The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0392 Wednesday, 22 July 2009
From: David Basch <
Date: Monday, 20 Jul 2009 22:37:24 -0400
Subject: 20.0371 SBReview_4: Margreta de Grazia's _Hamlet
Comment: Re: SHK 20.0371 SBReview_4: Margreta de Grazia's _Hamlet
Reading the review on Margreta de Grazia's book, HAMLET WITHOUT HAMLET,
off the top of head, I agree with her assertions as reported by reviewer
David Richman about the unwise, obsessive psychologizing of Hamlet that
goes on in terms of modern psychological concepts -- Oedipus complexes,
phallic deprivation and other such psycho-babble.
The idea that persons can be disturbed is ancient and there are ancient
treatises about such disturbances that probe what it is that makes men
mad or that saddles them with self-destructive traits like arrogance and
blindness to reality. When plays are over written with such fashionable
concepts that are more about the critic than about the play, we fail to
honor these early dramatists and writers that had deep insight on human
What is confusing in the play, HAMLET, is that Hamlet comes off as
dynamic, clever, brilliant, moral, and idealistic, so much so that
audiences can scarcely notice that he lacks a healthy balance that
brings these traits into harmony. Although Horatio in the play serves as
a model to contrast what Hamlet lacks, Horatio's outsider role and
penurious condition in Denmark lead audiences to underrate him, despite
the fact that Hamlet presents a glowing praise of the virtues of his friend.
I was instructed by Ms. de Grazia's focus on the battle for national
turf within the play that reaches down even to the microcosm of Hamlet's
struggle with Laertes for the very "dirt" within Ophelia's grave.
Hamlet reveals how strong is his desire for his throne in his remark to
his two college friends: "While the grass grows, [the horse starves]."
The grass growing under a Hamlet, starved to posses his throne, he is
not satisfied with waiting for Claudius to die and pass it on to him but
cannot see an honorable way out of how things have developed. The coming
of the ghost changes all that and puts Hamlet into fierce contention for
justice and his throne in the events of the play.
The irony is that, even as Hamlet achieves his throne, he must moments
later pass it on to another, the "unimproved" Fortinbras, and, in the
words of Ecclesiastes, "who knows whether he shall be a wise man or a
fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured,
and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun."
It had been a vain pursuit. The struggle for the throne having been
bloody and in the end futile and undertaken, sadly, at the personal
sacrifice of loving relations and loved ones, the very things that make
life worth living. David Richman's splendid review suggest the kind of
pithy insights that Ms. de Grazia offers in her book.
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