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CLAUDIUS

The ‘limper’ in Hamlet

 

 

 

Seeing John Bell’s Hamlet for the Bell Shakespeare Co. (2 Apr 03), my first Hamlet since the writing of UDGCB, confirmed the general accuracy of its argument, while reminding me of an important refinement. Leon Ford was a fine Hamlet, while Billie Brown stole the show as the Ghost (a truly frightening one)/First Player/ Gravedigger. Christopher Stollery was a regal, robust, and comparatively youthful Claudius. I have shown this name to have been derived from the Latin claudeo, ‘to limp’ (whence the medical condition of claudication). This sets the antennae to throbbing, for Ted Hughes in his Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being argued powerfully, on the basis of its mention in four sonnets, and the tradition of his walking stick, for Shakespeare’s own lameness. This is not the only correspondence, for the Roman emperor Claudius, besides walking with a limp (whence his name) was a scholar and writer, just as Shakespeare had become, in his way, under the guidance of Sir Francis Bacon. King Claudius represents the reasoning ego waning, Hamlet the paranoid schizophrenic ego waxing: but they are the same ego. I therefore conclude in UDGCB that Claudius is Shakespeare himself, the reasoning-libidinous ego in suffering, that could yet have been redeemed through the ministry of the Gnostic tradition, - now, in the absence of that tradition, eclipsed by psychosis.

 

Hamlet is the only play to step beyond the severe anxiety/depression neurosis which had stricken down Shakespeare in 1587, prompting his flight to London; - the only play of the corpus in which there is no recovery, no resurrection of the crucified ego: and the opening scene gives a reason for it, for the character of Francisco, who speaks briefly then is seen no more in the play, represents (like his namesake in The Tempest, Friar Francis in Much Ado, and Francesca in Measure for Measure), remarkably, Bacon himself, as minister of the Gnostic tradition, which here is unavailable to the sufferer, to his final perdition. Perhaps both Bacon and Shakespeare both felt that this was the fate which could have befallen the latter, had not providence brought him within the sphere of Bacon.

 

There is another interpretation of “Claudius” which however gives a tighter fit – perfectly tight, in truth – to the King in Hamlet, while not precluding the additional one as described in UDGCB. For Bacon discusses, in his De sapientia veterum (‘The Wisdom of the Ancients’), the mythic birth of Dionysius from the thigh of Zeus. Dionysius is off course massively present in the First Folio as Falstaff, as well as Sir Toby Belch, Polonius, and so on, as the libido, or broader unseen world; while we recall that it is Adonis’ thigh that takes the charge of the boar in Venus and Adonis. There can be no doubt that Claudius in Hamlet, and the Claudios in Much Ado, Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar,and Hamlet (a brief appearance), all represent the Puritan ego suffering from the assertion of the libido, which it has anathematised and repressed.

 

Horatio in Hamlet is the reason exerted by the suffering ego to ‘think down’ the torturous libido. His name is derived from the Italian ho,“I have”, and the Latin ratio, “reason”. Thus, his survival of the carnage of the final scene, with Hamlet’s adjuration to him “in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain/To tell my story”, represents the faculty of reason which will describe in the pages of the First Folio the aetiology, pathogenesis, crisis, and terminal decline, of paranoid schizophrenia, some three centuries before Jung and the western school of depth psychology.

 

The poisoned wine which does for Claudius and Gertrude represents, of course the libido or broader unseen world (alcohol bears always this value in FF; and see also the apothecary’s drug in Romeo and Juliet), which now envelops in negative aspect the suffering ego, in spite of his efforts to think it down, to overwhelm it in psychosis. The pearl in the cup recalls Clarence’s dream in RIII I, iv, of submarine “wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl” and so on, as well as the buried gold in Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens, and elsewhere. This is the colossal richness of the world that lies unseen below the surface of things which, engaged by the enquiring mind, is the basis of the Gnostic tradition, manifest most recently as the advances of modern science and art with which we are all familiar. Gertrude’s napkin represents, like all its kin in FF (e.g. Desdemona’s handherchief), as symbolic of menstruation, the Goddess as Woman, the ianus diaboli, “gateway to hell”, of the Puritan. The rapiers are ithyphallic symbols.

 

Sir Francis Bacon intended Part IV of his life’s work, the Instauratio Magna, to describe an example of his philosophy in action. The First Folio of Shakespeare is in truth that Part IV, the subject of which is psychiatry, the example given being his healing of Shakespeare of the catastrophic breakdown which had befallen him in 1587 after some eight years of enthralment by the Puritan world-view; and its greatest chapter is Hamlet, the only one to step beyond Shakespeare’s condition into the realm of psychosis. Hamlet is the second longest chapter in UDGCB, behind only RIII; yet there remains much more to be said, I’m sure.

 

 

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