Just finished Harold Bloom's Poem Unlimited (Riverhead Books, 2003), his pleasantly short collection of celebratory observations on Hamlet and Hamlet. It comes to only 176 pocket-book size pages, a limited book for an unlimited poem. Remarkable, really, since Bloom could no doubt have written a thousand pages on Hamlet, and a few hundred more on Hamlet.
Following Bloom, Hamlet didn't merely dominate his play, as did say Macbeth, he transcends it. One might say that the there were two great characters in the play, Hamlet and Hamlet, as only he himself was capable of being antagonist to his protagonist. Claudius, Horatio, even Ophelia are just so many trees for Hamlet to maneuver around onstage. As his self-knowledge expands, Hamlet stuggles just to stay earthbound, it seems. Less analytically, Bloom comments repeatedly about the uncanny effect Hamlet has on an audience, as over the course of the play he comes to be less a player than one out in the gallery, watching events along with the rest of the audience. He's one of us, really--not some stock character strutting and fretting over lines from a play, but a living soul puzzling over the same questions every thinking person ponders sooner or later. I really must see a good production of Hamlet sometime.
Why blog this here? Shakespeare highlighted the observational pose: the audience observes players on the stage, but all the world's a stage; who watches the world? Not those who just blunder through life, but only those who emulate Shakespeare's self-aware characters and manage to watch themselves blunder through life. It is the ability to be self-critical. Self-criticism is a virtue somewhat alien to the religious mind. We could all do with a little more Hamlet in our constitution.