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Hamlet and the Critics Introduction

Hamlet has been characterized by John Masefield (1964, p. 94) as ôone of the most baffling of the great plays, because it is about baffling: that is the theme: Hamlet is baffled because, being wise, he finds the wise course difficult to decide upon.ö The play and its drama requires Hamlet to come to terms with the fact that his much-loved father has been murdered by his uncle, who has simultaneously assumed the kingship and married HamletÆs widowed mother. Something ôfrom outside life urges Hamlet to take vengeance, but his wisdom does not admit vengeance, it seeks justice, and cannot see its way to justice; however necessary justice might be" (Masefield, 1964, p. 95).

The purpose of this study is not to provide an analysis of the play or of the central character. It is rather to analyze the approaches taken by three prominent critics in their analyses of the drama, its plot, and the characterization used by Shakespeare to develop his theme. That theme, as it is understood herein, centers upon achieving justice through the use of wisdom in a world that confounds HamletÆs ability to come to terms with the multiple tragedies his family has faced.

The three critics whose ideas will be explored are John Dover Wilson, Ernest Jones, and Harold Bloom. Their analyses of the play offer three unique approaches to understanding its theme and meaning.

In a book titled The Essential Shakespeare, John Dover Wilson (1964, p. 15) positions his discussion of Hamlet within ShakespeareÆs understanding of the world, noting that

Shakespeare inhabited the diminutive, compact, and tidy universe designed by Ptolemy 1500 years before his day . . . This universe was a miracle of ordered harmony. A 'pendantÆ world,Æ which included the whole starry space visible to man together with the containing Firmament, it hung like a jewel from the floor of Heaven, Hell lying beneath it and Chaos about it.

In Hamlet, this particular ...

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