Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Second Of Three Quarrels With Harold Bloom On Hamlet

On The "To be or not to be" soliloquy: 

Harold Bloom argues that "Hamlet is primarily is brooding upon the will [...] Does one have the will to act, or does one only sicken unto action, and what are the limits of the will?" (Bloom 2000, 216). While what immediately follows is a variation on Bloom's argument, it accepts that argument only to a point. That point is that while Bloom puts the question within the frame of the possibility of action itself, the better view, it is respectfully argued, sees Hamlet’s question grounded in his own partially understood, intuitive and implicit struggle to define action that makes moral sense. It is the impossibility of reaching this definition that breeds futility. 

But going beyond Bloom's analysis, in addition to seeing Hamlet's great soliloquy as a meditation on whether to act, it ought to be seen further as an ironic, somewhat self-aware piece of reasoning. A fusion of moral probing and amoral self- regard resides in Hamlet's proposition that “conscience does make cowards of us all" (3.1.83). 

This self-regarding cowardice, the product of sheer intellectuality and a superior apprehension of the world, results from the impossibility of moral action. 

Thought, within the constraints of what is actually possible in this world, is not really thought, but, is, rather, in the metaphors and imagery of shadows and diminishment, a "pale cast," a pallid lack of colour, a shadow of thought. (3.1.85) As a brother's murder of a brother is primal evil disjointing the time, so too the contemplation of its rectification within the boundaries for action that the world sets—in short, the contemplation of revenge— corrupts the healthiness of natural will, “the native hue of resolution" (3.1.84-85). 

Hamlet glimpses this. For, in the last analysis, the native hue of resolution is the colour of the revenger’s impulse, the colour of action unfettered by thought. Therefore, the "native hue" reddens quickly into the red of bloodlust. Such action is a moral impossibility. With no relieving middle-ground, Hamlet is torn between blind, stupid action, which is immediately appealing because of its false promise of resolution, and thought's impotence, thought’s thwarting of "enterprises of great pitch and moment." 

By his brooding nature, by virtue of what he is, a self most manifest in thought, Hamlet’s thinking defangs action; by thought he diverts himself from his course and his great enterprise—revenge—fades and drifts awry. "Moment" here refers to a significance enhancing time itself. But, more derisively, "moment" also implies instantaneous action, the impulse of revenge. The imagery of "currents" turning "awry," in the connotation of immediacy in "current," reinforces this derisive implication. There is double-mindedness in Hamlet's analysis of his dilemma, a sad ironic undertow. He voices his intuition that his "great enterprise" is, at bottom, sullied impulse. There seems no answer to the extremes of rash immorality or impotent thought.

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