The Aging of Hamlet

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The Aging of Hamlet "Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are" Milton I Read Hamlet the other day. It had changed considerably since I last read it. Hamlet himself was somewhat thinner, I thought; but he had also mellowed considerably; he was rather less cynical and a little more tolerant than he had been. Polonius was definitely more senile than before. Ophelia was less silly, and more of a pathetic figure than ever. Laertes was exactly the same: that sort of young man does not change; but Osrichad distinctly grown up. The Queen was a little fatter; and the King's teeth seemed to me to be needing attention. These were the principal changes I noticed in the play.... Some people will say that this is fantastic nonsense, and that it was I that had changed, not the play. Most imagine that when a work of art leaves the hand of the master, it remains in changeless beauty forever, though succeeding generations may feel differently about it, seeing it from different angles. It is to point out the fallacy of this common opinion that I am writing this essay. The fallacy springs from regarding a great work of art as a dead thing; whereas the distinctive fact about whatever has been created by genius is that it is alive and not dead. When Milton says that "books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are," his statement is both too wide and too narrow: too wide, because it is not true of all books, but only of a very select minority, the majority being as dead as mutton; too narrow becau... ... middle of paper ... ... Those creations which have such vitality in them are the works which we call "inspired"; perhaps, without twisting language too violently, we can say that that is the very meaning of "inspiration" - putting spirit into lifeless matter. I need scarcely mention the obvious fact that many things which pass for works of art at the time of their production are entirely uninspired, and consequently have no principle of vitality in them, no enduring life. Most of the plays written by Shakespeare's contemporaries are uninspired works, and therefore dead. Though I, personally, get a good deal of pleasure from reading them, I always feel, after an hour or two in their company, as if I had been walking about among specimens - some of them curious and some of them beautiful - in museum cases; unchanging things, things fixed forever in the frozen immobility of death.
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