Irony in Hamlet

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Many literary critics point to the considerable irony that exists in Shakespeare's Hamlet. This paper examines the play for instances of irony and surveys their interpretation by critics. Howard Felperin comments on Hamlet’s “ironic consciousness” of the fact that he is unable to quickly execute the command of the ghost: Eliot’s unhappy judgments are worth considering here, if only because they are based on an intuition of Shakespeare’s creative process that is so near to and yet so far from the one presupposed in the present essay. He imagines Shakespeare grappling with his archaic sources in the attempt to naturalize, rationalize, and psychologize – generally speaking, to streamline and neoclassisize them – and at least in the case of Hamlet, losing the struggle. Our own intuition of the creative or re-creative act that issued in the play also assumes a struggle with the literary past, but one of a more complex nature. It would seem to be Hamlet who is unable to impose successfully the model of an old play upon the intractable material of his present life, and Shakespeare who dramatizes with unfailing control the tragic conflict between his heroic effort to do so and his ironic consciousness that it cannot be done, with the inevitable by-products of hesitation and delay. (107-108) David Bevington in the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet identifies one of the “richest sources of dramatic irony” in Hamlet: Well may the dying Hamlet urge his friend Horatio to “report me and my cause aright To the unsatisfied,” for no one save Horatio has caught more than a glimpse of Hamlet’s true situation. We as omniscient audience, hearing the inner thoughts of Claudius as w... ... middle of paper ... ... 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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