weighs heavily on his mind. He knows that it is beyond his power to wash the stigma of incest off his mother.
Overwhelmed with this consciousness, he considers it to be futile to take revenge on his uncle for the murder of his father. He desists from killing his uncle because he thinks that such an act will send him (his uncle) to heaven. But such a notion is only an excuse by which he justifies his inaction. What prevents him from killing his uncle is the awareness that his mother has been besmirched for ever. The gravity of his mothers sin is realised when it is viewed vis-a-vis the age in which Hamlet lives. During the Elizabethan age, incest was considered to be the greatest of all sins.
From the above facts it
is clear that the situation Hamlet faces accounts for his
mental disturbance. Beyond any shadow of doubt,
Shakespeare has successfully dealt with the effect of a
mothers actions on the mind of her son in this
play. Hence Eliots remark that Hamlet is an
artistic failure has no validity.
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