Monday, May 29, 2017

Hamletizing

Hamlet's dilemmas, so profound at one level, are so utterly mundane at another. If Hamlet embodies Western Man (and he does), can we really say that the West is a fundamentally Christian culture?


The question is another in a recent line (growing longer by the day!) of obviously hyperbolic questions that spring to mind as I treat Shakespeare and Faulkner very unfairly by reading them at the same time as Sienkiewicz and Conrad.

By this point, I will spare my readers yet another harange on the superiority of Polish writers, although more and more do I see that the only literature which makes a worthy sparring opponent for Polish classics are Russian writers. In any case, Hamlet - though his dilemma is in essence identical to that of Brutus, with nuanced differences, it cannot escape my consideration that while Brutus struggles with questions of the common good, Hamlet struggles with questions that very dishonest people would call "existential" but which essentially are narcissistic. Where Brutus is the man, Hamlet is the boy.

It speaks well of Shakespeare that he conceived of both, but poorly of us that we are more like Hamlet than Brutus. We do not think of the politics when considering our political actions. The personal is magnified. The personal has become the political.

Romans had such men - Nero was such a one. But not Caesar. Caesar was a Populist. Brutus yearned for the Rome of the Nobility, a Republic of Nobles. Brutus was Rome's liberum veto . Caesar did embody the vulgar Roman, yes - but what a Roman! What a people! The vulgar Roman was a man. We moderns; we are all noble Hamlets. A thousand curses on this democracy of Noble Hamlets. If but a few of our most noble men had half the health of the ancient Roman popular spirit! Caesar was no Nero. Casius tried to paint him as such, but to say he was a man does not mean he was uberm├źnch.
This is of course the ridiculous modern imagination that allows us to justify our Hamletizing. We think that to surpass Hamlet is to reach Zarathustra. In point of fact, one needs simply return to an ancient sort of manliness. Americans come closest to this in their political forms and in certain aspects of their literature. Yet even they have become Hamletized.

Who is Hamlet? Young Werther! But of course - and just as pathetic a creature. A warning, then? Shakespeare's Frankenstein? "To be or not to be..." - to me it reads no different than Faulkner's infamous "God's Will be done...Now I can get them teeth." What? You think there is a difference?

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