Eliot's Thoughts on Hamlet

Analysis of T.S. Eliot’s Hamlet and His problems
Posted by Tarun Tapas Mukherjee
  My Note: What Eliot is refuting when he refers to Goethe and Coleridge - is the Romantic view of Hamlet. Eliot is more a deconstructionist/Modernist ( according to Harold Bloom)
Published in 1919, Hamlet and His Problems may be considered an example of “destructive criticism” in the sense that it challenges the age-old established critical perspectives on a work of art. Eliot puts forward his contention that much of the critical has been devoted to analysing the character of Hamlet, rather than analysing the play, which should be the primary business of the critics. He cites the example of two great minds, Goethe and Coleridge, who also who were not immune to this kind of fallacy and who have substituted “their own Hamlet for Shakespeare’s”. Eliot alleges that instead of studying it as a “ work of art”, they have imposed their personalities on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and “made of Hamlet a Werther” and “ of Hamlet a Coleridge” respectively. Eliot, on the other hand, praises J.M. Robertson and Stoll, who, according to him, tried to shift the critical focus of Hamlet to a right direction by pointing out the genesis of Shakespeare’s play from his predecessors: “Hamlet is a stratification, that it represents the efforts of a series of men, each making what he could out of the work of his predecessors.” According to Eliot, the presence of anomalies and much of the crude elements of the play can be attributed to this fact.
In order to establish his contentions, Eliot goes on to examine the play from a historical perspective. He cites the example of Kyd’s Hamlet Play and Spanish Tragedy and tries to establish the fact that just as Kyd’s Shakespeare’s play was also made in the tradition of Elizabethan revenge tragedies and was expected to serve the dramatic purpose of this genre. In this Eliot argues that the revenge-motives in the earlier plays are dramatically justified, but in the case...