Hamlet and His Problems

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Dr. Richard Clarke LITS3001 Notes 09B

1 T. S. ELIOT “HAMLET AND HIS PROBLEMS” (1919)

Eliot offers, as we have seen, what has come to be called an ‘impersonal theory of poetic creation.’ Eliot would not have denied either that poets have feelings or that poetry inspires certain feelings in the reader. He offers, rather, an account, centered around his notion of the objective correlative, of how such feelings enter the poem in the first place that differs significantly from the expressive model of poetry promulgated by the Romantics. In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” you might recall, using a chemical analogy, Eliot compares the poet’s mind to a catalyst and the emotions and feelings (he draws a distinction between these two that is unclear) universally inspired by particular objects and events to two chemicals which react with each other only in the presence of the catalyst. The product of the ‘chemical’ reaction is a poem which, when properly executed, then in turn inspires the same emotions and feelings in its audience. In short, the poet does not inject his personal emotions into the poem, that is, the best poetry does not ‘express’ the personality (thoughts and feelings) of the poet concerned. In “Hamlet and Its Problems,” Eliot gives further insight into exactly how emotions are included in poems without the poet’s own feelings becoming personally involved. According to Eliot, the best poets seek to verbally describe suitable objects which, when included in the poem, are responsible for generating a particular kind of emotion that, in turn, strikes the appropriate chord in the reader. The ‘object’ captured in words in this way serves, as Eliot puts it, as the ‘correlative’ of a particular kind of emotion. Eliot puts it this way: the only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such...
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