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Was Hamlet a Reformer? Part IV./ The Early Modern Absurd/ Literary Criticism

[1.3.] The Absurd Mirror of Hamlet’s Faith
Marcellus swears to Hamlet ” in faith” in Act I. Scene 5, as follows:

Ham. Never make known what you have seen tonight.
Hor. My lord, not I.
Mar. Nor I, my lord, in faith.
Ham. Upon my sword.
Mar. We have sworn, my lord, already.
Ham. Indeed, upon my sword
.[14. ]

What does it mean to Hamlet to hear a swear by faith? How could we imagine Hamlet without faith? Lonely, with tiresome ideas of existence, a pre-existential Sartre-on the marginality of logos, babbling with the appropriate words to describe his own being, or the lost being, he could never attain back—his lost Dasein.

” Thus conscience does make cowards of us all”—tells in Act III. Scene II. before the King re-enters with Polonius. Is he coward, or is everyone else coward, an idea which sublime interpretation would insinuate that he might be the only exception? Not even Ophelia deserves his love, and true faithful heart, as she is neither an exception from the courtly mannered souls, nor a true love. She seems to be one love, among the possible ones, one that grasped his eyes, his heart, yet without the tears of eternity.

Ophelia’s place should be in a nunnery, due to her divided heart, to the Royals and to Hamlet. A divided love may not understand the true essence of emotions, that which have locked Hamlet’s heart earlier than his interaction would take place with Ophelia within the space of the less formal, rather absurd logic of dramatic settings.
It is Marjorie Garber who calls our attention to the philosophical touchstones that linger in the imagination of the Prince of Denmark. Quote: the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, with its passionate broodings on death and the life hereafter (3.1.58), Hamlet’s advice to the players (“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you-tripplingly on the tongue”, since “the purpose of playing „is to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature (3.2.1-2,18-20), or the calm assurance, voiced in the last act that the readiness is all that ’there’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will” (5.2.10-11). She sais, it is not surprising that we remember these passages for their beauty and for their profound ideas. They are among the greatest in the English language.[15]

Hamlet’s ontological eminence is to be scrutinized here. We have discussed his most well-known soliloquy so far, but the importance of faith, the belief in the childhood virtues learned from his parents lack a secure soil of existence, thus may never come to support him in his fight for and with his existence.

As ontology means the studies of existence, and as such is an explicit idea, or raw and concept of ideas, and their specifications, Hamlet’s mind shifts from the preeminent ontological questions, to that of faith, of love, of the players’ true heart. These crucial values are defined paradoxical by Shakespeare in this play, given the plot of losing the true father and having a usurper, an unwillingly accepted killer, as one’s mother’s “beloved” counterpart, sitting on the throne as one of the beloved country’s royal eminence.

The psychological turmoil might be understood better with Terry Eagleton’s phenomenological question. Eagleton argues: ” If phenomenology secured a knowable world with one hand, it established the centrality of the human subject with the other. Indeed it promised nothing less than a science of subjectivity itself. The world is what I posit or ’intend’: it is to be grasped in relation to me, as a correlate of my consciousness, and that consciousness is not just fallibly empirical but transcendental.”[18]

How could Hamlet grasp his own psyche with the means of phenomenological discourses in his early modern absurd mirror of virtues and values destroyed by the “rottenness” of the “mortal coil” of Denmark?


 

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[14] Hamlet, ibid: p. 805.lines: 144-150.

 

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[15] Marjorie Garber, Hamlet in Shakespeare After All (New York: Anchor Books, 2004): 466.


[16] Terry Eagleton: Literary Theory. An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996): p. 50.

 

 

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