Audience Response

Barrie, Robert. “Telmahs: Carnival Laughter in Hamlet.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 83-100.


This essay approaches Hamlet “as his own Fool,” who “can be seen to subvert Hamlet so thoroughly as to reduce to laughter the very idea of serious tragedy” (83). A review of concurring critics (e.g., Levin, Graves, McGee, Wiles, Bristol) provides some basis for this argument. Theater history suggests changes in theatrical conventions to explain why Hamlet’s laughter has been subverted: while Elizabethan audiences were encouraged to “participate,” modern audiences fear making a faux pas and suffer from the social constraints of an elitist forum (91). Perhaps Elizabethan audiences would have perceived Hamlet’s “insults to the groundlings” as “rough intimacies” (92), laughing at the ritualistic sacrifice of the fool in carnivalesque style and at Horatio’s suggestion of singing angels (94). Hamlet “appears to erase itself not merely through metadrama or other linguistics-based critical theory, but through the laughter of Death, which is not satirical laughter but the inclusive, absolute, all-affirming, feasting, social laughter of the folk (all the people), the laughter of carnival” (97).

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Brooks, Jean R. “Hamlet and Ophelia as Lovers: Some Interpretations on Page and Stage.” Aligorh Critical Miscellany 4.1 (1991): 1-25.


This essay asserts that “Getting Ophelia right involves, by implication, Hamlet’s love relationship with her, and a re-examination of the question, in what sense they can be considered as ‘lovers’” (1). While literary scholars frequently get Ophelia wrong, actors and directors (e.g., Olivier, Jacobi) also make mistakes, such as altering the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy and negating textual evidence of Ophelia’s chastity. Actors also tend to stereotype Ophelia, whether as the “unchaste young woman” (e.g., West) (8) or as “more child than woman” (e.g., Mirren, McEwan, Tutin) (10). In actuality, the text purports “a well-disciplined Renaissance woman,” “a young woman, not a child, with her ‘chaste treasure unopen’d’ but at the peak of sexual attractiveness, because the key to the nunnery and play scenes lies in the difference between what the audience sees on stage and what Hamlet sees in his mind’s eye” (12-13). He projects “on to the innocent and—as the audience can see—unpainted Ophelia the disgust he feels at his mother’s sexual sins” (13) and the self-disgust he feels for inheriting “original sin” from his parents (14). But his ordering of her to a nunnery “suggests a kind of love that makes Hamlet wish to preserve Ophelia’s goodness untouched” (15). Ultimately, “it is Hamlet who rejects Ophelia, not Ophelia who rejects Hamlet” (15-16). But her “constant love gives positive counterweight, for the audience, to Hamlet’s too extreme obsession with the processes of corruption” (17). The “good that Ophelia’s constant love does for her lover, from beyond the grave, is to affirm his commitment to the human condition he had wished to deny” (21). Beside her grave, Hamlet belatedly testifies to his love for Ophelia, acknowledging “the good in human nature that Ophelia had lived for, and that Hamlet finally dies to affirm. Given the tragic unfulfilment of the human condition, could lovers do more for each other?” (23).

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Brown, John Russell. “Connotations of Hamlet’s Final Silence.” Connotations 2 (1992): 275-86.


This article responds to the criticism leveled at John Russell Brown’s “Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet,” particularly the charge of failure “to show how the wide range of meanings in the single last sentence was related to the whole of the play in performance” (275). This article insists that the Hamlet actor’s presence on stage and enactment of events provides the audience with a physical knowledge of Hamlet, void of the psychological dimension that ambiguous language camouflages. Hamlet’s wordplay is “an essential quality of his nature,” which remains intact during the process of his dying (275). While the original article’s dismissal of the “O, o, o, o” addition (present in the Folio after Hamlet’s last words) received negative responses from Dieter Mehl and Maurice Charney, this article argues that doubts of authenticity, authority, and dramatic effectiveness justify this decision. The physical death on stage and the verbal descriptions of Hamlet’s body also negate the need for a last-minute groan. Ultimately, the “stage reality” co-exists with words yet seems “beyond the reach of words”; hence, in Hamlet, Shakespeare created “a character who seems to carry within himself something unspoken and unexpressed . . . right up until the moment Hamlet dies” (285).

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Brown, John Russell. “Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet.” Connotations 2 (1992): 16-33.


Given that a tragedy excites an audience’s interest in the hero’s private consciousness, this article asks, “Has Shakespeare provided the means, in words or action, whereby this hero [Hamlet] comes, at last, to be ‘denoted truly’?” (18). Throughout Hamlet, the protagonist speaks ambiguously. His linguistic trickery only heightens the audience’s anticipation of resolution (and revelation of Hamlet’s inner thoughts). Yet the last line of the dying Prince—“the rest is silence” (5.2.363)—proves particularly problematic, with a minimum of five possible readings. For example, Shakespeare perhaps speaks through Hamlet, “telling the audience and the actor that he, the dramatist, would not, or could not, go a word further in the presentation of this, his most verbally brilliant and baffling hero” (27); the last lines of Troilus and Cressida, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and Love’s Labor’s Lost suggest a pattern of this authorial style. While all five readings are plausible, they are also valuable, allowing audience and actor to choose an interpretation. This final act of multiplicity seems fitting for a protagonist “whose mind is unconfined by any single issue” (31).

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Clary, Frank Nicholas. “‘The very cunning of the scene’: Hamlet’s Divination and the King’s Occulted Guilt.” Hamlet Studies 18.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1996): 7-28.


This essay argues that “contemporary circumstances would have enabled late Elizabethan and early Jacobean audiences to recognize Hamlet’s Mousetrap play as an evocation of the theatricalized divinations of English ‘cunning men’” (8). Reports of “cunning men” and “cunning women” (a.k.a. sorcerers and witches) reveal that these people were once popular in England and that they performed ritualistic functions—such as detecting guilt in criminals. Hamlet’s Mousetrap duplicates methods of ceremony used by the “cunning,” suggesting his occultism; his language, particularly in the soliloquy following The Murder of Gonzago, implies that the Prince has been instructed “in that devilish art” (11). He becomes “a mimic celebrant in an inversion ritual,” which is “a perverse imitation of the method of sacramental atonement” (12). The Jacobean audiences would have recognized Hamlet as a “cunning man” because of King James’s active persecution of sorcerers and witches, as well as his publications on the evils of occultism, perhaps explaining the renewed popularity of this revenge tragedy (14). Fortunately, Hamlet leaves his sinister education at sea and returns from his voyage with a new faith in Christian tenets (e.g., providence). When Hamlet does strike against Claudius, “he reacts spontaneously as an instrument of divine retribution” (15), “proves his readiness and confirms his faith” (16). By reworking the legend of Amleth, Shakespeare “removes Hamlet from the clutches of the devil by having him place himself in the hands of providence” (15). This tragic drama “ultimately transcends the practical concerns of politics and exorcises the occultism of the blacker arts” (16).

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Dickson, Lisa. “The Hermeneutics of Error: Reading and the First Witness in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 19.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1997): 64-77.


While occasionally using Hamlet productions to describe the potential audience experience, this article posits that Claudius and Hamlet “are engaged in a border conflict where power is linked to the ability to control the dissemination of information, the passage of knowledge across the boundary between private and public” (65). While Hamlet “is about the hermeneutic task,” its “circles within circles” of overt and covert interpreters, of stage and theater audiences (65), displace “Truth” “along the line of multiple and multiplying perspectives” (66). Using his “wit and word-play, to deflect the hermeneutic onslaught, Hamlet mobilizes his own interpretive strategies under the cover of the antic disposition, where madness, collapsing the categories of the hidden and the apparent, allows him to hide in plain sight” (67). Likewise, Claudius attempts “to hide in plain sight” by providing the court with a reading of recent events “that he hopes will neutralize [and silence] Hamlet’s threat and control the dissemination and reception of the facts” of his own crime(s), as evident in act one, scene two (68). Although Claudius and Hamlet struggle to maintain the “borders of silence and speech, public and private, hidden and apparent,” they inevitably fail (69-70). In the nunnery scene, in which Hamlet is aware of the spies behind the curtain in most productions (e.g., 1992 BBC Radio’s, Zeffirelli’s, Hall’s), he attempts to hide behind his antic disposition, but the seeming truth in his anger suggests an “explosion” and “collision” between his “inner and outer worlds” (71). Claudius “suffers a similar collapse”: “his hidden self erupting to the public view out of the body of the player-Lucianus” (73). Claudius and Hamlet are also alike in their problematic perspectives: Hamlet’s “desire to prove the Ghost honest and justify his revenge shapes his own ‘discovery’ of Claudius” (74); and Claudius’ “reading of his [Hamlet’s] antic disposition is complicated by his own guilt” (72). “Within the circles upon circles of watching faces, the disease in Hamlet may well be the maddening proliferation of Perspectives on Hamlet, where the boundaries constructed between public and private selves collapse under the power of the gaze” (75).

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Dollerup, Cay. “’Filters’ in Our Understanding of Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 13 (1991): 50-63.


This article argues that although any treatment of Hamlet (e.g., performance, reading, interpretation) reflects individual views, the act of filtering is “an integral and indissoluble part of Shakespeare’s play” (50). For modern audiences, some filters prove involuntary, such as the loss of historical relevance and of dramatic anticipation. Some prove necessary, like the cutting of lines and scenes for performance. While textual modifications can alter Hamlet’s characters (e.g., Polonius), themes (e.g., death, love), emphasis (e.g., revenge), and imagery (e.g., botany), each individual’s decision can lead to new insights, experiences, and interpretations. Ultimately, “as receptors of the artefact, as editors, critics, as directors and actors, as audience or readers, the artefact forces us to take a stand on a number of points on which we simply cannot reach an agreement”—and perhaps Shakespeare never expected/intended us to (63).

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Evans, Robert C. “Friendship in Hamlet.” Comparative Drama 33 (1999): 88-124.


This article modestly hopes to establish the general importance of friendship in Hamlet by showing its presence throughout the entire play (88). The opening scene initiates the play’s theme: Barnardo, Francisco, and Horatio begin to form a bond, which is strengthened by the shared experience of the Ghost’s appearance. The interaction among these friends works dramatically to contrast sharply with Hamlet’s social isolation in the following scene and to present Horatio with the potential of becoming a good friend to Hamlet. The friendship between Hamlet and Horatio that develops throughout the play eloquently culminates in the final scene; but the Hamlet/Horatio relationship is not the only example of friendship treated. Ophelia / Laertes, Hamlet / Rosencrantz / Guildenstern, Hamlet / Ghost, Hamlet / players, Claudius / Laertes, the gravediggers, as well as Hamlet / Laertes all receive attention. Line-by-line analysis of dialogue among these friends, potential friends, and false friends highlights linguistic ambiguity; but the multiple meanings behind every word “illustrates the difficulty of making clear, unambiguous interpretations of others’ motives—a difficulty relevant to the friendship theme” (105). Through their interactions, Shakespeare’s characters “easily seem as complex as our own friends or ourselves” (119).

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Goldman, Michael. “Hamlet: Entering the Text.” Theatre Journal 44 (1992): 449-60.


While suggesting “that drama may provide, at least in some respects, the more illuminating case of the encounter with writing,” this article explores Shakespeare’s treatment of the person/text “negotiation” in Hamlet (449). Through “the dynamism of performance, script and actor become inseparable” (450) because “scriptedness” and “improvisation” merge on stage (450). This “interplay of script and improvisation” underlies the call to revenge in Hamlet: the Ghost “seems to provide a clear cut script for his son,” but Hamlet’s “path to revenge is tortuous, filled with improvised diversions and digressions” (452). While “the play explores” the “necessary relation” between “scriptedness” and “improvisation,” it is also “concerned . . . with what’s involved in entering into a script” (452). Hamlet “regularly reenacts the basic scene that takes place when an actor prepares or performs a part,” the “entry into the text” (453), such as the replaying of a situation (e.g., Old Hamlet’s murder) (453). While such a metadramatic “acting exercise” (453) suggests one method of entering the text, “a concern with the stability and instability of texts runs through the play” (454). Hamlet’s sense “of a tense and uncertain relation to a text, which exacts both commitment and risky departure, may have had a special relevance to the circumstances of Elizabethan dramatic production” (455) because the performance of an Elizabethan play momentarily “stabilized the uncertain mix of possibilities contained in the playhouse manuscript” (456). The play’s exploration of “play-acting and the relation of texts and scripts to performance may also be reflective of “the larger problematic of human action” that Hamlet experiences and, ultimately, comes to terms with: “human action itself, like the performance of an actor, is an intervention, an entry into something very like a script, a text of interwoven actions, an entry that, though it raises the central questions of human choice and responsibility, can never be made in full knowledge or confidence about the ultimate result of that choice” (457). This article recommendation is “to conceive of this critical relation . . . of reader and text, in a way that acknowledges something of that importance which is felt by all who are drawn to literature—as a relation of commitment, a relation of responsibility, a relation certainly requiring the focus of one’s full bodily life on something which is not oneself, a relation constrained by time and history and the need for choice, but above all a relation of adventure” (460).

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Gorfain, Phyllis. “Toward a Theory of Play and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 13 (1991): 25-49. [Reprinted in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism (1994) and in Ronald Knowles’ Shakespeare and Carnival: After Bakhtin (1998).]


Drawing heavily on Bakhtin’s understanding of carnivalesque, this article approaches Hamlet “as Shakespeare’s most ludic and metatheatrical tragedy” (26). The “carnivalesque in Hamlet intensifies its complex tragic mode” (27), as the “irreversible and vertical movement of tragic form joins to the reversible and horizontal continuum of carnival in Hamlet to produce the double vision” (28). “The alliance of linear consequence with cyclical carnivalesque reversibility becomes most evident in the final act of Hamlet”: on the one hand, the play “concludes with a carnivalesque fearlessness and freedom as Hamlet decides to engage in an open-ended fencing match”; but, on the other hand, it “also concludes with a devastating finality when the cheating and intrigue of Claudius defeat this ludic spirit” (31). “This consolidation of irreversible history and reversible art matches other patterns of assertion and denial in the play” (31), such as “wordplay (punning, witty literalism, clownish malapropism, word corruptions, nonsense)” (31) and storytelling (which “in Hamlet then replaces revenge)” (29). The repetitive presentation of Old Hamlet’s murder, through narrative, mime, and performance, demonstrates how the “self-reflexive play with the boundaries between event and representation, past and present, subjunctive and actual, audience and performers defines and dissolves the differences between the world of the play and the world of the theater” (29). “As carnival obscures the differences between performers and audience, blending us all in a comedic vision of performance culture, so Hamlet uses its reflexive ending to make us observers of our own observing, objects of our own subjective knowledge, inheritors of the playful knowledge paradox” (43)—and “the noblest” audience (5.21.88).

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Halverson, John. “The Importance of Horatio.” Hamlet Studies 16 (1994): 57-70.


By analyzing the role of Horatio, this essay attempts to show that “Shakespeare had a much clearer and fuller conception of the part than is usually granted and that he developed the character with care and skill, though by extraordinarily minimal means, for a significant purpose” (57). Inconsistencies in this character receive clarification, using textual evidence (e.g., age, knowledge, relationship with Hamlet at Wittenburg). Although Horatio seems expendable in Hamlet’s plot development, “Shakespeare evidently thought him important enough to invent the character (probably) and have him dominate both the opening and closing scenes” (62). Horatio is also invested with the favorable qualities of learning, courage, loyalty, and candor; he appears as the “disinterested witness” (63), who speaks directly and “virtually compels trust” (64). The strong bond that Horatio forms with Hamlet encourages the audience to vicariously follow suit. Without Horatio, the audience would be suspicious of rather than sympathetic with Hamlet. Reducing Horatio to merely Hamlet’s foil/confidant belittles the importance of the role and Shakespeare’s artistry. Although “Horatio is more stageworthy than ‘text worthy’” due to his frequently silent-yet-important presence as witness (67), Shakespeare “created the role, and with few but sure strokes of his theatrical brush, endowed it with complete credibility” (68).

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Harris, Arthur John. “Ophelia’s ‘Nothing’: ‘It is the false steward that stole his master’s daughter.’” Hamlet Studies 19.1-2 (Summer-Winter 1997): 20-46.


While exploring what J. Max Patrick calls “the ‘erotic estimate’ of Ophelia,” this essay argues that audiences “are to suspect Claudius himself as the principle cause of Ophelia’s madness and death; specifically, that at some point shortly before her madness there has been a liaison between the two, that she has been sexually abused, and that he has been not only the sexual predator but also the one who ‘dispatched’ (1.5.75) Ophelia to her grave” (21). In Hamlet, Shakespeare creates “a world that one senses is somehow thoroughly contaminated” and a pervasive “sense of uncertainty, suspicion, and doubt” (22). The ambiguity surrounding Ophelia contributes to this aesthetic project. For example, the “sexually suggestive language” of her mad songs (e.g., tricks, hems, beats, spurns) encourages audiences to “suspect misfortune” (24). In addition, her statement, “It is the false steward that stole his master’s daughter” (4.5.171-72), strongly implicates the King as the thief. Upon hearing these words, Laertes suspects “This nothing’s more than matter” (4.5.173). But the King, Ophelia’s frequent interrupter, attributes Ophelia’s behavior to excessive grief. In actuality, the mad scene presents evidence that Ophelia has been sexually abused by the King (31). Further proof appears in “the curious (and obvious) stress upon sexual imagery” in Gertrude’s report of Ophelia’s drowning (35), the gravedigger’s exposition on the uncertainty of the death and cryptic ballad (which seems intentionally altered from the original to raise suspicions), and the priest’s oddly timed stress on Ophelia’s chastity. Perhaps “the formation of suspicions—without sufficient evidence as proof—is exactly what Shakespeare intends to elicit” (24). But, while Horatio is responsible for telling Hamlet’s story, audiences are responsible for “‘hearing’ Ophelia’s story” (42).

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Hunt, Maurice. “Art of Judgement, Art of Compassion: The Two Arts of Hamlet.” Essays in Literature 18 (1991): 3-20.


This article uses the Troy playlet, which Hamlet requests of a player, and The Murder of Gonzago to argue two points: “Shakespeare’s idea of the relevance of mimetic art for the past and future,” and “Shakespeare’s conception of the humane use of his tragic art” (3). The Troy playlet seems an odd choice for Hamlet because it displaces sympathy from the avenger to his victim; but, for Shakespeare, its blending of vengeance and compassion seems to imply that art does not mirror life, it refines human experience. Although Hamlet initially praises the Troy performance, his hunger for revenge overrules his appreciation of art. He misuses art in The Mousetrap scene, with the utilitarian hope of detecting guilt and without recognition of the form’s power to influence/transform will. The player king recommends human compassion, but Hamlet only judges others. His (unmerited) condemnation of Gertrude leads him to fail in his goals with The Mousetrap. While Hamlet remains unmoved by The Murder of Gonzago, the theater audience is encouraged to join him in scrutinizing Claudius’ (and Gertrude’s) reaction. York’s skull offers another example of Shakespeare’s metadramatic commentary because it “resembles dramatic tragedy in its effect upon certain viewers” (14). After shifting from pity for to criticism of the skull, Hamlet exploits the object as “an iconographically stereotyped battering ram in the Prince’s campaign against women” (14). The skull is misused, just like The Murder of Gonzago. In the course of Hamlet, the protagonist harshly assesses others who seem deserving of pity but never questions the Ghost, who is suffering for previous crimes. Hamlet’s judgement reminds the audience “of what makes his experience tragic, and of what we might attempt to avoid in our lives beyond the theater” (16).

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Kim, Jong-Hwan. “Waiting for Justice: Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Elizabethan Ethics of Revenge.” English Language and Literature 43 (1997): 781-97.


“This study focuses on the Elizabethan ethics concerning revenge and the meaning of Hamlet’s waiting for justice or delaying for revenge and its meaning will be discussed with reference to the Elizabethan ethics of revenge” (782). Shakespeare endows the Ghost with ambiguity, mixing “personal vindictiveness” with a “concern for Gertrude” (782), and Elizabethan audiences “regarded the ghost which keeps on urging to revenge as a devil” (783). Naturally, Hamlet has suspicions “about the nature of the Ghost as Elizabethans did, and it is natural that he waits for revenge until he confirms the credibility of the Ghost’s statements” (782). While The Mousetrap elicits proof of the Ghost’s accusations, the “command to revenge still contains ethical problems in terms of the Elizabethan ethics” (784): “All Elizabethan orthodoxy condemned and punished personal revenge” (785). But Shakespeare’s contemporary audience was still influenced by a residual pagan revenge ethic which commanded a person to avenge the murder of a family member. Perhaps Shakespeare “hoped to appeal to audiences’ instinct” by presenting an individual’s “struggle against ruthless revenge and his reluctance to be the conventional revenger” (788). Fortunately, the “contradiction between the official code of the Elizabethan ethics of revenge and the popular code of revenge is resolved” in the final scene of the play (794). Hamlet appears as “an agent to practice the public revenge or justice through the hand of Providence, when Claudius’ crime was exposed to public. Through this device, Shakespeare made the Elizabethan audiences sympathize strongly with Hamlet’s final action; he abstains from ruthless vengeance. His action might have had their emotional approval and not disturbed their moral judgement” (788). “Hamlet’s action of waiting for justice and delaying injustice, the core of his action, may be admired from either the Christian point of view or the view point of the Elizabethan ethics” (795).

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Matsuoka, Kazuko. “Metamorphosis of Hamlet in Tokyo.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 227-37.


Initially discussing Bergman’s Hamlet in Tokyo and other “daring, new interpretations of the play,” this essay attempts to explain why Japan “has had a long love-affair with Hamlet” (229). One explanation is that this tragedy possesses the most “references to foreign countries closely related to the plot and the life situations of the characters” in the Shakespearean canon, creating “an open basis” that fosters adoption/adaptation (232). Also, Hamlet’s “peculiarly modern sense of powerlessness” (232) may draw Japanese audiences because they feel powerless due to the bombardment of “the world’s troubles” through information networks (233). Also, the increasing life-span in Japan allows the older generation to retain (and to withhold) power from the younger generation (233). The modern Japanese people may see themselves “in Shakespeare’s image of a thirty-year-old ‘eternal’ prince” (233).

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McGuire, Philip C. “Bearing ‘A wary eye’: Ludic Vengeance and Doubtful Suicide in Hamlet.” From Page to Performance: Essays in Early English Drama. Ed. John Alford. East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1995. 235-53.


This essay explores how audiences and readers “find themselves engaged in judging and interpreting Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” (235). For example, in the final scene, how does Hamlet stab and poison Claudius? In what manner? Does he balance “reason and passion” during the act(s) (241)? Actors and directors must judge and interpret the ambiguous stage directions, as must audiences and readers. Fortinbras interprets the dead Hamlet to be a potential soldier in order to convert “his claim to the Danish throne into a political fact” (245); and Horatio interprets events “for reasons that are at least partly political”: “to avoid social and political disorder” (245-46). By ending with these “acts of interpretation and judgement,” Hamlet holds up “a mirror in which those who experience the play—in performance or on the page—can see the processes of interpretation and judgement in which they are themselves engaged” (246). Ophelia’s questionable demise provides one facet of this mirror, as several characters (e.g., grave diggers, priest) “impose certainty of judgement on what is ‘doubtful’” (248-49). “Hamlet is profoundly concerned with the specific judgements and interpretations one comes to, but it is also concerned, at least equally, with the processes by which they are reached” (250).

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Ratcliffe, Stephen. “What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Ghost’s Speech.” Modern Language Studies 28.3 (1998): 125-50.


This article argues “that Claudius did not murder his brother” and explores the Ghost’s account of its poisoning as the imaginings of “a world beyond the world of stage, a world of words in which the eye sees only what the ear hears, thereby sounding the limits of perception itself” (126). The death of Old Hamlet “is performed by means of words whose effect is to ‘show’ us what cannot be shown” (130). A detailed linguistic analysis of the Ghost’s account highlights how the Ghost’s words “enter (as the poison entered the Ghost’s body) not just Hamlet’s ears but ours as well” (143). The “experience of a multitude of casual, seemingly insignificant patterns of interaction among words in this speech” invites the audience/reader “to imagine and believe in something that doesn’t happen in the play”—except in words (147). While The Mousetrap’s dumbshow “echoes visually the Ghost’s acoustic representation of that same event” (133), Claudius’ response to it does not prove his guilt—nor does his supposed confession. Claudius’ private words provide “no details that would place him at the scene of the crime that afternoon” and use “a syntactic construction whose hypothetical logic casts more shadow of doubt than light of certainty over what he is actually saying” (135). And the confession comes from an unreliable source, a figure whose every action in the play has “everything to do with subterfuge and deception” (137). Perhaps, Claudius “is not speaking from the bottom of his heart, as one who prays presumably does, but rather in this stage performance of a prayer means to deceive God” (137). Besides, the “confession” from “this master of deception” (138) is for “a purely imaginary, hypothetical event that takes place outside of the play, beyond the physical boundaries of the stage” (139).

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Ratcliffe, Stephen. “What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Queen’s Speech.” Exemplaria 10 (1998): 123-44.


With a concentrated focus on Gertrude’s report of Ophelia’s drowning, this article explores “how something that doesn’t happen in Hamlet happens, how action that takes place off stage happens in the words the play uses to perform it” (125). The underlying hypothesis is that the drowning report suggests Gertrude’s involvement with Ophelia’s murder. Every word of the speech receives meticulous dissection and analysis—from the opening word there, which directs the audience’s attention to the play’s exterior, to the last word, as Ophelia vanishes in a “muddy death.” Plural meanings implied by audible homonyms and stark shifts in verbal descriptions appear when the progression of the lines is slowed to a snail’s pace. As each studied word provides suggestion and direction to the audience, a case against the Queen builds. For example, ‘the language of flowers’ used by Gertrude in the drowning report and by Ophelia in her madness creates “a relationship that in effect places them in close proximity” to each other, as the first is the speaker and the latter becomes “the object of her gaze, the person she herself [Gertrude] watched beside the stream” (130-31). Although the critic humbly acknowledges the inability to prove (or disprove) speculations about off stage events, a singular certainty remains: Gertrude, as the reporter of Ophelia’s demise, “removes her—in effect kills her—from the play” (144). Ophelia’s death provides a paradigm of all off stage events, in “a world of words” called the theater (144).

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Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of Hamlet. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1992.


Combining literary scholarship with interpretive performances, this monograph promises "a way to listen to and grasp the complex tones of Hamlet and the other characters" (x). Chapters follow the chronological order of the play, pausing to "discuss the important characters as they appear" (12). For example, the first chapter explores the opening scene's setting and events, as well as the variations staged in performances; the examination of this scene is briefly suspended for chapters on Horatio and the Ghost but continues in chapter four. This monograph clarifies dilemmas and indicates "the choices that have been made by actors and critics," but its actor-readers must decide for themselves (xi): "I believe this book will demonstrate that each actor-reader of you who engages with Hamlet's polyphony will uniquely experience the tones that fit your own polyphony" (x).

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Sanchez, Reuben. “‘Thou com’st in such a questionable shape’: Interpreting the Textual and Contextual Ghost in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 18.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1996): 65-84.


This article suggests “that in rendering the ‘shape’ of the Ghost ‘questionable,’ or indeterminate, Shakespeare has created a text that both resists and embraces context” (66). It begins with a survey of critical studies regarding the Ghost to show diversity “based on selective contexts” (68). A review of Levin’s and Fish’s explanations for such diversity finds that the two seemingly-opposite methodologies “complement one another in that neither argues that an understanding of context is irrelevant” (69). In a historical context, Hamlet’s Ghost, a spirit, is perceived as distinct from a soul, and Protestants “might very well suspect the spirit of having evil intentions” (71). But Hamlet “does not act as though he suspects the Ghost to be a devil” (at least not initially), and the scene of this first meeting may be even humorous (71-72). In the plays’ opening scene, the Ghost’s pattern of appearance / disappearance / reappearance conveys “the fright and curiosity, perhaps even the humor, but also the extreme confusion resulting from the Ghost’s appearances” (75). Also in this scene, Horatio, Barnardo, and Marcellus attempt to explain the ghostly visitations, representing “at least two different interpretive communities: Christian and Pagan” (75). The Ghost’s appearance in the closet scene is utilized to compare the Folio and the First Quarto, each text “indeterminate in and of itself, each indeterminate when compared to the other” (79). “Whether one speaks of text or context, however, Shakespeare seems to be interested in presenting a Ghost who conveys information and withholds information, a Ghost who educates and confuses, a Ghost who evokes terror and humor, a Ghost whose signification is both textual and contextual” (79).

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Simon, Bennett. “Hamlet and the Trauma Doctors: An Essay at Interpretation.” American Imago 58.3 (Fall 2001): 707-22.


After reviewing “several broad trends in the history of interpretation of the play” and locating “within those trends some dominant themes in psychoanalytic interpretation,” this essay offers a “late-twentieth-century psychoanalytic interpretation—both of Hamlet and Hamlet—based on trauma theory” (707). Trauma research provides insights pertinent to Hamlet: trauma victims often experience oscillations between numbness and overwhelming emotions, difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy, “a sense of unreality,” a sense that the “self and the world become loathsome,” a thirsting for revenge or scapegoat, and “a profound mistrust of the future” as well as of other people (e.g., family members, friends) (712). But “secrecy associated with a trauma is especially devastating” because secrets “combined with confusion about fact and fantasy often lead to incomplete or fragmented narratives”; “a story that cannot be told directly in narrative discourse finds expression through displacement, symbolization, and action” (713). In Hamlet, the protagonist’s trauma derives from his first encounter with the Ghost, which leaves Hamlet “both certain and uncertain” of his father’s death, his uncle’s responsibility, and his mother’s involvement (714). Following this meeting, Hamlet mutely expresses his story in Ophelia’s closet (717). His madness (perhaps more real than even Hamlet realizes) “is a symptom of the ‘feigning’ and deceit around him,” such as Claudius’ secrecy and Ophelia’s seeming betrayal (715). In comparison, Ophelia experiences various traumas, including “a web of half-truths, paternal attempts to deny her perceptions,” the loss of “male protection” (716), the secrecy surrounding her father’s murder (and her lover’s responsibility), as well as “the impossibility of any kind of open grieving or raging—let alone discussion” (715-16). While her “feelings are consistently ignored and she is silenced,” Ophelia’s madness “is focused on her speaking in such a way that she cannot be ignored” (715). In this “aura of a traumatized environment,” the theater audience must “live with a discomforting set of ambiguities” that Horatio’s promised narrative cannot entirely clarify (717).

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Stevenson, Ruth. “Hamlet’s Mice, Motes, Moles, and Minching Malecho.” New Literary History 33 (2002): 435-59.


This article refers to Hamlet “as a ‘poem’” (435), while tracing the “metaphoric permutations” (437) of the “mole” (1.4.24 and 1.5.170) within “the drama of words” (438). It offers “a brief explanation, first, about Shakespeare’s use of poetry itself and, second, about the implications of this use for his audience” (435). Within Hamlet, “the blank verse assimilates unto itself the circular interiority of the lyric impulse”; the “fusion into a single tragic consciousness of these two mediums, assimilative blank verse and prose, as components of Hamlet’s internal organization and network of figurative interaction, comprises the poetry of the play” (436). “The most significant generic issue in responding to Shakespeare’s text” seems “in discriminating between seeing a drama/poem and reading it” (436) because “the ideal process for audiences might consist of these three parts: first, to see and experience the predominant dramatic elements of plot and character; second, to read and identify the salient elements of metaphoric interaction; third, to meld the read play into the seen play, so that it affects an audience with terrific subliminal force” (437). “The read play [. . .] conveys this force through the verbal relationships derived from the most important metaphor in the play, the double figure of the mole” (437). This article “explores how the poem works within its own linguistic action and in particular how its metaphoric language instigates and disseminates correlative metaphors whose interactions shape the consciousness of Hamlet through four principal aesthetic activities. (1) From the first lines of the play, words stir and stretch out to other words that acquire metaphoric power and develop momentum”;

(2) Through the use of literary illusions the linguistics process extends and illuminates the nature of Hamlet’s emotions. (3) As it does so, it presses towards primitive sources of life that traverse Hamlet’s mind and eventually alter his imagination. (4) This metaphoric process carries the play past its dramatic plot boundaries not to a progression of cultural history but to a far more impassive, inhuman celebration of metamorphic force” (438). 

The “mole metaphor comes full circle”: in the play’s final scene, Hamlet’s “life through the words of the play which have comprised his consciousness and through the words that Horatio will use to tell his story in a perpetual future becomes itself a subliminal mole, spreading as read play fuses into the seen play of dramatic enactment to be part of the psyche of every audience past, present, and to come” (456).

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Thompson, Ann and Neil Taylor. William Shakespeare: Hamlet. Writers and Their Works. Plymouth: Northcote House, 1996.


This text begins with a questioning of Hamlet's status within the canon. Although other Shakespearean tragedies (e.g., King Lear) have threatened to displace Hamlet in the past, its position currently seems secure. The section titled "Which Hamlet?" discusses the Folio/Quartos debate, as well as how understanding of the play's meanings and values vary "according to the reader, the actor or the audience" (17). The third chapter examines Hamlet "as a self-contained fiction which takes history and politics as part of its subject matter" and "as a late-Elizabethan play which can be seen in relation to the history and politics of its own time" (23). The next section explores rhetoric in the play, such as how all of the characters seem to speak in the same linguistic style and how some quotes from the play "have passed into common usage," creating challenges for performers (33). The chapter on gender examines the history of female Hamlets, questions of Hamlet's sex/gender, the play's female characters, and feminism's influence on the study of this tragedy. "The Afterlife of Hamlet" discusses how editors, actors, and directors "have added to the multiplicity of Hamlets by cutting and rearranging that text" (52), how the drama has been adapted to popular mediums, and how it has been appropriated for political purposes in various countries. The conclusion foresees an optimistic future for Hamlet, and assortment of illustrations and a select bibliography round out the monograph.

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Uéno, Yoshiko. “Three Gertrude’s: Text and Subtext.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 155-68.


This essay examines “ambiguities inherent in Hamlet, or gaps between the text and subtext, with special attention to Gertrude’s representation” (156). Rather than possessing autonomy, the Queen exists only in relation to Claudius and Hamlet; she also refuses to choose between the two men, revealing “her malleability” (158). Hence, the lack of critical appreciation of Gertrude seems understandable. Although the closet scene should offer the greatest opportunity for insight into Gertrude’s character, it leaves too many unanswered questions: does she know of Claudius’ involvement in Hamlet, Sr.’s death? Is she guilty of infidelity with Claudius before this murder? Further uncertainties are raised by the scene’s presentation of two Gertrudes: “Gertrude herself and the Gertrude seen from Hamlet’s perspective” (161). Such confusion leads today’s audiences to share in Hamlet’s confrontation “with the disintegration of reality” (162). But the original audience at the Globe may have had the advantages of after-images, preconceived notions of Hamlet informed by myth and legend. A survey of plausible literary sources (e.g., Historiae Danicae, Agamemnon, Histoires tragiques), with emphasis on the evolving “transformations of Gertrude,” presents “a wide range of variants” that Elizabethan audiences may have drawn on to resolve the ambiguities struggled with today (166).

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Wagner, Valeria. “Losing the Name of Action.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 135-52.


This article proposes that the “instability of Hamlet” encourages readers/critics to feel as if their readings of the play are “new” (136) and to make omissions/additions with elements of the play (e.g., acts, protagonists, words) because alterations “are encouraged, if not demanded, by the text itself” (137). For example, Horatio’s retelling of events is a “correct and corrective reading” (138). Ophelia’s “interpretation” of Hamlet’s actions in her closet is also demonstrative: although his silent gesturing “actually denies her access to him, his meaning and his language” (143), Ophelia struggles “to render Hamlet’s actions intelligible, mainly by attributing purposes to them”; Hamlet as subject temporarily “disappears in the ‘sight’ of his ‘acts’” (144). Such a “transition from ‘act’ to ‘sight’—a recurrent issue in Hamlet—is a function of the passing of time” (138). Perhaps critics mistakenly feel that they are “the link between the incomplete and complete versions of Hamlet. But what is ‘missing’ in Hamlet, as in all texts, is the moment of intersubjectivity which could reconstitute the text for us as one, simultaneous, happening, as it were, all at once” (151).

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Zamir, Tzachi. “Doing Nothing.” Mosaic 35.3 (Sept. 2002): 167-82.


“While several investigations into the philosophy-literature relations have ultimately located literature’s irreducible gains in terms of cognitive experiences [. . .] such results have to be further analyzed into particularized contexts in which a specific claim having a well-defined logical status is related to an experiential pattern”; hence, this reading “attempts this in relation to undisclosable aspects of the ‘self’” (169). It begins by examining “the way through which audal imagery underlies the play’s presentation of personal disclosure, insulation, penetration, and genuine communication, with its presentation of an unmotivated suspension between resolution and action” (171). Rather than “trying to solve the problem of Hamlet’s delay,” the goal is “to perceive what is being achieved by making delay a problem” (171). “By creating an experience that complicates the move from resolution to action, the play sets in motion a fascinating parallelism between the fictional occurrences that it depicts and real response”; “since a repeated response to this play is the attempt to remotivate Hamlet’s procrastination instead of seeing unjustified inaction as the aspect to be explained, we can isolate a play/audience relationship that frustrates certain explanatory dispositions” (179). “The strength of this work is that the attentive reader is not only told something about the limitations of contact but also made to experience them” (180).

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