Ambiguity in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Ambiguity in Hamlet Ambiguity of both language and action is commonplace in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. Let us examine what can be found relative to this ambiguity in the play. D.G. James says in “The New Doubt” that the Bard of Avon has the ambiguous habit of charging a word with several meanings at once: “Conscience does make cowards of us.” There has been, I am aware, much dispute as to what the word means here. For my part, I find not the least difficulty in believing that the word carries both its usual meaning and that of “reflection and anxious thought.” It is a platitude of Shakespeare study that Shakespeare could, with wonderful ease, charge a word with two or three meanings at once; there is hardly a page of Shakespeare which does not illustrate this; and, in any case, the word “conscience” means for us all both a command to do what is right and anxious reflection as to what is, in fact, the right thing to do. If I had to choose (what I feel under no compulsion whatever to do) between the two meanings proposed, I should unhesitatingly choose the former and usual meaning (43). Harold Bloom in the Introduction to Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet expounds on the ambiguity and mysterious conduct of the hero during the final act: When Horatio responds that Claudius will hear shortly from, presumably that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been executed, Hamlet rather ambiguously [my italics] makes what might be read as a final vow of revenge: It will be short. The interim is mine. And a man’s life’s no more than to say “one.” However this is to be interpreted, Hamlet forms no plot, and is content with a wise passivity, knowing that Claudius mu... ... middle of paper ... ...es: An Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: Univ. of Delaware P., 1992. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957. Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “Hamlet: A Man Who Thinks Before He Acts.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar. N. p.: Pocket Books, 1958.
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