Information: Book Title: Conscience and the King: A Study of Hamlet. Contributors: Bertram Joseph – author. Publisher: Chatto and Windus. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 1953. Page Number: 28. that in health the sanguine humour should predominate until the age of twenty-five, the choleric from then until thirty-five: the next phase–of melancholy–lasts until fifty, and at the end comes old age, dominated by phlegm.1 As M. Andreas Laurentius says: “All such as we call melancholic men, are not infected with this miserable passion which we call melancholy: there are melancholic constitutions, which keep within the bounds and limits of health.”1b

It is important for us to realize that writers like Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy and Bright in his Treatise of Melancholy are concerned with the various kinds of illnesses; the lists of symptoms, remedies, case-histories and anecdotes which they give do not apply to the man in whom there was nothing more than a constitutional predominance of “native” melancholy, a black secretion produced in the bile. A man of this kind might well have a tendency towards fearfulness, sadness, or gravity of disposition, but he was not regarded as abnormal or ill. And that the healthy melancholic was not irresolute is plain from Wye Saltonstall’s Character:

His actions show no temerity, having been long before intentions, and are at last produced as the ripe issue of a serious, and deliberate resolution.1c

Shakespeare tells us enough of what he has imagined of Hamlet before his troubles to make it clear that the Prince was not constitutionally melancholy as far as Elizabethans were concerned, but showed all the signs of a noble and well-balanced sanguine temperament. It is true that nowadays to comment upon events which might have taken place before the action of a Shakespearian play begins is to incur–not without reason–the obloquy cast upon those who enquire after the number of the children of a celebrated tragic queen. But we need not be deterred from considering Hamlet before his father died:

FENDT – Publication Information: Book Title: Is Hamlet a Religious Drama?An Essay on a Question in Kierkegaard. Contributors: Gene Fendt – author. Publisher: Marquette University Press. Place of Publication: Milwaukee. Publication Year: 1998. Page Number: 60

heartsick powers move. This ghost is both transcendent and immanent.

So then, in order to read adequately we must be as dialectical as Hamlet: the play is the permanent tutor to our discretion. Though Hamlet criticizes himself as muddy-mettled, we must take into account what follows: a test of the ghostly ambiguity which has muddied things for him. So too, when he castigates himself again for his delay in 4.4 we must consider whose presence it follows hard upon: Fortinbras’ — who rushes in where angels ought not tread, nor men neither: to risk life and limb for a Polish eggshell. Like Hamlet toward Horatio (1.2.171), we should not do our ears such violence as to make them truster of his own report against himself. In fact, these soliloquies of castigation are surrounded by Hamlet’s clear and definite actions — he tests the world, reproves his mother, finds out the king. The plot shows Hamlet to be a first class detective — he uncovers a criminal who has committed a perfect crime, and only in his more scholarly moments of soliloquy has he time to consider despising himself. More reflective scholars, having more time, seem to despise him more. 21

Hamlet lives in a world into which an ambiguous spirit has come -from another world? — with news about and for this world? — a spirit who assigns a legitimate task? — a world not on the other side of the galaxy, but on the other side of death? The world of Hamlet is not just mysterious and problematic as Maynard Mack said, the mystery and problem and questions are quite specifically religious. It is not that the ghost reveals something supernatural — that is for a ghost of greater power;

CAVE – Publication Information: Book Title: Recognitions: A Study in Poetics. Contributors: Terence Cave – author. Publisher: Clarendon Press. Place of Publication: Oxford. Publication Year: 1988. Page Number: 234.

In every case so far, anagnorisis has been seen as an event occurring in the plot, among or within the characters. 12 The possibility of an instance where the recognizer is situated outside the plot is adumbrated, perhaps, in its earliest form, by the chorus of certain Greek tragedies or the crowd that witnesses the recognition in the Aethiopica. It immediately becomes sharper in modern European theatre with the play-within-a-play. The paradigm of this class might be Corneille’s Illusion comique, where a ‘recognizer’ situated in a framework plot is finally made aware that what he has seen is not reality but a play; disguise appears here in the form of theatrical performance. 13 The presence of an author-figure, a magician who ‘produces’ the illusion, completes the framing device so that the real audience is invited to repeat the action of the recognizer and appropriate an anagnorisis the predicate of which is dramatic illusion. Prospero plays a similar role, though more intermittently. 14 Examples of this reflexive recognition are frequent in modern fiction: James’s The Figure in the Carpet falls within both this category and the class of incomplete recognitions.

An analogous effect is produced in a different way by Borges’s


In this instance, one might say that the ‘recognition’ of Frèdèric’s initial coup de foudre is progressively undone by the plot, which also stages some burlesque recognitions (Frédéric’s arrival at Nogent just in time to see Louise Roque emerging from the church as the bride of Deslauriers); see also Brooks’s discussion of the novel in Reading for the Plot, ch. 7.
This is true by extension of the biblical or anagogic plot, since even where a particular narrative may terminate before the final revelation or Last Judgement, that telos none the less determines its structure proleptically.
Although Pridamant is witnessing a representation of his son’s ‘real’ career as an actor, he is taken in by the theatrical illusion or paralogism until the ‘back-stage’ scene (V. 6) provides the key for a correct reading. This denouement takes the form of a coup de thétre (a curtain is drawn, as in Athalie, to reveal the actors sharing the day’s takings), and Pridamant acknowledges that his ignorance of the nature of theatre has been replaced by knowledge, that his ‘error’ has been dispelled (lines 1810-14).
See also A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Other Shakespearean plays exploit the device of the play-within-a-play as a form of recognition ‘token’ (as in Hamlet), so that one could perhaps add it to the list of signs in Poetics 16 (recognition by dramatic representation). In such instances, the movement to a secondary level still means that the theatricality of the whole action is momentarily revealed, the audience becoming in that sense the recognizer.
MCCARY – Publication Information: Book Title: Hamlet: A Guide to the Play. Contributors: W. Thomas MacCary – author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of Publication: Westport, CT. Publication Year: 1998. Page Number: xiii.

The complexity of Hamlet’s character then arranges itself around two poles: misogyny and idealism. He hates women because he associates them with change and deception: they paint their faces, they say one thing and mean another, and they pretend to love their husbands but then seek sexual satisfaction wherever they can find it. In fact, they are sexually insatiable — so driven by desire that they will say or do anything. This drives Hamlet to thoughts of death as an escape from such a world of appetite and hypocrisy. But then he thinks of the Christian hell, where souls are damned for murder and suicide to eternal torment. His inability to act is then doubly determined: nothing in this life is worth doing, and certainly nothing is worth doing that costs the soul damnation in the next life. Another way he looks at his dilemma is as two different types of torment: here and now he is buffeted about by faithless friends and willful women; hereafter he fears the turmoil of the underworld as described in Christian mythology and by his father’s ghost when it comes to demand revenge. What Hamlet really wants is calm and certainty; perhaps we should associate these features with his life of study at Wittenberg. He feels he has been thrust into the world of court intrigue unprepared. His nature tends toward the quiet contemplation of eternal truths rather than the hugger-mugger of daily life.

LEVY – Publication Information: Article Title: The Mind of Man in Hamlet. Contributors: Eric P. Levy – author. Journal Title: Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature. Volume: 54. Issue: 4. Publication Year: 2002. Page Number: 219+. COPYRIGHT 2002 Marquette University Press; COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

As a character, Hamlet almost incarnates the act of thinking. In him, thought is so intense and vivid that it approximates physical presence: “Hazard so near us as doth hourly grow / Out of his brows” (3.3.6-7). But his insistent rationality is marked by contradictory attitudes toward its own operation. On the one hand, he recognizes that the momentum of thought must be controlled. On the other hand, he deliberately provokes obsession (“My thought be bloody or be nothing worth” [4.4.66]), and resents the way “the pale cast of thought” inhibits “enterprises of great pith and moment” (3.1.85, 86). Moreover, on the one hand he construes thought as the acme of identity (“What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason” [2.2.303-304]), while on the other hand, through the guise of false madness, he uses thought to achieve exemption from identity: “If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away, / And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes, / Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it” (5.2.230-231).

Hamlet does have a need not to be Hamlet: that is, to deny or escape his identity. He displays this need both before receiving the revenge imperative (“O that this too too sullied flesh would melt” [1.2.129]) and afterward: “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right” (1.5.196-197). In fact, on one level, Hamlet’s delay can be explained as his exploitation of the revenge task as an excuse to escape himself through the ploy of false madness which, as we have seen, he explicitly associates with flight from self. In this context, Hamlet’s defining alternatives are to think in order not to be himself or to think in order to fulfill his identity. The strife between them is epitomized by his remark to Horatio, regarding his predicament on shipboard, when his alternatives were to yield to despair or rise up and take action: “Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting” (5.2.4). Ironically, when first learning that the cause of his father’s death was murder, Hamlet instantly associates the revenge imperative with the movement of thought: “Haste me to know’t / That I with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love / May sweep to my revenge” (1.5.29-31). But he does not realize that the movement of thought which he foregrounds ultimately pertains to discrepant tendencies in his own mind.

In Hamlet, man is still the rational animal, but a revolution in understanding the operation of thought occurs. Reason is no longer construed, as in the Aristotelian-Thomist synthesis, as a faculty whose function is determined by the inviolable principles of its own “inborn aptitude” (Summa Theologica I, Q. 84, A. 4, resp.). Instead, reason must take responsibility for its own cogitation. Where there is man, there is thought, even in madness: “Indeed would make them think there must be thought, / Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily” (4.5.12-13). Though thought must therefore not be allowed “To fust in us unus’d” (4.4.39), neither should it remain oblivious to its own effects. Hamlet dramatizes numerous examples of uncertainty concerning thought: (a) the Ghost’s motive (“In what particular thought to work I know not” [1.1.70]), (b) Hamlet’s intention (that “doth hourly grow / Out of his brows” [3.3.6-7]), (c) Polonius’s memory lapse (“what was I about to say?” [2.1.50-51]), (d) Ophelia’s madness which contains “nothing sure,” (4.5.13) and (e) the inscrutability of “providence” (5.2.215) or divine plan. But in the world of the play, the most morally significant uncertainty regarding thought concerns unawareness of the consequences of thinking. Indeed, Claudius interprets Hamlet’s melancholy as the unwholesome result of unchecked preoccupation: “This something settled matter in his heart, / Whereon his brains still beating puts him thus / From fashion of himself” (3.1.175-176).

JOSEPH – Publication Information: Book Title: Conscience and the King: A Study of Hamlet. Contributors: Bertram Joseph – author. Publisher: Chatto and Windus. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 1953. Page Number: 129.
Hamlet is therefore in a truly tragic situation. Had he accepted the risk, the implication is, whatever might have happened, his obedience to the Ghost would not have meant the damnation that he is afraid of encompassing. Yet no man in Hamlet’s place could have known until the Ghost had been tested that his fear was mere scruple: and once the Ghost has been justified it becomes clear immediately that there was no need to wait. Here is the irony of the situation, and from this comes the inevitability which we demand from tragedy. Hamlet trying to be worthy of the times in which he lives is not so far in essence from the protagonists of Greek drama. His fear of the risk of damnation is not something that can be called a moral flaw; yet it acts like one, paralysing his will, making him behave like a coward, not like a nobleman, the flower of manhood. And given the circumstances and Hamlet’s character, all his other mistakes are equally inevitable. Claudius seems to be praying; ordinary humanity, ungifted with superhuman vision, could not know that this was the moment to strike. And then the wrong man is killed, as a result of which Hamlet is involved in the train of events which lead to his death. Here is that vision of the splendour of humanity which is so weak, so much at the mercy of forces which it cannot control, descending into adversity and death, which can rightly be called tragic.