1) There is no successful ‘objective correlative’ in the play Hamlet, thereby rendering it an artistic failure.
2) The character of Hamlet is dominated by a disgust with his mother that is inexpressible.
3) This emotion of his is in excess of the facts of the case.
An investigation of these three contentions should almost surely prove profitable in our classsrooms, particularly since, correct or not, they strike immediately at the heart of the play.
If we accept Eliot’s definition of the ‘objective correlative’ (OC) as being what it is, and as necessary to a successful work of art, we may be forced to agree with him. Hamlet is, first and foremost, a play of language, a play on language. There is less visceral imagery than in Macbeth, to be sure; this is primarily because Hamlet is a tragedy of thought, whereas Macbeth is a tragedy of action. (This is why, though we may be more terrorized by the events in Macbeth, we don’t leave the theater feeling we truly know the titular character. The same cannot be said for Hamlet. We know this melancholy Dane.)
The OC must come in to play when the writer desires to have forces of nature and/or man encircle the protagonist, swirl through his very being, and point dramatically to the dark tensions within. In Hamlet, the protagonist routinely, some would say obsessively, confides in us, shares his innermost fears and desires. To a large extent, Hamlet is his own force of nature, and his own reckoning.
At the same time, there are plenty of OCs in the play, if we need them. The very motif/action of ‘the play within the play’ at III, ii, serves more than nicely as an outward form of things pointing, like a finger at the moon, to essential thematic concerns. The Ghost, too, while a character in his own right, may also be used symbolically as an emotional referent.
As for Hamlet’s inexpressible disgust, I’m not entirely sure what Eliot is on about. The Queen’s closest scene between Gertrude and Hamlet (after “More light!”), Hamlet’s own soliloquized thoughts on the subject, more than serve to furnish us (and himself) with a reasonable understanding of his tortured psychology.
Are his emotions in excess? From a ‘naturalist’ perspective, perhaps. From the perspective of traditional dramatic art? By no means; in fact, Shakespeare takes great pains to portray a young man doubly haunted: by his mother’s actions, as well as by his father’s death. When Hamlet knows for sure it was his uncle, Claudius, who murdered his father, a trebly-pronged attack of emotion begins. Powerful forces of self-judgement and -castigation are arrayed. Hamlet becomes at once an animal of mere emotion, in addition to, paradoxically, a world-weary, woeful rationalist.