The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0183 Wednesday, 3 February 1999.
Date: Wednesday, 3 Feb 1999 10:04:14 +0330 (IST)
Subject: Nietzsche's Critique of Hamlet: A Query
I have a question concerning Nietzsche's critique of tragedy, and I have
no one else to ask, so I hope somebody will help me.
N. says that Hamlet has "once looked truly into the essence of things"
and the resulting nausea has rendered him unable of committing any
action. In his own words "an insight into the horrible truth outweighs
any motive for action".
But in the paragraph before, he says it is the return to "everyday
reality " from the "raptures of the Dionysian state" which creates
"nausea: an ascetic, will-negating mood", which Hamlet suffers from.
Now I am wondering whether the state and moods he is describing do
correspond to Hamlet, whether using Hamlet as an example is justifiable,
because, as far as textual evidence goes, Hamlet was never in a "rapture
of Dionysian state" as such, there was no "return to every-day reality",
nor has he "*once* [italics mine] looked truly into the essence of
There are two possibilities, as far I see:
A) Either N. is thinking of Hamlet's "innocence", his state of mind
before his father's death, mother's remarriage, and his subsequent
learning about his uncle's guilt. However, I think to label that state
as "raptures...." is too strong a term, also the causal nature of the
events above and Hamlet's stage-by-stage awareness cannot be called a
look into the essence of things. I mean, that Hamlet didn't have a
split-second of awareness, a sudden insight into just one horrible
truth. The horrible truths where simply piling on him during the first
B) Maybe N. means a sudden sexual awakening of Hamlet. While this
interpretation fits rather better with N.'s terminology (raptures,
annihilation of ordinary bounds, the lethargy which prevails once it is
over, and explicit mention of Hamlet "understand[ing] what is symbolic
in Ophelia's fate"), there is again no very strong textual support that
Hamlet's famous inaction is the result of sexual problems; that he is so
obsessed with his relation with, say, Ophelia, so disgusted or whatever
by it that he is quite overcome and unable to revenge himself. Come to
think of it, this is more or less what Polonius wants us to believe, and
Polonius was an old sycophantic self-promoting fool. And no, I don't
think that N. had in mind the Oedipus complex, in other words, I don't
think we can substitute Gertrude for Ophelia in the above sentences.
In any case, I'd very much appreciate some guidelines on these points.
Thanx a lot,