Hamlet Proved Too Much for Shakespeare

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Hamlet Proved Too Much for Shakespeare “We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him.” T. S. Eliot The real tragedy of Hamlet is that it is so far from being a masterpiece of Shakespeare - the play is most certainly an artistic failure. In several ways the play is puzzling, and disquieting as is none of the other plays of Shakespeare. Of all the plays it is the longest and is possibly the one on which Shakespeare spent most pains; and yet he has left in it superfluous and inconsistent scenes which even hasty revision should have noticed. The versification is variable. Lines like Look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill, are of the Shakespeare of Romeo and Juliet. The lines in Act v. sc. ii., Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting That would not let me sleep... Up from my cabin, My sea-gown scarf'd about me, in the dark Grop'd I to find out them: had my desire; Finger'd their packet; are of his quite mature. Both workmanship and thought are in an unstable condition. We are surely justified in attributing the play, with that other profoundly interesting play of "intractable" material and astonishing versification, Measure for Measure, to a period of crisis, after which follow the tragic successes which culminate in Coriolanus. Coriolanus may be not as "interesting" as Hamlet, but it is, with Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare's most assured artistic success. And probably more people have thought Hamlet a work of art because they found it interesting, than have found it interesting because it is a work of art. It is the "Mona Lisa" of literature. The grounds of Hamlet's failure are not immediately obvious. It is undoubtedly correct to conclude that the essential emotion of the play is the feeling of a son towards a guilty mother. Hamlet's tone is that of one who has suffered greatly as a direct result of his mother's degradation. The guilt of a mother is an almost intolerable motive for drama, but it had to be maintained and emphasized to supply a psychological solution, or rather a hint of one. This, however, is by no means the whole story. It is not merely the "guilt of a mother" that cannot be handled as Shakespeare handled the suspicion of Othello, the infatuation of Antony, or the pride of Coriolanus.
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