What is Nietzsche's opinion of Hamlet's character? And also Harry Levin's?

2 Answers | Add Yours

robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

Harry Levin, in his book "The Question of Hamlet" basically argues that "Hamlet" is a full of question. It starts with a question "Who's there?", its most famous line is a question "To be or not to be?", and - more or less - everything in the play can be questioned.

Everyone acts, appearances can be deceptive, even a humble arras can mask someone spying. Poison is administered sneakily through the ear - a method that the Elizabethans couldn't trace. You can't trust anyone. Everything has to be questioned.

robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

Here's Nietzsche on "Hamlet" in his own words: 

In this sense the Dionysian man has similarities to Hamlet. Both have had a real glimpse into the essence of things. They have understood, and it now disgusts them to act, for their actions can change nothing in the eternal nature of things. They perceive as ridiculous or humiliating the fact that they are expected to set right a world which is out of joint. The knowledge kills action, for action requires a state of being in which we are covered with the veil of illusion. That is what Hamlet has to teach us, not that really venal wisdom about John-a-Dreams, who cannot move himself to act because of too much reflection, too many possibilities, so to speak. It’s not a case of reflection. No! The true knowledge, the glimpse into the cruel truth overcomes every driving motive to act, both in Hamlet as well as in the Dionysian man. Now no consolation has any effect. His longing goes out over a world, even beyond the gods themselves, toward death.

Nietzsche sees Hamlet as someone who has completely comprehended the world in all of its massive, confusing possibilities - and is therefore unable to act. Hamlet knows, Nietzsche thinks, the absurdity of a tiny human action in the face of a massive, huge, cruel world.

What Nietzsche doesn't cover is the fact that Hamlet, of course, eventually does act, and kill Claudius - and revenge his father. Never mind.

More next post...

We’ve answered 318,996 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question