Barker, Walter L. “‘The heart of my mystery’: Emblematic Revelation in the Hamlet Play Scene.” Upstart Crow 15 (1995): 75-98.

ART / HISTORY OF IDEAS / MOUSETRAP

In an effort to “explicate the coherence of the Hamlet play scene and the function of The Murther of Gonzago,” this essay proposes “a description of the scene in the context of emblematic theatre” (75). Artistically, an emblem “both represents some phenomena or human experience and interprets it in the context of Neoplatonic truths, patterns, principles, etc., which the Elizabethans in general held to be universal” (75). By inserting an emblem (e.g., masque), Shakespeare “exploits” the “interplay of limited and omniscient points of view” in order “to provide his theatrical audience with an interpretive context for the stage audience’s behavior in both the play scene and the drama as a whole” (76). Hamlet’s discussions on theater with Polonius, Horatio, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the players prepare theatergoers for (and alert them to) the emblematic presentation in the play scene. The dumb-show “represents and interprets stage audience behavior by delineating a psychomachia model of human nature which compels the interplay of value oriented and passion driven responses to lost love in all human beings” (86). In comparison, the dialogue of the Player-King and Player-King provides “voices for the conflicting principles through which transcendental Love shapes the Psychomachia responses to lost love in human nature” (91). The Murther of Gonzago, as “a figurative mirror of macrocosmic principle and microcosmic human nature,” “delineates the variable pattern of moral reductiveness, ‘passionate actions,’ and slanderous misreadings in which all human beings, individually and collectively, act out blind and poisoning responses to lost love” (91). Aside from the various emotional, spiritual, and mental poisonings in Hamlet, the final scene stages “a dance macabre of literal poisonings—by sword and cup, by intent and mischance, feigned and overt, forced and accidental, single and double—in which the characters complete their tragic destruction of each other” (96). “Seen historically, Shakespeare’s use of The Murther of Gonzago masque demonstrates that he thought and wrote in the modes of emblematic and Neoplatonic discourse that dominated Elizabethan art and sensibilities, and that he was very good at it” (96).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Painted Women: Annunciation Motifs in Hamlet.” Comparative Drama 32 (1998): 47-84.

ART / HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA / THEOLOGICAL

After exploring the representations of Annunciation in art and religion, this essay argues “that Hamlet’s parodies and distortions of a rich array of traditional Annunciation motifs are set ironically but not didactically against his tendency to trust his own reason and to assert his own will against the inscrutable will of God” (58). The nunnery scene, with Ophelia manipulated into the posturing of a pseudo Mary, merits intense focus. For example, the curtains that Claudius and Polonius hide behind are, by the late sixteenth century, “quite commonly a part of Annunciation iconography” (63). Such “distorted and parodied Annunciation motifs inform the impossible miracles that Hamlet demands of Ophelia and Gertrude, his maid and his mother,” as only Mary can fulfill both roles chastely (67). While evidence in the text suggests Ophelia’s virginity, the maid is “only a poor imitation of the thing itself,” of Mary (73): she is “a victim rather than a hero,” “used, manipulated, betrayed” (72). Hamlet too is unlike Mary due to “his distrust of God’s Providence” (73) and his rejection of “the traditional Christian scheme of fall and redemption” (74). Although Hamlet “is never painted simply in Mary’s image” (76), he “is moving at the end of the play, inexorably if also inconsistently, towards letting be, ‘rest’ in a ‘silence,’ a wisdom, of Marian humility” (77).

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Iwasaki, Soji. “Hamlet and Melancholy: An Iconographical Approach.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 37-55.

ART / HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

This argument interprets Hamlet as Shakespeare’s “play of Saturn in that the Saturnine atmosphere of melancholy and death, initially brought by the ghost of the dead King Hamlet in the opening scene, is dominant throughout” (37). The play’s combinations of doomsday/prelapsarian paradise, light/darkness, mirth/mourning, time/timeless (38), uncle/father, aunt/mother, appearance/reality, (40), and order/chaos cause Hamlet to slip into melancholy and to suffer from “disillusionment and doubt” (41). His posture of melancholy replicates that of “the classical Saturn on which is based the icon of melancholy in Renaissance art”: a figure who is “supposed to be of a melancholy humour, sinister, fond of solitude and to dislike women” (39). But Hamlet matures. After experiencing “God while at sea,” Hamlet “is now ready to accept whatever should come” (44). Although the final scene “is a dramatic version of the Triumph of Death,” Hamlet perceives that “this scene of so many deaths is neither the triumph of Death nor that of Fortune” (45). Because of his “readiness,” Hamlet “finally transcends the life of meditation to attain a higher ideal—meditation and action synthesized” (46). Hamlet achieves the ideal of the Renaissance, but the real tragedy is that his life “is so brief” (47).

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Nojima, Hidekatsu. “The Mirror of Hamlet.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 21-35.

ART / HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / NEW HISTORICISM

This article approaches Hamlet as a play reflective of the Renaissance’s “discovery of perspective” (21). A survey of innovations in visual and literary arts shows that “the discovery of an individual point of view necessarily brings about a subjective or relativistic perception of the world” (24). In Hamlet, the Prince, “after his mother’s re-marriage, becomes a prisoner of ‘the curious perspective’ in which ‘everything seems double’” (28): “The ‘conscience’ (consciousness) of Hamlet caught in the collusion of these double-images [e.g., reality/dream, waking/sleeping, action/inaction, reason/madness] is imprisoned in a labyrinth of mirrors” (28-29). In the curious perspective, the revenging hero (by feigning madness) doubles as the fool; hence, Hamlet’s motives for revenge are “undermined by the complicity of the Fool with the Hero which necessarily reduces all to absurdity or nothing” (30). The “‘good’ or ‘bad’ is nothing but an anamorphosis reflected in the curious perspective of Hamlet’s inner world” (30). The structure of this play “is likewise a labyrinth of mirrors. Various themes echo with one another like images reflected between mirrors” (31). Examples include the multiple models of the father/son relationship and the revenge theme. In addition, “Almost all the characters are spies in Hamlet,” further suggesting the curious perspective; the recurrent poison theme also seems “reflected in the mirror” (32). All of the plotting characters become ensnared in their own traps, because “reflexives of plotting and plotter are nothing but an image in the reflector” (33). Adding to the complexity, the dramatic genre leaves Hamlet “to the liberty and responsibility of an actor’s or an audience’s or a reader’s several curious perspective” (34).

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Peterson, Kaara. “Framing Ophelia: Representation and the Pictorial Tradition.” Mosaic 31.3 (1998): 1-24.

ART / FEMINISM / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA

This essay strives “to position Ophelia’s dual representational history more precisely within both art-historical and dramatic-critical frameworks” (2). While eighteenth-century Shakespearean painters generally limited Ophelia to the unstressed presence of a group, the mid-nineteenth-century artists increasingly focused on the moments of Ophelia’s drowning. Interestingly, the original source of this scene is presented as a second-hand account of events, reducing Gertrude’s narrative to a “ventriloquized history” (8). Regardless of textual authority, visual artists consistently use standard conventions of Ophelia’s death scene (e.g., dress, flowers, water) from the nineteenth century to the present. According to the work of Elisabeth Bronfen, the merger of the feminine body and death threaten masculinity with “radical instability” (18); hence, visual artists prevent their Ophelias from looking truly dead. Ironically, the image of Ophelia, “a Shakespeare-brand product,” is currently being misapplied to unrelated materials (e.g., souvenirs, CD covers)—creating “an issue precisely of non-referentiality” (20). After arguing that Ophelia’s literary and visual bodies converge, this article concludes that “Ophelia’s complete story” can only be discerned from the original source, the text (22-23).

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Ronk, Martha C. “Representations of Ophelia.” Criticism 36 (1994): 21-43.

ART / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA / PSYCHOANALYTIC

Perceiving Ophelia as a mix of emblem and the projection of others, this dense article sets out to discover what Ophelia’s “representation represents” by focusing on the report of her drowning (23). Emblematic and allegorical characteristics of the speech reveal some insight into Ophelia—the means particular to a historical period when “the emblematic was a received mode of perceiving the world” (27). But like emblem books of the period, the combination of the visual and verbal still leaves much unarticulated. Another component in the speech is the speaker, Queen Gertrude, who becomes an appropriate substitute for Ophelia based on their shared gender and roles within the patriarchy. While Gertrude offers a “dispassionate description” of the drowning (29), she also becomes linked to Ophelia’s passive volition. The questioning of Gertrude’s involvement in Ophelia’s death (and Hamlet Sr.’s) provides reiteration of an insistent question within the play: “what it means not to know what is going on” (31). As Gertrude “leisurely relates” Ophelia’s demise, this ekphrastic moment presents a brief “stillness” within the play before the plot rushes to tragic fulfillment (32). The resulting ramifications elicit contemplation from the audience and move Ophelia “out of narrative and into some ‘cosmic order’” (34). As emblem (and myth) Ophelia possesses the capacity to arouse fear, referring to Freud’s “The Uncanny.” Her “ekphrastic presence” implies “the impossibility of more than seeing what the viewer ‘could not have seen’ . . . to an audience intent on viewing what is not there” (38).

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All information Copyright © 2002-2007 Harmonie Blankenship
Contact the author at h.blankenship@hamlethaven.com