On Hamlet, Hegel, and Modern Consciousness

I. The Beginning of the Modern Age

In the history of the literary canon, Hamlet often marks the demarcation that signals the beginning of the modern age. Hamlet reveals his interiority and introspection in his soliloquies drawing attention to what is going on inside of him.[1] While he carries the name of his father, Hamlet differs sharply from the ghost dressed in the regal vestiges of the Arthurian knight. That the young Hamlet retains this status despite the constant evolution in the modern conception of subjectivity is quite astonishing demonstrating that some works of art remain timeless as a tool to interpret each successive period.

II. Interiority, Action, and Delay in Hamlet

The critics’ main complaint with Hamlet is his constant failure to act. In the climatic moment of the play when Hamlet is presented with the opportunity to avenge his father and kill his uncle, Hamlet delays, justifying himself in the immediate aftermath saying, “And am I then revenged/To take him in the purging of his soul/When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?/No” (3.3.77).

III. Human Freedom and the Metanarratives of the Nineteenth Century

A mole is a small fury mammal, virtually blind, with strong forefeet for burrowing through the earth. The mole is the character that Hegel choses for his analogy to demonstrate the spirit advancing dialectically through historical time toward the freedom of full consciousness or Absolute Spirit like a mole tunneling through the earth toward open light. This is Hegel’s 2500-year struggle to the summit of modern philosophy.[22] “The old mole, like the spirit of consciousness, like Hamlet himself until the play’s end, tunnels arduously through earth toward the light that is the freedom of absolute self-determination.”[23] Hegel substitutes the spirit of the times for the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

IV. Reaching Conclusions: Art and Philosophy in Hegel

Hegel’s philosophy of art is not just a philosophical standpoint from which to view art, rather, it is continuous with what the art itself has been doing: expressing, reflecting, valuating, and enlivening norms and concepts.[41] Hegel regards aesthetic expression to be just as indispensable for philosophical reflection as philosophical reflection is for the completion of aesthetic expression.[42]

V. The Bones in the Concept

So where do we go from here, how is the project of self-realization from Hegel manifested in the world, and what is the culmination of the progress toward Absolute Consciousness?

Gypsy writer