EXPLANATION OF HAMLET'S MYSTERY
interpreted as residing in difficulties produced by the external
situation is Hamlet's own attitude toward his task. He
never behaves as a man confronted with a straight-forward
task, in which there are merely external difficulties to over-
come. If this had been the case surely he would from the
first have confided in Horatio and his other friends who so
implicitly believed in him, and would deliberately have set to
work with them to formulate plans by means of which these
obstacles might be overcome. Instead of this he never makes
any serious attempt to deal with the external situation, and
indeed throughout the play makes no concrete reference to it
as such, even in the significant prayer scene when he had
every opportunity for disclosing the reasons for his non-action.
There is therefore no escape from the conclusion that so far
as the external situation is concerned the task was a possible
If Hamlet is a man capable of action, and the task is one
capable of achievement, what then can be the reason that he
does not execute it? Critics who have realised the inadequacy
of the above-mentioned hypotheses have been hard pressed to
answer this question. Some, struck by Klein's suggestion
that the task is not really what it is generally supposed to be,
have offered novel interpretations of it. Thus Mauerhof1
maintains that the Ghost's command to Hamlet was not to
kill the king but to put an end to the life of depravity his
mother was still leading, and that Hamlet's problem was how
to do this without tarnishing her fair name. Dietrich2 put
forward the singular view that Hamlet's task was to restore
to Fortinbras the lands that had been unjustly filched from
the latter's father. When straits such as these are reached it
is no wonder that many competent critics have taken refuge
in the conclusion that the tragedy is in its essence inexplica-
ble, incongruous and incoherent. This view, first sustained
in 1846 by Rapp,3 has been developed by a number of writers,
including Rümelin,4 Benedix,5 Von Friefen,6 and many others.
The causes of the dramatic imperfections of the play have been
variously stated, by Dowden7 as a conscious interpolation by
Shakespeare of some secret, by Reichel8 as the defacement by an
1Mauerhof: Ueber Hamlet, 1882.
2Dietrich: Hamlet, der Konstabel der Vorsehung; eine Shake-
3Rapp: Shakespeare's Schauspiele übersetzt und erläutert. Bd.
4Rümelin: Shakespeare-Studien, 1866.
5Benedix: Die Shakespearomanie, 1873.
6Von Friefen: Briefe über Shakespeare's Hamlet.
7Dowden: Shakespeare; his development in his works, 1875.
8Reichel: Shakespeare-Litteratur, 1887.