In an Aesthetic Realism class, consultants
and associates heard a tape recording of a poetry class Eli Siegel gave
December 9, 1970 titled, "Shakespeare's Interesting." Mr. Siegel
often said the play he cared for most was Shakespeare's Hamlet.
In 1963, he placed the play in relation to world culture with his major
work Shakespeare's Hamlet: Revisited. "The approach today,"
"will be different from anything
that has been before. The accent will still be on Hamlet but
the subject today is that
was related. My purpose is
to have persons truly at ease about Shakespeare and Hamlet, and
other things. I shall be casual; I shall go hither and thither."
Mr. Siegel then looked at notes of various
famous Shakespearian critics commenting on many of the puzzling and famous
passages of Hamlet.
He began with a 1950
work, which is much esteemed, Shakespeare's Problem Plays by E.M.W.
Tillyard. "A problem," said Mr. Siegel "asks how to have it solved.
The problem of life is how to make a one of the fact that one is oneself
and is surrounded by all else, the universe." Tillyard quotes Theodore
Spenser "that Hamlet's soliloquies show a progress in his power to convert
the personal into the general [though] his behavior at Ophelia's funeral,
which comes after all the soliloquies, shows a very thorough relapse."
"Spenser is saying," explained Mr. Siegel "that while Hamlet seems to do
better in soliloquies, he's not so good later. We do go from meditation
to immediacy in a way that is not so good. How to make a one of our
deepest, quietest thoughts and our motions is a problem."
"Tillyard makes more
of Hamlet's relation to his mother than most people," said Mr. Siegel—his
father is almost incidental. Anyone who has a mother has a problem
of focus and comprehensiveness. Hamlet had the problem of trying
to think of his mother as worthy of being cherished and at the same time
trying to honor science. Everyone has this problem. The great problem
in life is how to relate desire to fact." Tillyard comments on this in
relation to the scene where Hamlet talks to his mother:
"Once Hamlet can face his mother
and share with her the burden of what he thinks of her he can at least
begin to see the world as something other than a prison."
"It's true," explained Mr. Siegel "because a
person who is afraid of the reality of his mother is likely to be afraid
of other things. An incomplete person," he observed, "cannot welcome
a complete universe."
"The keen problem that hasn't been understood
about Hamlet," said Mr. Siegel "is how he saw his father and why he had
a hard time both obeying and disobeying his father. Whatever Hamlet is
doing, he has the questions persons do have. What am I doing here?
How should I see it all? Though Hamlet wasn't a complete success in dealing
with his problems, the way he saw them was already a success." Tillyard
implies that Hamlet did not solve his problems. "But," stated Mr. Siegel
"he did the first thing: He tried to be honest about them."
Part 2 of "Shakespeare's Interesting"