uneducated actor called Shakspere of a play by an unknown
poet called Shakespeare, etc. Many upholders of this conclu-
sion have consoled themselves that in this very obscurity, so
characteristic of life in general, lies the power and attractive-
ness of the play. Even Grillparzer1 saw in its impenetrability
the reason for its colossal effectiveness; he adds "It becomes
thereby a true picture of universal happenings and produces
the same sense of immensity as these do." Now, vagueness and
obfuscation may or may not be characteristic of life in general,
but they are certainly not the attributes of a successful drama.
No disconnected and meaningless drama could have produced
the effects on its audiences that Hamlet has continuously done
for the past three centuries. The underlying meaning of the
drama may be totally obscure, but that there is one, and one
which touches on problems of vital interest to the human
heart, is empirically demonstrated by the uniform success with
which the drama appeals to the most diverse audiences. To
hold the contrary is to deny all the canons of dramatic art
accepted since the time of Aristotle. Hamlet as a masterpiece
stands or falls by these canons.
We are compelled then to take the position that there is
some cause for Hamlet's vacillation which has not yet been
fathomed. If this lies neither in his incapacity for action in
general, nor in the inordinate difficulty of the task in question,
then it must of necessity lie in the third possibility, namely in
some special feature of the task that renders it repugnant to
him. This conclusion, that Hamlet at heart does not want to
carry out the task, seems so obvious that it is hard to see how
any critical reader of the play could avoid making it.2 Some
of the direct evidence for it furnished in the play will presently
be brought forward when we discuss the problem of the cause
for his repugnance, but it will first be necessary to mention
some of the views that have been expressed on this subject.
The first writer clearly to recognise that Hamlet was a man
not baffled in his endeavours but struggling in an internal con-
flict was Ulrici3 in 1839. The details of Ulrici's hypothesis,
which like Klein's, originated in the Hegelian views of moral-
ity, are hard to follow, but the essence of it is the contention
that Hamlet gravely doubted the moral legitimacy of revenge.
He was thus plunged in a struggle between his natural ten-
dency to avenge his father and his highly developed ethical
1Grillparzer: Studien zur Litterargeschichte, 3e Ausg., 1880.
2Anyone who doubts this conclusion is recommended to read
Loening's convincing chapter (XII), "Hamlet's Verhalten gegen
3Ulrici: Shakespeare's dramatische Kunst; Geschichte und Char-
acteristik des Shakespeare'schen Dramas, 1839.