The extent of the ambiguity within William Shakespeare’s drama Hamlet deserves consideration. Literary critics disagree in their assessments of how prevalent the ambiguity is in the work.
Lawrence Danson in the essay “Tragic Alphabet” discusses the equivocation and ambiguity within the play:
Equivocation – the conflict between the reality Hamlet perceives and the language used to describe that reality – has made all expression a matter of mere seeming, and Hamlet knows not seems. His rejection of the Claudian language extends to a rejection of all the symbolic systems that can denote a man. Thus, even his own punning (both verbal and silent) is inadequate: Hamlet chooses “nothing” since he cannot have “all”:
‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of silent black,
Nor windy suspiration of forc’d breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected haviour in the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These, indeed, seem;
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passes show –
These but the trappings and the suits of woe. (I.ii.77)
In an ambiguous world, where all is but seeming, and hence misinterpretation, no symbol is successful. (70)
D.G. James says in “The New Doubt” that the Bard 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 an...
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... 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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