Shakespeare Quarterly Shakespeare and the Double Man

380 38 973KB

English Pages 30-35 [7] Year 1950

Report DMCA / Copyright


Table of contents :
image 1
image 2
image 3
image 4
image 5
image 6
Issue Table of Contents
Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan., 1950), pp. 1-50
Volume Information [pp. 1-2] The Oregon Shakespeare Festival [pp. 4-11] What a Theatre for Shakespeare Should Be [pp. 12-17] 'No Cloudy Stuffe to Puzzell Intellect': A Testimonial Misapplied to Shakespeare [pp. 18-21] Further Observations on Titus Andronicus [pp. 22-29] Shakespeare and the Double Man [pp. 30-35] Quarterly Reviews
Recommend Papers

Shakespeare Quarterly 
Shakespeare and the Double Man

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview

Shakespeare and the Double Man Author(s): Thomas F. Connolly Source: Shakespeare Quarterly , Jan., 1950, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan., 1950), pp. 30-35 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at

Oxford University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Shakespeare Quarterly

This content downloaded from on Wed, 19 May 2021 09:32:44 UTC All use subject to


I Hamlet and the Double Man

HAT is the value and meaning of Hamlet's madness in Shakespeare's play? Of course the poet was following his sources and brought his hero's madness over from them as he did so much else, but it is changed

in the process. This change has led to some discussion as to whether Shakespeare was not in this case following his source rather automatically, without too much regard for the pertinence, to his work, of some of the aspects of the older plays. It is pointed out that in the earlier treatments of the legend the madness is a defensive measure against the suspicions of the king, while in the

Shakespeare version there is no need for such evasion since there is no suspicion; that, in fact, such suspicion as is generated is the result rather than the cause of his apparent madness, and that it is therefore not required by the plot as Shakespeare handles it. Perhaps it is required by something other than the plot. It does serve as the excuse for some of Hamlet's more pointed speeches,

speeches which are, ". . . of a happiness that often madness hits on, which

reason and sanity could not so prosperously be delivered of" (I, ii).

This speech in itself gives a hint of the obvious and immediate dramatic advantage in having a hero of unsound mind: he may speak more freely, indulge in the more fantastic ironies safely. This could be justification enough, but an examination of the other tragedies, beginning with Julius Caesar, indicates that there may be more to it than this. What appears in each of these plays is that Shakespeare employs a single device to enhance the irony or tragedy of the hero's situation: he gives him an alter ego, a familiar spirit. The immediate function of the familiar may vary with the needs of the individual play, but certain things may be said about it which would be true of all of its different appearances: it may be a creature (or several) of good or of evil, but it is nearly always sardonic and cynical. It may mock with excellent advice as does Lear's fool, or deceive as lago does, or goad to crime as do Jago, Lady Macbeth, the three Witches, and Cassius, but beneath these differences its essential characteristics remain the same: the alter ego is always complex as opposed to simple in nature, practical rather than idealistic, and always, sooner or later, a little more or less than sane. Though the reader will no doubt think of certain additions and inevitable qualifications, a list of these alter egos would read something like this: Julius Caesar: Brutus-Cassius.

Hamlet: Hamlet-his own mad side.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 19 May 2021 09:32:44 UTC All use subject to


Othello: Othello-Iago. Lear: Lear-his "bitter fool".

Macbeth: Macbeth-his wife and the three witches.

By way of further definition, the two sides of the double man are these: one is brave, honorable, strong, inclined to be conventional and not too bright, while the other is the devious character already described, who places intelligence, even a dark intelligence, above mere honor. His problems too may be considered as variations on a single theme: the hero is in a position where he

must decide whether to force an issue or wait and see what is going to happen. It is this which makes Lear the most tragic figure. When the play opens he has already decided to give up his power, to evade the making of decisions, and the rest is his punishment for making this choice. Talk about Shakespeare's failure in not fully motivating Lear's move is beside the point; this is not a play about the making of a choice but of the consequences of one already made. In suggesting that this series of plays may be rewardingly studied as variations on this theme of the double man, there is no intention to imply that they are nothing more, or even that they were conceived as such, but that the

theme was one which struck Shakespeare, one which he could not keep out of his later plays. The chronological order of the plays leads to such an impression, since there seems to be a crystallisation of the idea taking place. In Julius Cae-

sar, the first of the series, the situation is not quite so dear cut, the antithesis not so striking, and Cassius, though he is envious, devious, and "thinks too much", is much too sane; his evil is conventionally motivated compared to that

of Iago. What does not appear in this play shows up, as a gift from the sources, in the next one in order, in Hamlet. One characteristic of the sardonic half, and an important one, is his real or apparent madness, which may range from the jibes of Lear's bitter and beloved fool to the strange, incompletely motivated evil of Iago. He is that side of man which is hidden from the light of day, but which cannot be denied. He is the not-quite-normal, and yet the full figure of the tragic man is empty without him. Under the special privilege many societies have granted to the insane or eccentric, he may take certain liberties with logic; he may have flashes of illuminating insight which outpace the less spectacular ploddings of the sane; he may see certain uncomfortable truths which the sane are too sane to see and speak them out in the form of seeming doggerel or veiled oracular statements. He is in fact what is now called the subconscious, though in this case the clinical jargon is unnecessary and perhaps too specially connotated. In every case but that of Hamlet the alter ego appears

separately upon the stage. In Julius Caesar he appears but is not completely realized: in Hamlet the all-important madness is added and the stage is set for Othello. Hamlet is the double man in one package and he must therefore talk to himself, be deceived and mocked by himself. He is mad because he must be his own fool and, like many of the others, he is "but mad north-northwest." Fortinbras, Laertes and Horatio might be suggested as candidates for the role of alter ego for Hamlet. They are, however, foils of a more obvious type; each in his own way is an example of what Hamlet could be but is not: the

This content downloaded from on Wed, 19 May 2021 09:32:44 UTC All use subject to


active and unquestioning soldier, the man who is able to act directly, and the solid, "normal" person. They are good dramatic foils and point up aspects of his character, but simple contrast is not enough. This can be shown in reverse

by comparing each of them with Jago, for example. There is something ini Hamlet which plays an lago role, something which leads him to doubts and rationalizations and eventual defeat, and it is not to be found in any of the three men mentioned. The only counterpart in Hamlet for such a figure as Lear's fool is to be found in Hamlet himself. The mockery, the derision, the foolishness and the mad wisdom are mixed in him. It is true that contrast is one of the functions of the alter ego, but the contrast is that of what may be called the "day" and "night" sides of man, and not that of different types of men.

What the sardonic half says to the hero in any of these plays might in a modern novel be suggested by the stream-of-consciousness technique or by the use of dreams. The anxieties of Hamlet, the temptations by Lady Macbeth, the baseless suspicions of Othello, are the sort of thing suppressed by the "waking consciousness", by that side of man which accepts the conventions as the facts of life. In Macbeth both his wife and the witches represent these unconscious motivations. The witches delude as reverie does, by falsely true promises of success, and Lady Macbeth by her stubborn refusal to foresee moral consequences. This, the latest of the series, seems the most deliberate and complex. Recall the X-like crossing of the plot in AMacbeth. In the beginning Macbeth is the one with the imagination; he quails before the deed because he can envision it before it occurs. His wife complains of what she calls his weakness because she is incapable of being appalled by an event which has not yet taken place. But after the murder their positions are reversed: Macbeth, fresh from the crime, is laconic, even ironic, in his answers to Lennox. He says, "T'was a rough night." The Lady, faced by the actual fact, soon goes mad. It is then her turn to make the speech about blood on the hands. In other words, as far as Macbeth is concerned, his "evil" side has taken command. The prodding of the wife is no longer needed and she drops from sight for most of the rest of the play. To repeat, the problem confronting the main figures in these plays is that of action versus inaction. The double man is man in the face of the "powers that be", and they may be within or outside of him. If he abdicates before them, as Lear did, they pelt him with mud. If he rushes them as did Macbeth, who had only to wait out the prophecy to be safe, they kill him. If he trusts them they delude him, as with Othello and Macbeth. And finally, even to hedge can be fatal: Hamlet. To repeat, there is no intention here to imply that these plays are reduced to a formula by this view of them, or that any other problems treated in them are superficial or secondary. It is offered rather as a point of view which lends a unity to them without in any way limiting their individuality; which answers certain questions which can be answered only by taking the series as a whole, in the same way that a painter's retrospective exhibition throws light on some of the unsolved problems contained in his earlier works.

When Hamlet is considered by itself, his madness may legitimately be This content downloaded from on Wed, 19 May 2021 09:32:44 UTC All use subject to


thought to be nothing more than a valuable bit of stage business, adding to the mystery and interest of the character. This it is indeed, and as such it is quite justified. The fact that it can be seen to be something more is an addition to and not a twisting of the sense. For example Shakespeare's indebtedness to Montaigne's "Renaissance scepticism"; for that aspect of Hamlet's character

can be admitted and yet said to be only half of the picture. Hamlet's answer to the optimistic surety of the Renaissance is contained in his familiar lines to Horatio (I, v), "There are more things in heaven or earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy." One must remember that these words are addressed to the one man who stands for the rounded, healthy, human personality. This is the answer of medievalism to the Renaissance, the line which could well have been the motto of the Romantic movement in its reaction

to the sterility of the later neoclassicism, the neo-classicism which owed so much of its being to the France of Montaigne, the France which, long after Goethe, had so much difficulty in understanding Shakespeare. There is not much difference in thinking of the split in the character of Hamlet as being that between the conscious and the subconscious, or between the Renaissance and the medieval man, or for that matter the flesh and the spirit or the soldier and the artist. The conception is not so limiting: all that is stated is that one side is of the day and the other of the night.The Renaissance ended by stressing the conscious overmuch; it pinned all its hopes upon it, and, to use a familiar simile, the conscious part of the human mind is like the exposed part of an iceberg, while most of the mass lies submerged. Shakespeare's true worth does not lie only in his being a great figure of the Renaissance, but in the fact that he did not succumb to it, that he recognized the importance of the submerged mass.

Similarly, when Othello is considered alone, someone usually raises the

question of the motivation of Jago. Does envy alone account for his unmitigated evil? He seems to be enjoying it for its own sake. Actually it is unex-

plainable in terms of normalcy. The. motivation of Othello is what must be explained and this is done by pointing to lago, who is the prime mover. He is the sardonic half of Hamlet running rampant and Othello is too much the fool, more so even than Lear, to take the play out of his hands. For this reason it is the warped logic of lago which dominates the scene completely until near the ending of the play, the continuing success of his insanity making it appear almost sane.

II The Double MAa in Western Literature To insist that the theme of the double man is uniquely in Shakespeare would overstate the case. The theme of the double man is one of the oldest in the literature of Western Europe, spoken or written. It is the essence of the Faust legend and appears in serio-comic form as the tale of Don Quixote and Sancho. Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Goethe have more in common than their being the giants of their respective literatures; they rise above them only because they have descended to find the common source beneath them. lagro and Othello are closely related to Mephistopheles and Faust, and the four find their ancestry in the medieval division of the "spirit and the flesh." It is no accident that the leaders of the Romantic movement, with the revival of interest in the

This content downloaded from on Wed, 19 May 2021 09:32:44 UTC All use subject to


darker side of the human personality, all turned to the middle ages and to

Shakespeare, whether they lived in England, Germany or France. The tradition is still very much alive. When Emerson, among others, brought the Romantic movement to America, two of his attentive listeners were Hawthorne and Melville. Each discarded most of the transcendentalism he

brought with it but kept what was essential. Hawthorne's studies of the conflict between the "heart and the head" and the spirit and the flesh are still considered to be peculiarly American or even Puritan by those who look for no

more than personal "influences." His Ethan Brand is Faustian complete to the fire which awaits him at the end, and his crime is the same, ambition and intellectual pride.

Melville's indebtedness to Shakespeare is of course more obvious. The soliloquies of Ahab in Moby Dick are often in iambic pentameter and Shakespearean in tone and setting. The connection is more than verbal: there is a great similarity between Ahab and Lear. Both are blasted oaks; both have given up what is sweet in life to go out and face a storm. Lear has his Kent and Ahab has Starbuck to remind him that what he is doing is madness. (These are not alter egos, but symbols of the world of common sense which both men have left behind.) But these are merely the hints which should tell one to look for a deeper kinship between the two mad kings. (Ahab too is a king; he has At harpoon as a scepter and wields it as such.) That Ahab and Lear are so alike makes Melville's point all the sharper because Ahab is not a twin but a mirrorimage of Lear; he is Lear in reverse. Lear is destroyed because he gives up his power and manhood; Ahab because he will recognize nothing but power. He has his familiar in the dark Fedallah, the mysterious Oriental who is described aptly as a creature of darkness, who remains for most of the trip hidden in the hold. There is the suggestion that Ahab and Fedallah share some esoteric wisdom for which they have been willing to give up the green earth, the "insular Tahiti" which Melville says each man carries within him. Reminiscent of the witches in Macbeth, there is a fortune teller who tells Ahab the same kind of "true lie", leading him to believe that he can die only by hanging. The study has been continued, most notably and deliberately by Thomas

Mann, whose Doctor Faustus is just the latest of a series devoted to the problem of the divided man, the problem of the artist against the world or against himself. Thomas Wolfe called his wandering and insatiable protagonist "Faustian." James Joyce in Ulysses tells of Dedalus, Leopold and Molly Bloom. Deda-

lus is all Jesuitical intellect on the one side of the modest hero Bloom, while Molly is obviously the flesh. The list of examples could be multiplied but each one would demand some qualification and defense, and those already mentioned should indicate that the theme is a continuing one.

They are mentioned because it should be possible to use these works as we have used the series of Shakespeare's tragedies for the light they throw upon Hamlet, and perhaps arrive at a clearer statement of the nature of the underlying myth. The superficial characteristics of the Romantic movement have by now been rubbed off by the passage of time (the noble savage, nature always beautiful, the sickly Chatterton type of hero), and for this reason many critics have maintained that the movement itself is ended. Most textbooks give the

This content downloaded from on Wed, 19 May 2021 09:32:44 UTC All use subject to


date of its death as 1837, which is neatly enough the The American Scholar. The "Nature" of Melville, like that of Shakespeare, is both good and evil. The calm and beautiful sea is full of starving sharks. Hell is always just beneath Ahab's feet, and the devil right by his side, as it was

for those who composed the original Faust legend, when the Gargoyles were placed on the sides of the cathedrals as constant reminders of how far away was God and how near were all the shapes and kinds of devils. The Mary cult was the natural outgrowth of such a state of mind, an intercessor being needed to plead man's case, something human in the divine household. This is not a Christian myth in the currently accepted sense of the word

but seems rather to have been a reaction to a stern and unearthly dogma. The Christian ideal, as taught by the various churches, held that the flesh was evil, the "spirit" good. In this myth, on the other hand, the constant insistence is on

the opposite: the spirit which appears in it is nearly always evil and of the underworld, while the flesh is salvation, and the flesh is usually female. In Joyce's Ulysses it is Bloom's return to Molly and her final acceptance of him which make this the one happy ending in all the studies of the subject. The implication seems to be that it is the only possible happy ending. It is the one which is of-

fered to Ahab by Starbuck, which his pride will not permit him to accept. (It should not be necessary at this point to mention Lear's renunciation of Cordelia.) There is Marguerite in Faust, Ahab's absent wife, and Hester in the Scarlet Letter. (It was not Hester who ruined Dimmesdale, but his Puritan denial of her.) The question is the same in all of its various forms. Shall Ahab follow Starbuck back to his wife, or listen to the whispers of Fedallah?

Shall Othello believe Desdemona or his Mephistopheles? Where the woman does not appear, or where as in Lady Macbeth she chooses masculinity, the story is worked out by the man alone.

And for a reversal, for sheer play, the master offers you Caliban and Ariel, and in his role as magician pokes fun at what here at least are all too obviously the "spirit" and the "flesh." Brooklyn, New York

This content downloaded from on Wed, 19 May 2021 09:32:44 UTC All use subject to