Monday, January 01, 2007

Y12: Just in case anyone missed it, here are the Hamlet essays I remarked and returned electronically over Christmas. Next up, the poetry of John Donne. Make sure when you return your essays promptly on the 5th January (or before) and they are presented correctly: word count; bibliography; clear font in 12-point; double spaced (on the toolbar in Word, looks like four lines with arrows pointing up and down to the left side of the lines). See you in the New Year.

How far would you agree that Hamlet is "a play dealing with the effect of a mother's guilt upon her son"? [T.S Eliot]


ADVICE: THE QUALITY OF THE ESSAY CARRIES THE EXTRA LENGTH SO YOU’LL BE OKAY THERE. HOWEVER, IT COULD DO WITH A BIT OF RESTRUCTURING- SOME OF THE TOPICS DON’T REALLY FLOW OR LEAD ONE FROM THE OTHER- MAYBE YOU COULD RE-ORDER IT A BIT OR ADD SOME ‘SIGNPOST’ SENTENCES’ LIKE ‘MUCH OF THE EVIDENCE FOR HAMLET’S FEELINGS FOR HIS MOTHER ARE IN HIS SOLILOQUIES’ ETC.T.S Eliot suggests that the cause of Hamlet's madness, the explanation for his melancholy and motivation for his actions is his mother's ‘sins’ of infidelity (at least to his father’s memory, if not actually to his father) and betrayal. This leads Eliot to suggest that the play is a failure because Gertrude’s sins are not sufficient to justify his subsequent actions and emotional turmoil. John Dover Wilson, on the other hand, believes that Hamlet's anguish is the result of a combination of factors such as the death of his father, the fact that his uncle has stolen his crown and the trauma of seeing his dead father's ghost, which rocks his (presumably) Protestant beliefs. Dover Wilson would then assume that Hamlet's actions were, if not justified, then at least understandable to the audience and therefore the play is not a failure. T.S Eliot hints at the fact that Hamlet is suffering from an Oedipus complex, although he would "not perhaps go to the length of the psychoanalyst Dr Ernest Jones" [John Dover Wilson]. This means that Hamlet is sexually attracted and obsessed with his mother and therefore he is envious of Claudius' relationship with her. Eliot justifies this view by looking at the way Hamlet calls his mother's sheets "incestuous" in his first soliloquy and suggests that the incest is in fact his own feelings over his mother as, in modern eyes, the relationship between his mother and his uncle is not incestuous. The use of the word "sullied" suggests he is dirty and feels disgusted with himself in comparison to the purity of new snow, "O that this too too sullied flesh would melt, / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew" [ 1.2.129]. This can be interpreted as Hamlet feeling even more disgust for himself because he has romantic or sexual feelings for his mother. As this is deemed utterly wrong by modern day and Shakespearean society, Hamlet's incoherence and hysterical anguish in this soliloquy is understandable. By repeating himself in "…too too sullied…" and again in "O God! O God!" Hamlet is again being incoherent – an indication of his mental turmoil. Further on in the soliloquy, Hamlet makes brief reference of his father as a great king who was "so loving to my mother" [1.2.140]. He wants to believe that his parents had the perfect relationship. Here, Hamlet also could be trying to convince himself of his own father's greatness so as to have a reason to hate Claudius and justify his own anguish. Lying to himself and being convincing enough to not realize it is an obvious sign that Hamlet could be heading towards a mental breakdown. On the other hand, Dover Wilson can argue that what Hamlet was feeling at the time was fully understandable to a Shakespearean audience as marrying an in-law was regarded as incest at the time: Henry VIII had used a biblical law against marriage between in-laws as the basis for his divorce from his first wife just 40 years before Hamlet was written. This historical fact weakens Eliot's whole argument considerably, as it becomes apparent that the Shakespearean audience would have agreed with Hamlet on the level of disgust inherent in his mother’s second marriage. In any case, it is true that the soliloquy focuses more on Hamlet's anger towards his mother getting remarried rather than the fact that he isn't King or his father's death. His anguish is apparent from the fact that he cannot finish any sentence concerning his mother's sexual relationship with his uncle, for example "…and yet within a month-" [ 1.2.145] as if the thought of it sickens him to the point that he can't even think of it. This would indicate that Eliot is correct in saying that Hamlet is extremely emotionally disturbed by the fact that his mother has married so quickly and that this is a huge factor of his eventual breakdown.
However, at this point Dover Wilson could argue that Hamlet isn't even aware of his father's murder by his uncle and therefore of course he hasn't mentioned it and it is not at the front of his mind. In the scene immediately after the encounter with the ghost, Hamlet reveals his emotions, which mainly concentrate on the issue of his father's murder. Although Hamlet was relatively incoherent in the first soliloquy, his increasing amount of repetition and emphasis on words here indicates that he is now more distressed after seeing the ghost than he was with his mother's incestuous and hasty marriage to Claudius. This would mean that Dover Wilson was more accurate when he suggested that Hamlet's madness was a culmination of factors such as his father's death, his mother's remarriage and his throne being stolen by his uncle. His mother is only mentioned in one line, "O most pernicious woman!" ( 1.5.105), which indicates that he has almost put it out of his mind at this point in the play. This again weakens T.S Eliot's argument because it shows that it can't have been that much of an issue for him.There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that Hamlet was affected by a loss of faith after the appearance of the ghost as well. Dover Wilson would cite this as a major trigger for Hamlet’s emotional turmoil as it occurs just before Hamlet's second emotionally charged speech. This also has nothing to do with his mother and therefore he is not dealing with the effect of his mother's sins.
As Protestants do not believe in ghosts, they see them as angels or demons playing tricks on them, Hamlet is deeply confused and troubled by his sighting of the ghost. We can clearly see that he is a religious man because at the start of the soliloquy Hamlet wants resolve and strength to help him in his time of need. He asks Heaven for help and then Earth, then even considers asking Hell, as he is so desperate for inspiration and help, "O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else?/ And shall I couple hell?" ( 1.5.92). This shows that he is slowly turning crazy because he is even considering going against his faith to help him in his time of need. He also wants to be completely focused on avenging his fathers death and therefore must wipe his memory clean of anything that is unimportant, such as his mother’s relationship with his uncle, "from the table of my memory/ I'll wipe away all trivial, fond records/ All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past". By clearing all his past issues with his mother he can properly take care of Claudius. This indicates again that Gertrude is not one of the biggest issues in his life and that T.S Eliot was wrong to suggest that it was his mother's sins that caused his insanity if he can dismiss it this quickly.This is reinforced by the second soliloquy, which again mainly focuses on his father's death rather than his mother's sins. Hamlet is clearly struggling with whether or not to kill Claudius, as although he has all the reason in the world to, he has a twisted respect for him. He sees himself as a coward because he hasn't done anything yet, even though Pyrrhus killed Priam for less. Whereas he talked about his father with respect in the first soliloquy, it now appears that he can see flaws in his father's warrior like character and sees himself in some way in Claudius. Dover Wilson would point out that when Hamlet asks, "who does me this?" ( 2.2.570) in reference to Claudius, he answers his own question with "ha!" (2.2.571) because he can't say his name. This is the way he treated saying his mother’s name and sins in the first soliloquy so this suggests that this is just the way he deals with things that are uncomfortable to him and that he doesn't have any sexual feelings for his mother. This would rebuke the argument for Eliot given previously when I suggested that Hamlet's incoherence in the first soliloquy was a direct reaction to his mother’s sins alone. On the other hand, Eliot could say that Hamlet can't talk about his mother at all and his reaction is more intense so he has more of an issue with his mother than Claudius. His twisted respect for Claudius is also shown in the scene leading up to Hamlet's 4th soliloquy. When Fortinbras marches through Denmark to invade a small, useless part of Poland, Hamlet reacts in a similar way to how Claudius would. He realises that the war is so pointless that the "Polack never will defend it" ( 4.4.23) and can't see that Fortinbras is doing it for honour and glory, much like his own father would have done. Hamlet realizes this in his subsequent soliloquy in which he says, "What is a man / If his chief good and market of this time / Be but to sleep and feed? A beast no more." ( 4.4.33). The beast is Claudius as he is not a true man with honour like Old Hamlet in Hamlet's eyes. This shows that he is trying to talk himself into being like Old Hamlet because he isn't really a violent character and is trying to show his hatred for Claudius. This indicates that he is more concerned with Claudius' sins than his mother’s because he is deliberately trying to be unlike him. The theory of double entry during Act II Scene 2 can be interpreted to support either Dover Wilson or Eliot. The argument is whether Hamlet overhears the conversation between Ophelia, Claudius and Polonius or if he is offensive to Ophelia in Act III Scene 1 for other reasons. During the conversation, the trio plot to find the cause of Hamlet's madness, with Claudius and Polonius both having separate motives. If Hamlet does overhear, this is evidence for Dover Wilson as his treatment for Ophelia is not motivated by a hate or disgust for women. On the other hand, if he didn't overhear, T.S Eliot could argue that he treats Ophelia disgracefully because he hates women and this relates back to his relationship with his mother. In my opinion, the evidence suggests that Hamlet did overhear the conversation, as he is witty and rude to Polonius after he fully enters the scene. He says, "You are a fishmonger." ( 2.2.174) which suggests that Polonius is a "pimp" to his daughter who he is using to fuel his own motivation to gain more power. He also acts like he is losing his mind, switching from subject to subject like he does when he is genuinely crazy but in this instance cleverly and coherently, "…being a / good kissing carrion- Have you a daughter?" ( 2.2.181). This means that he is putting on a show for Polonius, he doesn't want him to be aware that he knows about the murder or that he isn't genuinely mad.When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, Hamlet admits that he has been miserable recently, but the reason for his misery is not the fact that he isn't King, "I could be bound in a nutshell and count / myself a king of infinite space". Eliot would suggest here that his motivation for his melancholy is his mother's actions as he isn't even sure if what the ghost has told him is true at this point. Hamlet asks his friends "what makes you at Elsinore?" because he wants them to admit their reasons for being there – to spy on him. This would indicate that Dover Wilson is again more correct in his assumption that it is a range of factors rather than just his mother that causes his depression. At this point, Hamlet is also showing that he has become a misanthrope because he has become tired of life and although he can see the beauty of man, he has realized that it all become nothing once you die. This is a classic convention of a tragic hero and again supports Dover Wilson because he has lost all love of life; it is not specifically because of his mother. After the third soliloquy, Ophelia enters to return Hamlet's belongings after their relationship has ended. The subsequent scene can be interpreted in two ways depending on whether the double entry theory is true. If it is true, as Dover Wilson argues, Hamlet’s coarse and hostile language is a reaction to the fact that Ophelia is being used as a spy against him. On the other hand, if the analyst doesn't believe the double entry theory, like TS Eliot, it could be interpreted that Hamlet's cruel treatment of her is because of his hatred of women, which began because of his sexual obsession with his mother and her sins. Hamlet also treats his mother badly during the closet scene because he hates her for her treatment of his father. Hamlet also believes that Gertrude was involved in the murder but Shakespeare writes Gertrude ambiguously so that the audience never really knows if she was. Each of her responses to Hamlet's accusations can be construed differently- either as innocent bewilderment or as a guilty person trying to throw the scent of them. For instance, Hamlet says, "Almost as bad, good mother / As kill a King and marry with his brother." ( 3.4.28) and Gertrude replies "As kill a King?" (3.4.30) which could either mean she is shocked and worried that he knows or that she is genuinely bewildered. Dover Wilson would like to believe that Gertrude is guilty because then her sins are enough to warrant Hamlet's mental breakdown. TS Eliot stated that the play was a failure because Gertrude's sins were not enough and therefore he must believe she was innocent in the murder. During this scene he also accidentally murders Polonius, believing it is Claudius hiding behind the curtains. When Ophelia learns of her father's death, this and the end of her relationship with Hamlet drives her crazy. This is a reflection of Hamlet's own situation, where he slowly goes mad after the death of his father. Throughout the play there are many parallels similar to this: both Hamlet and Fortinbras have had their fathers murdered and their thrones stolen and both are named after their fathers, whilst Laertes also has a murdered father and a ‘whored’ mother, much like Hamlet. Perhaps this shows that the play is about fathers and sons and less about mothers and sons as TS Eliot suggests. Another example of a parallel sub-plot is the Mousetrap play within a play. In this scene Hamlet sets up a play to repeat the murder of his father in order to see if Claudius experiences any recognition or guilt of the events. It would seem that Hamlet would need to be in a position to look at Claudius, but instead he tells Horatio to look at him and he himself looks at Gertrude to see her reaction. Hamlet also lays across Ophelia's lap in a very inappropriate way in this scene and bombards her with sexual innuendos and gross images. In my opinion, this section of the play is Eliot's strongest piece of evidence to suggest that Hamlet's issue is with his mother mainly and other women as a result of his mother's sins because he seems relatively unconcerned with Claudius' reaction. In my opinion, there is a lot more evidence to support Dover Wilson's claim than Eliot's. If the discovery about the incest between a widow and brother in law had not been made, I believe Eliot would have had a much stronger case but as most his arguments seem to be supported on Hamlet having sexual feelings for his mother his argument is weakened considerably. Although some of Eliot's views do make more sense than Dover Wilson's, Dover Wilson presents a much more varied argument, including a wider range of factors and is therefore less easy to dismiss with counter evidence. In this case I believe that Eliot was wrong in stating that the play is a failure due to a lack of Gertrude's sins as it was a culmination of many factors that lead to Hamlet's downfall.
How far do you agree that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son”?


T.S Eliot argues that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son” and this is what motivated Hamlet to act in the way he does. However, he argues that this reason does not adequately support Hamlet’s actions and therefore the play fails; he states “Hamlet is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear”. On the other hand, the critic John Dover Wilson argues that this is untrue and the play therefore does not fail: Hamlet has many adequate reasons leading him to do the things he does, which trouble him more than “the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son.” These reasons include the appearance of the ghost of his murdered father, whom was murdered by his uncle, not to mention the fact that the murderer has also taken a kingdom that was rightly his. The appearance of the ghost would ultimately lead to break down of his of his faith that would be assumed to be Protestantism. Also so many of his friends have turned against him; Ophelia is used to spy on him, (even though there is controversy whether Hamlet knows this or not,) also his school friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent to spy on him, perhaps leading to misanthropy.

There is plentiful evidence to support both arguments; the first soliloquy particularly supports T.S Eliot’s theory, with Hamlet’s ranting about his mother. However, Dover Wilson would argue that this is because he has not yet found out the truth behind Claudius’ crowning.

Hamlet’s first soliloquy reveals him as an emotional wreck: He talks about “self slaughter,” and compares his flesh to “sullied” snow- something has made him impure. T.S Eliot would suggest that this overwhelming grief is to do with Hamlet’s feelings for his mother. When he speaks about his mother in this soliloquy we see words of genuine anger, Hamlet’s speech- which is normally extremely eloquent deteriorates into lists- “Fie on’t, ah, fie”. Also there is excessive use of punctuation, breaking his sentences and making them choppy. T.S Eliot says this is because his mother has driven him insane, in her actions. He is unable to think of Claudius and his mother whenever he gets close to it, he stops, he cannot say it; “Let me not think on’t.”

Later in the play we see Hamlet feign an “antic disposition,” it is directly after the meeting of the ghost, we see the same sorts of characteristics of madness as we do in the first soliloquy, Horatio comments “these are wild and whirling words my lord” after this comment we see Hamlet reveal his plan of displaying an “antic disposition” this could be perhaps to cover up his true insanity, as fresh from an encounter with his father’s murdered ghost, he is undoubtedly going to be suffering some emotional turmoil, but it could also be protection for him from Claudius, as if Claudius does happen to find out what is going on, he will have to do something about it. When we see him feigning this antic disposition he is still very articulate in his speech: however when we see him in moments of genuine emotional havoc, he is so overcome his speech is impeded.

Eliot also points out that continuous references are made to his mother’s hasty marriage yet he does not appear so obsessed with Claudius: he seems obsessed only with the part his mother played in it, he compares her to an “unweeded garden,” and when he talks about it he says “But two months dead-“ and his speech breaks off, perhaps showing his total disgust for this. He complains about her grieving with “most unrighteous tears” Hamlet feels his father has been betrayed, he feels great anger that she remarried so quickly “She married. O most wicked speed!” T.S Eliot states that he cannot speak about his mother and his speech is broken because he is “dominated by an emotion which in inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear.” However Dover Wilson claims that Hamlet’s emotions are perfectly justified at this point because of other facts such as he has not been made king, as well as his mother’s “o’er hasty marriage.” Dover Wilson goes on to claim that Hamlet is “jealous” of his mother in the sense that he wants no one else to have her, he is not sexually envious of Claudius as T.S Eliot suggests. Wilson says that Eliot “would perhaps not go to the lengths of the psycho-analyst Dr Ernest Jones who declares that Hamlet suffers from and Oedipus complex because Shakespeare did also, but he seems to hint at such a solution.”
Hamlet refers to his mother’s bed sheets as incestuous: other references are made throughout the play, for example in Scene 3 Act 4 some directors portray Hamlet forcing Gertrude down on to a bed, however by some it is played as being forced down onto a chair; there is dispute how Shakespeare himself would have played it. However, Dover Wilson claims this to be untrue he states that at the time the play the written it would have indeed been incest for someone to marry their brother’s wife due to complications in Henry VIII marriage and the creation of the Church of the England. So the contemporary audience would have indeed seen this relationship as incestuous, this appears to be a point that is over looked by Mr. T.S Eliot. Yet more evidence that Hamlet does not have sexual feelings for his mother is that the ghost also terms the relationship as incestuous, he refers to Claudius as “that incestuous, that adulterate beast”

Another claim made by T.S Eliot is that Hamlet is perhaps also a misogynist, his terrible treatment of the only two women in the play, Gertrude and Ophelia gives him plentiful evidence to make this claim. His verbal abuse of Gertrude referring to her as “cold mother” and makes a mention to that fact she is not wearing “customary suit of solemn black”. He also treats Ophelia particularly badly in the closet scene, which we see the result of a trap set by Claudius and Polonius to find out the reason for Hamlet’s insanity. Hamlet tells her to “Get thee to a Nunnery” a Nunnery again having a sordid link and meaning brothel, although you can instantly see this is derogatory it may not be entirely to degrade her, as Eliot thinks. Dover Wilson claims that Hamlet knew that Claudius and Polonius were actually listening in due to the fact that he is actually already on stage and can eavesdrop on the conspirators, this may or may not have been expressed in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Therefore this may influence his behavior on his reactions to Ophelia as he knows it’s a trap. THIS IS UNCLEAR- YOU NEED TO EXPLAIN THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE DOUBLE ENTRY SCENE AND THE LOBBY SCENE WITH OPHELIA.

The reason for this claim being down to the way the play is actually played, in Act two Scene two Wilson argues the double entry theory, this being that Hamlet actually comes on stage, and over hears the plan. As in Shakespeare’s Globe theatre Hamlet could have appeared on the covered part of the stage, and over heard the main dialogue on the outer stage. There are several hints that this could be true as immediately when the characters see Hamlet on stage he address Polonius as a “Fishmonger” or pimp, he also tells Polonius on the matter of his daughter “Let her not walk i’th’ sun” arguably this means that Hamlet has overheard and warns him do not let her walk in to the son of old Hamlet, it could also reference the fact that people tanned by the “sun” were those of the lower classes who worked in the fields, and if Ophelia was soiled by him but not married she would be worthless.

In the closet scene there is two possible meanings for what is unfolding, if the Dover Wilson’s double entry is true we would see Hamlet acting insanely and hatefully towards her to protect his plan to catch Claudius with a play, and if it is not and Eliot is right we will see Hamlet insane and hateful towards Ophelia because he has a problem with women. Before Hamlet asks the question”where is your father?” He does seem genuinely mad at Ophelia, and calls her a “bawd”, perhaps suggesting that it is Ophelia he does have a problem with, however even if the double entry theory is true he may also be mad at her due to her agreement to spy on her after all he says “I did love you once” this betrayal may have caused hatred. After the question about her father is asked we see him starting to be even more malicious to her perhaps as a show to Claudius and Polonius or perhaps in support of Eliot’s misogyny argument.

However Hamlet shows genuine anger when he continually refers her to a “Nunnery,” suggesting that she should either keep her self pure, or not allow herself to be used like a prostitute. Conversely, in support of the double entry theory Hamlet says “your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty” basically meaning she knows he is being spied upon. Both interpretations are plausible, and maybe there is a little bit of both happening in this scene; Hamlet knows he is being spied upon, making him want to appear angry, but is also genuinely angry with Ophelia for going along with this plan.

In Act 3 Scene 4 we see the encounter between Hamlet and Gertrude in her chamber; it is also in this scene we see the murder of Polonius. In this scene Hamlet comments about the way he will treat Gertrude he says “I will speak daggers to her, but use none” This he does, calling his own mother a whore, sayng her lies to his father and promises to Claudius take the blush- “From the fair forehead of innocent love /And sets a blister there”
If Gertrude is portrayed as innocent, showing Eliot’s point of the view, she is therefore unaware of what has happened with the murder, and when Hamlet mentions the “bloody deed,” she responds with shock “As kill a king?” as to keep Eliot’s view point she has to be blissfully innocent so Hamlet’s reactions can be considered “in excess of the facts as they appear”. However although she does seemed shocked and wonder what she has done to warrant “thy tongue in noise so rude against” However is Gertrude is played as evil and aware of or part of Claudius’ plans, then this shock is just Gertrude attempting to deny that she had had any involvement. It is hard to determine what Gertrude’s thoughts are throughout the play, as we never see her alone and she has no soliloquies, unlike Hamlet who has five.
Hamlet uses sexually explicit phrases, such as “the rank sweat of an enseamed bed” infact Hamlet does seem to mention the sexual aspect of their relationship a lot, perhaps being a point for T.S Eliot every time he mentions Claudius he channels his thoughts in a sexual way (“incestuous sheets/ go not to my uncles bed”). However we know this is Hamlet’s plan, to “speak daggers to her,” in an attempt to induce her guilt. Also another argument for T.S Eliot is the fact that Hamlet is so worked up over his mother, perhaps so mad that he has hallucinated the ghost of his father, as his mother cannot see it “Alas, he’s mad!” is her reaction when he starts talking to the ghost. Yet when we have seen this ghost previously it has appeared to everyone, not just Hamlet.

Both critics make valid points about the play, and certainly T.S Eliot does have some ground on which to base his argument, Hamlet even says “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I Have bad dreams,” so it is apparently not on his main agenda that he has lost his crown. Dover Wilson argue that when Hamlet lists his troubles it tends to be father first “That have a father killed, a mother stained,” Mother is mention second perhaps suggesting that this is secondary to the killing of his father. Also another major point for Dover Wilson to explain his extreme reaction to his mother is the fact he does react extremely too a lot of things, for example the scene of Ophelia’s funeral we see Hamlet violent reaction, he proclaims “whose wicked deed they most ingenious sense deprived thee of” before he leaps into grapple with Laertes. This is not the only thing to suggest that Hamlet has extremely poor way of handling bad news, when he finds out about Claudius plot for his murder he does not consider his to old school friends are innocent, he just condemns them straight to hell- “He should those bearers put to sudden death, Not shriving time allowed.” Despite this at the end of the play while Claudius is dying he proclaims “thou incestuous murderous damned Dane” T.S Eliot would note that he does mention ‘incestuous’ before he mention the murder, even though it is possibly not incest in the way T.S Eliot perceives, yet still his last words to Claudius are “follow my mother” not ‘follow Laertes’, who was after all in the same situation as Hamlet.

Despite all of this the end of the play is still mainly about sons and fathers, Laertes wanting revenge for the death of his, as does Hamlet, and also Fortinbras who Hamlet declares King in the last moments of his life, this parallelism in Hamlet does tend to suggest that the main theme of the play is not mothers and their sons: even though that is part of it, and Eliot does make some valid points, the true motivation of Hamlet is a combination of many ‘sins’ rather than an obsession with one.

Word count: 2,352

How far would you agree that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a
Mother’s guilt upon her son.”? (TS Eliot, The Sacred Wood)

According to TS Eliot, Hamlet’s chief motivation and the principle cause of his melancholy is his disgust at his mother, Gertrude, caused by her quick remarriage to his uncle. Furthermore, Eliot argues that Gertrude’s sins are not extreme enough to excuse Hamlet’s madness and that “his disgust envelops and exceeds her.” He goes on to argue that Hamlet’s inability to express his disgust is in fact Shakespeare’s own failure as a playwright and that he “tackled a problem which proved too much for him.” Eliot also seems to imply that Hamlet’s disgust is not at his mother directly but at his own incestuous feelings towards her: as the critic John Dover Wilson says “[Eliot] would not perhaps go to the length of the psycho-analyst Dr Earnest Jones, who declares that Hamlet suffers from an Oedipus complex, because Shakespeare did also, but he seems to hint at such a solution.”
Furthermore, Dover Wilson argues that it is a number of different causes which motivates Hamlet in his madness, including: his father’s death; Claudius’ usurpation of his crown; Ophelia’s ‘rejection’ of his love; his friends being used as informants against him; the disruption of his Protestant faith due to the ghost’s appearance as well as Gertrude’s hasty remarriage to his uncle. In Dover Wilson’s opinion it is the combination of factors, not one solely, which cause his depression and which lies behind his ‘antic disposition’ (1.5.180). He also understands, due to one historical fact that Eliot seems to have overlooked, that Hamlet has full rights to being disgusted at his mother due to her “incestuous” (1.2.157) marriage to his uncle and it is this point which can explain a lot of Hamlet’s concerns of his mother’s relationship in his first soliloquy.
From the first soliloquy it is obvious that Hamlet’s mind is tormented, he is melancholic, angry and suicidal, wishing “…that the Everlasting had not fix’d/ His canon 'gainst self-slaughter.” (1.2.131/2). His state of mind is confused and irrational, and this is enacted through the way he speaks: Shakespeare breaks the speech up with punctuation, creating pauses and stops, showing that Hamlet, an articulate individual, is made incapable of expressing his thoughts fluently,.especially in comparison to the speech Claudius gives at the beginning of the scene, which is calm, complex, well communicated and fluent.
Furthermore, we can see in the content of the speech that the focus of Hamlet’s anger is his mother. His irrationality communicates his particular anger at his mother not mourning long enough, as a widow should, and marrying just two months after his father’s death. Hamlet sees this as disrespectful to his father’s memory, but the main issue is arguably Hamlet’s apparent incapability in accepting his mother’s sexuality. His thoughts linger on his mother’s relationship with his uncle but every time he comes close to actually drawing on the fact that they are together, his thoughts change course “and yet within a month-/Let me not think on’t” (1.2.145/6).
Although there is disgust there also seems to be an element of fascination which makes Hamlet fixate on their relationship.
This is arguably evidence to conclude that Hamlet has an Oedipus complex, he is jealous of his mother and when he says “With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (1.2.156) Eliot argues that Hamlet is describing his disgust at his own incestuous feelings towards his mother, as Gertrude’s and Claudius’ relationship would not be deemed incestuous as they are not blood related.
However Dover Wilson argues that Eliot is oblivious to one important historical fact: Gertrude’s and Claudius’ relationship would have been deemed incestuous by a Shakespearean audience, meaning that it would have not only been incestuous to Hamlet, but also to Shakespeare, the players at The Globe and the audience. This is because whilst Henry VIII was looking for a loophole to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, he went to the Pope claiming to have found a law in the biblical prescription against marrying your brother’s wife, and Catherine had been married to Henry’s older brother Arthur. Therefore, a contemporary audience would have understood Hamlet’s disgust at Gertrude’s relationship.
Moreover, Dover Wilson argues that Hamlet’s “obsession” with Gertrude disappears when he is pressed by more important issues, such as the revelation of his father’s murder. After the ghost’s appearance we can see that Hamlet is again on the edge of emotional turmoil this time at the revelation of Claudius murdering Old Hamlet. This is important to Dover Wilson because it suggests that Hamlet’s speech in general becomes confused and inarticulate when he is discussing anything that troubles him not just Gertrude.
Essentially Hamlet’s mind being on the brink of madness is caused by a mixture of matters, particularly here the discovery of his father’s murder by his uncle and the loss of his religion due to the ghost’s appearance. It is also possible that the subject of Gertrude arises because of the possibility of her being involved in Old Hamlet’s murder. This can be inferred because the ghost of Old Hamlet calls Claudius “that incestuous, that adulterate beast” (1.5.42).
This could suggest that in death Old Hamlet has found out about an affair between Gertrude and Claudius whilst he was alive. In any case, the main concern on Hamlet’s mind and the cause of Hamlet’s emotional turmoil is the revelation of Claudius murdering his father.
Another factor in favour of Eliot’s view is Hamlet’s apparent misogynistic feeling towards the play’s women: his mother and his lover Ophelia. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy he says “Frailty, thy name is woman-” (1.2.146) in anger at Gertrude. He obviously models his idea of women on his mother and as he sees her as something of disgust and instead of exclaiming “Frailty, thy name is Gertrude” he imagines all women as something that have earned his disgust, anger and disrespect.
Of course when considering his treatment of Ophelia, one has to consider the so called ‘double entry argument’ and whether it is true or not, although this is open to interpretation by the director. At the Globe Theatre the stage would have been seen as two rooms, the inner stage is one room and the outer stage is another. So when Polonius says “Here in the lobby” Hamlet may appear reading a book, the other characters unaware of his presence, as if in another room through an archway. As Dover Wilson explains “In short, “Here in the lobby” is equivalent to a stage direction and marks with practical certainty the moment at which Hamlet comes in and the place of his entry.” (GIVE A PAGE REFERENCE FOR THIS OR AT LEAST CREDIT IT TO ‘WHAT HAPPENS IN HAMLET) So it is possible that before his entry on the outer stage, Hamlet would have been seen listening to Polonius’ plan therefore giving reason to his treatment of Ophelia. If the double entry is true then Hamlet has overheard Polonius’ and Claudius’ plan to use Ophelia against him and to spy on him to find out the cause of his malady. This means when he is speaking to Ophelia he is acting to quell Claudius’ suspicions of him. This would also explain Hamlet’s manner when speaking to Polonius after his entry, because as Polonius notices “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” (2.2.205)
Hamlet’s speech hints that he has heard the plan and is disgusted by the fact that Polonius is going to “loose” (2.2.163) his daughter to him. He calls Polonius a “fishmonger” (2.2.174) which can be interpreted as Hamlet calling Polonius a pimp, again reinforcing the truth in double-entry. This justifies Dover Wilson’s point that he is just treating Ophelia badly to throw Claudius off the scent.
However Eliot would regard the double entry as untrue and his treatment of Ophelia is just his misogynistic nature “Get thee to a nunnery” (3.1.121) implying that he hates women as a whole. Also the fact that he proudly announces that he is “proud, revengeful, ambitious” (3.1.125) suggests that he has no knowledge of them being watched, after all he would not want Claudius to know that he was a likely threat to him.
Arguably, the explanation could be somewhere between these two critics point of view: Hamlet has heard the plan and therefore decides to put on an act to please Polonius and Claudius, but psyches himself up so much that he starts believing his act and it ceases to be so, and he therefore shows his anger at Ophelia, for being used against him, by sexually bullying her and throws in threats towards to Claudius- “Those/ that are married already- all but one- shall live” (3.1.150)- because he has worked himself up so much that he cannot control his feelings any longer.
However, in the second soliloquy Hamlet asks why he “Must like a whore unpack my heart with words” (2.2.581), likening himself to a prostitute having to talk herself into feeling desire, as he must talk himself into revenge. However, at even the metaphorical mention of women he loses his hold on sanity and his thoughts become irrational, fortifying Eliot’s view on Hamlet’s misogyny.
When it comes to the Mousetrap Hamlet tells Horatio to watch Claudius “Give him heedful note/ For I mine eyes will rivet to his face, /And after we will both our judgements join.”(3.2.84/5/6) However, when it comes to the play actually starting it appears that Hamlet has other things on his mind- namely, his mother. As well as adding the lines of the play illustrating his father’s supposed murder he has added a part of the Queen exclaiming her undying love for her first husband, and her loyalty in never wanting to remarry if he should die. Hamlet tries to prick Gertrude’s conscience and purposely sits away from her so he can observe her reaction- specifically, he answers ‘No, good mother’ when Gertrude invites him to “Come hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me.” (3.2.107/8) Perhaps he does this to watch her and when she does not appear to react he asks her “Madam, how like you this play?” (3.2.224) this shows that at the moment when he is supposed to be concentrating on Claudius to observe his guilt, he is preoccupied with his mother, arguably because of his obsessive disgust with her. This reinforces Eliot’s opinion, that at such a crucial part in the play, Hamlet is more concerned about his mother than avenging his father.

However it does seem that when it comes to the part of the Mousetrap that is important to testing the ghost Hamlet’s attention does divert back to Claudius just in time to observe his panicked exit from the play and he is certain of Claudius’ guilt “O good Horatio, I’ll take the ghost’s word for a/ thousand pound. Didst perceive?” (3.2.280/1).
Here Hamlet is finally convinced and certain of what he has to do now, and all thoughts of his mother disappear: in his fourth soliloquy he describes how he “will speak daggers to her, but use none.” (3.3.387) he wants Gertrude to realise that marrying Claudius disrespected his father and hurt Hamlet, he has no intentions of doing any more than prick her conscience.
However when it comes to the actual Closet scene, this theory seems to have been lost and Hamlet works himself up so much in his disgust for her that he kills Polonius, mistaking him for Claudius “How now? A rat! Dead for a ducat, dead.” (3.4.23) and it is after this bloody deed that he begins to forget himself and lose his temper at the thought of his mother being whored “takes off the rose/ from the fair forehead of an innocent love / And sets a blister there” (3.4.42/3/4) Here he starts to become cruel towards her either in a bid to make her realise her wrongdoings as would back up Dover Wilson’s theories, or just because he is angry and disgusted at her which would argue Eliot’s point. Indeed, in Hamlet’s final comments he cannot refrain from advising Gertrude to stop her sexual relationship with Claudius “Refrain tonight/ And that shall lend a kind of easiness/ To the next abstinence, the next more easy” (3.4.167/8/9) This implies that no matter how much he convinces himself that he is just trying to the best for his mother, it always ends up going back to the focus on her sex life, and his obsession with it.
A major point for Dover Wilson’s point of view is the theme of parallelism which runs through the play. Hamlet is a prince with a murdered father and a usurped crown, and this is echoed by Prince Fortinbras of Norway, whose father was murdered by Old Hamlet and who is not King. Another parallel situation to Hamlet would be that of Laertes and Ophelia, whose father Polonius has been murdered by Hamlet. This action causes Ophelia to go mad and commit suicide “Your sister’s drown’d, Laertes.” (4.7.163) and Laertes to accuse Claudius of having an affair with Laertes’ late mother
“Cries cuckold to my father, brands the harlot” (4.5.117/)
Firstly this implies that Claudius has a reputation as a womaniser, for Laertes to jump to the assumption that Claudius killed Polonius after he found out about a former affair between the two. However more importantly it demonstrates that the way that Hamlet has reacted about Gertrude marrying Claudius is arguably a normal reaction of any son who thinks that their mother is being whored, as Laertes shows the same anger. Secondly it shows that losing your sanity after a father’s murder is not deemed so irrational, as the murder of Polonius drives Ophelia mad, echoing the circumstances in which Hamlet was at the edge of sanity about. Furthermore, the fact that there are parallel subplots all about sons with murdered fathers would suggest that Shakespeare meant Hamlet to be a play about the relationship between fathers and sons not sons and mothers as Eliot alleges.
In conclusion TS Eliot has many valid points in supposing that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son” as there are many points in the play when Hamlet seems completely enthralled with disgust at his mother and her sexuality, particularly in the first soliloquy. However there are arguably as many points for Dover Wilson’s counterargument. Within Hamlet’s emotional turmoil, his disgust at his mother is a recurring but not dominating factor: it is not this that primarily motivates Hamlet in his madness, and therefore the play cannot be called ‘an artistic failure’ as Shakespeare articulates for Hamlet sufficient range of motivation to be psychologically convincing.

Word count- 3050


Hamlet William Shakespeare Methuen & Co. Ltd Croatia 2003
What Happens in Hamlet John Dover Wilson Cambridge University Press Cambridge 2005


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted my essay just after ellie and mine doesnt appear to have been marked? Here it is again if you didnt get it...

How far would you agree that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son”? (TS Eliot, The Sacred Wood)

TS Eliot and John Dover Wilson both have differing critical standpoints on Hamlet’s motivations and for the causes of his madness and melancholy. TS Eliot’s maintains that Hamlet is appalled with his mother’s behaviour and that Hamlet is, in principle, “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son”; however, he goes on to argue that her hasty marriage to his uncle Claudius is not terrible enough to lead to his emotional turmoil, therefore the play is a failure. On the other hand, Dover Wilson has evidence for believing that Hamlet has adequate reasons for his state of mind and melancholy: Hamlet’s motivation can be seen as the net result of a number of factors, which do include the ‘sins’ of his mother - more precisely, the possible incestuous relationship between Claudius and his mother- but, significantly, a range of other reasons, such as the murder of his father, his encounter with the ghost, the subsequent questioning of his Protestant faith and the fact that Claudius is on the throne of Denmark and not him.

Dover Wilson argues that Hamlet’s issues with his mother and with women generally have their roots in simple jealousy, which appears in many of Shakespeare’s plays, rather than any Oedipal obsession. In his book What Happens in Hamlet, he asserts that Eliot, “would prehaps not go to the length of the psycho-analyst Dr Ernest Jones, who declares that Hamlet suffers from an Oedipus complex, because Shakespeare did also, but he seems to hint at such a solution.” He also comments on the fact that a Shakespearean audience would have seen Hamlet’s disgust for his mother as perfectly rational because it was considered incest if you married your in-law in the 17th century, because of the way Henry VIII used an obscure biblical reference to marriage between in laws being a form of incest. Shakespeare’s first audience’s would have been very disturbed by the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude and especially Hamlet’s first soliloquy, where the word “incestouous” is first used.

Hamlet’s first soliloquy (I.II.129) tends to favour TS Eliot’s arguments due to the fact that Hamlet’s main anger is focused on his mother’s “o’er hasty marriage”. The opening line, “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt”, suggests that Hamlet feels dirty, possibly because he has sexual feelings towards his mother. This is also evident when he struggles, on numerous occasions, to finish his sentences, for instance, “and yet within a month – Let me not think on’t –” (I.II.145/6). This implies that he is infatuated with her because he cannot bear to think of her with Claudius. TS Eliot would argue that, due to the lack of concern about not inheriting the throne and his father’s recent death, the first soliloquy shows that this is the main cause for his antagonism. However, Dover Wilson disagrees with this, “the strain, however, I associate, not with any mysterious complex, but with the more common-place derangement known as jealousy”. He believes that Shakespeare had a particular interest in the subject of jealousy as he repeatedly wrote about it, especially in the Sonnets. Dover Wilson also points out that TS Eliot doesn’t mention the fact about Gertrude’s relationship with Claudius being “incestuous” (I.II.157). At the beginning he just refers to his mother, “so loving to my mother” (I.II.140), yet goes on to generalize from his mother to all women, “Frailty, thy name is woman –” (I.II.146) giving the impression that he has an irrational disgust for women, pointing to an irrational disgust for his mother.

The scene directly after Hamlet’s interaction with the Ghost of Old Hamlet is similar to his first soliloquy, however the source of anger is different. Hamlet only mentions his mother once, “O most pernicious woman” (I.V.105) which suggests that he is more concerned with the recent information about his father’s murder. This supports Dover Wilson’s argument that Hamlet’s “antic disposition” is the result of many factors rather than purely disgust for his mother. Hamlet has other concerns at this point such as seeing his deceased father, finding out that his father was murdered by his uncle and the upsetting of his protestant faith.

Later on, in the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia (III.I), it is made apparent as stated by Dover Wilson, that Hamlet is indeed something of a misogynist rather than just having an uwholesome obsession with his mother. “You jig, and amble, and you lisp, you nick-name God’s creatures” (III.II.146/7) suggests that Hamlet has strong feelings about the way women trick men by using their femininity, leading Dover Wilson to believe that Hamlet is prehaps a misogynist. Equally, TS Eliot would argue that Hamlet’s misogyny is caused by problems in his feelings for his mother.

In Act 2, Scene 2 the “double entry” argument is brought into the play. TS Eliot and Dover Wilson have opposing views on the matter and adequate evidence so support their beliefs. The question is whether Hamlet overhears Polonius, Gertrude and Claudius’ plan to set him up by secretly listening to Hamlet and Ophelia having a conversation. Polonius is trying to prove that it is Hamlet’s love for Ophelia that is the root of his madness, yet Claudius is suspicious that Hamlet is only pretending to be mentally unstable and there is more behind his unusual behaviour. We are unsure when Shakespeare wanted Hamlet to enter the scene, which is the crucial point in determining the double entry argument true of false. It is possible that Hamlet comes on when Polonius says, “You know sometimes he walks for hours together here in the lobby” (II.II.160). Dover Wilson believes this to be so and that Hamlet knows to act as if it is Ophelia’s rejection that has led to his emotional turmoil. Other evidence that Hamlet is present when they are discussing the plan is that he calls Polonius a “fishmonger” (II.II.174). One reason for this is that he knows he is using Ophelia for his own profit. It also relates back to Polonius stating that he will, “loose” his daughter to Hamlet. The word “loose” refers to sending a cow to mate with a bull when she is in heat. Polonious is comparing his daughter to a cow and treating her like a piece of meat, giving Hamlet a means to call him a “fishmonger”. On the other hand, due to Hamlets state of mind, he could just be putting words together to form a sentence. In this case TS Eliot’s argument that the double entry is not true is favoured.

Hamlet changes the subject from, “sun breed maggots in a dead dog” (II.II.181) to “Have you a daughter?” (II.II.182). This implies that Hamlet feels that what Polonius is asking his daughter to do is disgusting. Hamlet also tells Polonius “Let her not walk i’th’ sun” (II.II184) meaning don’t let her go down in the world by carrying out the plan. On the other hand TS Eliot’s counterargument is that, due to his state of mind, he is just making it all up and has no meaning behind it. Hamlet could appear on stage just before he starts talking meaning he is unaware of the whole plan.

The result of the double entry argument comes in Act 3, Scene 1, just after Hamlet’s third soliloquy. This scene can be anaylised from two different perspectives, on being that Hamlet does know that he is being spied on and the other being that he is oblivous to Claudius and Polonious’ presense. Dover Wilson believes that Hamlet is aware of the plan and lays into Ophelia in order to trick them. When Hamlet says, “I loved you not” (III.I.118/119), in Dover Wilsons eyes, Hamlet doesn’t really mean it and is just doing it for Claudius’ benefit. However, TS Eliot’s counter argument would be that he is speaking the truth and is annoyed at Ophelia. Hamlet specifically blames his mother for his birth, “better my mother had not borne me” (III.I.124), giving TS Eliot reasoning for believing that it is still his mother that has effected him. It has been said that “where’s your father?” (III.I.130) is the line when Hamlet hears or notices Claudius and Polonious behind the arras. This would make sense as he carries on having a go at Ophelia. Hamlet makes a comment, that acts like a threat towards Claudius, which implies that he doesn’t know of Claudius and Polonius’ whereabouts, “those that are married already – all but one – shall live” (III.I.150). The repetition of the word “farewell” by Hamlet gives the impression that he keeps wanting to leave but still has more to get off of his chest. For TS Eliot this would resemble Hamlet’s true feelings towards Ophelia, yet Dover Wilson would prehaps agrue that he is attempting to trick Claudius and Polonius into thinking that it is Ophelia making him act this way by gradually getting more distressed.

When Claudius and Polonius come out of hiding after Hamlets exits, Claudius isn’t convinced that it is purely Ophelia that has angered him, he suspects he knows about the murder, “there’s something in his soul O’er which his meancholy sits on brood” (III.I.166/167). In this case he represents Dover Wilson because he thinks there are more reasons causing his unusual behaviour. On the other hand Polonius is confident that Ophelia is the cause of his madness and sets up the ‘closet scene’ between Gertrude and Hamlet, “after the play Let his queen-mother all alone entreeat him To show his grief, let her be round with him, and I’ll be plac’d, so please you, in the ear of all their conference” (III.I.183-186). Polonius, similarly to TS Eliot believes that women are the route cause of his lunacy.

When Hamlet finds out about the actors coming to Elsinore, he immediately takes this as his oppourtunity to prove whether Claudius is guilty of his fathers murder or not. In order to do this his adds a scene into the play that parallels the situation according to the Ghost. Hamlet also includes a link to his mothers hasty marriage, which could essentially be a point for TS Eliot. The main argument comes when the play is being performed, who is Hamlet watching for a reaction. For TS Eliots theory to be correct Hamlet needs to be observing Gertrude for her reaction to the hasty marriage in the play.

Dover Wilson, however, wants Hamlet to be watching Claudius to see his reaction to the murder. From the way that Hamlet talks to Horatio before the play, we would assume that he is going to be taking notes on Claudius, “For I mine eyes will rivet to his face, And after we will both our judgements join In censure of his seeming” (III.II.84-87). Arguably, Hamlet could be asking Horatio to keep an eye on Claudius enabling him to watch Gertrude, making her his first concern.

Evidence for TS Eliot is given when Hamlet says to himself, “If she should break it now” prehaps refering to Gertrude. This suggests that he is waiting for her reaction. Hamlet also asks his mother, “Madam, how like you this play?” (III.II.224). This implies that he is pricking at Gertrude’s conscience and see if it has affected her in any way. The way that Hamlet says, “O, but she’ll keep her word” (III.II.226) emphasises that Gertrude didn’t keep her word and Hamlet wants her to know how he feels about what she did. Equally, evidence for Dover Wilson comes in the part of the play when the murder is being acted out. The situation between Gertrude and Claudius is reiterated in the play, “You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife” (III.II.257). This possibly reveals that Hamlet is watching Claudius, as he is essentially talking about him.

Throughout the play, Gertrude’s character is very open to personal interpretation as she is presented with no psychological transparency. Her character can be played in two different ways, this is dependant on how Shakespeare wanted the play to be directed. In order to favour Dover Wilsons theory to be true, Gertrude would need to be played as if she knew about the murder and helped Claudius plan it all along. This would mean that Hamlet has a more valid reason to be anrgy at Gertrude. Good evidence for this is in Act III Scene 4, the ‘closet scene’ between Hamlet and Gertrude, “As kill a king?” (III.IV.29). Dover Wilson would agrue that Gertrude is worried that Hamlet knows she had something to do with the murder and is trying to hide the truth. Essentially, Gertrude could be oblvious to the fact that Claudius killed Old Hamlet, therefore is confused by Hamlets assumption. This would be TS Eliots side to the story. Similarly, “O speak to me no more. These words like daggers enter in my ears. No more, sweet Hamlet” (III.IV.94-96), could mean that Gertude cannot believe what she is hearing and is genuinly offended that Hamlet would think such a thing, TS Eliot’s point of view. Equally, Gertrude could be denying everything and praising Hamlet to get on his good side, as due to his recent act of violence she knows he is capable of murder. The ‘closet scene’ also provides a lot of evidence that Hamlet isn’t primarily concerned with his mother as he doesn’t fail to mention Claudius, “A king of shreds and patches –” (III.IV.104).

Both John Dover Wilson and TS Eliot make valuable, yet questionable arguments to demonstrate whether the statement made by TS Eliot that Hamlet is ‘a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son’ is entirely true. After looking at both sides to the arguments I believe that Dover Wilson has a more valid explanation for Hamlet’s lunacy. This is because in most of the scenes where Hamlet comes across as aggressive and violent, it is not just directed at his mother as TS Eliot suggests in his book The Sacred Wood. Finally, it is hard to say that Hamlets anger is merely aimed at his mother, when he clearly mentions other factors in his soliloquies, such as his fathers murder and the disruption of his protestant faith. Hence, I believe that John Dover Wilsons arguments are more reliable and that there is significantly more evidence in the play that support his cases.

Word count 2,385


6:08 AM  

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