Playing at PossibilitiesAuden claims that Hamlet "would like to become what the Greek tragic hero is, a creature of situation.  Hence, his inabilty to act, for he can only "act,"...

Playing at Possibilities

Auden claims that Hamlet "would like to become what the Greek tragic hero is, a creature of situation.  Hence, his inabilty to act, for he can only "act," i.e., play at possibilities."  Does Hamlet remain in a perpetual state of disbelief?

2 Answers

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

This is a quote from my David Bevington textbook, The Necessary Shakespeare, regarding Hamlet:

"We can ask, however, not only whether the explanations for Hamlet's supposed delay are valid but also whether the question they seek to answer is itself valid.  Is the delay unnecessary or excessive?  The question did not even arise until the 19th century.  Earlier audiences were evidently satisfied that Hamlet must test the Ghost's credibility, since apparitions can tell half-truths to deceive people, and that, once Hamlet has confirmed the Ghost's word, he proceeds as resolutely as his canny adversary allows.  More recent criticism, perhaps reflecting a mdoern absorption in existentialist philosophy, has proposed that Hamlet's dilemma is a matter, not of personal failure, but of the absurdity of action itself in a corrupt world."

I see Hamlet as questioning and testing the idea of his father's murder, because he felt that he really needed to know the truth before acting, until Claudius loses it during the play.  At that point, Hamlet is convinced of his uncle's guilt, and he goes to do something about it.  The audiences who originally watched "Hamlet" would understand why he didn't then kill his uncle at prayer - they would have understood that he was trying to prevent the easy passing to heaven for his uncle that was denied to his father.

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

Oh absolutely, right up until the moments of his final breaths he remains in a perpetual state of disbelief. He was the ultimate "player of possibilities". I think that he got more out of thinking about murdering Claudius than actually thinking about following through. He thoroughly enjoyed setting the traveling players up in his little mock murder play for the king. He liked thinking that he would not murder Claudius while his hands were clean from sin because he thought he was praying for forgiveness. I don't think he can hardly believe that he is dying when he's dying in the final act. I don't think he could even believe totally that he was asked by the ghost of his father to avenge his death. I think he liked thinking about being an avenger more than he actually wanted to do it.