My education continues now in professional classes taught by Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism. And along with other students in the class, I have the joy of hearing each week the recorded lectures given by Mr. Siegel from the 1940s through the 1970s. I begin to serialize a report of a class I wrote in 1979, one of hundreds, he gave on Shakespeare's great play Hamlet. Hope you enjoy it!
In a recent History of Aesthetic Realism class consultants and associates heard a tape recording of a poetry class Eli Siegel gave December 9, 1970 titled, "Shakespeare's Interesting." Mr. Siegel often said the play he cared for most was Shakespeare's Hamlet. In 1963, he placed the play in relation to world culture with his major work Shakespeare's Hamlet; Revisited. " The approach today," Mr. Siegel began, "will be different from anything that has been before. The accent will still be on Hamlet but the subject today is that Hamlet was related. My purpose," he explained, "is to have persons truly at ease about Shakespeare and Hamlet and other things. I shall be casual; I shall go hither and thither." With wide, careful scholarship, Eli Siegel looked at notes of various famous Shakespearian critics commenting on many of the puzzling and famous passages of Hamlet.
He began with a 1950 work which is very much esteemed Shakespeare's Problem Plays by E.M.W. Tillyard. "A problem," said Mr. Siegel "asks how to have it solved. The problem of life is how to make a one of the fact that one is oneself and is surrounded by all else, the universe." Tillyard quotes Theodore Spenser "that Hamlet's soliloquies show a progress in his power to convert the personal into the general [though] his behavior at Ophelia's funeral, which comes after all the soliloquies, shows a very thorough relapse." "Spenser is saying," explained Mr. Siegel "that while Hamlet seems to do better in soliloquies, he's not so good later. We do go from meditation to immediacy in a way that is not so good. How to make a one of our deepest, quietest thoughts and our motions is a problem."
"Tillyard makes more of Hamlet's relation to his mother than most people," said Mr. Siegel—-his father is almost incidental. Anyone who has a mother has a problem of focus and comprehensiveness. Hamlet had the problem of trying to think of his mother as worthy of being cherished and at the same time trying to honor science. Everyone has this problem. The great problem in life is how to relate desire to fact." Tillyard comments on this in relation to the scene where Hamlet talks to his mother:
"Once Hamlet can face his mother and share with her the
burden of what he thinks of her he can at least begin
to see the world as something other than a prison."
"It's true," explained Mr. Siegel "because a person who is afraid of the reality of his mother is likely to be afraid of other things. An incomplete person he observed can not welcome a complete universe."
"The keen problem that hasn't been understood about Hamlet," said Mr. Siegel "is how he saw his father and why he had a hard time both obeying and disobeying his father. Whatever Hamlet is doing, he has the questions persons do have. What am I doing here? How should I see it all? Though Hamlet wasn't a complete success in dealing with his problems, the way he saw them was already a success." Tillyard implies that Hamlet did not solve his problems. "But," stated Mr. Siegel "he did the first thing: He tried to be honest about them."