Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Eliot's praise of "Hamlet," one of many keys tumbles free

We should have to know something which is by hypothesis unknowable, for we assume it to be an experience which, in the manner indicated, exceeded the facts. We should have to understand things which Shakespeare did not understand himself.

But, Hercule .. Mr Eliot famously didn't care for Hamlet.

So we are told, Auguste, even in his own words, under a common kind of light; just as we are told, he was cruel to his wife. And yet, in his poem her suffering is given commemoration in such proportion to its anguish, it is plain that nobody loved Hamlet better than he.

Is he saying, then, that Mr Eliot studied the playwright's problem of depicting the Prince's madness, to solve his in poetry?

Possibly he's saying, Auguste, love drove him to try.

Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his own prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus

Critics who complain, as they immediately did and persistently always have, of an obscurantism in Eliot's method in this poem, of a sort of arrogant literacy, are having precisely the experience the poet intended and are sharing in his struggle to understand what Shakes-peare did not. His resort to myth and incantation is less a literary novelty than a substitution of men-tal for tangible constructs. Every allusion is a recital of hunger and, among other things, a confidance of incapacity and a groping for 'objec-tive correlation' in things which he knows. There is nothing Hamlet-like in this, except the Prince's mind.

T.S. Eliot
Selected Essays
  1917 - 1932
Harcourt Brace, 1932©

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
  V What the Thunder Said
      ll 411 - 417
op. cit.

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