Hamlet my brother is my father. I’ve said this before.
Hamlet is the father of modern consciousness. I agree with Bloom when he asserts the same. I also agree with too many of the traditional notions of Shakespeare’s supremacy, which does have something to do with his existence preceding any essence the resenters of the Canon try to assert. Social Energies did not write Hamlet. Detractors from the Canon still cannot explain why these social energies coalesced in Shakespeare and not a cobbler’s son or one of Elizabeth’s courtiers. There are some morons among the detractors who have to believe someone other than Shakespeare who wrote the plays because Shakespeare did not go to university; and there are some morons who have to detract from the plays themselves because although they assent to Shakespeare having written the plays, they have to be less than they are critically claimed to be because Shakespeare did not go to university. There are even other morons who use attacking Shakespeare as a way to attack the civilization that Shakespeare was born in, lived in, wrote/wrought in . . . Wittgenstein used his attacks on Shakespeare as a way to mock both Oxford and Western Civilization which he detested, the misanthrope that he obviously was, if anyone cared to listen attentively, read him carefully, and not just skim the pages while taking the received idea about his brilliance prima facie.
Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, of course his “To be of not to be,” represents a hallmark moment in the birth of the modern. It is in this soliloquy we are presented most starkly with the fact of a character overhearing himself think. Before Shakespeare, and even contemporaneously with Shakespeare, characters did not overhear themselves. They just did not listen to what they were saying. Soliloquy in Sophocles or Euripides or Aeschylus or Aristophanes or any of the Mystery Plays of the Medieval Period did not have anything like Hamlet listening to what he says when he says it. Self consciousness was born in Shakespeare’s dramas, and we are given a glorious model to imitate when we begin to think; the dialectic of the Self is drawn clearly by Shakespeare. Academics have be refusing to forgive him ever since for. Even Montaigne is talking to the reader. Of course, there is the process of dialectic of selfhood inherent in the essay form, exposition rather than dialogue or narrative is distinct in this way. What we see in Shake is the essence of fictive characters listening to themselves. Close reading reveals this; however, the way literature has been co-opted by the social sciences, a move or a push by those in the academy to cover the impotence of their semi-literacy, nothing like close reading in the traditional–yes, the traditional sense–is gone.
We are all Hamlet’s kin, simple enough said. Hamlet my brother is my father; the world is incestuous to start. Certainly we are lately less than kind to the father of Hamlet, not the Ghost King, if I can borrow from Cervantes for Shakespeare. The former alluded to Quioxte and Panza as the children of his brain, but what Hamlet reveals is mind. Perhaps this mind that Hamlet reveals was not as distinct from soul then as we might want to believe today, all of us marching to the drum-beat of secular dogmas against the existence of soul, dogmas we enforce intellectually, emotionally, through our most dominant surrogate parent, the media.
We step in time to the above drum beats; we reject soul in favor of a mind that anatomists, biologists, medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists can no more locate than theologians could the soul. But then I quibble you might say. In Shakespeare’s time it was less likely that any notion of mind would be separate from soul, but I am not here to discuss the dichotomy of the two, or their duality. French has one word for both mind and soul; the French maintain duality where we insist on dichotomy. How do we ever hope to survive when mind and soul are torn asunder.
The above mentioned push to make literature departments more like social science departments seems to follow the Logical Positivists and their push to make philosophy more like the social sciences that had already deluded themselves that they could make themselves like the hard sciences. The fools parade has been marching to the drums of delusion for decades.
Hamlet, though, in overhearing himself, for the first time in human literature, itself an inscape of enormous dimension, verges on madness. The insanity of hearing voices? What is it to hear voices; now the voices must be other than one’s own, yet all the time being one’s own. The listener must not recognize his self, much the way Narcissus does not recognize his reflection. What Joan of Lorraine could not discern was that the Arc-Angel Michael was within. Hamlet doesn’t have Joan’s facilities with Angels or with God, although he still believes, evidenced by not taking the opportunity to kill Claudius while the adulterous murderer kneels in confession or prayer.
Shakespeare develops complexity by layering Hamlet’s interiority. One could read Hamlet the play intertextually with Sophocles’s Electra, but the kind of interiority Shakespeare develops along with his characters’s self-consciousness was handled by Sophocles exteriorly in two characters, Electra and Orestes. Hamlet is virtually both of them. His inner debate is handled on the Greek stage between two characters.
But what then of this madness we could speak of? Self-consciousness is a kind of madness; no? It can lead to it. Electra and Orestes do not suffer as Hamlet does; each is self contained, singularly so. Put Orestes and Electra in one mind, let them live with one soul and see what happens. There is still something stunted though in this singularity of mind. We are supposed to understand Greek Tragedy differently than we do tragedy in our post Shakespearean world. The Greek stage is not yet as distant from its ritual beginnings in the dithyramb. Hamlet has no such luxury on his stage, and there are stages on stages, as there is a play within the play–an overt signal to the drama going on in Hamlet’s head, where plays can be played in plays, so can the selves of the many selves Self people stages in the mind.