Critchley and Webster: Hegel on Hamlet – spiked

‘But death lay from the beginning in the background of Hamlet’s mind. The sands of time do not content him. In his melancholy and weakness, his worry, his disgust at all the affairs of life, we sense from the start that in all his terrible surroundings he is a lost man, almost consumed by inner disgust before death comes to him from outside.’ (6)

Hamlet is a lost man. He is the wrong man. He should never have been commanded by the ghost to avenge his murder. His disgust with the world induces not action but acedia, a slothful lethargy. Hamlet just lacks the energy. As Hegel writes:

‘His noble soul was not made for this kind of energetic activity; and, full of disgust with the world and life, what with decision, proof, arrangements for carrying out his resolve, and being bandied from pillar to post, he eventually perishes owing to his own hesitation and a complication of external circumstances.’ (7)

It is our contention that what is caught sight of by Hegel here is a Hamlet Doctrine that turns on the corrosive dialectic of knowledge and action, where the former disables the latter and insight into the truth induces a disgust with existence. He cannot, or will not, imagine anything more in the gap that opens up. Rubbernecking the chaos and wreckage of the world that surround him while chattering and punning endlessly, Hamlet finally finds himself fatally struck and strikes out impetuously, asking Horatio to sing him a lullaby. What is so heroic about Hamlet’s disgust? Do we even like him?

Source: Hegel on Hamlet | Books & Essays | spiked

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