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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Oil Paintings on Shakespearean Themes

Description of Painting - Oil on canvas 18" x 24"
by Hannah Tompkins


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"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy".      I. v.
"Hamlet" is one of the few Shakespearean plays that does not have an assigned comic role. Although the two grave-diggers are listed as 'clowns', they are primarily workmen, albeit with a pungent wit expressed in candor.

Prince Hamlet is his own clown and fool.

When Richard Burbage played the original part, it was Robert Armin, the great fool actor with the company at that time, who coached Burbage in Hamlet's antics'.

Driven by the lust for revenge, instigated and urged on by his father's ghost, Hamlet becomes a split-psyche, at war with the world around him and himself. In terms of the Hermaphroditic principle of Male-Female/ Good-Evil, it is significant that, to sustain this fractured state, he has rejected the intuitive, feminine aspect in the form of Ophelia. Her subsequent suicide precludes any hopes for reconciliation.

What remains, as the painting shows, are the divided incompatibilities: the scholar, the fool and the slayer: pure intellect, folly and destruction; a combination, perhaps, of Prospero, Touchstone and Titus Andronicus.

Like the latter, the harvest of revenge lust was wholesale extermination. The detonator in "Hamlet" of the disastrous sequence of events, the infidelity , adultery, incest, suicide, murder and vengeance was the ambitious lust of Claudius for his brother's wife and crown.

At the play's end there are nine corpses accounted for, which runs a close second to the fourteen in "Titus".

For people with Hamlet's potential, self-destruction is always tragic. He forgives Laertes for the contention between them, but it is Hamlet's hand that slays him unwittingly, as with Polonius.

The tragedy is compounded in such cases, for the atonements, instead of bringing about reconciliation bring only sterility.


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.


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