Friday, June 18, 2010

Hamlet and the Improvisation of Life

Last night I saw Hamlet in the park with my brother. It was a great evening—the weather, the companionship, the production of the play.

My brother brought along, for reference, an old Signet Classic edition of the play. I borrowed it from him afterwards. This morning I was looking through some of the essays in the back, and I found this interesting comment by Robert Orenstein:

Subjected to philosophical analysis the great speeches in Hamlet yield commonplaces. We treasure them for their incomparable poetry, not for their depth and originality of thought—for their revelation of Hamlet's soul, not for their discovery of the human condition. Many questions are raised in the play but few are answered.... Even when Shakespeare seems to dramatize a thesis, he does not debate philosophical positions. He is not interested in abstract thought but in characters who think, who have intellectual as well as physical needs, and who, like Pirandello's characters, cry aloud the reason of their suffering. The "problem" of Hamlet is not an intellectual puzzle. It arises because the play creates so marvelous a sense of the actual improvisation of life that we can find no simple logic in its sprawling action.

1 comment:

Rich said...

The Orenstein excerpt is terrific. For me it seems to name a primary explanation for the call of stories and plays and novels (and poems, I add, thinking of "One Art" and "My Last Duchess"). It's not that they deliver philosophical truths. It's that they make us feel that truth and ask us to test its truthiness in an experience we witness and experience.