Festering Lilies: On Surveying the Secret Life of William Shakespeare
A half century and more has elapsed now since T. S. Eliot declared Hamlet to be "most certainly an artistic failure."1 "What is deficient in Hamlet," Eliot went on to say, is that "Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear." The overwhelming mood of Hamlet is disgust, "disgust . . . occasioned by his mother, but . . . his mother is not an adequate equivalent for it; his disgust envelops and exceeds her." Hamlet lacks, in Eliot's renowned phraseology, an "objective correlative," or a reasonably understandable rationale for his mood, lacking which we are reduced to guessing at some catastrophe in Shakespeare's personal life concerning which Hamlet is his author's too-cryptic surrogate. "We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle; under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know."