Paralytic Prince: Hamlet's "Thought" Complex

"If Hamlet from himself be ta'en away,

And when he's not himself does wrong Laertes,

Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it.

Who does it then? His madness. If't be so,

Hamlet is of the faction that is wrong'd;

His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy."


Hamlet's self-description in his apology to Laertes, delivered in the appropriately distanced and divided third-person, explicitly fingers the greatest antagonist of the playconsciousness. The obligatory cultural baggage that comes along with Hamlet heeds little attention to the incestuous Claudius while focusing entirely on the gloomy Dane's legendary melancholia and his resulting revenge delays. As Laurence Olivier introduced his 1948 film version, "This is the tragedy of a man who couldn't make up his mind." By tracking the leitmotif of "thought" throughout the play, I will examine the conflicts that preclude Hamlet from unified decisions that lead to action. Shakespeare is not content, however, with the simple notion of thought as a mere signifier of the battle between the mind and the body. The real clash is a conflict of consciousness, of Hamlet's oscillations between infinite abstraction and shackled...

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