To THE AUSTRALIAN On the matter of Shakespeare’s Hamlet it seems from Barry Gillard’s review of Rhodri Lewis’s Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness (‘The madness of knowing thyself’, 10-11/2) that Lewis, far from having broken free of the ‘many confines, wards and dungeons’ of the ‘solely scholarly or academic’, has become trapped there. A few simple corrections are in order. It is untrue that in Elsinore ‘no distinct framework for genuine virtue is apparent.’ We have the integrity of Hamlet himself, shown repeatedly in his behaviour, though spoiled by his psychological illness (which he labels as being ‘passion’s slave’). We also have the sterling fidelity of Horatio, the loyalty of the common soldiers and the memory of the excellent kingship of Hamlet’s father.
Secondly, we cannot ‘cease to view the play as a tragedy based around a young man’s inability to make decisions’ without ignoring central segments of the drama. Shakespeare emphasized the delay by contrasting Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act Two with his later one in Act Four. Ernest Jones has provided the best and most comprehensive case study of the character, though his ‘solution’ of Freud’s dubious ‘Oedipus complex’ need not be accepted. Shakespeare was not ‘intolerant of late 16th century humanist conventions’; in his work as a whole he honours both kinds of knowledge of oneself mentioned by Gillard. In Hamlet he wrote with admirable understanding and compassion of a young man’s nervous breakdown, clearly precipitated by his mother’s infidelity. That, of course, is the ‘tragic flaw’ of this particular play.
NJ, Belgrave, Vic