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Critical quotations of Hamlet

The Play –
“the Mona Lisa of literature” – TS Eliot
Dr Johnson praised the play for its “variety”
“obsessed with doubles” – Kermode
“shifting register not only of action but also of language” – Kermode
“although ‘Hamlet’ is an extremely active, indeed feverishly energetic play, it
does move forward slowly.” – Kermode
“it is very difficult to generalise about ‘Hamlet’ because every observation will
have to admit the opposite.” – Bloom
“a vulgar and barbarous tragedy” – Voltaire
“it is not only Hamlet but his play that delays” – Kermode

Characterisation –
“before Shakespeare there was characterisation, after Shakespeare there were
characters.” – Bloom
“no-one in this play knows or understands anyone else.” – Linda Charnes

Hamlet –
“the hero-villain” – Bloom
“Shakespeare’s character could be almost anything” – Michael Pennington
“many different explanations for his procrastination” – Kenneth Muir
“too horrible to be read or uttered” – Dr Johnson on Hamlet not killing Claudius
when he could.
“there are more Hamlets than actors to play them” – Bloom
“sterile concentration on death and evil” – LC Knights
“pure, noble and most moral nature” – Goethe
“a young rebel who has something of the charm of James Dean” – Jan Kott
“the man who couldn’t make up his mind” – Olivier film
by act 5 he has “aged a decade” – Bloom
“not an individual but everyman” – CS Lewis
full of “meditative excess” – Coleridge

Claudius –
“the cunning and lecherousness of Claudius’ evil has corrupted the whole
kingdom of Denmark” – Richard D Altick
“clearly the antagonist” – CarlaStockton
a “slimy beast” with “unctuous verse rhythms” – LC Knights
“good and gentle king” – G Wilson Knight

Polonius –
“a bad parent” – Michael Pennington
“made palatable by the fact that he is funny” – Michael Pennington
“between knave and fool, most performances fall to one side or the other” –
“knowing in retrospect and ignorant in foresight.” – Samuel Johnson

Gertrude –
“a character of ambiguous morality whom we can never fully know” – GF Bradby
“negative and insignificant” – TS Eliot

Ophelia –
“Ophelia is one of the least self-critical beings imaginable” – Eli Siegel
“suffers a series of patriarchal oppressions” – Emi Hamana
“inability to express herself by means to words” – Toshiko Oshio
“she appears in only 5 of the plays 20 scenes.” – Elaine Showalter
“only concern is pleasing others” – Rebecca Smith

Theatre –
“Shakespeare himself is speaking when Hamlet instructs the players” – Albert
“Shakespeare’s most lucid and metatheatical tragedy” – Phyllis Gorfain
play within a play creates a “Chinese box” effect - Kermode