It may appear that anything could be twisted into a typological pattern. Such interpretations appear to suffer from the structuralist faults of skating too lightly over actual texts, ignoring details that cannot be forced into a preconceived mold, and robbing narratives of their concrete shapes through abstraction. I would stress that there is more to Shakespeare than typology, but I would also insist that typology is often an important part of his drama. To make this claim plausible, however, requires more detailed attention to the text of his plays. In what follows, I will call attention to the textual and dramatic details that justify a typological reading of Hamlet.
Claudius’s murder of King Hamlet, the act catalyzing the drama of the play, is presented as a sin of primordial character and cosmic implications. Claudius confesses that his fratricide parallels the murder of Abel:
O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon ‘t,
A brother’s murder (3.3.36-38).
Hamlet’s description of his psychological condition at the beginning of the play pushes the imagery back to the beginning of biblical history:
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on ‘t! Ah fie! ‘Tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely (1.2.135-37).
Claudius has not only committed fratricide, but regicide. The king being peculiarly the image of God, regicide is a kind of deicide. At least, it is an act of rebellion against divine authority. Claudius is thus not only Cain but Adam.(7) Claudius’s sin has, for Hamlet at least, turned Denma…
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…y identical to all the other links.” (A Theater of Envy, p. 273).
Erlich, Avi. 1977. Hamlet’s Absent Father. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Fineman, Joel. 1980. ‘Fratricide and Cuckoldry: Shakespeare’s Doubles.’ In Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, edited by Coppelia Kahn and Murray M. Schwarz. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Press, 70-109.
Fleissner, Robert. 1982. ‘ “Sullied” Or “Solid”: Hamlet’s Flesh Once More.’ Hamlet Studies 4:92-3.
Fowler, Alastair. 1987. ‘The Plays Within the Play of Hamlet.’ In ‘Fanned and Winnowed Opinions’: Shakespearean Essays Presented to Harold Jenkins, edited by John W. Mahon and Thomas A. Pendleton. London and New York: Methuen.
Freud, Sigmund. 1953-74. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. 24 vols, trans. James Stachey. London: Hogarth.
The Ambiguous Nature of Hamlet
The Ambiguous Nature of Hamlet
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the protagonist exhibits a puzzling, duplicitous nature. Hamlet contradicts himself throughout the play. He endorses both the virtues of acting a role and that of being true to one’s self. He further supports both of these conflicting endorsements with his actions. This ambiguity is demonstrated by his alleged madness, for he does behave madly, only to become perfectly calm and rational an instant later. These inconsistencies are related with the internal dilemmas he faces. He struggles with the issue of revenging his father’s death, vowing to kill Claudius and then backing out, several times. Upon this point Hamlet stammers through the play. The reason for this teetering is directly related to his inability to form a solid opinion about role playing. This difficulty is not present, however, at the start of the play.
In the first act, Hamlet appears to be very straightforward in his actions and inner state. When questioned by Gertrude about his melancholy appearance, Hamlet says, “Seems, madam? Nay it is. I know not `seems.’ (1.2.76). This is to say “I am what I appear to be.” Later In Act I, Hamlet makes a clear statement about his state when he commits himself to revenge. In this statement the play makes an easy to follow shift. This shift consists of Hamlet giving up the role of a student and mourning son. Hamlet says,
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there, And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain (1.5.99-103).
Hamlet is declaring that he will be committed to nothing else but the revenge of his father’s death. There is no confusion about Hamlet’s character. He has said earlier that he is what he appears to be, and there is no reason to doubt it. In the next act, however, Hamlet’s status and intentions suddenly, and with out demonstrated reason, become mired in confusion.
When Hamlet appears again in act two, it seems that he has lost the conviction that was present earlier. He has yet to take up the part assigned to him by the ghost. He spends the act walking around, reading, talking with Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the players. It is not until the very end of the act that he even mentions vengeance.