Complexity of the Human Mind
Elliot’s Brilliance of the Rigid Kind and Complexity of the Human Mind
The key to T.S. Eliot’s literary criticism of Hamlet lies in his brilliant boldness of an attack on one of the most famous and intricate plays ever written and later staged in thousands of theaters around the world. The verdict is daringly stated in the first sentence of his essay, “Hamlet the play is the primary problem, and Hamlet the character only secondary,” and explicitly scattered throughout the article in sentences such as “the play is most certainly an artistic failure,” “Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him,” and so on. In fact, the sharp criticism of Hamlet doesn’t stop with the play itself but rather extends to some of the well-known critics, such as Coleridge and Goethe, who found “in Hamlet a vicarious existence for their own artistic realization,” and, thus, produced their “critical aberrations of the most misleading kind.”
Faithful to the spirit of the literary theory, T.S. Eliot dissects some of the influences on the actual play, including numerous parallelisms with Thomas Kyd’s earlier written play, despite the fact that Kyd’s authorship was only of the attributable kind. Quite extensively, Elliot offers the praiseworthy (from his point of view) observations of Mr. J.M. Robertson, a writer of his time, which emphasize “a stratification” of Hamlet and “the feeling of a son towards a guilty mother.” In conclusion, Eliot introduces quite an important concept of an “objective correlative,” a formula of a sort that defines a protagonist’s “state of mind” by external “chain of events.”
While I readily accept Eliot’s literary talent, I cannot help but disagree with the application of his newly developed “objective correlative” to the intricate world of art, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Eliot’s expectation of the “only way of expressing emotion in the form of art” reeks of the mechanical rigidity and doesn’t do justice to complexity of the human mind. On the contrary, the allure of Hamlet is that it offers multiple interpretations of the humanly convoluted world.