Essay on Ambiguity within Shakespeare's Ambiguous Hamlet

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Ambiguity within Hamlet

The Shakespearean tragic drama Hamlet, though recognized as an unexcelled classic of tragedy by many literary critics, is nevertheless ambiguous in various words and actions. This problematic dimension of the drama will be considered in this essay.

Howard Felperin, in his essay “O’erdoing Termagant,” expounds on the ambiguity within Hamlet’s directives to the plays (“O, it offends me to the soul . . .”):

Yet whether or not Hamlet’s account of the purpose of playing is also Shakespeare'’, the fact that it occupies a central place within the most theatrically self-conscious and complex of his plays makes it more problematic than is usually supposed, a text in certain respects ambiguous
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For my part, I find not the least difficulty in believing that the word carries both its usual meaning and that of “reflection and anxious thought.” It is a platitude of Shakespeare study that Shakespeare could, with wonderful ease, charge a word with two or three meanings at once; there is hardly a page of Shakespeare which does not illustrate this; and, in any case, the word “conscience” means for us all both a command to do what is right and anxious reflection as to what is, in fact, the right thing to do. If I had to choose (what I feel under no compulsion whatever to do) between the two meanings proposed, I should unhesitatingly choose the former and usual meaning. (43)

Harold Bloom in the Introduction to Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet expounds on the ambiguity and mysterious conduct of the hero during the final act:

When Horatio responds that Claudius will hear shortly from, presumably that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been executed, Hamlet rather ambiguously [my italics] makes what might be read as a final vow of revenge:

It will be short. The interim is mine.

And a man’s life’s no more than to say “one.”

However this is to be interpreted, Hamlet forms no plot, and is content with a wise passivity, knowing that Claudius must act. Except for the scheme of Claudius and Laertes, we and the prince might be confronted by a kind of endless standoff. What seems clear is that the urgency

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