EXPLANATION OF HAMLET'S MYSTERY
the play an elaborate defence of Protestantism, Rio1 and
Spanier2 on the contrary a defence of Roman Catholicism.
Stedefeld3 regards it as a protest against the scepticism of
Montaigne, Feis4 as one against his mysticism and bigotry. A
writer under the name of Mercade5 maintains that the play is
an allegorical philosophy of history; Hamlet is the spirit of
truth-seeking which realises itself historically as progress,
Claudius is the type of evil and error, Ophelia is the Church,
Polonius its Absolutism and Tradition, the Ghost is the ideal
voice of Christianity, Fortinbras is Liberty, and so on. Many
writers, including Plumptre6 and Silerschlag,7 have read the
play as a satire on Mary, Queen of Scots, and her marriage
with Bothwell after the murder of Darnley, while Elze,8 Isaac,9
and others have found in it a relation to the Earl of Essex's
domestic history. Such hypotheses overlook the great char-
acteristic of all Shakspere's works, namely the absence in
them of any conscious tendencies, allegorical or otherwise.
In his capacity to describe human conduct directly as he ob-
served it, and without any reference to the past or future evo-
lution of motive, lay at the same time his strength and his
weakness. In a more conscious age than his or ours Shak-
spere's works would necessarily lose much of their interest.
The most important hypotheses that have been put forward
are sub-varieties of three main points of view. The first of
these sees the difficulty in the performance of the task in
Hamlet's temperament, which is not suited to effective action
of any kind; the second sees it in the nature of the task, which
is such as to be almost impossible of performance by any one;
and the third in some special feature in the nature of the task
which renders it peculiarly difficult or repugnant to Hamlet.
The first of these views, which would trace the inhibition
1Rio: Shakespeare, 1864.
2Spanier: Der "Papist" Shakespeare im Hamlet, 1890.
3Stedefeld: Hamlet, ein Tendenzdrama Sheakespeare's gegen die
skeptische und kosmopolitische Weltanschauung des M. de Mon-
4Feis: Shakespere and Montaigne, 1884. The importance of Mon-
taigne's influence on Shakspere, as shewn in Hamlet, was first re-
marked by Sterling (London and Westminster Review, 1838, p. 321),
and has been clearly pointed out by J. M. Robertson in his book,
Montaigne and Shakspere, 1897.
5Mercade: Hamlet; or Shakespeare's Philosophy of History, 1875.
6Plumptre: Observations on Hamlet, being an attempt to prove
that Shakespeare designed his tragedie as an indirect censure on
Mary, Queen of Scots, 1796.
7Silberschlag: Shakespeare's Hamlet. Morgenblatt, 1860, Nr. 46.
8Elze: Shakespeare's Jahrbuch, Bd. III.
9Isaac: Shakespeare's Jahrbuch, Bd. XVI.