Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Third Of Three Quarrels With Harold Bloom On Hamlet

On the ending of the play:

....Harold Bloom argues that “Hamlet’s fear of a ‘wounded name’ is one more enigma,” and that the play’s enigmas are its impenetrable mysteriousness and fascination (Bloom 1998, 428). But part of the argument in this essay is that the play’s progression is the progression in Hamlet’s mind. His consciousness is of a piece with his utter self- absorption, proved by his heedless taking of life—that murderousness vitiating his nobility. 

The play’s drama is largely the contest between him and the world in all its futility, the consequence of the relentless workings of evil. Cynicism, a philosophy of nothing, founded on death’s mockery of life, is reaction as much as it is philosophy, resignation as much as it is reflection, stance as much as it is reasoned conclusion. Hamlet’s expending of so much energy trying to come to terms with the world, finally a hopeless cause, is the drive of a self-preoccupied man to know himself. 

As the world is unconquerable in the depths and imperatives of its own malignancy, it is an unfair fight. Hamlet never stands a chance. His burden as reconceived in his mind is as oppressive to him as his consciousness is large and as his intellect is probing. More, he is exquisitely sensitive. As such, his very being, manifest in his unrelenting search for himself, is the stakes in this contest. In his sensitivity, what afflicts him shatters the glass of his own thin skin and drives him to hyperbole, outrage and death-longing despair. What he inflicts falls like water off his duck’s back, thick skin. 

Desperate for relief, he longs for death. Desperate for a ground on which he can realize himself in action, that is to say, desperate for a satisfactory relation between himself and the world, he reasons. He reasons instrumentally. He rehearses modes of being in the world. He tries to turn off thought. He commits himself to morally oblivious action. He incorporates impulse. He incorporates futility and makes choices regardless. He finds comfort in death and seeks peace of soul in resignation. And finally, he tries to succumb to the ways of the world, willing to repudiate what he has been and immerse himself in honour. 

In his death, affliction and infliction merge. As a dead man living, Hamlet’s longing for death as relief—“felicity[...]in this harsh world” (5.2.347-348)—is near at hand. Being what he is, he need not ceaselessly struggle now to know himself. His life as being in the world—his self—is no longer at stake His resignation was also a kind of experiment in the science of himself, more clothing for his soul. Death-in-life releases the energy of his last, self-absorbed imperative—reputation, “my cause aright,” “my story.” 

Therefore, Hamlet’s last concern as he dies is more the complexity of his ever-imperial self, ever overweening in its self-concern, than “enigma”. Subversion dances on. To enhance his own glorification, he courts what is worst in his world. He would seduce and make love to what he ought to revile, the canker that causes men’s deaths for eggshells and straw, the blank, terrible inverse of honour, which claims it as its mantle and breeds death in its name: 

OSRIC: Young Fortinbras, with conquest come from Poland, To th’ ambassadors of England gives 
This warlike volley. 
HAMLET: O, I die Horatio! 
The potent poison quite o’ercrows my spirit. I cannot live to hear the news from England, But I do prophesy th’ election lights on Fortinbras. He has my dying voice. 
So tell him with th’ occurrents, more and less, 
Which have solicited—the rest is silence. (5.2.350-359) 

Horatio’s stolid constancy is a balm to Hamlet’s imperial self. And Horatio in service to Hamlet’s bidding, ever doggedly faithful, knowingly carries on fictions of misunderstanding which belie the real meaning of events: 

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet Prince. / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” (5.2.360-361). 

Heaven’s irrelevance is proportionate to Hamlet’s ignobility. In preservation of the memory of his murderous prince, Horatio lies, in memoriam, the lie merging with the growing fiction born of what he does not comprehend. To those who seek thanks for killing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Horatio says, speaking of Hamlet, “He never gave commandment for their death” (5.2.375). 

The argument of this essay returns to where it began. If history is, in one formulation, the lives and times of great individuals, for Shakespeare, in Hamlet, it is their lies. Bitterly indicting these liars, Shakespeare has the prince of straw, the embodiment of power, fresh from “The imminent deaths of twenty thousand men” (4.4.60), “th’imposthume of much wealth and peace” (4.4.27), new to rule Denmark where tooth and claw continue their reign, give the final orders with a self-righteous solemnity ensuring honour: 

Let four captains Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage, 
For he was likely, had he been put on to have proved most royal; and for his passage The soldiers’ music and the rite of war speak loudly for him. Take up the bodies. Such a sight as this Becomes the field, but here shows much 
amiss. Go, bid the soldiers shoot. (5.2.396-404) 

So ends Shakespeare’s drama of futility as tragedy.

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