Two Centuries of Thought

Richard Burton - 1964

Two centuries later, Hamlet still muses; Hamlet still broods; and most critics still base their thinking on the vision of Hamlet created by the Romantics. He is a poet or philosopher by nature, and his reflections lead to internal conflict that inhibits actions. The following excerpt from the writing of Yale University professor, Harold Bloom, serves as a good representative of the preservation, and continuing development of this line of thought.

The largest mistake we can make about the play, Hamlet, is to think that it is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind because (presumably) he thinks too much.... The fundamental fact about Hamlet is not that he thinks too much, but that he thinks too well. His is simply the most intelligent role ever written for the Western stage; indeed, he may be the most intelligent figure in all the world of literature, West or East. Unable to rest in illusions of any kind, he thinks his way through to the truth, which may be a pure nihilism, yet a nihilism so purified that it possesses an absolute nobility, even a kind of transcendentalism.
  - Harold Bloom, William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Chelsea House, Broomall, PA, 1996. p.5.

Harold Bloom finds a foundation for this emendation of the Romantic view in Fredrich Neitzsche's The Birth of Tragedy.

Montaigne's experiential man avoids Dionysiac transports as well as the sickening descents from such ecstasies. Nietzsche unforgettably caught this aspect of Hamlet in his early The Birth of Tragedy, where Coleridge's view of Hamlet (like Coleridge) thinks too much is soundly repudiated in favor of the truth, which is that Hamlet thinks too well. I quote this again because of its perpetual insight:
For the rapture of the Dionysian state,with its annihilation of the ordinary bounds and limits of existence contains, while it lasts, a lethargic element in which all personal experiences of the past become immersed. This chasm of oblivion separates the worlds of everyday reality and of Dionysian reality. But as soon as this everyday reality re-enters consciousness, it is experienced as such, with nausea: an ascetic, will-negating mood is the fruit of these states.
     In this sense, the Dionysian man resembles Hamlet: both have once looked truly into the essence of things, they have gained knowledge, and nausea inhibits action; for their action could not change anything in the eternal nature of things; they feel it to be ridiculous or humiliating that they should be asked to set right a world that is out of joint. Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet, not that cheap wisdom of Jack the Dreamer who reflects too much and, as it were, from an excess of possibilities does not get around to action.
   - Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Riverhead Books, New York, NY, 1998. p.740.

While appearing to refute the notion that Hamlet's excess thought prevents him from action, Harold Bloom argues that it is the quality of his thought that prevents action.