Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Hamlet

There are two different ways that Hamlet could have come into Poul Anderson's works.

(i) Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest is set in a timeline where Shakespeare was the Great Historian. Thus, in that timeline, the historical Lear, Caesar, Hamlet etc were exactly as presented in his plays. Lear knew that the world was round and there were clocks in Caesar's time so that their technological development started earlier than ours with their seventeenth century Puritans building steam trains and starting the Industrial Revolution two centuries early.

However, the novel, a sequel to A Midsummer Night's Dream and, more immediately, to The Tempest, is set in the seventeenth century and thus is much later than Hamlet. Anderson could have written prequels featuring the Shakespearean Hamlet etc. Also, it is a certainty that Prince Hamlet would have been a welcome guest in the Old Phoenix, Anderson's inn between the worlds.

(ii) Anderson's sources for his heroic fantasies about Hadding and Hrolf Kraki of Denmark included Saxo Grammaticus who is the earliest source for Hamlet. Thus, Anderson, working not from Shakespeare but from earlier sources, could have fitted a different version of Hamlet into his account of the Skjoldungs, Danish kings descended, it is thought, from Odin. The story would have to be a fantasy - I imagine that the ghost was in the earliest version.

Shakespeare's Hamlet represents a transitional period. On the one hand, Hamlet's father is spending time in a Christian Purgatory:

"Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are
Burnt and purged away." (1, 4, 12-13)

On the other hand, he urges the ancient Norse duty of revenge on Hamlet. Also the phrase "So have I heard, and do in part believe it..." (1, 1, 146) expresses a period transitional between Christianity and secularism. Anderson knew how to write fantasies in which the gods existed but were being driven back by the priests of the new god.

This could have been a fourth incursion of the issue of incest into Anderson's works because Hamlet regards his widowed mother's marriage to his uncle as incestuous. 

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