The tragic hero and Hamlet

Use this forum to have philosophical discussions about aesthetics and art. What is art? What is beauty? What makes art good? You can also use this forum to discuss philosophy in the arts, namely to discuss the philosophical points in any particular movie, TV show, book or story.
Mayanka
Posts: 159
Joined: August 6th, 2013, 4:15 am

The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by Mayanka » February 20th, 2016, 3:19 am

In my literature classes I learnt that most "tragedy" works (i.e. involving a "tragic hero") derive their structure from Greek plays. There must be a protagonist in a position of power and authority, who must, because of a fatal flaw, hamartia, most typically hubris, i.e. pride, fall from that position of grace into destitution. He most commonly acquires dignity in death, which is what makes him tragic and a hero. He must suffer due to a fault of his own, and then redeem himself. Examples are all most famous tragic heroes: Julius Caesar, who suffers due to his overconfidence, King Lear, even Shylock if you will, Othello, Macbeth, Oedipus etc.

What classifies Hamlet as a tragic hero? He was indecisive, reflective, hesitant, which is most commonly identified as his hamartia. But then again, he is also know to be a figure of renaissance humanism, and one of the first characters to have a "subconscious", due to these qualities. They may be called flaws, but they in fact made him more morally sound and conscientious. And neither were these qualities specifically the cause of his downfall. He found himself in the midst of a plot without having lifted a finger. What then is his fatal flaw? What makes Hamlet a tragic hero (specifically within the traditional framework, for Hamlet was no doubt tragic and a great protagonist otherwise)?

Steve3007
Posts: 4675
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eratosthenes
Location: UK

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by Steve3007 » February 22nd, 2016, 7:45 am

Interesting post. Hamlet does indeed seem to have fatal flaws but perhaps, as you say, they're all too modern to fit into the classical mould. When seen from a modern perspective his most obvious flaw is self-indulgence and misogyny. Hamlet is probably my favourite Shakespeare play. I saw a production of it recently with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role and was rattling on about it to a female friend. She said that she thought it was over-rated because it is loved by the kind of self-absorbed young men who identify with "The Dane", and those kinds of young men tend to have been influential in Thespian circles. Maybe she has a point?
"When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." - Eric Cantona.

User avatar
John Bruce Leonard
Posts: 140
Joined: February 10th, 2016, 5:01 am
Location: Sardinia, Italy
Contact:

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by John Bruce Leonard » February 27th, 2016, 10:14 am

A very interesting thread, Mayanka. I wonder - is it possible that Hamlet was not a tragic hero at all?

John Bruce Leonard

Steve3007
Posts: 4675
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eratosthenes
Location: UK

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by Steve3007 » February 28th, 2016, 5:26 am

It seems that Hamlet was concerned about the chasm between humans' ideals and the sordid realities of our actions, as exemplified by his own indecision and inability to figure out how to address something that he saw as a great injustice. But that concern was manifested as a kind of depression which is perhaps strikingly familiar to modern ears. The "I have of late, though wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth..." monologue is a fantastic description of depression draining away any joy at the wonders of life. I suppose it's this psychological depth to his character that makes the traditional tragic hero seem two dimensional by comparison?
"When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." - Eric Cantona.

User avatar
John Bruce Leonard
Posts: 140
Joined: February 10th, 2016, 5:01 am
Location: Sardinia, Italy
Contact:

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by John Bruce Leonard » February 28th, 2016, 7:07 am

There might be some truth to this, Steve - although I do not know if we can with justice call, for example, the Oedipus of Sophocles or the Prometheus of Aeschylus "two dimensional," or lacking in psychological depth. Be this as it may, you have drawn our attention to the depression of Hamlet as a possible point of difference between Hamlet and the classic tragic hero, and I think this is a point worthy of investigation. Hamlet, it seems to me, suffers from awareness, in a way that the classic tragic hero did not, of the utter groundlessness and consequent meaninglessness of human action, as is suggested by the monologue you have indicated. His "depression" seems to me the fruit of precisely this insight: that whether or not he attempts to right the wrongs that have been done, or to reestablish an outraged justice, nonetheless he, his actions, and all memory of his actions will perish. I do not see this necessarily as a "tragic flaw," and it would be interesting to consider how it relates to the classical idea of tragedy or of the tragic hero.

Perhaps a way of addressing this is through this comment from the opening post:
Mayanka wrote:He most commonly acquires dignity in death, which is what makes him tragic and a hero.
Does Hamlet acquire dignity in death? Is his death tragic in this sense? Or does his death merely render him into a fleshless skeleton, doomed for the grave, for forgetfulness and abhorrence - a clod of earth "stopping a bunghole"?

Belinda
Contributor
Posts: 13760
Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by Belinda » March 24th, 2016, 3:44 pm

John Bruce Leonard wrote:
Hamlet, it seems to me, suffers from awareness, in a way that the classic tragic hero did not, of the utter groundlessness and consequent meaninglessness of human action, as is suggested by the monologue you have indicated. His "depression" seems to me the fruit of precisely this insight: that whether or not he attempts to right the wrongs that have been done, or to reestablish an outraged justice, nonetheless he, his actions, and all memory of his actions will perish. I do not see this necessarily as a "tragic flaw," and it would be interesting to consider how it relates to the classical idea of tragedy or of the tragic hero.
Not many people are as interesting protagonists as a prince of Denmark. Never mind, we are all doomed to die and not only be forgotten but also to never know whether we have gotten any closer to truth. There is no heart of the matter of truth and Hamlet knew it. The nihilism that plagues Hamlet also plagues everybody who sees that no philosophy or as we say now, any science, reveals truth. Most people each get some variety of poison injected into them. If the story had been a comedy the protagonist would have found a reason for his being, got himself or herself centred, and it could have been like As You Like It with the Hamlet character as Melancholy Jacques.
Socialist

User avatar
John Bruce Leonard
Posts: 140
Joined: February 10th, 2016, 5:01 am
Location: Sardinia, Italy
Contact:

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by John Bruce Leonard » March 28th, 2016, 1:24 pm

Belinda wrote:Not many people are as interesting protagonists as a prince of Denmark. Never mind, we are all doomed to die and not only be forgotten but also to never know whether we have gotten any closer to truth. There is no heart of the matter of truth and Hamlet knew it. The nihilism that plagues Hamlet also plagues everybody who sees that no philosophy or as we say now, any science, reveals truth. Most people each get some variety of poison injected into them. If the story had been a comedy the protagonist would have found a reason for his being, got himself or herself centred, and it could have been like As You Like It with the Hamlet character as Melancholy Jacques.
Indeed; and we would be left wondering how long the "happy ending" really lasted – at least insofar as we ourselves are tragically minded.

I wonder, then. If Hamlet's realization was this, that there is “no heart of the matter of truth,” does Hamlet's inability to act follow as a necessary consequence of this awareness? Is the practical result of the serpent's bite of nihilism, paralysis?

John Bruce Leonard

Belinda
Contributor
Posts: 13760
Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by Belinda » March 29th, 2016, 5:06 am

John Bruce Leonard wrote:
I wonder, then. If Hamlet's realization was this, that there is “no heart of the matter of truth,” does Hamlet's inability to act follow as a necessary consequence of this awareness? Is the practical result of the serpent's bite of nihilism, paralysis?
Again I say to you John that I am very pleased that you know what I am talking about, thanks.


My take on 'serpent' is not quite the same as yours.

I think it would follow on, although the serpent's bite is not normally paralysis because most people are brave enough to take the serpent's challenge. Adam and Eve did so; no wonder God loved them despite their disobedience! Why it normally doesn't follow on is that most people get themselves centred, motivated, by self preservation, sensual pleasures of nature or art, some ideology or other, erotic love with another person, attachment to their children or indeed attachment to all people all other creatures in need of support.

A person suffering from depression lacks sufficient motivation from whatever source it might otherwise have arisen. A person suffering from depression typically complains of lack of affect.

So the serpent in Eden as I view him is that tricky element of rebellion which had been absent when Adam and Eve
were unchangingly at one with God.

The poison that gets poured into a victim's ear isn't that rebellious trickster itself though, the poison is any one of a huge variety of idolatries. The most obvious idolatry that is plaguing civilised people right now is the bloody certainty of ISIS people that they are right.

When we kill in the name of combatting ISIS, we cannot be certain that we are right to do so however much we have deliberated. Hamlet however deliberated for too long and failed to save whom he should have saved. This is why it's an existentialist's story, that Hamlet sought some centre in himself . That centre was not a given . It was what he had to self-create for his own sake and for the sake of others, even to the extent of risking being wrong.
Socialist

User avatar
John Bruce Leonard
Posts: 140
Joined: February 10th, 2016, 5:01 am
Location: Sardinia, Italy
Contact:

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by John Bruce Leonard » March 31st, 2016, 8:57 am

Belinda wrote:My take on 'serpent' is not quite the same as yours.

I think it would follow on, although the serpent's bite is not normally paralysis because most people are brave enough to take the serpent's challenge.
You are more generous with people than I, Belinda. That does you honor. I should have said that most people are immune to the serpent's bite, because they are not aware they have been bitten; that it is their almost consummate ignorance of their situation, and not their bravery in the face of it, which permits them to go so easily ahead. Indeed, I should have said that Hamlet's woe is precisely his native lack of blindness, or his inveterate willingness to open his eyes. That Hamlet is lacking in bravery in some way, I think we agree. Yet he lacks bravery in a most peculiar way. Indeed, when his choice is made, he shows even a deal of bravery; his lack of bravery has something to do with his difficulty in choosing.

Here and elsewhere you have presented an interesting idea of “centeredness." It seems to me, if I follow your thought – and correct me where I err, Belinda – it seems to me that this centerdness follows on a choice, a choice that we cannot help but make, but whose right object is neither given nor even suggested by reality, so that our act of choosing is an act simultaneously of creation. Now, you have said that Hamlet deliberated much – likely too much – before making his choice. You have allowed for the possibility of a mistaken choice on his part: you say that Hamlet had to choose “even to the extent of risking being wrong.” I do not think this “wrong” can refer to the validity of the object of the choice; for if we allow that there are fundamentally better or worse alternatives before us – better or worse, that is, in-and-of-themselves, of value that is knowable to us – then it hardly makes sense any longer to speak of acts of creation or self-creation. (Rebellion, yes - but not creation.) Creation can arise only from chaos, from the utter and radical absence of any good or bad legitimately established externally to us. Then the wrongness of a choice can only refer to its ability to attain the ends that it has proposed for itself. A right choice is right not because it has chosen good ends (such do not exist), but because it has divined the best way of attaining the ends that it has postulated – and, by postulating, willed, created.

Returning then to the question of Hamlet – did he lack bravery because he relied too much on deliberation, because he wished to understand the situation to such a pitch of detail and such a perfection of comprehension that he could not fail in his endeavor? Or did he lack bravery – nay, let us say, courage, with its etymology relating to the heart – because he faltered in the face of the void, and could not find the strength in himself to perform the basic self-justifying act of creative choice? Put more simply: did he lack the bravery to attempt to attain his ends? or did he lack the bravery to posit those ends to begin with?

John Bruce Leonard

Belinda
Contributor
Posts: 13760
Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by Belinda » March 31st, 2016, 12:13 pm

John Bruce Leonard wrote:
Belinda wrote:My take on 'serpent' is not quite the same as yours.

I think it would follow on, although the serpent's bite is not normally paralysis because most people are brave enough to take the serpent's challenge.
You are more generous with people than I, Belinda. That does you honor. I should have said that most people are immune to the serpent's bite, because they are not aware they have been bitten; that it is their almost consummate ignorance of their situation, and not their bravery in the face of it, which permits them to go so easily ahead. Indeed, I should have said that Hamlet's woe is precisely his native lack of blindness, or his inveterate willingness to open his eyes. That Hamlet is lacking in bravery in some way, I think we agree. Yet he lacks bravery in a most peculiar way. Indeed, when his choice is made, he shows even a deal of bravery; his lack of bravery has something to do with his difficulty in choosing.

Here and elsewhere you have presented an interesting idea of “centeredness." It seems to me, if I follow your thought – and correct me where I err, Belinda – it seems to me that this centerdness follows on a choice, a choice that we cannot help but make, but whose right object is neither given nor even suggested by reality, so that our act of choosing is an act simultaneously of creation. Now, you have said that Hamlet deliberated much – likely too much – before making his choice. You have allowed for the possibility of a mistaken choice on his part: you say that Hamlet had to choose “even to the extent of risking being wrong.” I do not think this “wrong” can refer to the validity of the object of the choice; for if we allow that there are fundamentally better or worse alternatives before us – better or worse, that is, in-and-of-themselves, of value that is knowable to us – then it hardly makes sense any longer to speak of acts of creation or self-creation. (Rebellion, yes - but not creation.) Creation can arise only from chaos, from the utter and radical absence of any good or bad legitimately established externally to us. Then the wrongness of a choice can only refer to its ability to attain the ends that it has proposed for itself. A right choice is right not because it has chosen good ends (such do not exist), but because it has divined the best way of attaining the ends that it has postulated – and, by postulating, willed, created.

Returning then to the question of Hamlet – did he lack bravery because he relied too much on deliberation, because he wished to understand the situation to such a pitch of detail and such a perfection of comprehension that he could not fail in his endeavor? Or did he lack bravery – nay, let us say, courage, with its etymology relating to the heart – because he faltered in the face of the void, and could not find the strength in himself to perform the basic self-justifying act of creative choice? Put more simply: did he lack the bravery to attempt to attain his ends? or did he lack the bravery to posit those ends to begin with?

John Bruce Leonard
I don't think that people necessarily have to be aware that life challenges us all. Children in good health for instance are full of energy to meet their challenges and it's important for their well being and the wellbeing of society that they are challenged in proportion to their various abilities.

I think that the same philosophy should apply to adults as well as children. Young men, for instance, who lack the challenge of work and a responsible place in society and who lack the money to pay to be diverted from their ennui too often take to criminal behaviour or destructive drugs.

You wrote "
it seems to me that this centerdness follows on a choice, a choice that we cannot help but make, but whose right object is neither given nor even suggested by reality, so that our act of choosing is an act simultaneously of creation
"
I did say what you said, John. If there were a Creator God would he want humans to be robotic?

I do believe in determinism. Hard determinism ends up with universal necessity; whatever happens could not have happened otherwise than it did. However, and here is where the Christian myth makes sense, humans can cause events to happen partly by the agency of reason and compassion. This is not free will action in the sense of magical origination but is a lot more free than the actions of persons who are intimidated or otherwise disabled from choosing with all the reason and compassion that they could apply if they had been taught how to use reason and compassion.

Your gloss on the etymology of 'courage' is interesting. If I remember you went to university in Mexico, and I wonder if you were enlightened by the Spanish word 'corazon' which I was told had popular nuances of heart, courage, and passion.

I don't agree that creation arises only from chaos, I'd call it creative when someone synthesises an idea or decision from learned components, by the process of induction. Chaotic accidents , unforeseen events, even mistakes can be the catalysts for a creative act, e.g. how penicillin was discovered.

You wrote
" Then the wrongness of a choice can only refer to its ability to attain the ends that it has proposed for itself. A right choice is right not because it has chosen good ends (such do not exist), but because it has divined the best way of attaining the ends that it has postulated – and, by postulating, willed, created."
Are you suggesting that the above is what I believe? It is actually true that I believe that there is no revelation of good and bad from Above, whether 'Above' refers to God or to inherent and essential human nature. We are poor creatures who were thrust out naked from Eden. For largely historical reasons humanity has progressed to honouring reason and compassion as a sort of amalgam and this seems to work. Christians will say it works because reason and compassion are God's will. Who knows?

John Bruce Leonard wrote:
Returning then to the question of Hamlet – did he lack bravery because he relied too much on deliberation, because he wished to understand the situation to such a pitch of detail and such a perfection of comprehension that he could not fail in his endeavor? Or did he lack bravery – nay, let us say, courage, with its etymology relating to the heart – because he faltered in the face of the void, and could not find the strength in himself to perform the basic self-justifying act of creative choice? Put more simply: did he lack the bravery to attempt to attain his ends? or did he lack the bravery to posit those ends to begin with?
Nice summing -up.
Can we perhaps say that your second scenario is Shakespeare being a proto-existentialist?
Socialist

User avatar
John Bruce Leonard
Posts: 140
Joined: February 10th, 2016, 5:01 am
Location: Sardinia, Italy
Contact:

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by John Bruce Leonard » May 1st, 2016, 12:00 pm

I find a full month has vanished since your last post here, Belinda. I hope it is not too late to take it up once more, after so much time has passed?
Belinda wrote:It is actually true that I believe that there is no revelation of good and bad from Above, whether 'Above' refers to God or to inherent and essential human nature.
I would be most interested in pursuing this statement. I think we might approach it through the consideration of Hamlet.

Nihilism seems to me to be identical to the proposition that good and bad do not exist, save as the arbitrary fabrications of human choice. I think it could be argued, from what we have said above, that Hamlet struggled against the feeling that nothing he does will have any final weight or significance. There might be many reasons for this feeling; Hamlet's particular trouble seems to be connected to his awareness of death. The sense of death, the recognition of death, such as besets Hamlet, is the recognition that everything that the human being loves, accomplishes, or cherishes, is doomed to perish. The mortality or transience of all human things calls their worth into question; Hamlet struggles against the meaninglessness inculcated by transience. It would be anachronistic to say that Hamlet was a nihilist, but I think there is at least an affinity between the paralysis brought about by Hamlet's crisis, and the ultimate consequences of nihilistic thought.

With this in mind, I return to your statement above. How would you differentiate your position from that of Hamlet? That there is no revelation of good and bad certainly does not suggest that good and bad might not be known by some means other than revelation; still less does it suggest that good and bad do not exist. I wonder what you yourself think about these matters, Belinda? You seem to believe, for example, that it is preferable that young men be provided lucrative employment, to avoid their being forced to resort to crime. You have suggested that one might find the cure to Hamlet's crisis in "centerdness," and I take the example of young men to be another instance of such seeking after centerdness. How is this centerdness related to Hamlet's final act, and how does such centerdness aid us against the debilitating awareness of transience?

Purely in passing - I attended to university in New Mexico, not Mexico, and my familiarity with Spanish, alas, is unpardonably wretched. I take the etymology of "courage" from a slightly better knowledge of Latin and French (from which tongue I believe our own language inherited the word), and a decent ability with Italian. ("Heart" in French and Italian, respectively - coeur, cuore, both from the Latin cor.)

Belinda
Contributor
Posts: 13760
Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by Belinda » May 1st, 2016, 2:30 pm

John Bruce Leonard wrote:I find a full month has vanished since your last post here, Belinda. I hope it is not too late to take it up once more, after so much time has passed?
Belinda wrote:It is actually true that I believe that there is no revelation of good and bad from Above, whether 'Above' refers to God or to inherent and essential human nature.
I would be most interested in pursuing this statement. I think we might approach it through the consideration of Hamlet.

Nihilism seems to me to be identical to the proposition that good and bad do not exist, save as the arbitrary fabrications of human choice. I think it could be argued, from what we have said above, that Hamlet struggled against the feeling that nothing he does will have any final weight or significance. There might be many reasons for this feeling; Hamlet's particular trouble seems to be connected to his awareness of death. The sense of death, the recognition of death, such as besets Hamlet, is the recognition that everything that the human being loves, accomplishes, or cherishes, is doomed to perish. The mortality or transience of all human things calls their worth into question; Hamlet struggles against the meaninglessness inculcated by transience. It would be anachronistic to say that Hamlet was a nihilist, but I think there is at least an affinity between the paralysis brought about by Hamlet's crisis, and the ultimate consequences of nihilistic thought.

With this in mind, I return to your statement above. How would you differentiate your position from that of Hamlet? That there is no revelation of good and bad certainly does not suggest that good and bad might not be known by some means other than revelation; still less does it suggest that good and bad do not exist. I wonder what you yourself think about these matters, Belinda? You seem to believe, for example, that it is preferable that young men be provided lucrative employment, to avoid their being forced to resort to crime. You have suggested that one might find the cure to Hamlet's crisis in "centerdness," and I take the example of young men to be another instance of such seeking after centerdness. How is this centerdness related to Hamlet's final act, and how does such centerdness aid us against the debilitating awareness of transience?

Purely in passing - I attended to university in New Mexico, not Mexico, and my familiarity with Spanish, alas, is unpardonably wretched. I take the etymology of "courage" from a slightly better knowledge of Latin and French (from which tongue I believe our own language inherited the word), and a decent ability with Italian. ("Heart" in French and Italian, respectively - coeur, cuore, both from the Latin cor.)

I am glad that you replied. I stand corrected about the university in New Mexico, not Mexico. Please pardon my ignorance.

I know little about Hamlet compared with you, and I appreciate your suggestion that Hamlet is preoccupied by death, as this makes sense to me. I remember that Hamlet is very affected by his father's ghost surely not in a Gothic way but symbolic of good old times having been lost forever and bad times presenting and he, Hamlet as a matter of his conscience having to do something about the "state of Denmark".

Also the loss of his mother as he knew her to become a woman who is unfaithful to the past and has adapted, without a thought to the virtues of the past.

The unearthing of Yorick's skull was, I am wondering, including Hamlet's speech about Yorick, possibly be what Shakespeare felt about Shakespeare himself's death? Is it possible that Shakespeare thought of himself as court jester, a man who was licensed to tell truths? Maybe, by extension, all artists are licensed to tell truths. I cannot imagine that Hamlet was seriously disturbed by the skull itself , and Hamlet is perhaps talking about the irony of one's own death, his life as a mirror of nature finished and maybe forgotten. Just an idea, mostly a reflection on your suggestion about the theme of death and loss?

Ophelia's was yet another death. Was Hamlet's cruelty to her his protecting himself against the ultimate loss of her? Is this an example of his weakness in not engaging with life?

Outrageous fortune is perhaps too much on his mind and not enough righteous anger to put things right in "Denmark". Hamlet could perhaps have benefited from the pep-talk that Krishna gave to Arjuna. I like determinism. Fortune has decreed such and such but this is neither an adequate excuse or a sufficient reason not to be as good a prince of Denmark as he could be for his times and his season.

Would anyone mind if I direct you if you if you please to post #108 of the thread 'What Is the Meaning of Life?' ? The author discusses being more knowledgeably than I can, and seems to me to emphasise that the truth of being is to be found in violent encounters with pain or other passions. I just finished reading 'Henderson the Rain King' by Saul Bellow, and this theme of the purity feeling during and in prospect of violent encounter, especially fear, gives the subject the feeling of meaning.
You write of "the debilitating awareness of transience". There is a fashion these days for nostalgia, which looks to me like what might if taken in the unhappy direction of regret for a vanished way of life, or guilt, or indulging in remorse develop into mental illness or the sickness of a group of people. I recognise that mental illness is often and perhaps properly a clinical category. However if illness is defined as that which is a danger to life, learning, and happiness then engagement with life together with its element of risk is better than death and loss . I'm not advocating thoughtless impulsivity, but reasoning reflection which is certainly part of engagement with life, in moderation; times and seasons.
Socialist

User avatar
John Bruce Leonard
Posts: 140
Joined: February 10th, 2016, 5:01 am
Location: Sardinia, Italy
Contact:

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by John Bruce Leonard » May 4th, 2016, 10:15 am

Belinda wrote:The unearthing of Yorick's skull was, I am wondering, including Hamlet's speech about Yorick, possibly be what Shakespeare felt about Shakespeare himself's death? Is it possible that Shakespeare thought of himself as court jester, a man who was licensed to tell truths? Maybe, by extension, all artists are licensed to tell truths. I cannot imagine that Hamlet was seriously disturbed by the skull itself , and Hamlet is perhaps talking about the irony of one's own death, his life as a mirror of nature finished and maybe forgotten. Just an idea, mostly a reflection on your suggestion about the theme of death and loss?
A truly fascinating suggestion, Belinda. This superimposition of Shakespeare's own mortality and death on the play leads me to wonder if Shakespeare, as poet, is able to transcend the trouble that besets Hamlet; if Shakespeare is immune to that particular illness.

The tone of Hamlet's death is profoundly modified by the fact that it is followed by Horatio's recounting of it to Prince Fortinbras; though Hamlet has died, he has, in his death, secured himself glory, which is a kind of attempt at immortality. This is supported as well by the fact that Fortinbras arranges for him to be carried away “like a soldier, to the stage.” This reference to the stage is of utmost importance, given its presence in the context of a play, theatrical work, that itself would be given upon a stage of a very difference sort. This is a continuation of a similar play on words in the mouth of Horatio, when he says “Let this same be presently perform'd,” which means most immediately, “let these things be done,” but also in this context has inevitably the sense “let these stories find voice in the theater.” Horatio also makes curious reference to the mouth of one “whose voice will draw on more.” This might mean Fortinbas, who as a prince has the ability to spread the fame of these events to many hearers; it might also mean Shakespeare, whose ability to divulge these events is greater yet, and whose voice will last longer than Fortinbras' (will "draw on more"). Without the glory of Hamlet's final act, perhaps he never would have been carried “to the stage” - neither by Fortinbras' men, nor by Shakespeare himself. It would thus seem that Hamlet has overcome death by dying.

The play itself takes a strikingly similar form, precisely for these references to “stage” and performance” at the end. The play ends at the point that Horatio begins to recount the events of the play. The end of the play points to the beginning of the play: the play closes with the conditions for its recommencement. In its dying, the play reasserts its right to live in new ears, or in the same ears newly once again. Hamlet is insensible of his overcoming of death, for he in dying has lost his senses. But Shakespeare lived to perceive his own overcoming of death in the form of the play.

Of course, Shakespeare knew that he too would one day die. But it is of great interest to note that Hamlet, after his death, in the closing speeches of the play, is referred to once as mute and once as deaf. He has won victory over death at the expense of his hearing and his speech. The poet, as Shakespeare, overcomes at least one of these losses: his play will ever speak, will speak with a voice to “draw on more,” so long as there are any ears to hear it. Shakespeare in his physical demise has fallen deaf but not mute.

You have pointed us to a rich vein indeed, Belinda. I wonder, given this, what we might say about Shakespeare's relation to death, or more generally, the poet's relation to death? Does the poet escape the horrible and utterly inglorious fate of “stopping a bunghole,” as Hamlet, looking upon Yorick's skull, says the dust of Alexander has done? If Shakespeare can be in any way identified with Yorick – and I think you are spot on in suggesting that there is a connection here, Belinda – must we say that Shakespeare in his dying has returned to such “base uses” as Yorick and Alexander? Or has he in some way escaped or ameliorated that doom?

Belinda
Contributor
Posts: 13760
Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by Belinda » May 4th, 2016, 1:36 pm

John, I remembered the sonnet that goes as long as this gives life to you so shall you live on, (Shall I compare thee to a summers day?) and I compared this thought with how Yorick had carried on his shoulder Hamlet the small child. I thought that the poet and the jester are of lasting significance on the basis of their work, but surely quintessence of dust is of no lasting significance at all.

Yorick carried the future man and his legacy which is more graphic than a sonnet carrying into the future the lady's life and beauty.

My son has been telling me about Cymbelineand the performance of it that he had just been to see in Stratford. I don't know the play at all. My son explained how Imogen, and the king, had forgiven old wrongs for the sake of future peace. I wondered if there is a theme of duty which is common to both Hamlet and Cymbeline. The king and Imogen in Cymbeline sacrificed their personal feelings for their duty, although the King and Imogen did not actually die of it.

At about the same time I watched a Russian performance of Hamleton television. After your arousing my interest with your suggestion about the theme of death and loss, I viewed Hamlet with that theme in mind. I thought that Hamlet was a hero who knew the magnitude of what he was taking on with the problems with Denmark . He died in the attempt, so he chose life, he chose to be, ironically. You pointed to the attitude of Fortinbras that he regarded Hamlet as a dead hero and this was given prominence in the Russian film.

John Bruce Leonard wrote:
It would thus seem that Hamlet has overcome death by dying.
That is what I mean by saying that he chose to be and he also took issue with and ended the slings and arrows of fortune, a double win.
Socialist

User avatar
Stephen C Pedersen
New Trial Member
Posts: 15
Joined: May 14th, 2016, 3:42 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Thomas Reid
Location: Michigan

Re: The tragic hero and Hamlet

Post by Stephen C Pedersen » May 15th, 2016, 8:39 pm

I think the OP did point our his tragic flaw. Hamletian indecision. He was stuck inbetween justice and just letting it go. Instead of letting it go, the right thing to do, he was the whole tragedy. His indecisiveness led him to keep passively pursuing him. As time passed he became more like Claudius because he couldn't let it go, even though he couldn't make a decision.

Post Reply