Saturday, 22 April 2017

Hamlet Again

"What is Hamlet's major character flaw?"
"He's an asshole."

Maybe I should expand a little. Hamlet is extraordinarily intelligent and perhaps spiritually sensitive, but intelligence doesn't excuse all else, and perhaps even the contrary. So why does whoever above say Hamlet's major character flaw isn't indecisiveness or some such but is rather the more complete state of being an asshole? Does he behave badly - if for the sake of argument he does indeed do so - simply because he is pretending to be mad in his efforts to avenge his father? Before we go down that fascinating path, how does pretending to be mad help anything? What does it achieve? It seems it allows Hamlet to behave as the above-mentioned total asshole, but other than that . . . well there is no other than that, that is all it achieves, and there is no sense that it is helping achieve anything else.

But I'm being far too wilfully harsh surely. We get to see Hamlet's intelligence unfethered to the conventions of ordinary decorum and discourse, and engage in wild wordplay and so on. We do I suppose. We also see him behave absolutely horribly to Ophelia who he has professed to be in love with, and who is herself very much in love with him. This is naturally devastating to her. He also kills her father virtually on a whim when hearing someone behind a curtain. His response to this murder or manslaughter is to immediately attack Gertrude, his mother, for her terrible behaviour which has upset him so much. He doesn't seem too bothered about the dead body at his feet though in the midst of his verbal assault on his mother he does mention in passing to be sorry about it. He then makes very witty jokes about Polonius' soon to be stinking body to those trying to find out where he has hidden the corpse.

I don't want to be giving a summary of the play but he returns to Elsinore later and comes upon Ophelia's funeral, whose death he is basically wholly responsible for after she lost her wits due to her love Hamlet's horribly ugly behaviour towards her, and also killing her father. Hamlet goes into a screaming rage when he sees her brother Laertes declaring his grief at the grave. He has more or less ended the lives of Laertes' father and sister but Hamlet's rage is at the idea Laertes' grief in any sense compares to his own. This Laertes needs putting in his place.

The next scene we don't see much evidence of this grief and Hamlet is mocking with much self-delight the flaws of a very minor character, Osric. Hamlet tells Horatio he earlier turned the plans of his father-in-law on their head and arranged by falsifying a letter to arrange the murders of his childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They I believe were not knowingly trying to do any harm to Hamlet but when he hears of their deaths, he says this means nothing to him and his conscience as they were meddlers.

His great profession of some kind of guilt is before his fencing with Laertes where he tells him he is sorry for having killed his father but he did it when mad so it would be stupid to blame him for it, and in fact rather than the one in the wrong, Hamlet is one of the wronged. We know however he claimed he would only be pretending to be mad but anyway such remorse rends the heart. However if more credence is leant to this idea than may seem merited - that Hamlet's behaviour during the course of the play is of someone mad and not responsible for his actions, well how much interest is there  left in such a character and play - a central character not responsible for his actions as he's mad? Not much. As a work of art & investigation into the human world, it would be almost entirely self-negating.

So anyway, I might return to the start of things having fleshed out the contours somewhat.

"What is Hamlet's major character flaw?"
"He's an asshole."

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