From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous —
Almost, at times, the Fool.
Hamlet was the ground on which Modernism distinguished itself from Romanticism.
John Keats quoted Hamlet more than any other play. In a letter of August 1820 to Fanny Brawne, he writes …
Hamlet’s heart was full of such Misery as mine is when he said to Ophelia “Go to a Nunnery, go, go!” Indeed I should like to give up the matter at one — I should like to die. I am sickened at the brute world which you are smiling with. I hate men and women more.
He is alluding to the following speech in Hamlet, II.ii.303-10 …
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world; the paragon of animals; and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me — nor women neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
Keats’s letter demonstrates the speed with which Shakespeare comes into his mind, how he thinks and feels through Shakespeare, even at his most desperate.
HAMLET HAD ALREADY BEEN QUOTED FROM THE PULPIT IN 1772. SHAKESPEARE WAS A SECULAR RELIGION.
IT WAS ALSO A POLITICAL POSITION. QUOTING HAMLET COULD BE SEEN AS A RESPONSE TO THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.
Edmund Burke (1729-97), the British political conservative who wrote Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), quoted Hamlet more than any other play by Shakespeare. More to the point, only Jesus has had more analysis than Hamlet.