Edgar Allan Poe

Born Jan 19, 1809 - died Oct 7, 1849

Edgar Allan Poe Portrait Ultima Thule
Above: The "Ultima Thule" Daguerreotype

"The Radical Error"

Edgar Allan Poe


In all commenting on Shakespeare, there has been a radical error, never yet mentioned. It is the error of attempting to expound his characters – to account for their actions –- to reconcile his inconsistencies – not as if they were the coinage of a human brain, but as if they had been actual existences upon earth. We talk of Hamlet the man, instead of Hamlet the dramatis persona – of Hamlet that God, in place of Hamlet that Shakespeare created. If Hamlet had really lived, and if the tragedy were an accurate record of his deeds, from the record (with some trouble) we might, it is true, reconcile his inconsistencies and settle to our satisfaction his true character. But the task becomes the purest absurdity when we deal only with a phantom. It is not (then) the inconsistencies of the acting man which we have as a subject of discussion (although we proceed as if it were, and thus inevitably err,) but the whims and the vacillations-the conflicting energies and indolences of the poet. It seems to us little less than a miracle, that this obvious point should have been overlooked.

While on this topic we may as well offer an ill-considered opinion of our own as to the intention of the poet in the delineation of the Dane. It must have been well known to Shakespeare, that a leading feature in certain more intense classes of intoxication, (from whatever cause,) is an almost irresistible impulse to counterfeit a farther degree of excitement than actually exists. Analogy would lead any thoughtful person to suspect the same impulse in madness – where beyond doubt it is manifest. This, Shakespeare felt-not thought. He felt it through his marvelous power of identification with humanity at large –- the ultimate source of his magical influence upon mankind. He wrote of Hamlet as if Hamlet he were; and having, in the first instance, imagined his hero excited to partial insanity by the disclosures of the ghost – he (the poet) felt that it was natural he should be impelled to exaggerate the insanity.

Reprinted on page 71 of "The Unknown Poe, An Anthology of Fugitive Writings by Edgar Allan Poe" published by City Lights Books, 1980.

Edgar Allan Poe Links

Edgar Allan Poe Page with Timeline

"The Radical Error" – Hamlet, Shakespeare and the intention of the poet

Michael Deas Poe Postal Service Stamp presentation image, 2009

Edmund Quinn Sculpture of Edgar Allan Poe at the Poe Museum in Richmond VA

Edgar Allan Poe Stamp issue 2009, featuring Michael Deas Poe portrait

The Edgar Allan Poe garden area at the Poe Museum, Richmond VA

Poe Museum complex in Richmond, VA

Elizabeth Arnold Poe, "Eliza" Poe, Edgar's mother, buried at St John's in Richmond VA

Artwork, Edgar Allan Poe drawing

Edgar Allan Poe at Charlottesville Virginia


Original Page October 8, 2023

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