"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hamlet III

I have just read a fascinating piece by Theodore Spencer (1938) about the radical changes in politics, cosmology, and morality going on during the time of Shakespeare’s life; and more importantly the conflicting world views that were current at the time.  The Ptolomaic conception of the universe with Man at the center was challenged by Copernicus, thus throwing into doubt Man’s primacy. “If the celestial spheres” said Hooker, “should forget their wonted motions, and by irregular volubility turn themselves any way…what would become of Man himself, whom all these things now serve”.

Before Machiavelli, “prudence, justice, liberality, greatness of soul….characterized public man; the life of reason, in public as well as in private, implied the pursuit of virtue”. Machiavelli looked at the world and Man not as they should be but as they are (and he found Man basically evil, to be ruled through force and fear).
Montaigne argued, contrary to the current Elizabethan thought, the reason amounted to nothing and that in consequence the whole order of nature (with “reasoning Man” at the center) is destroyed.

Spenser goes on with many citations of Hamlet’s conflicting views; and especially his awareness of the evil reality under good appearance> “The creation of dramatic suspense by an internal conflict in a mind aware of the evil reality under the good appearance is the core of greatness, the originality of Hamlet.

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