Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chesterton vs. C.S. Lewis on Hamlet: When Christian Hearties Clash

There is an atmosphere in Hamlet, for instance, a somewhat murky and even melodramatic one, but it is subordinate to the great character, and morally inferior to him; the darkness is only a background for the isolated star of intellect.

GK Chesterton, A Midsummer Night's Dream

I believe that we read Harmlet's speeches with interest chiefly because they describe so well a certain spiritual region through which most of us have passed and anyone in his circumstances might be expected to pass, rather than because of our concern to understand how and why this particular man entered it… Particularly noticeable is the passage where Hamlet professes to be describing his own character. 'I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious.' (3, 1, 125-9). It is, of course, possible to devise some theory which explains these self-accusations in terms of character. But long before we have done so the real significance of the lines has taken possession of our imagination for ever. 'Such fellows as I’ (3, 1, 132) does not mean 'such fellows as Goethe's Hamlet, or Coleridge's Hamlet, or any Hamlet': it means men, creatures shapen in sin and conceived in iniquity -- and the vast empty vision of them 'crawling between earth and heaven’ (3, 1, 132-3) is what really counts and really carries the burden of the play.

C.S. Lewis, Hamlet, the Prince or the Poem?

For what it's worth, I agree with Lewis here.

1 comment:

  1. How are these two things contradictory? Chesterton isn't denying that Hamlet has enough sin to be potentially more trouble than he is worth, he is pointing out something else, an atmosphere in the play of a thick darkness, but an atmosphere that is still not overwhelming bc of the honesty and intellectual bravery of Hamlet. One is looking at the figure in the foreground and one is looking at the background atmosphere.