hamlet is not a play about revenge
it is a play about the revenger
the act of revenge itself is unimportant
what is vital however is the transformation
in the character of the one
called upon to perform the act

when the ghost appears to hamlet
and delivers its revelation to him
he touches and is touched by the supernatural
the veil of maya is torn down
hanging in rags before his feet
his eye pierces all illusion
he now perceives
the more terrible beauty of existence
he sees the skull beneath the bone
he alone has been chosen to receive it
therefore he is seperated from humanity

after the visitation of the ghost
we behold a hamlet
who can now read obscure signs
and strange alphabets in the earth and sky
who conceives himself
larger and greater than all others
including the hamlet who existed before
who now holds the keys of heaven and hell
a hamlet who can now bless and unbless
for the knowledge granted him
is not to heal wounds
but to inflict them

some critics like to think
there are certain scenes
for example with the players
where we glimpse the old hamlet
who lived in wittenberg
I think that is wrong
after the visitation of the ghost
nothing can ever be the same
for or of him
his new knowledge shines
in every word he says
and every act he performs
nothing is done or said
in innocence or ignorance anymore
the ghost is inside him
like a sokratic daimon
it never leaves
two hands feel the thing he touches
two mouths taste the wine he drinks
his and the ghost's
the hamlet who existed before is dead
hamlet killed him

hamlet doesn't kill claudius immediately
because he doesn't have to
he knows that claudius is guilty
his mind contains everyone else
and in his mind claudius is damned eternally
his knowledge is his power
to take claudius' life is to lose that power
to have the divine taken away from him
and to return into a mere mortal once more

should he reveal the guilt of claudius
and demand justice be done
then his power would be gone
or should he keep it to himself
and enjoy his power over claudius
letting claudius know he knows
in order to make him fear and tremble
that hamlet will reveal it

hamlet does not delay
because he fears the order of the ghost
but because he goes beyond it
what originally begins
as a personal and secret mission
against one man
is transformed by him
into a crusade
that judges the world

he has been granted
the flaming sword of knowledge
and been ordered to use it
only in one particular circumstance
to take the life of his uncle
but granted such a weapon
he applies it everywhere
to rosencrantz and guildenstern
polonius and the players
horatio and gertrude and claudius
even ophelia

he says after he kills polonius

for this same lord
I do repent but heaven has pleased it so
to punish me with this and this with me
that I must be their scourge and minister

but it is a weapon
that cannot harm the good
only the guilty
horatio cannot be harmed
but ophelia can
therefore she was guilty
hamlet alone understands
the terrible wisdom of ancient silenus
and the symbolism of ophelia's fate
therefore he will place her in heaven

is the ghost a spirit of good or evil
"a spirit of health or goblin damned"

the question is unimportant
for it changes nothing for hamlet
to show how unimportant it is
let me say that if I had the choice
I would prefer it to be a spirit of evi
for if it were the devil
his struggle would be even greater
his knowledge even more powerful
his existence even more cosmic
for it would make him a participant
in a supernatural battle
between good and evil

the plot of the play would no longer be
a man told by a ghost
to take the life of his uncle
but a man fighting against the devil
for while gods may choose
even a milk-maid
to be the vessel of their revelation
the devil is only interested
in tempting and damning those souls
capable of great goodness
and this
hamlet knows

his questioning of the ghost's origins
is not an excuse for his previous delay
and to delay further
but an attempt to purify of evil
the motive of every act he performs

william mann


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