Festering Lilies: On Surveying the Secret Life of William Shakespeare

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Strandberg, VH

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A half century and more has elapsed now since T. S. Eliot declared Hamlet to be "most certainly an artistic failure."1 "What is deficient in Hamlet," Eliot went on to say, is that "Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear." The overwhelming mood of Hamlet is disgust, "disgust . . . occasioned by his mother, but . . . his mother is not an adequate equivalent for it; his disgust envelops and exceeds her." Hamlet lacks, in Eliot's renowned phraseology, an "objective correlative," or a reasonably understandable rationale for his mood, lacking which we are reduced to guessing at some catastrophe in Shakespeare's personal life concerning which Hamlet is his author's too-cryptic surrogate. "We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle; under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know."






Strandberg, V. "Festering Lilies, on Surveying the Secret Life of Shakespeare,William." Four Quarters 24.2 (1975): 3-15. Print.



Victor H. Strandberg

Professor of English

Victor Strandberg has published The Poetic Vision of Robert Penn Warren (Kentucky, 1977), Religious Psychology in American Literature: The Relevance of William James (Studia Humanitatis, 1981), and A Faulkner Overview: Six Perspectives (Kennikat Press, 1981), together with numerous essays on American literature. His most recent book is Greek Mind/Jewish Soul: The Conflicted Art of Cynthia Ozick (University of Wisconsin Press, 1994). Every sabbatical year he has spent a semester abroad teaching American Literature, as a Fullbright professor at the Universities of Uppsala, Louvain, and Mannheim, and in spring 2001 in the Czech Republic. He has also taught at Kobe College in Japan and in Marrakech, Morocco.

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