Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hamlet as a Summing-Up

A few days ago I quoted Harold C. Goddard explaining how Hamlet precipitates out among so many characters in Troilus and Cressida.  But Hamlet is not just a beginning.  Others have pointed out that Shakespeare wrote the play at just about the midpoint of his career, and can be seen as using the character as on occasion to tell us everything he had learned about the theatre.  Here Goddard itemizes how Hamlet encapsulates what has gone before:

He has the passion of Romeo ("Romeo is Hamlet in love," says Hazlitt), the dash and audacity of Hotspur, the tenderness and genius for friendship of Antonio, the wit, wisdom, resourcefulness, and histrionic gift of Falstaff, the bravery of Faulconbridge, the boyish charm of the earlier Hal at his best, the poetic fancy of Richard II, the analogic power and meditative melancholy of Jaques, the idealism of Brutus, the simplicity and human sympathy of Henry VI, and, after the assumption of his antic disposition, the wiliness and talent for disguise of Henry IV and the cynicism and irony of Richard III--not to mention gifts and graces that stem more from certain of Shakespeare's heroines than from his heroes--for, like Rosalind, the inimitable boy-girl, Hamlet is an early draft of a new creature on the Platonic order. ... Hamlet has been pronounced both a hero and a dreamer, hard and soft, cruel and gentle, brutal and angelic, like a lion and like a dove.  One by one, these judgments are all wrong.  Together they are all right--
These contraries such unity do hold ...
So Goddard  in The Meaning of Shakespeare vol. 1, 332 (1951).  I  may seem that I'm at risk of quoting the whole book.  Not really.  I could be tempted but the fact is that anything I leave behind is as rich as what I quote.

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