"An Understanding Simple and Unschooled":The "Immaturity" of Hamlet

Gerry Wilkes


"So far from being Shakespeare's masterpiece, the play is most certainly an artistic failure." This comment of T. S. Eliot's on Hamlet-one of three that I shall single out from his essay-has not really proved damaging to the play. Readers have continued to find it as coherent as any other Shakespearian tragedy, and there have been no reports of audiences retreating baffled from the theatre in mid-performance. "Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear." Taken as a factual statement, this is not in itself especially alarming either: everything depends on the deductions made from it. Eliot's really damaging comment is the third one, because it so encapsulates his deductions. "The Hamlet of Lafargue is an adolescent; the Hamlet of Shakespeare is not, he has not that explanation and excuse."!

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