Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 9: No 2) >> A Review of Simms's ''The Moral Character of Hamlet'' >> Page 31

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Secondary Scholarship | 2001, 2002
Transcription A Review of Simms's
"The Moral Character of Hamlet"

Christy D. Hughes

In early spring 1844, Simms stepped out into the crisp air from the big-house
at Woodlands Plantation and ventured across the pebbled path of the garden toward
his private library.' Perhaps, as he gloried at the sights of the budding early Southern
Spring, he stopped momentarily at the small statuette of Cupid in the garden,
thinking for an instant about the Herculean task he had set upon for that day: an
analysis of the moral character of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The task was indeed no
small one. Of all Shakespeare's characters, Hamlet's moral character is perhaps the
most complicated. Simms) analysis, consisting of four installments published in The
Orion in March, April, May, and June 1844, examines Hamlet's moral character,
focusing primarily upon the weaknesses that lead the tragic hero to his downfall.
As Simms begins his analysis of Hamlet, he declares that "the moral character
of Hamlet...[is] perfect and symmetrical — a character every way natural...and one
whom we frequently encounter in all `old communities' in which rank and wealth
assert the influence which they are always likely to obtain." This type of individual,
Simms says, is found during his day in cities like Boston or Charleston, not in
frontier areas where there is only the base concern for primary needs. "Hamlets" are
men who are "the victim[s] to organization and education" who are "restrained by
the high tone of the social refinements" within their social circles. Their actions are
pondered, often overly scanned, in the context of society's codes. They are not men
of action.
Hamlet is a character of exquisite tastes, partially due to his extensive
education, but also a result of his princely birth. He has been trained to be the
perfect gentleman. Ophelia describes him as:

The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword;
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers.

Why then can Hamlet not bring himself to the task set about for him by his
father's ghost? Simms contends that while Hamlet is "fitted to shine and command"
in a world where order and beauty reign, the sudden death of his father and the hasty
marriage of his mother turn his secure haven upside-down. Hamlet's personality,

A version of this essay was presented as a paper at The Simms in Charleston conference in
January 2000.