The forces of literary traditionalism must often take the field of battle against the raging hordes of heterodoxy. The standard bearers for traditionalism are often the ghosts of once influential critics, such as the romantic era poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who is assailed by the contemporary Irishman Seamus Heaney. Their battlefield, the Shakespearean play Hamlet, with its spectral overtones, is a fitting text for the living to slay the dead in the combat of ideas and interpretations.
Shakespearean tragedies had an insurmountable influence on English literature and literary criticism; with the themes and meanings of Hamlet being agreed upon for generations. Hamlet’s flaw was clear, his inability to act is Shakespeare’s way of impressing “the truth that action is the chief end of existence.” In the modern era however, deconstructionists and revisionists have torn down these established criticisms and replaced them with a melange of interpretations drawing upon Freudian psychoanalysis, the theories of critical gender and racial scholars, and the contextual ideals of New Historicism. These new theories decry the Romantic view that Hamlet’s flaw is his inaction, instead positing that “dithering [and] blathering” lead to his downfall. Both of these polarizing interpretations are fallacious constructs; instead, Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his paranoia, which manifests itself through both inaction and rash hyperactivity.
In order to analyze the tragic flaw of Prince Hamlet, one must first understand the strengths of his character. Hamlet truly is a “man living in meditation.” His intellectual faculties are unmatched by any character in the play. All of the characters in Hamlet are members of the royal court, from Polonius the elder statesman and advisor, to Horatio the scholar, to the trusted courtesans Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Despite being surrounded by Denmark’s leading lights Hamlet’s intellect is prominently displayed by his rhetorical brilliance and...
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