It seems that everywhere I go in search of Shakespeare on the web lately, when it comes to the topic of Hamlet and his character, I can find someone ready to take a vicious stab at The Melancholy Prince.
Scholars of all stripes (from the time of Goethe, through Freud and on to today) attack everything in his nature. From his "indecision" and failure to act, to his lack of courage and heroism, to his "secret desire" to sleep with his mother (YUCK!), to his failure to embody the qualities defining "Tragedy" and the "Tragic Hero" set down by Aristotle; Academia is, and has always been, more ready to find his "flaws" as opposed to his virtues.
Time after time, Commercial Shakespeare's producers and directors, from Hollywood to Broadway, in production and/or 'adaptation', support these theories, always finding ways to 'read into' and play on the theme of Hamlet's weaknesses, rather than his strengths. The tragedy is always the result of his faults. Close examination of gaping character flaws in those who surround him, and the monumental exigencies supplied for him by simple fate will usually take a back seat, compared to the emotional sensationalism provided by pecking at the proposed hero with juicy personality complaints, however niggling, until he's brought down to his knees--or better yet--to the pedestrian level of the nigglers themselves.
This comes as no surprise. Many people are uncomfortable in the presence of genius, whether it be the intellect of a Hamlet or... a Shakespeare. From today back to Alexander Pope, who, in 1723, modestly claiming he knew better (most kindly meant, I'm sure) what Shakespeare the literary bumpkin was attempting to do--and therefore say--eliminated and/or changed words, phrases, and whole passages in the Plays, 'Editors' of Shakespeare have formulated wholesale rationalizations and suppositions as starting points from which to support their 'emendations' of the text and their theoretical 'reading into' the true meaning of his Work.
Since Hamlet is Shakespeare's 'wordiest' play; since Hamlet himself is his most vociferously intellectual character; since Hamlet is thought by many to be Shakespeare's greatest accomplishment (ironic in light of so many complaints about it); Hamlet gets the most attention in the way of analytical "help" from those Absolutists who think they know better than what the lines say--what Shakespeare said.
These theoretical notions--for that and only that is what they are--having been accepted and supported for so long, have had an enormous influence on the way the play and its central character are perceived. Hamlet is first read into before it is even read. The omnipresence of all this theoretical bantering has had the effect of strongly imprinting an initial image of Hamlet the Dane as a weak milk toast; a mewling, puking, adolescent; selfish and impotent, callous and completely self-centered; incapable of any heroic action; most simply, it seems, and worst of all, a woman-hater by nature. This impression is now the accepted premise and influential starting point from which any further analytical thought regarding Hamlet's character emerges. Any conclusions about the Prince seem to be powerfully influenced by it. Seemingly, when it comes to this play, events as they occur in sequence, difficulties which arise (as they would be perceived by any other human being--not allowed perception for Prince Hamlet), and even the lines themselves, are ignored in favor of a powerful gauze-like opaqueness, which seems to mask the obvious truth of the above to the eyes of an observer under the influence of any one of these "popular notions".
In fact, more casual readers and playgoers (and believe it or not, their opinion is the more important one to me and therefore the most disturbing in this context) many times simply refer to Hamlet as a "Jerk", citing his "callousness" and lack of "feelings". The 'proving-ground' of this opinion is located mainly in his obvious treatment of "poor Ophelia" in what has come to be known as "The Nunnery Scene".
Attached to his callousness, the idea of Hamlet's selfishness, his self-centered attitude, of his being "too caught-up in his own drama" are shortcomings often offered as support in an argument which 'proves', without a doubt, his "Jerky-ness".
My question is: Exactly whose Drama IS The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke?