Can we say that the play Hamlet is an artistic failure? Why or why not?There must be a difference of opinion between T. S. Eliot and other critics.

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sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

TS Eliot’s explanation of why Hamlet is an artistic failure provides a language to interpret works of literature in general.  He says “The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”  In other words, the “objective correlative” in Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for the emotion of guilt and remorse is the shooting of the albatross and the supernatural occurrences that follow, as well as the “eye” of the mariner as he tells his story.  Eliot argued that Hamlet lacked an “objective correlative” for Hamlet’s angst, that it was, so to speak, “over the top.”  “Objective correlative” is more than motivation, however, it is more of a metaphor (perhaps extended) that embodies the emotion the literature in question seeks to convey.

rtandon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As T.S. Eliot has rightly pointed out, there are apparent flaws in the plot of Hamlet especially in the closet scene where Hamlet accidently kills Polonius mistaking him for Claudius and there is no remorse or guilt following this incident where Hamlet confronts Gertrude and accuses her of adultery. If one looks at Shakespeare's plays, one finds that he does not follow the Aristotlean model of writing tragedies where emphasis is greatly on plot. The strength of his plays lie in characterisation. Instead of an objective -co-relative, one needs to rather use Coleridge's -'willing suspension of disbelief' to appreciate a Shakespeare play. Hence it cannot be considered an aritistic failure. Hamlet is one of the most critically acclaimed of Shakespeare's plays.       

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