Commentary: Hamlet

What may this mean,
That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel
Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous; and we fools of nature
So horridly to shake our disposition
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?
Say, why is this? wherefore? what should we do?

The presence of the dead disrupts and disturbs nature; Hamlet sees more than the ghost of his father, the old King Hamlet, his sense of order, cosmological order, is shattered — night becomes “hideous”; consciousness is made a “fool of nature.” Hamlet, poem unlimited, derives its energy from the sundering of soul from its environs; from the breakdown of harmony between the human, nature, and the divine. Regicide does not confound Hamlet’s sense of morality — I don’t think Hamlet is interested in morality — it transforms the metaphysical status of “thoughts” “beyond” the “reach… of… souls.” When the ghost of the murdered king appears onstage, the effect is to disorient Hamlet, who asks — dazed — “why is this? wherefore? what should we do?” Shakespeare, the first real phenomenologist, marks the moment when Hamlet’s perceptions are distorted and reoriented. Later in the play, Hamlet commands his thoughts to be “bloody.” But we can only understand that later remark in light of this exclamation at the beginning of the play. The sight of the ghost sets off a series of cognitive transformations in Hamlet. When Hamlet’s thoughts begin to “reach beyond” his “soul” the prince becomes a philosopher.

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