August Wilhelm Schlegel

 “Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature” (1809)


Hamlet is:

·         A tragedy of thought inspired by continual and never-satisfied meditation on human destiny and the dark perplexity of the events of this world.

·         An irrational equation in which a fraction of unknown magnitude always remains, that will in no way admit of solution

·         No thinking head who anew expresses himself on it will entirely coincide with his predecessors.


Plot Summary: (i.e. what Schlegel finds striking)

·         The dread appearance of the Ghost

·         the play within the play

·         the alarm with which it fills the King;

·         Hamlet's pretended and Ophelia's real madness;

·         her death and burial;

·          the meeting of Hamlet and Laertes at her grave;

·          their combat and the grand determination;

·         lastly, the appearance of the young hero Fortinbras

·         the interspersion of comic characteristic scenes with Polonius, the courtiers, and the grave-diggers



·          in the last scenes the main action inevitably either stands still or appears to retrograde

·         A calculating consideration exhausts all the relations and possible consequences of a deed and must cripple the power of acting.

·         “And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.


Hamlet’s Character:

·         Schlegel disagrees with the ‘Goethe school’ which describes Hamlet as  'a lovely, pure and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must not cast away.'




·         he does himself only justice when he implies that there is no greater dissimilarity than between himself and Hercules.

·         his far-fetched scruples are often mere pretexts to cover his want of determination

·         Regarding his ‘harshness in repulsing the love of Ophelia’: Others have argued that ‘he is too much overwhelmed with his own sorrow to have any compassion to spare for others’, but Schlegel argues that Hamlet demonstrates ‘a malicious joyin getting rid of his enemies, more through necessity and accident, which alone are able to impel him to quick and decisive measures, than by the merit of his own courage.’

·         ‘Hamlet has no firm belief either in himself or in anything else: from expressions of religious confidence he passes over to sceptical doubts; he believes in the Ghost of his father as long as he sees it, but as soon as it has disappeared, it appears to him almost in the light of a deception.’

·         "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so;" : the poet loses himself here in labyrinths of thought, in which neither end nor beginning is discoverable’

·         A voice from another world, commissioned it would appear, by heaven, demands vengeance for a monstrous enormity, and the demand remains without effect; the criminals are at last punished, but, as it were, by an accidental blow, and not in the solemn way requisite to convey to the world a warning example of justice

·         ‘irresolute foresight, cunning treachery, and impetuous rage, hurry on to a common destruction; the less guilty and the innocent are equally involved in the general ruin

·         The destiny of humanity is there exhibited as a gigantic Sphinx, which threatens to precipitate into the abyss of scepticism all who are unable to solve her dreadful enigmas.’

·         Incomprehensible: Shakespeare’s intention in devising the style in which the player's speech about Hecuba is conceived