Hamlet and Lisbeth
Whether or not you have read Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you know the character, the man. Hamlet lives in our blood stream. We have all, in one way or another had to cope with his disruptions of our lives. We can’t avoid him; he’s everywhere. He has been elemental on the Periodic Table of our thought since Shakespeare discovered him. Now we have discovered his shadow, Lisbeth.
You may or may not have read the sensational three Swedish novels about crime and attendant horrors by the late Stieg Larsson and so may want to dodge this diatribe in which I propose to compare and contrast Hamlet with Larsson’s main character, Lisbeth Salander. To know one is, I think, to know the other.
Like Hamlet, Lisbeth, is also out there among us. Be warned.
As in electricity, there is no value assessment attributed to the factors, positive and negative, there should be no such values attributed to my suggestion that Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander is the post-modern negative of the early-modern positive Hamlet. They are opposite sides of the same narrative coin. Hamlet came first on the waves of a new era: Lisbeth at the end of one, of what many feel are dark, angry days on the verge of socio-cultural recession. Both these powerful characters are structural markings of our literature and subject of our endless, if lurid, fascination-- and dreaming.
I should like to suggest a fist-full of comparative qualities that these two important figures of our imagination define. I wish to offer some bit of support for my free-swinging assertion.
~Hamlet and Lisbeth are preeminently models of the alienation of young people. One a prince, the other a nobody-- and both Nordic.
~Each is a kind of dream-life for the reader-- the same set of dreams over and over again.
~The dream of Hamlet is the old dream of the perfection of brilliant, clear youth and all its entitlements.
~The dream of Lisbeth Salander is also the old dream, the panic-dream of the dark, dangerous female side of things, the diamond-carbon brilliance of her funereal persona in a minimalist body-- and our frightened male’s attraction to it.
~ Both of these “moderns” are badly injured in their life-experience.
~ Both emerge from dangerous, unwholesome family circumstances.
~Each dreams of a father, a father who is playing havoc in their lives.
~Hamlet dreams of a great father who appears to demand his self-destruction.
~Salander dreams of a monster-father on the prowl to kill her.
~Both want to love and be loved, but they cannot trust in it.
~And so both become “ironists”. They see the world as a ghastly system of ironies.
~They are expert in their particular “modern” technologies: Hamlet in his revolutionary university ideas, Salander as a past-master of the computer and all its extra-legal resources.
~ Hamlet has “connections” outside Denmark at the university at Wittenberg; Lisbeth belongs to an international underground of powerful underworld hackers.
~Both are intellectuals on the razor’s edge of their times.
~Whatever else they are, both are brilliant.
~Both have a “global” consciousness and are at home nowhere. They are sojourners in the poisonous environments that they once called home.
~They know every thing that’s to be known. They know our secrets.
~ Each lives in emotional turmoil.
~Unimaginably terrible things dog their every step.
~Both are cruel and ready for any violence.
~Sexual violence is one of them.
~They are killers.
~They hate categorically, each in his/her own new way.
~They are solaced by their crimes.
~ By definition, they are vengeful. They prowl about looking for revenge.
~They feel that they are at the center of things and appointed “to set it right” with their rough justice.
~ The madness attributed to them becomes a real possibility. Madness as strategy, or therapy.
In the end, both Hamlet and Lisbeth Salander work a sort of salvation, a transformation of the horror of their circumstances. Hamlet will be “saved” and given new life by his narrative, the “story of Hamlet” that Horatio will live to tell to the ages. Salander will live on in her money, on her stiletto heels and under a blonde wig-- in the millions upon millions of kronor she has stolen from an exposed criminal corporate giant she has destroyed, now a suicide. It is a two-headed coin. Either way we win, with a good story or with the cash.
But night or day, big or little, they are much the same character. Too dangerous to mess with. How interesting it is that we are so drawn to them both and yet would find living with either of them unbearable.