The Problem with “Hamlet and His Problems”

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Throughout the years, playwrights, especially William Shakespeare, have created some of the most stirring and thought provoking stories to be performed on stage. One of the most famous of Shakespeare’s plays is the tragedy of “Hamlet”. Most people would read “Hamlet” and come to the conclusion that Shakespeare is a playwright mastermind, however, there are a few that would call it a disaster. One of these few people is T. S. Eliot, who wrote an essay called “Hamlet and his Problems” in which he verbally attacks Shakespeare and claims that the storyline of “Hamlet” is more mixed up than the character himself. He firmly believes that because of the main characters random lunacy in almost every scene, that “Hamlet” was a failure in its purpose to stress the heartbreak caused by death and revenge. Sadly however, Eliot deeply misunderstands the importance of Hamlets madness. “Hamlet” is a well thought out story, which is beautifully pieced together, and excellently enhanced by the intricate insanity of Hamlet.

There is one main accusation in his paper that is the basis for his whole argument. This claim is that “Hamlet” was based off of a different play called “The Spanish Tragedy” by Thomas Kyd, of which play Shakespeare apparently had knowledge. According to Eliot, the two plays are similar in that each has a main character whose father was murdered by his uncle, whose mother then married the uncle, and then who acted insane for one reason or another. In “The Spanish Tragedy” the reason for the insanity is clearly that the son wants to avoid suspicion, and according to Eliot, it is not the main focus of the play. The guilt of the mother to her son for marrying his murderous uncle is the main theme in the earlier piece. If all of this were true, Eliot would have a wonderful argument. However, Shakespeare’s play is called “The Tragedy of Hamlet”, not “The Spanish Tragedy”, and there is no evidence that he is trying to remake the Thomas Kyd play. While it is true that Shakespeare may have seen the play, and even decided to base “Hamlet” off of that work, there is no reason to believe he tried to recreate it. He might have attempted to make his own twisted version of it, and what is wrong with that? It happens all the time in the 21st century with movies, songs and books, and nobody writes essays saying that a certain piece is a failure. As a matter of fact, unless the work that was copied has the same title as the work that reflects it, then there is no reason to complain. The author obviously saw some aspects of the storyline that he liked, but wanted to run a different direction with it in order to make a different point. The same is true for Shakespeare in the case of Hamlet. Since the name of Shakespeare’s play is in fact “The Tragedy of Hamlet”, it can be assumed that Shakespeare was not attempting to recreate “The Spanish Tragedy” in all the same points of the story. If he in fact was trying to copy Thomas Kyd, then Eliot would win his argument that Shakespeare did indeed fail to stress the guilty relationship between the mother and the son. However, since there is no evidence either provided by Eliot, or proven in the text of the play that Shakespeare tried to copy Kyd in order to recreate his story, then Eliot has no argument.

Another element of Eliot’s argument that Shakespeare has copied “The Spanish Tragedy” is that there was apparently a version of it in existence in Germany at some point during Shakespeare’s lifetime. This is Eliot’s only evidence that Shakespeare even knew about the “Spanish Tragedy.” The fact that Eliot would include this as a piece of evidence without any development at all, shows that he has no clue what he is talking about in context to evidence. Shakespeare lived in England, not Germany, and there is no evidence that he had ever seen Kyd’s play, or even heard or him for that matter. Eliot however, seems to think that this is “strong evidence of [Shakespeare’s...
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