Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 9: No 2) >> A Review of Simms's ''The Moral Character of Hamlet'' >> Page 32

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Page 32

Secondary Scholarship | 2001, 2002
Transcription one of suspicion, alarm, and nervous caution, coupled with his "sluggishness, his
reluctance to perform," place him in a situation where he cannot succeed because he
has not been trained by the "certain roughening processes...which are requisite to the
proper development of manhood." Hamlet has been coddled all his life, and had not
expected that to change. Thus, the weaknesses of Hamlet's moral character are
attributed to two causes by Simms: first, his breeding and lifestyle, and second, his
temperament and personality which make him "infirm of purpose."
Hamlet, naturally suspicious in Simms' estimate, is already aware of his
uncle's guilt in the murder of his father through a strong "gut instinct" long before
he is ever addressed by the ghost. The subsequent meeting with the ghost, which
should serve as an impetus to action, only sends him into a world of thoughts,
spurred on by his already overactive imagination. This state of mind, along with
what Simms calls a "peculiar timidity of character," is Hamlet's reason for the
involvement of Horatio in both the ghost scene as well as the scene in which the
play is presented before King Claudius. Simms notes that the ghost "never appears
to him when he is alone – only when he is accompanied." Perhaps, this is his
father's spirit's effort to keep the young man from denying the ghost's existence and
thus "sinking into utter incapacity."
Hamlet's "lively imagination, which always suggests danger, and exaggerates
its extent" is what Simms believes to be the cause of his persistent tendency toward
suicidal thoughts. Indeed, Simms notes that during his own time, those individuals
with temperaments like that of Hamlet are more likely to fall victim to self-
slaughter. However, Simms expounds, "It would only be in moments of extremest
desperation that Hamlet would commit such a deed. It must be the sudden
provocation of an impulse in which he is allowed no time for deliberation. The
moment he begins to deliberate he ceases to perform – he is then neither dangerous
to himself or his neighbor."
This lack of "firmness or consistency of purpose" shows in Hamlet's failure to
act at once for revenge, as his father's spirit had witted. Immediately following the
exit of the ghost, Hamlet reveals the first sign that he will shirk his sonly duty
exclaiming, "The time is out of joint! – Oh, cursed spite, / That ever I was born to
set it right!" Simms comments, "We can have no hope of the performance of one,
who, after such an interview, is thus desponding and spiritless!" Hamlet's only hope
for disobeying the ghost's commands is to somehow prove to himself and his
confidante Horatio that the ghost is Satan's tool sent to damn him through lies.
Hamlet, in Simms' estimation, does not seriously doubt the ghost's revelation. This
is his typical pattern of "stalling for time" until something more impulsive might be
done. Hamlet's plan, while testing the ghost's authenticity, is to "put an antic
disposition on." This is something he does willfully, proving that he is not truly
insane – a belief held by numerous 19`h century scholars.
Hamlet's "antic disposition" is first displayed to Ophelia as she is alone
sewing in her room. When her father Polonius hears the description of Hamlet's
encounter with his daughter, he comes to the conclusion that "he was `mad for her
love.' He adheres to this notion tenaciously, and thus becomes an unwitting ally of
the prince in his endeavor to conceal the true matter which is on his mind." Yet