To make a connection between his ideas and the play, Harkins gives a brief explanation about the historical background of the Eliazabeth’s reign. He reports that in the mid- to late twenties, to classify men as youths was a way of preventing potential economic and political rivals. Similarly, he notes that between 1576 and 1621, there was a rapid increase in the population of youth, and it resulted in the need of “coding youth as ignorant, rash, frivolous, or rebellious” since it was the only way to keep the potential young competitors away from political power (Harkins, 336) . Harkins asserts that in the play’s second scene Claudius’s political dominance and Hamlet’s surprising disinheritance depicts a clear picture of this historical situation. He points out that Claudius refuses to accept the possibility that a man with a dead father would be ready to take in charge as a king. Harkins also suggests that early modern audience wouldn’t consider a man who is thirty years old in the play’s final act as a young. He argues that in spite of this fact, Claudius spoils “Hamlet’s lawful succession by presenting the governing of Denmark as the bussines of controlling immature youth.” To make his point clear, Harkins tells how Claudius sees and describes Fortinbras by quoting his words. Claudius’s words about Fortinbras in Act I, Scene II presents us “rash youth who forgets his place” (Harkins, 337)
Holding a weak supposal of our worth
Or thinking by our late dear brother’s death
Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,
Colleaguèd with the dream of his advantage,
He hath not failed to pester us with message
Importing the surrender of those lands
Lost by his father, with all bonds of law,
To our most valiant brother. So much for him.(Act I, Scene II, 18-21,22)
By comparing Laertes’s character to Fortinbras’s, Harkins comments that Laertes is a much more dependent youth unlike Fortinbras. He proposes that “to be young is to be dependent, only the mature, such as Polonius and Claudius, can govern properly.” (Harkins, 337) Furthermore, Harkins mentions Claudius’s response to Hamlet in Act I, Scene II to reveal “the ideological ground: the dangers presented by unruly youths and the necessity of keeping them mastered”. Claudius says to Hamlet
“In obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubbornness, ‘this unmanly grief. It shows a will most incorrect to heaven. A heart unfortified, a mind impatient. An understanding simple and unschool’d. “ ( Act I, Scene II )
It is stated that Hamlet’s refusal of the roles embodied by Fortinbras and Laertes shows his immaturity. Harkins comments that besides his refusal, his grief proves that he is young and unready to rule. Harkins insinuates that Claudius’s characterizing Fortinbras as a troublesome and the necessity to control his possible dangerous actions which can result from his youth and can be controlled by a a mature man is the not only key to rule out Hamlet’s political authority but also to construct his own political authority.
In the article, Harkins compares Hamlet to the crucial elements of a proper comedy which fortifies and reinforces social order. According to George Whetstone, “graue olde men should instruct, and yonge men should showe the imperfecions of youth”. Harkins predicts that Hamlet emloys Whetstone design not to educate the younger for mature roles but to manipulate them in order to prevent them from “reaching publicly acknowledged adulthood” (Harkins, 339) . Harkins exemplifies this thorough Laertes who is obedient to “appointed role” and supposes that his obedience will help him make “public shift from youth to maturity. (Harkins, 339). Harkins states that Laertes is very careful on this way; for example, after Claudius gives him an advice “Take thy fair hour” … time be thine as well as his father advices “The time invests you”, Laertes advices his sister :
“For Hamlet and the trifling of his favor,
Hold it ia fashion and a toy in blood.
A violet in the youth of primy nature.” (Act I, Scene III, 5-7)
Harkins suggests that by means of his advice Laertes distinguishes himself from the “the prince’s youth of primy nature. On the other hand, Harkins tells that Laertes mentioning Hamlet’s “unmast’red importunity” (Act I, Scene III) ascertains “a prison of mirror”; that is to say, his ideas are similar to Claudius ideas. (Harkins,339). At this point, Harkins claims that Laertes is trying to escape Claudius’s trap just by making use of the term “youth” for his own purposes just like his father does. Harkins emphasizes that Polonius had a little tendency to help Laertes to develop a mature identity.
Another remarkable sentiment is expressed by Harkins when he explains Polonius’s sentences about his error and what his words about “wisdom and “reach” mean in Act II, Scene I. He writes that Polonius extenuate his error by defining “an old’s man mistakes as proper” and understandable. (Harkins, 340-341)
“By heaven, it is as proper to our age
To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions,
As it is common for the younger sort
To lack discretion.” (Act II, Scene I, 111-4)
Harkins also proposes that Polonius’s words in Act II, Scene I inadvertently reveals the fact that an older man’s “wisdom and “reach” has nothing to do with the principle of the early modern ideology of age, instead, the aim is to prolong themselves.
Another two important comments made by Harkins are about what Hamlet’s maturity throughout the play and his madness represent. In the graveyard scene, it is revealed that Hamlet is thirty years old. Harkins states that Hamlet “finally has developed into a full-grown man, ready for the tragic paradox of his maturity.” However, Harkins emphasizes that Hamlet’s maturity was a constant one throughout the five acts in the play. He tells that thirty symbolizes “the farthest reach” of what is presumably considered as youth in early modern England. (Harkins, 344). He puts forward that even though Claudius strives for defining Hamlet as a youth from the play’s beginning, Hamlet rejects beliefs about youth that are meant to create a confined “subordinate role” by declaring himself as revenger,
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past.
That youth and observation copied there.” (Act I, Scene V, 99- 101)
Besides, Harkins makes a reference to Hamlet’s saying “This is I” / Hamlet the Dane” to validate his argument that Hamlet does not proclaim his maturity, but “he reminds the court who he is and who he has been throughout the play.” (Harkins, 345). The third factor that contributes Harkin’s suggestion that Hamlet does not accept the role of youth that is constructed by Claudius is his madness: “What I have done / That might your nature, honor, and exception / Roughly awake I here proclaim was madness.” (Act V, Scene II, 231-3)
In a nutshell, as Harkins points out in the conclusion of his article, by means of his careful choice of words while defining what young means and calling Hamlet young, Claudius bolsters up the principle of early modern political authority. Harkins concludes that rather than examining Hamlet’s development from youth to maturity, the play examines the production and application of the roles as political phenomena. As Barthes suggests “ The stereotype is a political fact, the major figure of ideology.” (Harkins, 333)
Matthew Harkins: “Making Young Hamlet”, SEL: Studies in English Language Literature 1500-1900 49:2 (Spring 2009) , 333- 354