We three galloped up to Nowhere, Michigan, last weekend, to attend a seminar in Russell Kirk’s library on the Catholicity of Hamlet. I read and write buckets all day, but 99 percent of it nonfiction, policy, and task-oriented (as in, email). So it was a great joy and relief to spend whatever time Ransom would allow in thought about complex literature and history. And the setting and conferees were also a delight—normal people who just happen to find an interest in Russell Kirk, conservatism, and Shakespeare. And, of course, Mrs. Kirk, whose active, generous hosting I must add to my feminine models to mimic.
We learned many things in a day and a half, some explicit and others implicit. For example, now have a better idea of what we want our library to look like, and how some day we would like some extra, and carefully crafted, space to host people and enjoy each other’s company.
The most fascinating thought to me concerns the ghost of Hamlet’s father, whom the elderly Jesuit leading the conference convincingly described as Roman Catholic, since he comes up from Purgatory; but the problem is that this ghost also demands Hamlet take revenge, which is neither Catholic nor Christian. [expand title="Click the arrow to continue reading."]What I can’t tell, and Hamlet also seems to have difficulty with, is whether Shakespeare means this “Catholic ghost” as a danger, a false Catholic or in some related way a false image emanating from Hamlet’s Wittenburg-damaged brain, or simply as a way of presenting religious problems he could not openly discuss in previously Catholic but now forced-Protestant England under Queen Elizabeth. The little Fr. of course wanted to present Shakespeare as a Catholic sympathizer, but I’m not sure I derive that conclusion from the text itself.
Hamlet is fascinating. I, as well as his mother, am not entirely sure what his problem is. It certainly has something to do with the University of Wittenberg, but I feel a little as though Hamlet has been set-up early on, though he later joins the setup with a vengeance. In the beginning, he just seems confused, and by the end, he’s a lunatic murderer.
It seems to me, as I believe also to Dr. Sundahl, who assigned Hamlet in freshman English but never quite revealed his full conclusions about it, Hamlet’s brain muddle comes from youthful doubts blown wild. It’s natural to doubt and wonder, but Hamlet departs from settled wisdom to set himself as his own guide and measure. He thus leads himself, his family, and Denmark into ruin. It’s an innocent and perfectly understandable entry for a young man, but oh, to what consequences.[/expand]