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Slochower, H. (1950). Shakespeare's Hamlet: The Myth of Modern Sensibility. Am. Imago, 7(3):197-238.

(1950). American Imago, 7(3):197-238

Shakespeare's Hamlet: The Myth of Modern Sensibility

Harry Slochower

Recent Hamlet-criticism takes its cue from Caroline Spurgeon's assertion that Hamlet is not “the problem of an individual at all, but … a condition for which the individual himself is apparently not responsible.” 1) The value of this approach lies in that it brings us back to the study of Hamlet as a whole in which the principal figure is considered as but part of the total dramatic situation. It is a wholesome antidote to the Romantic vogue which treats the work as a character, not as a play, disregarding its social framework—the state of Denmark, the Norwegian campaign, the role of Fortinbras etc.

However, the analysis of Hamlet as the tragedy of a noble character in an ignoble society appears truncated. To begin with, it makes a sharp separation between Hamlet (who is noble) and his state (which is evil). Thereby it lifts Hamlet out of his setting even as it purports to place him within the objective situation. Moreover, it ignores or neglects the individual motivation of Hamlet. This individual motivation, it should be noted, is an essential characteristic of the very framework which this approach would consider.

The aim of this essay is to discuss Hamlet as the integration of both the objective condition and the problem of the individual within the framework of the mythic pattern. That is, the essay will deal with the play as an organic fusion of

I.   A universal myth in which Hamlet re-enacts the recurrent phases of the mythic hero (the three stages or acts, followed by an epilogue).

II.  A Renaissance myth which organizes the sensibility of Shakespeare's transitional epoch.


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