The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.121 Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Date: March 20, 2012 4:32:30 AM EDT
Subject: Re: Hamlet’s Abrupt Reversal at III.4.125-130
On 3/9/2012 9:55 AM, Andrew Wilson wrote:
>Third . . . If the above two points are correct then Hamlet’s speech
>contains a spectacular, turn-on-a-dime reversal I had not appreciated
>before. Line 126 up to the hyphen in line 127 loosely paraphrased is,
>“Who could look on him (i.e. the ghost) and not take up his cause?” The
>last half of line 127 to line 130 loosely paraphrased is, “Stop looking at
>me lest I lose my resolve to carry out your will”. A direct contradiction.
If one is looking for a non-contradictory reading, then there is the obvious contrast between looking AT the ghost and being looked at BY the ghost.
More generally, the contradictory nature of the Ghost—or, at least, Hamlet’s contradictory reactions to the Ghost—is never far from the play: Is the Ghost true or is it damned? Is its call to murder Claudius righteous or sinful? In fact, the plot for most of the first half of the play is driven by this contradiction.
One could even go so far as to argue that the entire play is about Hamlet’s dealing with contradictory perceptions of the people around him: Friends who are murderers. A lover who betrays. A brother who murders.