An Analysis of Soyinka's "Hamlet"

(Debbie Herz '92, English 32, 1990)

Soyinka's poem, "Hamlet," demonstrates the Shakespearean influence which Soyinka wrote about twelve years later in his laudatory essay, "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" (1983). Soyinka borrows Shakespeare's themes and techniques in "Hamlet," because he saw Hamlet as an archetype.

Soyinka's adoption of the archetype theme refers to Carl Jung's school of analytic psychology. Jung believed in the collective unconscious of man which consists of archetypes of "primordial images." Jung thought that one's persona exists only as a facade masking archetypal foundations of man with the false trappings of the individual. By confronting and recognizing these archetypes, the individual could remove the facade of his persona hence leading to a reintegration with the collective unconscious by a process called individuation ("Soyinka's Use of Archetypes," CD, Int).

Soyinka's use of Hamlet as an archetype suggests that he saw himself as a partial inheritor of Hamlet's undesirable qualities. Therefore, one cannot simply dismiss his criticism of Hamlet's inaction as suggesting utter contrast with himself. Admittedly, Soyinka's poem centers on Hamlet as a creator of his own suffering. The Nigerian poet criticizes the fact the "'salt in the wound' was what spurred Hamlet on to carry out his duty and fulfill his promise to his father" ("An Analysis of Hamlet," Kelley Wilson). Soyinka, indeed says that Hamlet's failure to act only aggravated the situation: "his mind's unease/ Bred indulgence to the state's disease" ("Hamlet," 3-4).

Nonetheless, Soyinka evokes pity for the prince, whose earth is "disembowelled by the ghost of his father ("Hamlet," 5). Although some would argue that "Soyinka believes Hamlet did not live up to the duty a son has to his father" (Wilson, Int.), Soyinka still seems to create pathos for the prince. Perhaps Hamlet's undesirable qualities are prototypical of human nature; Soyinka' s use of him as an archetype suggest his own identification with his qualities.

Whereas Soyinka disdains Hamlet's indecision and lack of passion, he shows great regard for the influence of Shakespeare in the techniques of his poem. Shakespeare, among other sixteenth-century poets, pioneered his own version of the sonnet. His form consists of fourteen lines of rhyming couplets in an a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g pattern. In "Hamlet," Soyinka adopts certain aspects of Shakespeare's techniques while discarding others. While he builds his poem on a basic fourteen-line sonnet structure, he changes his rhyme scheme to an unorthodox a-a-b-b, c-c-d-d, e-f-g-g-f-e form. The fact that Soyinka adopts, and yet amends, the sonnet recipe demonstrates a definite, although not encompassing, Shakespearean influence. The fact that Soyinka wrote in sonnet form, coupled with his naming Hamlet a Jungian archetype of himself, suggests that Soyinka identified with Shakespeare's character.

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