.. an indication that the people desired a change in the way that the country was governed, so they elected Claudius instead of Old Hamlet’s son. Old Hamlet was also stuck in purgatory, and he was unable to go to heaven till the foul crimes done in m days of nature/ are burnt and purg’d away (I, iv, 12-13). This indicates that Old Hamlet may not have been as pure as the reader is led to believe, and perhaps Claudius truly was the better king. Although I see the validity of Wilson Knight’s interpretation of the play, I disagree with his views. Hamlet is not the sick, cynical, and inhumane prince which Knight describes.
His sadness is great, but under the circumstances it is not excessive. His father, who he looked up to was recently killed, and his mother married his uncle within a month. To add to his troubles, he receives a visit from the ghost of his father which urges him to revenge [Claudius’] foul and most unnatural murder (I, V, 24) of old Hamlet. It is only logical that under these circumstances, Hamlet would be under great duress, and it would not be abnormal for him to express grief or appear to be sick. Wilson Knight also overlooks the positive sides of Hamlet.
At the end of the nunnery scene, Ophelia laments the that a noble mind is here overthrown:/ The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword ( III, i, 153-154). Hamlet is the renaissance man who is well rounded in all areas. He has a tremendous acting abilities, and he is a scholar who analyzes everything and is very philosophical, as was shown in his assessment of life in the To be, or not to be soliloquy. Hamlet’s philosophical side is also brought to light in the prayer scene. At this point he has the opportunity to kill Claudius while he is attempting to repent.
However, Hamlet does not take action because he desires kill Claudius when he is drunk asleep, or in his rage/ Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed, so that his soul will be as damn’d and black/ As hell, whereto it goes (III, iii, 90-96). Here, Hamlet’s honor code and Christian code are in sharp conflict. If Hamlet did not debate the murder, and he instantly killed Claudius without hesitation, then he would be sick and inhumane. However, his contemplation of the ramifications of his actions show that he is thinking clearly, and he has not turned into a sick and cynical prince who is obsessed with revenge. One of the points which Wilson Knight may use to prove his interpretation is the exchange between Ophelia and Hamlet in the nunnery scene.
At this point Hamlet is rather cruel to her, but there is method to his madness. In the middle of the scene he asks Ophelia, Where’s your father? (III, i, 131). This indicates that he has become aware of Polonius’ presence. It is after this point that Hamlet launches his most vicious attack upon Ophelia when he criticizes that she jigs, ambles lisps, and make[s] [her] wantonness [her] ignorance (III, i, 147). Hamlet is not being inhumane. He is cruel to Ophelia because he believes that she is collaborating with Polonius to spy on him, and is trying to deceive Polonius into thinking that he is mad.
Knight also claims that he treats Getrude cruelly, but he must be cruel only to be kind (III, iv, 178). He is concerned that his mother will die in sin, and be stuck in purgatory along with his true father. In order to prevent this, Hamlet tries to make her see her wrong doings, and the only way to go about this was to act harshly. Another point to counter Knight’s claim that Hamlet is inhumane is the Prince’s relationship with the scholar Horatio. Horatio is Hamlet’s friend from Wittenberg who comes to Elsinore to see Old Hamlet’s funeral. He is a noble stoic who is by far the most pure character in the play.
Horatio is one of the few characters who never tries to deceive anyone, and who doesn’t get involved in any crooked plots. Before the Mousetrap, Hamlet calls Horatio as just a man/ As e’er [his] conversation cop’d withal (III, ii, 55-56). This connection between Hamlet and Horatio is so strong that at the end of the play when Hamlet is dying, Horatio is moved to attempt suicide because he is more an antique Roman than a Dane (V, ii, 345). The strong connection between Horatio and Hamlet is important because the pure and wise Horatio would not associate himself with a a sick, cynical, and inhumane prince. This is further evidence which casts doubt upon Knight’s analysis of Hamlet. Wilson Knight also suggests that the state of Denmark is one of healthy and robust life, good-nature, humor, romantic strength, and welfare. (Jump, 125).
However, there are a great deal of textual evidence which indicates that this is an incorrect conclusion. When Bernardo and Francisco are keeping guard, Francisco notes that tis bitter cold,/ And I am sick at heart (I, i, 7-8). The guards are representative of the common people of Denmark, and his comment can be interpreted that the entire state of Denmark is sick at heart due to the recent death of Old Hamlet and Claudius’ ascension to the thrown. Upon seeing the ghost of Old Hamlet, Horatio comments, This bodes some strange eruption to our state (I, i, 69). Even the scholar who was hesitant to believe in ghosts is now convinced that Denmark is headed for trouble.
After the ghost makes his second appearance, Marcellus notes, Something is rotten in the state of Denmark (I, iv, 90). Theses observations in the first act are clear indications that Denmark has transformed into a state of chaos. The most glaring weakness of Wilson Knight’s interpretation of Hamlet is his conclusion that Claudius is a good and gentle king, enmeshed by the chain of causality linking him with his crime (Jump, 125). Knight dismisses the murder of Old Hamlet too easily. As John Jump states, Claudius was no impulsive offender, suddenly acting our of character.
He deliberately and treacherously poisoned his mistress’s husband, a man who was his brother and his king (Jump, 125). Claudius is saddled with the responsibility for the murder of Old Hamlet, but he does not even consider repenting until the he realizes that Hamlet is planning to seek revenge. However, when he thinks about repent, he wonders May one be pardon’d and retain the offence? (III, iii, 67). Claudius sees the benefits of repenting, yet he does not want to give up the prizes of his sin. Ultimately, Claudius rises and his thoughts remain below even though his words fly up (III, iii, 98-99). The King is unable to repent because his prayers are insincere. Is this a good and gentle king? Not only is Claudius unable to repent, but throughout the play he is extremely manipulative of many of the other characters.
When Laertes challenges that Claudius is responsible for the madness of his sister and the death of his father, Claudius deftly avoids the situation, and he forms an alliance with Laertes. Claudius suggests that Laertes uses, A sword unbated, and, in a pass of practice/ Requite [Hamlet] for your father (IV, vii, 137-138). Cladius further thickens the plot by adding that he will prepare a chalice for the nonce, where on but sipping/ If he by chance escapes [Laertes’] venom’d stuck,/ [their] purpose may hold there (IV, vii, 159-161). Claudius engineers this vicious plot, and it results in the death of Laertes, Hamlet, and Gertrude. During his reign the kind and gentle King concocted a plot which resulted in the death of three members of the Danish royalty, he murdered his brother, the former King of Denmark, and entered into an incestuous relationship with his brothers wife. While constructing Wilson Knight’s argument, I gained a full understanding of how he derived his interpretation of the play, and I began to support his interpretation.
However, as I began to deconstruct his argument, I realized that there are many weaknesses to his interpretation, and I realized the strengths of my interpretation. This is the challenge of literature. It can be interpreted in so many different manners, and at times the vastly different interpretations can greatly confuse students. It is the students responsibility to take criticisms into consideration, but to derive their own unique interpretation based upon their studies. Shakespeare Essays.