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Volume 23 1 COMPARATIVE drama Winter 1989-90 Number 4 Not Two: Denial and Duality In Hamlet Cherrell Guilfoyle Among the simplest and most primitive symbols used by man to signify what is evil, wrong, or impure are those for the figures nought and two. One was pure, positive, and right; this symbol was opposed by nought, as less than one, and by two, as a duplication of one. Of course the idea persists to this day; the negative is the dark side of the picture: the two-faced are not to be trusted. The whole range of numbers was the subject of symbolic interpretation; the process, which has been traced back to Pythagoras, was complex and mystical. In medieval poetry, numerology was used with precise significance, but by the sixteenth century it was as frequently a device or framework for the poet. As Alistair Fowler described it, this usage was "essentially arcane," both because of the mystic origins of numerology and for aesthetic reasons. Only recently has research brought to light the extensive use of numerology by Spenser and, in at least one work, by Shakespeare.! For the Renaissance as for the Middle Ages, the dyad represented evil in its most primitive and obvious form. The number two signified sin, as the first number to break away CHERRBLL GUILFOYLE has publiahed a number of articles on Shakespeare and medieval modes of thought, and is the author of a book. Shakespeare's Play within Play: Medlevalimagery and Scenic Form in Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, to be issued in 1990 by Medieval Institute Pub1icatioDli. 297 298 Comparative Drama from the primurn bonum; incidentally, it was also held to cause the apparition of ghosts.2 'Double' thus developed the meaning "characterised by duplicity, false, deceitful," In Shakespeare's day, the English literary world rang with the sufferings of Spenser's Una, the true one, and the machinations of the false, dual Duessa. As for nought, in the writings of Augustine and Boethius evil was negative, and evil was nothing. The negative was further associated with Peter's repeated denial of Christ. In Hamlet, doubling, dividing, and negating are used in profusion. This certainly could be deliberate symbolism-that is, if Shakespeare had wanted to convey evil in symbolic terms he would have used negative modes of expression and doubling and dividing devices. In Hamlet it can be shown that both structurally and verbally, in characterization and in action, the evil number symbolism appears throughout. There are, however , great difficulties in working on the text of Hamlet because of the insoluble problem of what Shakespeare might have considered his final text. From the work of Butler and Fowler on Venus and A donis we know that Shakespeare made systematic qse of number symbolism, but in work written for the stage this u~e"could :be neither as systematic nor as convoluted as in a ,~et me,C~ of poetry. ,. Tile patterns which I wish to examine in Hamlet are not cmnplex since, they go no further than nought and two and are c,Qncemed with only one use of these basic numerological cOQ.v~ritions, the opposition of evil to good. In this simple form, well rooted in popular usage, number symbolism could effectively be communicated on stage. Symbolism apart, a stage character confronted by evil will say "no" or its equivalent; and repetitionis a form of emphasis. What I wish to examine in this paper is whether the use of these two conventions in Hamlet has some specific reference to the theme of the play. Unlike Shakespeare's other tragedies, Hamlet does not begin in relative calm and end in adversity; it is all adverse climax, psychologically prolonged from the opening scene, which is presented in an atmosphere of foreboding and of false peace by contrast to the true peace of Christmas morning of which Marcellus speaks (I.i.158ff). Dover Wilson quotes Anatole France as saying that Hamlet was "un homme au milieu du mal universel."3 As Muriel Bradbrook wrote, "Shakespeare was too profound a craftsman to excogitate his symbolic meanings."4 Even in Cherrell Guilfoyle 299 medieval drama, every word cannot be neatly tied up and related to...


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