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Hamlet

Adelman, Janet. “Man and Wife Is One Flesh: Hamlet and the Confrontation with the Maternal Body.” Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays, Hamlet to The Tempest. By Adelman. New York: Routledge, 1992. 11-37.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This monograph chapter argues that Hamlet “redefines the son’s position between two fathers by relocating it in relation to an indiscriminately sexual maternal body that threatens to annihilate the distinction between the fathers and hence problematizes the son’s paternal identification” (14-15). Hamlet “rewrites the story of Cain and Abel as the story of Adam and Eve, relocating masculine identity in the presence of the adulterating female” (30). Gertrude “plays out the role of the missing Eve: her body is the garden in which her husband dies, her sexuality the poisonous weeds that kill him, and poison the world—and the self—for her son” (30). The absence of the father combined with the presence of the “engulfing mother” awakens “all the fears incident to the primary mother-child bond” (30). The solution is for Hamlet to remake his mother “in the image of Virgin Mother who could guarantee his father’s purity, and his own, repairing the boundaries of his selfhood” (31). In the closet scene, Hamlet attempts “to remake his mother pure by divorcing her from her sexuality” (32-33). Although Gertrude “remains relatively opaque, more a screen for Hamlet’s fantasies about her than a fully developed character in her own right,” the son “at least believes that she has returned to him as the mother he can call ‘good lady’ (3.4.182)” (34). As a result, Hamlet achieves “a new calm and self-possession” but at a high price: “for the parents lost to him at the beginning of the play can be restored only insofar as they are entirely separated from their sexual bodies. This is a pyrrhic solution to the problems of embodiedness and familial identity . . .” (35).

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Ahrends, Günter. "Word and Action in Shakespeare's Hamlet." Word and Action in Drama: Studies in Honour of Hans-Jürgen Diller on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday. Ed. Günter Ahrends, Stephan Kohl, Joachim Kornelius, Gerd Stratmann. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 1994. 93-105.

HAMLET / METADRAMA / PERFORMANCE

While contending that Hamlet "is a meta-play dealing with fundamental principles of the art of acting," this essay analyzes the play's didactic presentation of word and action: "the verbal and the mimic-gesticulatory forms of expression are equally significant signs which have to be put into a balanced relationship with each other" (93), otherwise "they degenerate into deficient signs" (94). Through the player's excellence with the Hecuba speech and Hamlet's reaction to it, Shakespeare's "most famous tragedy contains not only a theory of mimesis but also a concrete example of how theoretical principles can be translated into practice" (98). Hamlet understands the principles of the art of acting, as he demonstrates in his advice to the players, and his insight motivates The Mousetrap. While The Mousetrap succeeds in provoking Claudius, the closet scene is "a continuation of the play within the play in so far as it is now Gertrude's turn to reveal her guilt" (100). Hamlet's initial effort with his mother fails because he "proves to be a bad actor" (101), but the son eventually remembers his own advice to the players and matches action with word; "It is exactly by making Hamlet's first attempt fail that Shakespeare turns the bedroom scene into a further example of how the principles of theatrical representation have to be transformed into practice" (100). Hamlet, like Claudius and Gertrude, "appears as a dissociated human being" for most of the play because his words and actions are unbalanced; but he distinguishes himself from the others with his knowledge "that the art of theatrical representation makes it possible for man to overcome the state of dissociation by not tolerating the discrepancy between action and word" (102).

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Amtower, Laurel. “The Ethics of Subjectivity in Hamlet.” Studies in the Humanities 21.2 (Dec. 1994): 120-33.

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL

This article approaches Hamlet as “an exploration of the crisis of selfhood that results when Aquinas’ carefully observed laws collide, collapsing the hierarchical structure of being that defines the individual into a jumble of conflicting perspectives” (123). In the play, “any event in its actuality tends to get lost, and gives rise instead to a story or interpretation on the part of a witnessing agent, which then achieves a certain life of its own” (124). For example, the murder of Old Hamlet “is never known in its actuality, but is instead delivered as information, filtered through the suspicious perspectives of the characters, and acted upon accordingly” (124). After gaining “information” about his father’s murder, Hamlet responds to the call for revenge by attempting to “justify the task within the theological and political framework that structures not only his ethical sensibilities, but his very sensibilities regarding who and what he is” (125). “Hamlet is thus placed into a subjective crux within which intersect the exclusive values which frame his very being” (125). But by “believing he acts for a higher agency” (e.g., the Ghost/father) and thus “dismissing the claims of his own integrity,” Hamlet “begins to reinscribe the entities and relationships around him into narratives and texts, to be negotiated and interpreted according to his own absolute gloss” (126). For him, absolutes “become fluid,” and “life is nothing but a language game” (126). Unfortunately, Hamlet is “not just a player of games comprised of words and deceptions, but a product of these games” (128). He feigns madness and manipulates The Mousetrap, all language-based methods, to extract truth from others—but egotistically neglects the fact that “the ‘truth’ he seeks might well be a product of his own discursive devising” (129). Leaving behind humanity and morality, he “appoints himself ‘scourge and minister’” (131) and “perverts the discourse of religious dogma in the pursuit of selfish ends, for the subject at the end of this play is a tyrant, using the discourse of power to justify his abandonment of individual ethics” (132).

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Anderson, Mary. “Hamlet: The Dialect Between Eye and Ear.” Renaissance and Reformation 27 (1991): 299-313.

EYE & EAR / HAMLET / METADRAMA

This article analyzes Hamlet to discern Shakespeare’s “comparison between the eye and the ear as the two faculties by which sense data are transmitted to the reason” (299). A collaboration of the two senses must exist for the success of reason because, alone, the ear is prone to “malignant” information and the eye suffers “incomplete or ineffectual” information (302). For example, Hamlet mistakenly assumes that Claudius is at prayer based on only sight (similar to a dumb show) and accidentally kills Polonius based solely on sound. In comparison, the simultaneous use of ear and eye in The Mousetrap allows Hamlet to successfully confirm Claudius’ guilt. Various models of the eye/ear relationship emerge in the development of Polonius, Gertrude, Ophelia, and Fortinbras. In Hamlet, Shakespeare appears to defend “the theatre as a very effective moral medium which stimulates both eye and ear into a dialectic within the reason and conscience” (311).

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Andreas, James R. “The Vulgar and the Polite: Dialogue in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 15 (1993): 9-23.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / MARXISM / RHETORICAL

Drawing on the ideas of Erving Goffman, Geoffrey Bateson, and Mikhail Bakhtin, this article examines “the tension generated by the dialogic interaction of Hamlet’s rhetoric of the vulgus (the folk, villein, vulgar, the plain, the proverbial, and the parodically double) and Claudius’ rhetoric of the polis (the polity, policy, polite, police and politically duplicit)” in Hamlet (10). The King (and his representatives, e.g., Polonius) attempts to control context, speaks in a “fairly straightforward authoritarian voice” (15), and “restricts and restrains the vulgar” (17); in comparison, the Prince fluctuates between multiple contexts, exercises “verbal play and parody” (15), and introduces the “dialogically ‘deviant’” (17). This “dialogical clash of two verbal styles” generates Hamlet’s energy (10). The literary styles and devices seem derived “respectively—and disrespectfully—from the master genres of the vulgar and the polite that can still be heard clashing in the streets and courts of today” (20).

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Arnett, David B. “What Makes Hamlet Run? Framing Cognition Discursively.” Hamlet Studies 16 (1994): 24-41.

HAMLET / RHETORICAL

Drawing strongly on William G. Perry’s cognitive research, this essay discusses “the conclusions we can come to about Hamlet’s vacillation by seeing them in a Perrian context” (25). Perry studied “students’ ‘cognitive structures’ as those structures developed from Simple [linguistic] Dualism to Commitment with [linguistic] Relativism” (27), leading to “a linguistic or rhetorical theory, even if he characterizes it as a cognitive one” (28). In Hamlet, the Prince’s “language of politics” evolves, “based on the foundations laid by the already evolved language of study at Wittenberg” (31). While his return to Elsinore for Old Hamlet’s funeral causes “deflections from growth,” “the moralistic rage of ‘Retreat’ into a dualism” (32), the comforting presence of Horatio enables Hamlet “to relinquish any hint of a moral polarity between himself and his opponent” (33). With his classmate, Hamlet does not need to “hide behind a corruption of words” (34). He only adopts “‘antic’ discourses” in the company of “those who manipulate language solely for their personal gain” (e.g., Claudius) because the pose “allows Perry’s authentically Committed person to maintain a necessary presence where his or her Commitments lie without unduly jeopardizing his or her position” (34). After learning of his father’s murder from the Ghost, Hamlet becomes committed to “gaining sufficient knowledge” for “authentic action” (35). The Mousetrap confirms Claudius’ guilt but leaves several uncertainties, such as the security of Gertrude and Denmark. Ultimately, Hamlet reaches “a new Commitment with Relativism”: “he knows enough to act, he knows enough to die, and he is ready for whatever Providence may provide” (37). To ask why Hamlet does not avenge his father’s murder sooner “is not only to deny the very human process of growth but also to deny the validity of a liberal education—the ultimate in revolutionary reconstructions” (38).

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Atchley, Clinton P. E. “Reconsidering the Ghost in Hamlet: Cohesion or Coercion?” The Philological Review 28.2 (Fall 2002): 5-20.

GHOST / HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / THEOLOGICAL

This essay focuses “on some puzzling aspects of the Ghost’s nature and look[s] at some possibilities of what the Ghost may mean and how it functions in the play” (5). The “religious atmosphere in Elizabethan England and how this may have affected Shakespeare’s audience” (5) are considered, particularly the differing Catholic and Protestant “beliefs concerning ghosts and the supernatural” (8). Instead of defining “the true nature of ghosts for his audiences,” Shakespeare “incorporates within his play both Catholic and Protestant views of the Ghost and also presents a third perspective on the Ghost, one steeped in folkloric tradition” (10). He “expects his audience to perceive the Ghost for what it is, a diabolical manifestation on a mission to trick Hamlet into forfeiting his soul” (12); the play’s devastating/destructive conclusion “supports this interpretation” (12). In “exhorting Hamlet to commit murder through an act of revenge, the Ghost plays most foully for Hamlet’s soul” (14). The counter argument is that “the Ghost tells the truth surrounding the circumstances of old Hamlet’s death,” as corroborated by Claudius’ private “confession of guilt”; but “a devil is capable of telling the truth if it enables him to achieve his goal” (14). The question then becomes, once the Ghost has accomplished his goal by motivating Hamlet to commit revenge (and, hence, to loose his soul), why does it appear later in the closet scene and in its nightgown? The answer is to perform two functions (14): first, to prevent Hamlet’s convincing of Gertrude to repent; the Ghost’s appearing only to Hamlet “intensifies Hamlet’s apparent madness such that Gertrude attributes Hamlet’s accusations to his insanity. Her moment of grace has passed” (16). Second, by appearing in the wife’s bed chamber, wearing a nightgown, the Ghost “ reactivates the domestic values that Hamlet keenly feels he has lost” (17), and evokes cherished familial memories in Hamlet (18). “The ‘piteous action’ that the Ghost makes is directed [. . .] at Hamlet, to wring his emotions and drive him to distraction to make Gertrude think him mad. And it succeeds” (18).

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Baumlin, James S., and Tita French Baumlin. “Chronos, Kairos, Aion: Failures of Decorum, Right-Timing, and Revenge in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” Rhetoric and Kairos: Essays in History, Theory and Praxis. Ed. Phillip Sipiora. Albany: State U of New York P, 2002. 165-86.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

This reading contends that Shakespeare’s Prince “presents a study in the failure of prudential, and, thus, stands as a critical test of Humanist educational, ethical, political, rhetorical theory. The fact that Hamlet [. . .] fails the test reveals a crisis lying at the play’s thematic center, a crisis concerning the age’s optimism toward the powers of human reason (and action) and the Humanist aspiration to master worldly fortune” (165). Analysis of three interwoven themes guides the exploration: “first, the nature of Hamlet’s Humanist decorum; second, the Prince’s bungled attempts at blood revenge; and, third, the play’s philosophical exploration of competing temporalities and notions of ‘right-timing,’ particularly as reflected in the iconographic symbolisms surrounding Prudence and Fortune, Time and Eternity” (165-66). But when Hamlet ultimately concludes “Let be” (5.2.22), his “earlier wrestling with ‘to be, or not to be’ (3.1.57) resolves into ‘be’ and ‘is’—into an eternal present tense” (180). Upon death, Hamlet transcends “the niceties of princely decorum, human language, and worldly time to enter the higher, purer, timeless silence of ‘be’ (in which state, questions of Providence are rendered moot, kairos meaningless, and prudentia irrelevant)” (181).

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Bristol, Michael D. "'Funeral bak'd-meats': Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet." William Shakespeare, Hamlet. Ed. Susanne L. Wofford. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: St. Martin's, 1994. 348-67. [Reprinted in Shakespeare's Tragedies, ed. Susan Zimmerman (1998).]

CARNIVAL / CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / MARXISM

While supplying a summary of Marxist theory and of Bakhtin's principles of the Carnival, this essay contends that Claudius and Hamlet camouflage themselves with carnivalesque masks but that Hamlet has an advantageous "understanding of the corrosive and clarifying power of laughter" (350). Appearing "as a complex variant of the Lord of Misrule," Claudius first speaks of a festive commingling between marriage and death, but he only appropriates carnivalesque themes and values "in order to make legitimate his own questionable authority" (355). Ironically, his means of securing the crown "typically mocks and uncrowns all authority" (356). Although Hamlet initially rejects festivities, his killing of Polonius marks the change in him. Hamlet's use of "grotesque Carnival equivocation" in the following scene with the King, his father/mother, suggests Hamlet's development (358). Hamlet's interaction with "actual representatives of the unprivileged," the Gravediggers, completes Hamlet's training in carnivalism (359). Aside from the "clear and explicit critique of the basis for social hierarchy" (360), this scene shows Hamlet reflecting on death, body identity, community, and laughter. He confronts Yorick's skull but learns that "the power of laughter is indestructible": "Even a dead jester can make us laugh" (361). Now Hamlet is ready to participate in Claudius' final festival, the duel. True to the carnival tendencies, the play ends with "violent social protest" and "a change in the political order" (364). Unfortunately, Fortinbras' claim to the throne maintains "the tension between 'high' political drama and a 'low' audience of nonparticipating witnesses" (365).

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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.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / HAMLET / OPHELIA / PERFORMANCE

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.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / FINAL SCENE / HAMLET / PERFORMANCE

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.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / FINAL SCENE / HAMLET / PERFORMANCE / RHETORICAL

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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Bugliani, Francesca. “‘In the mind to suffer’: Hamlet’s Soliloquy, ‘To be, or not to be.’” Hamlet Studies 17.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1995): 10-42.

HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / “TO BE, OR NOT TO BE” SOLILOQUY

This article analyzes Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy as “a deliberation on the conflict between reason and passion” (11). After surveying the Elizabethan scholarship on passion, it examines how Shakespeare “modelled Hamlet according to Elizabethan and Jacobean ideas of melancholy” (11). Hamlet frequently “assumes a melancholic mask” when interacting with other characters, but his melancholic sentiments expressed through soliloquies appear “genuine rather than stereotypical” (14). A line-by-line analysis of the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy suggests that it “encapsulates the main theme of Hamlet”: “Both the play and the soliloquy are animated by the conflict between the ideal of Socratic or, more precisely Stoic, imperturbability cherished by Hamlet and his guiltless, inevitable and tragic subjection to the perturbations of the mind” (26).

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Burnett, Mark Thornton. "'For they are actions that a man might play': Hamlet as Trickster." Hamlet. Ed. Peter J. Smith and Nigel Wood. Theory in Practice. Buckingham: Open UP, 1996. 24-54.

CARNIVAL / HAMLET / MYTHIC CRITICISM / NEW HISTORICISM

This essay's "hoped-for result is to draw attention to a set of relations between the trickster theme in the play and the social, economic and political forces which lend Hamlet its note of specifically Elizabethan urgency" (29). Shakespeare's play conjures "a spectrum of archetypal trickster intrigues" through multiple characters (34): "it "enlists the traditions of the fox, the fool, and the rogue, complicating the expectation that the play can be understood in terms of a diagrammatic relationship between those who trick and those who are tricked" (43). But the focus is primarily on "Hamlet's own tricksy practices" (34). While the Prince "follows in the path of the trickster in choosing words and theatre as the weapons with which he will secure his role as revenger," "his sense of purpose is often blunted, from within (by Claudius) and from without (by the Ghost)"-like the traditional trickster who battles multiple foes of "local or familial networks" (37). Historically, the trickster's "malleable form presented itself as an answer to, and an expression of, the early modern epistemological dilemma" (51). For example, Hamlet raises concerns of religion, succession, and gender, comparable to the "unprecedented social forms and new ideological configurations" experienced while Elizabeth I reigned as monarch (49-50). In a carnivalesque style, Hamlet affords Elizabethans "a release of tensions" and a means of "social protest" through its trickster(s) (50).

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Byles, Joanna Montgomery. “Tragic Alternatives: Eros and Superego Revenge in Hamlet.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 117-34.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

While exploring and defining Freud’s principles of the superego aggression and Eros, this essay contends that, in Hamlet, the playwright “subverts the essential logic of the revenge form by representing revenge as an inward tragic event, reinforced by destructive family relationships whose psychic energies violate and destroy the protagonist’s psychic wholeness, fragmenting and ultimately dissolving the personality” (118). The tragic process, “instead of strengthening the ego in its task of regulating Eros and aggression so that they do not clash with reality and defuse (separate), is one in which the ego is destroyed by the undermining of its total organization” (123). The Ghost appears as “a piece of theatrical aggression for it stops Hamlet’s initial fierce self-restraint; allows him to express his deeply conflicted feelings about Claudius” (127), and affirms “his intense feelings about his mother” (128). But as a key producer of guilt, the self-torturing superego is “dramatized as delay” (121). Hamlet attempts “to gain control over the destructiveness of the superego” by projecting his guilt onto others and finds periods of relief when channeling his vengeful aggression, primarily through verbal cruelty and hostility (129). Unfortunately, his “failure to achieve revenge” and his “blunders” that lead to the untimely deaths of Polonius and Ophelia create “acute mental agony” (130). Hamlet’s “ego yields to his superego and takes the suffering the self-abusive superego produces,” leading the tragic hero to exact “revenge upon himself”: Hamlet returns from sea “resigned to his own death” (130). This “conflict between ego and superego constitutes the dynamic action of Hamlet” (131).

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Campbell, Dowling G. “The Double Dichotomy and Paradox of Honor in Hamlet: With Possible Imagery and Rhetorical Sources for the Soliloquies.” Hamlet Studies 23 (2001): 13-49.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / RHETORICAL

In addition to proposing “some important source considerations” of publications on honor (19) and exploring how some critics (e.g., Watson, Desai) have come so close (but failed) to identifying the key dichotomy in Hamlet, this essay suggests that “Shakespeare uses the vengeance convention to dramatize a paradox, one that is difficult to decipher because of language limitations: the inherently and tragically violent virtue/vengeance dichotomy within the honor code” (13). To avoid linguistic confusion with a single English word that signals diverse/conflicting meanings, this article utilizes the Spanish terms honor and honra: honor “refers to humility and forgiveness and expanded, private, internal goodness, whereas honra signifies pride and vengeance, public ‘satisfaction’ or retribution” (22). Honra seems the primary tenet of everyone in Denmark—except the Prince: honor “is instinctive and implicit in Hamlet’s nature” (13-14). But he also wants to believe that he shares the same principles, assumptions, and beliefs (and social constructs) as everyone else (24). “It is Hamlet’s simultaneous and continuos struggle with both sides of the dichotomy that constitutes his superlative characterization . . .”, his “depth of feeling, his passion” (24). The “devastating tug of war between private and public behaviors and values occurs in Hamlet’s soul, as the soliloquies confirm, and explains the hesitance or delay or dilemma” (14). Shakespeare infuses Hamlet’s soliloquies “with the dichotomy, starting with no blame, working into self-blame, and ending with a futile pledge of bloody vengeance. It is the failure of vengeance to uproot Hamlet’s sense of virtue which causes the underlying intensity” (37). Nothing can shake “an innate virtuous sensibility and spur Hamlet into killing,” not the “disgusting elemental considerations” in the graveyard (36-37), and not “the shock of Ophelia’s death” (35). “Claudius has to trick Hamlet into so much as drawing his sword” (35). But even then, “Virtue rules” (35): Hamlet is “apologetic” to Laertes, causing the conspirator to “feel sorry” and to lament the lethal plan “in an aside” (35). The “split within the honor code, complete with devastating paradox, is what troubles Hamlet and Shakespeare” (23). Shakespeare seems to be striving “to articulate the hypocrisy of the honor code itself throughout his canon” (43-44). In Hamlet (and Hamlet), he creates “a major theme with the honor/honra paradox, even if he lacks those two little terms” (46).

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Cefalu, Paul A. “‘Damned Custom . . . Habits Devil’: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Anti-Dualism, and the Early Modern Philosophy of Mind.” ELH 67 (2000): 399-431. <wysiwyg://31/http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/elh/vo67/67.2cefalu.html> 8 May 2001.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / PHILOSOPHICAL

This essay briefly examines “some modern and pre-modern theories of the mind—those of Gilbert Ryle, Putnam, Augustine, Pomponazzi, and Jeremy Taylor—in order to suggest first that Renaissance philosophy and theology held theories of the mind that resemble modern-day anti-dualistic accounts of behaviorism and functionalism, and second that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is implicated in this behaviorist-functionalist tradition rather than in the innatist tradition into which it has usually been placed” (400). Too often critics mistakenly conflate “third-person statements about Hamlet’s mental states with Hamlet’s first-person reports, reports which aim to understand the role of behavior, habit, and custom in knowing and acting, rather than to explore any Cartesian theater of the mind” (400). In actuality, “for most of the play Hamlet is a radical Rylean behaviorist, inasmuch as he believes mental phenomena and predicates gain meaning only when they are identified in a one-to-one relationship with behavioral predicates” (400). Shaping Hamlet’s behaviorism “is the early modern assimilation of the Augustine-Protestant theory of the ineradicability of vicious habits” (400). “Hamlet’s understanding of the theological construal of habit helps to explain both his irresolution . . . and his sense that personal identity or subjective states are identical with customary behavioral dispositions” (400-01). In reifying and objectifying habits, he “imagines persons to be constituted by behavior, custom, and dispositional states all the way down, so that they are unendowed with what Derek Parfit would describe as any further facts to their psychological identity, such as disembodied minds or thoughts” (401). “Hamlet inherits a widely-held Augustine-Protestant preoccupation with the tortured relationship among habit, sin, and action. If there is any incredible objective correlative operating in the play, it describes Hamlet’s over-indulgence in, and misconstrual of, this tradition, which recognized the utility of retaining virtuous patterns of conduct as correctives to customary sin” (428).

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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.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM

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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Coyle, Martin. “Hamlet, Gertrude and the Ghost: The Punishment of Women in Renaissance Drama.” Q/W/E/R/T/Y 6 (Oct. 1996): 29-38.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / NEW HISTORICISM

By presenting Hamlet in the context of the Renaissance drama canon, this essay argues that Hamlet’s “difficulties over Gertrude are not so much psychological as political, or, more accurately perhaps, ideological” (29). A survey of Renaissance revenge tragedies (e.g., A Woman Killed with Kindness, Othello, The Changeling, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Revenger’s Tragedy) reveals the key codes of disciplining an adulteress: the male has a duty to punish the female (and “perhaps to rescue her soul”) (31); the punishment “is a reclaiming of rights over her body and control of her will” (33); any physical violence must be within the boundaries of propriety (e.g., suffocation) (33); and only husbands or lovers are permitted to kill the woman (34). This brief study also highlights the importance of the marital bed as a symbol. Hamlet’s protagonist repeatedly stresses Gertrude’s soiled bed, revealing a primary concern “to restore the royal bed to its former status as a symbol of chaste marriage, fidelity, loyalty, innocence” (37). In the closet scene, the son breaks with the Ghost by attempting to punish (and to save) the adulteress with verbal violence, but Gertrude can only “be saved” by her true husband, Old Hamlet, “who, of course, cannot help or harm her” (36); her “destiny is sealed by sexual codes that lie outside their [the Ghost’s and Hamlet’s] control and, indeed, outside the control of the text” (36). In the final scene, Hamlet “acts in his own right to avenge his mother and himself rather than as an agent of his father” (35). By moving away from the tradition of the Oedipus Complex, this interpretation shows “how different Hamlet is from the play modern psychological criticism had given us” (37).

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Danner, Bruce. “Speaking Daggers.” Shakespeare Quarterly 54.1 (Spring 2003): 29-62.

ADVICE TO PLAYERS / HAMLET / METADRAMA

This study focuses upon “the context of the play’s tragic form [. . .] to connect its metatheatrical self-consciousness with the ethical imperatives of Hamlet’s dilemma, one in which theatricality is called on to stabilize ambiguity and to authorize the prince’s call to action” (30). The playwright “offers a courtier struggling with the divide between action and acting, a figure whose call to violent force is countered by an obsession with the images of theater, text, and icon” (31). In The Mousetrap, Hamlet conflates the act of murder with the threat of revenge, “applies theatrical mimesis as a weapon” to prick Claudius’s conscience, and “begins to confuse the imaginary with the real, the verbal with the martial” (32). He “progresses from speaking pictures to speaking daggers, from enargeia to catachresis, conflating the violence he is called on to perform with the language by which he names it” (62). He “spends so much time meditating on his revenge in word and image that it becomes the name of action and its imaginary form that he fears losing rather than the violence itself. To lose the name of action in a context where action can only be named represents a crippling tautology” (58-59).

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Deans, Thomas. “Writing, Revision, and Agency in Hamlet.” Exemplaria 15.1 (Spring 2003): 223-43.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / TEXTS

This article argues “that acts of writing and rewriting in Hamlet not only reveal key dimensions of Hamlet’s character but also showcase humanistic literacy practices associated with the Renaissance commonplace book” (223). Hamlet initially responds “to the commandment of his father in act 1 by fearfully copying words verbatim into his commonplace notebook” (228). But the words only represent “a stray fragment, recorded in his notebook but not recruited for use in a larger purpose” because Hamlet “has not yet learned how to translate this commandment into conduct” (236). His 16-line addition to the original Mousetrap script is “the first time in the play Hamlet demonstrates a creative facility with reading and writing, and as a direct consequence of his crafty revision he exposes Claudius and discovers a means to act in the world as both an avenging son and an assertive prince”; “here, as elsewhere in the play, we observe Hamlet’s personal agency emerge in direct relationship to a material act of writing—through revising a text and observing its effect on an audience” (238). When Hamlet rewrites Claudius’s execution order to England, he “creatively revises a text and by means of that revision finds a way to act effectively in the world”; “using writing (or rather, rewriting) to both subvert and assume Claudius’s regal power,” the Prince “takes control of his life only as he takes control of written discourse” (239). “He re-envisions his own agency by means of revising written text” (241), reflecting his development “into a writer of humanistic sensibilities for whom creatively appropriating existing texts is more important than inventing wholly original texts” (240). “Even though he ultimately develops the capacity to revise and reframe his father’s commandment, he is still compelled by conscience and paternal authority to obey its central imperative” (242). Hamlet also “does not have absolute power to script the ending of his choice” due to the play’s “conventions of tragedy” and its “interactive arena where characters act and react in relation to one another” (242). “Hamlet’s capacity to read and revise text, as it emerges in the course of the play, confirms at least a measure of personal agency made possible by writing and suggests the pivotal role that writing can play not only in developing character [. . .] but also in setting right a world out of joint” (242-43). 

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de Grazia, Margreta. “Hamlet Before Its Time.” Modern Language Quarterly 62.4 (Dec. 2001): 355-75.

HAMLET / RECEPTION THEORY

Focusing “precisely” on the period between 1600 and 1800, this article suggests that “what appears modern in Hamlet seems not to have been acquired at a later point in history [the modern period] but to have been present from the start” (356). From its initial performance on an Elizabethan stage, Hamlet was “behind the times,” “a recycling of an earlier play” (356) that “retained the most archaic feature of all: the ghost of Old Hamlet” (357). Hamlet “continued to appear old after 1660,” when Shakespeare’s plays “were considered more old-fashioned than those of Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Shirley” (358). But, rather than fade away, Shakespeare’s works “provided the perfect objects for the new art of criticism” (361). While critics blamed the playwright’s “neglect of the classics” (and his use of “the wrong sources”) for plot violations of the classical unities, they also maintained that his “shoddy plots were offset by his excellent characters” (362). When Romantic critics broke with the classical models, critical emphasis shifted from plot to character. An indirect result of this change included the “newfound autonomy” of Hamlet’s character (364). But the nagging question of Hamlet’s delay persisted, becoming “now a psychological rather than a dramaturgical problem” (365). One must wonder to what degree “his problematic interiority depends on the shift of delay from plot to character” (365). “Without being grounded in his own plot, he [Hamlet] accommodates whatever theory of mind, consciousness, or the unconscious can explain his inaction” (367). For example, Freud, Lacan, Abraham and Torok, and Derrida have all offered “new” theories to answer “a question framed two centuries ago” (373)—why does Hamlet delay? “The question keeps the play modern, for the modern by definition must always look new, up-to-date, or, better yet, a bit ahead of its time, and Hamlet—once abstracted from plot and absorbed in himself—remains open indefinitely to modernization” (374).

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de Grazia, Margreta. “Weeping For Hecuba.” Historicism, Psychoanalysis, and Early Modern Culture. Ed. Carla Mazzio and Douglas Trevor. Culture Work. New York: Routledge, 2000. 350-75.

HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / PSYCHOANALYTIC

While Freud argued that the loss of the father greatly influenced Shakespeare during the writing of Hamlet, this article uses Freud’s source (Brandes’ William Shakespeare: A Critical Study) to stress an overlooked historical fact of equal importance: Shakespeare bought land around this time because his father—like Hamlet’s—did not leave an inheritance for the son. This article suggests “that Hamlet dramatizes the difficulty of mourning a father who did not make good the promise of the patronymic” (360-61). The grave yard scene, the only instance when Hamlet truly expresses grief, focuses on property. For example, who does the grave belong to, the gravedigger or the dead? In his musings over the gravedigger’s handling of the dead, Hamlet mentions extinct world conquerors, emperors, landlords, and lawyers—all “who once held land,” but who “are now held by the land” (357). While Hamlet derides the thirst for, quest after, and transience of property, he eagerly jumps into Ophelia’s grave to compete with Laertes for the property. But, in this all-consuming and passionate grief, Hamlet never mentions his father. Old Hamlet left his son none of the “patrinomial properties that secure lineal continuity—land, title, arms, signet, royal bed” (364). Without these inheritances, Hamlet’s memory is “insufficiently ‘impressed’” to remember his father, causing the son to forget the date of his Old Hamlet’s death, for instance (365). In comparison, Shakespeare had to cope with the absence of an inheritance from his father and the lack of an heir to pass his own estate onto. Freud’s father also could not leave an inheritance to his son because, at the time, “laws restricted Jews from owning and transmitting property” (369). These three sons share the meager legacy of guilt upon their fathers’ deaths: “According to Freud, Freud experienced it while writing about Shakespeare, Shakespeare experienced it while writing Hamlet, and Hamlet experienced it in the play that has continued since the onset of the modern period to bear so tellingly on the ever-changing here and now” (369).

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Dews, C. L. Barney. “Gender Tragedies: East Texas Cockfighting and Hamlet.” Journal of Men’s Studies 2 (1994): 253-67.

FEMINISM / HAMLET / "TO BE, OR NOT TO BE" SOLILOQUY

Written in an unorthodox style and laced with personal letters to familial models of gender, this article hopes to rectify the lack of scholarship about “the harmful results of society’s gender pressure on the male characters in Hamlet” (255). Hamlet’s ideal model of masculinity is his father, whose ghost demands proof of the son’s manliness. Similarly, Laertes’ dead father also becomes a source that demands a show of loyalty through revenge (due to Claudius’ manipulation). While Laertes appears to embrace the masculine ideals, Hamlet is in an “ambivalent position,” suspended between the masculine and feminine (259). The indoctrination pressures of Claudius and Polonius as well as the problematic female chastity of Gertrude and Ophelia deliver conflicting messages to Hamlet. His “tragic flaw” seems “his inability to reconcile the mixed messages he is receiving regarding gender and the options available to him” (261). But Hamlet has no options because of his royal title and destiny. The “To be, or not to be” soliloquy provides the simultaneous contemplation of suicide and gender conflict. This conflict and the lack of choices seems epitomized in the final scene, when Horatio and Fortinbras describe the dead Hamlet in different gender terms. Hamlet presents ambivalence about the dilemma “of a reconciling of both masculine and feminine within an individual personality,” a dilemma that men still face today (266).

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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.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / PERFORMANCE

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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DiMatteo, Anthony. “Hamlet as Fable: Reconstructing a Lost Code of Meaning.” Connotations 6.2 (1996/1997): 158-79.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / MYTHIC CRITICISM / OPHELIA

This article explores how the “nexus” of Hamlet and mythic heroes “links with another analogy between fable and history that involves an unsettling convergence of spirits” (159), how Shakespeare’s audience perceived “the myths’ cognitive potential . . . to have great speculative power” (159-60), as well as how myths are “enlisted but also deeply called into question by Hamlet” (160). A comparison of terminology, imagery, and plot between mythology and the play identifies parallels between Hamlet / Adonis / Orpheus / Vulcan / Aeneas / Hercules and Ophelia / Venus / Dido. While “classical points of contact” suggest a “symbolic coding and an implied range of meanings,” they also locate Hamlet “in a relationship to a specific audience or readership trained in academic recital and exegesis of Ovid and Virgil” (164). Due to the “hermeneutical traditions as they had come to evolve in the late Renaissance,” one must “read myth allusions in Hamlet not archetypically but stenographically” (165). For example, the “acquired double potential of myth allowing it to serve simultaneously as examples of human virtue and vice complexly connects in the play with Hamlet’s anxiety not only about his father’s apparition but also his own thoughts” (165). Is the Ghost a reliable source or “Vulcan (a daimon) forging his son (or a soul) into an agent of evil” (167)? Are Hamlet’s “imaginings” merely “misconceptions” or “the results of a moral contamination” (166)? The analogies between Hamlet’s experience and that of his mythic predecessors “indicate how Hamlet in plot, terms and phrases lingers over a whole range of ancient concerns through which late Renaissance culture both couched and covered over its own ambition and fears” (167-68). “Arguably,” Hamlet “stages the death not only of Hamlet but of the typically Renaissance belief in eloquence as some ultimate civilizing or enlightening process” (172). “The implied cleft between the miraculous possibilities posited in fable and the brute mortality of historical events in Denmark can also be sensed in the play if we consider the contrary influences of Ovid and Virgil upon the myths that the play takes up” (173): Hamlet seems “caught between the Virgilian sublime and Ovidian mutability” (173-74), and “Virgil’s permanent order and Ovid’s flux seem to vie for influence over the play” (174). “By bringing these parallelisms with figures from epic and fable to bear upon the history of Hamlet, the play acts out the tragic pathos that results when history and myth are implicitly revealed to be irreconcilable” (175). “The conflict of myth and history and of art and life is densely articulated through symbolic shorthand in Hamlet” (175).

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Duffy, Kevin Thomas, Marvin E. Frankel, Stephen Gillers, Norman L. Greene, Daniel J. Kornstein, and Jeanne A. Roberts. The Elsinore Appeal: People v. Hamlet. St. Martin's P: New York, 1996.

HAMLET / LAW

Complete with legal jargon and New York law codes, this text works with the hypothetical scenario that Hamlet does not die but has been imprisoned for his crimes and is now filing appeals. The Appellant's Brief presents the defense's arguments: Laertes' death was in self-defense; Polonius' death was the result of "defense of justification"; because Ophelia ended the relationship, Hamlet is not responsible for her suicide; the court has no jurisdiction over Rosencrantz's and Guildenstern's deaths; in the death of Claudius, Hamlet "acted properly in bringing a murderer to justice"; and Hamlet's "diminished mental capacity" and status of sovereignty require "reversal on all counts" (2). The prosecution responds to these arguments in the Appellee's Brief: rather than remove himself from the threat, as the law requires, Hamlet knowingly and intentionally used a lethal weapon against Laertes; Polonius posed no danger or threat but was murdered; "Hamlet's manslaughter conviction for 'recklessly' causing Ophelia's death should be affirmed"; because Rosencrantz's and Guildenstern's executions were initiated on a Danish vessel, Denmark has jurisdiction over the murders; Hamlet's murder of Claudius is the act of a "serial killer," not justice; and Hamlet is not a sovereign (Fortinbras is king) nor has he met the "burden of proving insanity" (12). The defense replies to these counter arguments and suggests a political agenda to keep "Fortinbras' only rival" imprisoned for life (27). On October 11, 1994, both sides present their arguments before the court at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The lively debate is heard by a panel of judges: Jeanne Roberts (Shakespearean scholar), Kevin Duffy (U. S. District Judge), and Marvin Frankel (former U. S. District Judge). Although no rulings are passed, the courtroom dialogue presents an interesting introduction into the text of Hamlet.

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Engle, Lars. “Discourse, Agency, and Therapy in Hamlet.Exemplaria 4 (1992): 441-53.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTICAL / RHETORICAL

Synthesizing the ideas of Foucault, Bakhtin, and Freud, this article offers “a compressed reading of Hamlet as a meditation on the balance between the power of circumambient discourses and the capacity of an exemplary (and privileged) human subject to find his way among them toward a therapeutic and pragmatic kind of agency” (444). Shakespeare’s play is dense with explorations of mental interiors through discourse, raising questions of agency. As Hamlet struggles to discover and accept a personal mode of agency, he shows “other people what they are doing by demonstrating to them what discursive fields they have entered” (446). For example, Hamlet parodies Laertes’ anger by Ophelia’s grave. He also considers “the discursive control which preempts agency,” as evident in the nunnery scene (448), and contemplates “the philosophical complexity of the compromise between agency and discourse,” as revealed after his meeting with the players (451). In all of these examples, Hamlet dramatizes/reenacts his “horror,” allowing him therapeutically to “exorcise or destroy or understand or forgive it” (452); hence, his calm attitude in the final act of the play. Hamlet learns to accept a personal mode of agency, the boundary condition of selfhood, and the allowance for “meaningful action amid constitutive discourses” (453).

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Faber, M. D. “Hamlet and the Inner World of Objects.” The Undiscovered Country: New Essays on Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. Ed. B. J. Sokol. London: Free Assn., 1993. 57-90.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This article advances the complex proposition that Western tragedy “invariably presents us with characters who undergo a traumatic reactivation of infantile feelings” (57). In Hamlet, the hero possesses idealized conceptions of his parents and of their marriage (which influence his self-perception)—until Gertrude marries Claudius. This marring of the “good mother” forces Hamlet into a “double-bind”: he cannot maintain the illusions, but he cannot give up what his identity hinges upon (61). In addition, the “reactivation of the hero’s unconscious aims” manifests desires to “overcome separation”; Hamlet’s craving to take in and to be taken in by the “bad object” creates “self-revulsion” and “desire for death” (62-63). But the players offer Hamlet hope: “The actor takes in the part or the character and then brings forth from within himself a version of the character that is bound up with an inner object to which the newly internalized character more or less corresponds” (67). Also, the Hecuba performance, complete with “good father” and “loyal mother-wife,” allows Hamlet to reaffirm and reinforce the “good objects” that “he is losing touch with” in his “ambivalence and confusion toward the bad objects” (68). But the exercise with the “good objects” only succeeds in increasing feelings of “guilt, self-revulsion, and confusion,” leading Hamlet to “examine the reality of the bad object” through The Mousetrap (69). Unfortunately, this tactic also fails. Desperate to act, Hamlet goes to Gertrude’s closet to gain control of his mother, to change her “back into the good object” (73). While the “transformation of the mother” allows Hamlet to regain some self-control, he does not achieve “a genuine resolution of deep, long-standing conflict” (77). Because, “as Hamlet sees it, Claudius possesses Gertrude,” Hamlet must “incorporate the rival . . . in order to get at the mother whom the rival possesses” (79). An alternative method to merge with the maternal object is death, Hamlet’s primary topic in the graveyard scene. Not surprisingly, Hamlet accepts the challenge to a duel, “seizing upon the opportunity to lose his life, passively surrendering to the part of himself that longs to be dead” (87). Hamlet dies by a lethal poison that destroys him from within, like the bad object (89), proving that tragedy, “at least as we know it in the Western world,” results when the “unconscious inner world of the hero is stirred to life” (90).

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Fendt, Gene. Is Hamlet a Religious Drama? An Essay on a Question in Kierkegaard. Marquette Studies in Philosophy 21. Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 1999.

HAMLET / MARXISM / METAPHYSICS / THEOLOGICAL

This monograph begins by surveying the different definitions of religious drama. Chapters two and three discuss the "scholarly cruxes" of Hamlet (e.g., Hamlet's delay) and evokes Aristotle and Aquinas to assist in comprehending "what a religious understanding of Hamlet might be" (16). Chapters four and five explore the contrast between Hamlet and Kierkegaard's and Taciturnus' writings on religious art, "examine the metaphysical and philosophical presuppositions of the ordinary understanding of religious drama as representations bearing on dogmatic truths," and "show how Kierkegaard's indirect communication seeks to avoid that philosophical problematic" (16). The last chapter uses Bataille's theories of religious economies to argue Hamlet's status as a religious drama.

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Fike, Matthew A. “Gertrude’s Mermaid Allusion.” On Page and Stage: Shakespeare in Polish and World Culture. Ed. Krystyna Kujawinska Courtney. Kraków: Towarzystwo Autorów, 2000. 259-75. [Originally printed in the-hard-to-find B. A. S.: British and American Studies 2 (1999): 15-25.]

HAMLET / MYTHIC CRITICISM / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA

This essay proposes that “the mermaid allusion—a powerful nexus of mythological and folk material—enables a new perspective on Gertrude’s speech and the play” (259). Gertrude’s description of Ophelia as “mermaidlike” (4.7.176) in the drowning report “evokes a whole tradition from Homer’s sirens to mermaid references in Shakespeare’s own time” because sirens and mermaids were conflated (and “interchangeable”) by the Elizabethan period (260-61). While the Christian Church linked “both images to the temptations of the flesh” (261), natural histories, literary works, travel literature, popular ballads, and reports of “actual mermaid sightings” all contributed to Elizabethan’s perception of a mermaid (262): “eternally youthful,” “beautiful,” embodying “the mystery of the ocean,” and possessing an “alluring” song (263). Although “the first lines of Gertrude’s speech do have unmistakable resonances with mermaid lore” (265) and “mermaid lore supports the possibility that being spurned by Hamlet may be a cause of both madness and suicide" (266), “it is her [Ophelia’s] divergence from the myth that is significant” (264). For example, legend held that a mortal male could trick a mermaid into marriage by stealing her cap; but, in Hamlet, the pattern “is reversed”: Hamlet gives Ophelia “tokens of their betrothal” which she returns to him in the nunnery scene (264). The implication is that Ophelia “is not a mermaid shackled to a mortal husband because of a trick, but instead a young woman who knows her own mind and frankly brings the symbolism of her relationship into harmony with the loss of emotional warmth” (364). Rather than a derogatory description of a chaste Ophelia, the mermaid allusion “echoes a native folk tradition of misogynistic insecurity” (267) and “participates in Hamlet’s larger image pattern of prostitution and sexuality” (268). In addition, the mermaid’s human/beast duality “suggests not only the danger of feminine seductiveness (Ophelia, Gertrude) but also the rational call (Horatio) to epic duty (the ghost)”—symbolically merging the two extremes that Hamlet struggles with in the play (270).

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Findlay, Alison. "Hamlet: A Document in Madness." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 189-205.

FEMINISM / HAMLET / OPHELIA / RHETORICAL

By focusing on Hamlet and Ophelia, this essay examines "how gender dictates access to a language with which to cope with mental breakdown" and considers "how madness produces and is produced by a fragmentation of discourse" (189). The death of Old Hamlet marks the unraveling of language's "network of close knit meanings and signs" in Denmark (191). In this atmosphere, Hamlet and Ophelia "are threatened with mental breakdowns, rendering their need to define their experiences and re-define themselves particularly acute" (192). Hamlet attempts a "self-cure" to deal with his mental instability (192): he "uses his control over the written word to empower himself in emotionally disturbing situations"; examples include Hamlet's letters to Ophelia, Horatio, and Claudius, his forged orders to England, and his rewriting of The Murder of Gonzago (193). Hamlet discovers "a verbal and theatrical metalanguage with which to construct and contain the experience of insanity" (196), but Ophelia "does not have the same means for elaborating a delirium as a man" (197). She possesses "very limited access to any verbal communication with which to unpack her heart" before her father's death (199). After his passing, Ophelia is confronted "with an unprecedented access to language which is both liberating and frightening" (200). Her songs "are in the same mode as Hamlet's adaptation, The Mousetrap, and his use of ballad (III.ii.265-78); but, unlike Hamlet, she will not act as a chorus" (201). Also, she "cannot analyze her trauma" the way that he does (200). In the context of other Renaissance women dealing with insanity (e.g., Dionys Fitzherbert, Margaret Muschamp, Mary, Moore), Ophelia's experience of "trying to find a voice in the play" seems "a model for the difficulties facing Renaissance women writers" (202).

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Finkelstein, Richard. “Differentiating Hamlet: Ophelia and the Problems of Subjectivity.” Renaissance and Reformation 21.2 (Spring 1997): 5-22.

FEMINISM / HAMLET / OPHELIA / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This essay explores how “Shakespeare uses Ophelia to expose an interplay between culture, epistemology, and psychology which constructs Hamlet’s heroic subjectivity, itself understood through his logic, development, and actions informed by agency” (6). Hamlet and Ophelia are similar in various ways, including their “fashioning a sense of interiority” (6). But they also differ. For example, Hamlet “goes out of its way to disassociate her [Ophelia’s] epistemological habits from the empirical exactitude Hamlet seeks” (11). Ophelia “signifies knowledge which cannot be known with certainty” (10). According to “contemporary French feminism, the opposition of Claudius, Horatio, Fortinbras, and Hamlet (prior to his fifth act embrace of providence) to Ophelia’s manner of signifying cannot be separated from challenges female bodies pose to gendered concepts of fixed subjectivity” (13). Yet Ophelia’s “disjointed speeches do not define a feminine language so much as they interrogate the related economies of object relations and a readiness to act which mark Hamlet’s ‘developed’ subjectivity in the play” (14). The uncertainties of Ophelia’s death “also raise questions about whether agency itself can define subjectivity” (15). While agency and intention “do not function efficiently for either Hamlet or Ophelia,” the play allows “more than one means of defining subjectivity” (17). Through Ophelia, “the play interrogates its own longings, and its participation in defining subjectivity” (18).

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Fisher, Philip. “Thinking About Killing: Hamlet and the Paths Among the Passions.” Raritan 11 (1991): 43-77.

HAMLET

This article contends that “the classical trajectory from anger to mourning . . . is in Hamlet forced backwards” and that “paralysis is the outcome of a paradox within the passions: anger and vengeance can precede settled mourning, but cannot follow it” (45). Traditionally in literature (e.g., Iliad), one responds to murder by angry retaliation and then mourns the loss after performing retribution for the victim. This “revenge ethic is the single most powerful rejection of the most damaging emotional conclusion of mourning, its helpless and inactive waiting” (62), whereas mourning “seems the one passion that stands in the aftermath of the passions themselves” (76). But Hamlet learns of his father’s murder while entrenched in the processes of mourning. In this state, Hamlet cannot “act with vehemence, with single-minded directness, with courage and openness” (47-48). His perhaps “callous” responses to the deaths of Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern provide testimony to “the grip of his deep and primal mourning for his father, whose death makes all else trivial” (61). The “atmosphere of prolonged mourning and the settlement with mourning that the play enacts, point toward the kind of world lost in the death of the former king. The unsuccessful heir of the same name will never live to embody his virtues in the new world that follows” (77).

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Foakes, R. A. “The Reception of Hamlet.” Shakespeare Survey 45 (1993): 1-13.

HAMLET / RECEPTION THEORY

After identifying the negative connotations of Hamletism (e.g., melancholy, inaction), as “a far cry from the heroic Hamlet portrayed on the eighteenth-century stage,” and from Ophelia’s and Horatio’s complimentary descriptions of the Prince, this article traces “how and why this shift took place, and comment[s] in a preliminary way on its significance for interpreting Hamlet now” (2). “The idea of Hamletism as an attitude to life, a ‘philosophy’ as we casually put it, developed after the Romantics freed Hamlet the character from the play into an independent existence as a figure embodying nobility, or at least good intentions, but disabled from action by a sense of inadequacy, of failure, or a diseased consciousness capable only of seeing the world as possessed utterly by things rank and gross in nature” (12). Hamletism entered the “public arena” through “its use by poets like Freiligrath, Valéry or Yeats, novelists like Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, and James Joyce, and directors like Peter Hall, to characterize the condition of Germany, or Europe, or the world, or the decline of the aristocracy in the face of democracy, and above all to symbolize modern man” (12). But, “once set free from the play, Hamlet was not easily put back into it”—Hamletism was (8). The prosperous idea of Hamletism “came to affect the way the play was regarded, and the most widely accepted critical readings of it have for a long time presented us with a version of Shakespeare’s drama re-infected, so to speak, with the virus of Hamletism, and seen in its totality as a vision of failure in Man” (12). But failure and success “are narrow and inadequate terms . . . and to recover a fuller sense of the play, we need to put Hamlet back into it as fully as we can” (12).

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Gibinska, Marta. “‘The play’s the thing’: The Play Scene in Hamlet.” Shakespeare and His Contemporaries: Eastern and Central European Studies. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1993. 175-88.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / MOUSETRAP

This essay argues that the dumbshow and The Murder of Gonzago “each has its own specific dramatic function and meaning, by no means identical,” and that interpretations of both parts of The Mousetrap “must be related to the interpretation of Hamlet’s words and behavior” (176). Hamlet’s dialogue with Ophelia seems a dramatization of “his ‘Gertrude problem’: men treat women as sexual objects and women show themselves to be so” (179). Hence, the pantomime performance “begins in the context of Gertrude, not Claudius” (180). The dumbshow’s emphasis on the Player-Queen’s behavior creates “an image of the moral censure passed on Gertrude by both Hamlet and the Ghost” (181-82). During The Murder of Gonzago, Hamlet verbally responds to staged declarations of wifely love, creating a “quasi-dialogue” with the Player-Queen; then he launches “a direct attack” on his mother by asking her opinion of the play (182). Hamlet’s question shifts focus to the throne and corresponds to the Player-King’s lengthy speech—which leads to the poisoning scene. After this pause, “the trapping of the king’s conscience begins”(183). The exchange between Claudius and Hamlet is complicated by pretense and knowledge: “each of them as the Speaker is motivated as the character he is and as a character he pretends to be; also, each of them as the Hearer may have more than one interpretation of the other’s utterances” (184). Unfortunately, Hamlet “can no longer control himself”: acting “contrary to his intentions,” Hamlet voices “implications” that alert the King “before the trap is sprung” (185). Claudius’ sudden exit is a response to the two complimentary actions directed against himself: “the play of Gonzago and the play of Hamlet” (186). Hamlet, “by bad acting,” “offers Claudius an opportunity to strengthen his position” and, “by proving the crime, puts himself in the tragic position of one who in condemning the crime must himself become a murderer” (187).

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Habib, Imtiaz. “‘Never doubt I love’: Misreading Hamlet.” College Literature 21.2 (1994): 19-32.

DECONSTUCTION / HAMLET / TEXTS

Using Hamlet’s love poem to Ophelia as a launching pad, this essay proposes that the “declaration of love affirms subversion as the chief ideology of Elsinore and misreading as its principle text, and announces his [Hamlet’s] mastery over both” (22). Hamlet’s poem (similar to his rewrite of Claudius’s execution order and his letter of return from the voyage) demonstrates an impenetrability suggestive of the Prince’s wish “to be misread” rather than “to be understood satisfactorily” (21). Efforts to be an enigma are spurred by chaos: the world has “become unreadable to Hamlet, and with that Hamlet has become unreadable to others and to himself” (23). But “misreading is the principal Elsinorean activity, and a phenomenon that precedes the Ghost’s disturbing revelation”; for example, Claudius and Gertrude attempt (and fail) to read Hamlet in the coronation scene: “In this tense verbal thrust and parry, readability, i.e., knowability, is established as the besieged site of fierce Elsinorean tactical struggle for dominance” (24). Given the importance of revealing nothing but discovering all, Hamlet “will not let his feelings for Ophelia become Elsinore’s vehicle of legibility into him”; he allows others “only the misreading of incoherence. The more anyone tries to read Hamlet the more he will be misread” (25). Hamlet is “trying to destroy the text of the self and of the world”—simultaneously disallowing “the very idea of a text itself” (26). Hamlet’s Mousetrap “begins the disintegration of Elsinore and the Hamlet play, both of which become sites of defiance of form and meaning” (27). The loss of text/textuality “can only be a prelude to the world’s slide into the random incoherence of death” (27); hence, the deaths of Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencratz, Guildenstern, Gertrude, and Laertes. While Elsinore’s “texts disintegrate and characters collapse, its center, and its chief reader and author, Claudius, begins to deconstruct, losing his authority over both language and action” (28). In the final scene, Claudius the murderer is murdered. The bodies littering the stage at the close of Hamlet are “uniquely a function of this play’s compulsion to consume itself” (29).

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / HAMLET / HORATIO

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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Hardy, John. “Hamlet’s ‘Modesty of nature.’” Hamlet Studies 16 (1994): 42-56.

HAMLET

This article characterizes Hamlet as possessing “unpretentiousness,” “self-awareness,” an “integrated personality,” and “measured self-control”; his “keen moral sense is an uncompromising honesty or tendency to probe and question, in order to penetrate to the truth below the surface” (42). Rather than mindlessly trusting the Ghost, Hamlet logically seeks confirmation of facts before taking action. But Hamlet must be “circumspect and guarded” to find truth in the “claustrophobic” and “poisonous atmosphere” of Denmark (46); hence, several scenes that are commonly interpreted as reflecting poorly on Hamlet, in actuality, are motivated by necessity or high moral purpose. For example, in the nunnery scene, Hamlet’s “bitter cynicism” with Ophelia seems less an act of counterfeiting (as her sudden rejection provides valid cause) and more likely “calculated to shock” the audience of Claudius and Polonius (48). Similarly, Hamlet’s sending of Rosencrantz and Guilderstern to death in England is a “must,” in order for Hamlet to survive the mortal peril (48). Hamlet’s use of The Mousetrap demonstrates the belief that “Truth could only emanate from a convincing likeness” (49). While he searches for truth, Hamlet also heroically ponders challenging questions—“questions sharpened by the circumstances that so sorely vex Hamlet” (54).

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Hart, Jeffrey. “Hamlet’s Great Song.” Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe: Toward the Revival of Higher Education. By Hart. New Haven: Yale UP, 2001. 169-86.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / PHILOSOPHICAL

While continuing the monograph’s argument that the Renaissance was marked by “the intellectual availability of various and often incompatible ways of looking at the world” (e.g., Christianity, Machiavellism) (181), this chapter contends that, in Hamlet, Shakespeare “clearly decided to express a wide range of poetic possibilities and make him the epitome of his age”—the artistic product is “a credible human being and even a credible genius” (175). Hamlet fully engages “most or even all of the contradictory possibilities of the Renaissance, from the lofty aspirations of Pico della Mirandola to bottomless skepticism, from the ideals of humanism to recurrent thoughts of suicide, from the intellectual reaches of Wittenberg to mocking cynicism and an awareness of the yawning grave” (178). “The stature of Prince Hamlet as a great tragic hero rests upon the fact that though in all practical terms he was a catastrophe—those bodies all over the stage—he nevertheless gave himself to and fully articulated the cosmos available to him in all of its splendor, horror, and multiple contradiction” (182). What Hamlet “says becomes the core of the play. It is his voice, not his deeds, that dominates the stage . . .” (169). “The great loss, the terror, we feel at the end of the play comes from the realization that his voice, that great song, is now stilled and that nothing like it will be heard again” (169).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “‘How infinite in faculties’: Hamlet’s Confusion of God and Man.” Literature and Theology 8 (1994): 127-39.

HAMLET / THEOLOGICAL

Aside from debunking R. M. Frye’s reading of Hamlet, this article argues that Hamlet is frustrated “throughout most of the play precisely because he does not balance thought and action, or understand the proper relationship between his faculties of memory, reason, and will and those of his maker” (127). Hamlet’s comment:

Sure he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unused. (4.4.36-39)

marks his “confusion about his own moral faculties of reason and memory and their role in the relationship between God the maker and man the made” (128). Donne, Andrews, Luther, and Calvin describe the creation of man as a discourse among the Holy Trinity, but because Hamlet “holds himself up as author and finisher of his own salvation, not God, not Christ, he will remain outside the discourse of faith” (131). Rather than heed Donne’s sermon on the subject, he also mistakenly assumes that his understanding, will, and memory do not require grace. Hamlet complains about the malfunctioning of his moral faculties and criticizes “the place of original sin in God’s providential plan” (135). He does not comprehend that these “natural faculties” can only be “serviceable to God,” as Donne cautions (134); nor does his “self-absorption” allow him to appreciate fully the “traditional competing vision of faith in providence,” which is “the paradox of our remembering both where we have come [creation] and where we are going [redemption]” (136). The accidental killing of Polonius allows Hamlet a glimpse of “his personal imperfection” and initiates the concession that grace is needed (134). Hamlet returns from sea trusting providence, seeming “to have escaped at last from the ‘augury’ of his mind” (137). This essay concludes by studying the conflicting religious implications of Hamlet’s last spoken words to show that closure “is out of the question, whether our visions are Christian or otherwise” (138).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Mouse and Mousetrap in Hamlet.” Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 135 (1999): 77- 92.

CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / MOUSETRAP / NEW HISTORICISM / PROVERBS / RHETORICAL

Expanding on John Doebler’s work, this essay explores the plethora of connotations of mouse and mousetrap. In relation to Gertrude, the mouse reference in the closet scene could be “a term of endearment” or a pejorative reference to a lustful person (79). Historically, mouse is also connected with “the devil’s entrapment of human lust with the mousetrap” (80); hence, Hamlet’s diction suggests that he perceives Gertrude “at once as the snare that catches the devil Claudius (and the son Hamlet?) in lust, and snared herself in the same devil’s mousetrap” (82). With Claudius, the mouse implies “destructive and lascivious impulses” (84). Hamlet also is associated with the mouse in his role as mouser or metaphorical cat. For example, the “cat-like, teasing method in Hamlet’s madness” appears in his dialogue with Claudius immediately prior to the start of The Mousetrap (88). The mousetrap trope becomes “part of a pattern of images in Hamlet that poises the clarity of poetic justice against a universe of dark of unknowing,” as “the trapper must himself die to purify a diseased kingdom” (91).

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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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Hirsh, James. “Hamlet’s Stage Directions to the Players.” Stage Directions in Hamlet: New Essays and New Directions. Ed. Hardin L. Aasand. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2003. 47-73.

ADVICE TO PLAYERS / HAMLET / METADRAMA

This study sets out to uncover the significance of Hamlet’s directions to the players through “careful analysis of its [the episode’s] dramatic context” (47). Necessarily, the traditional belief that Hamlet’s theatrical theories are those of Shakespeare must be addressed: “the directions that Hamlet gives the players are distinguishable from the actual dramatic practices exhibited in Shakespeare’s play” (66); for example, discrepancies “between speech and action pervade Hamlet” (53). Hamlet himself commits most of the theatrical crimes that he tells the actors not to do, such as “clowning” in his “antic disposition” (58), and improvising upon the Ghost’s directions (i.e., delaying) (59). “In addition to setting up numerous ironic comparisons with Hamlet’s own behavior, the passage in which Hamlet gives directions to the players is one of a long series of episodes in which one character tells one or more other characters how to act” (59). “Hamlet dramatizes the complex dynamics of situations in which people give directions and brings into high focus by exaggerating [. . .] the potentially incongruous, ironic, or problematic elements of such situations. Rather than being an exception to the rule, Hamlet’s directions to the players provide a detailed and vivid example of the pervasive pattern” (67). They also create ironic similarities between Hamlet and his enemy, Claudius. For example, Hamlet must hold his tongue while Claudius delivers directions and “ironically places the players in a similar situation” (71); while Hamlet recommends “smoothness” (5.1.8) to the players, Claudius calls for “smoothness in devising his plot to send Hamlet to his death in England” (4.3.7-9) (49). Hamlet “has indeed come to resemble his royal uncle in putting to death anyone whom he finds inconvenient” (67). “Rather than Shakespeare’s declaration of his own theatrical principles, Hamlet’s harangue reinforces the ironic and tragic similarities between Hamlet and his ‘mighty opposite’” (72).

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Holbrook, Peter. “Nietzsche’s Hamlet.” Shakespeare Survey 50 (1997): 171-86.

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL / RECEPTION THEORY

While exploring “some of the ways Hamlet mattered to Nietzsche,” this essay suggests that he “seems to have used Hamlet to interpret his own life” and that “his views on revenge . . . illuminate a central issue on the play” (171). In Hamlet, Nietzsche discovers “a hero who finally achieves the ‘active forgetfulness’ essential for ‘psychic order’, and who helps explain his own life, which has meant the progressive detachment of himself from those people and places and tasks that took him away from himself, and yet which were, in the end, justified in so far as they made him what he is” (185). Hamlet also provides Nietzsche with “his most desired self-image: the modern affirming tragic philosopher, he who has seen through the fictions of the world to the bitter truth of its chaos and meaninglessness yet who in spite of that does not succumb to nihilism” (185). Nietzsche admires Hamlet’s “reluctance to have his task given him, for his life to lack its signature and become another’s (his father’s in his case)”: “It had been by not reacting to a great stimulus that he has achieved a self” (185). Seen “from the point of view of self-affirmation, the lives of both Hamlet and Nietzsche are meaningful because highly individualized” (186).

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Hopkins, Lisa. "Parison and the Impossible Comparison." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 153-64.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / RHETORICAL

This article argues that Hamlet's length and enigmatic nature are two interrelated characteristics because the play "doubles and redoubles its situations, its characters, its events and, ultimately, its meaning" (153). The play abounds with "the rhetorical trope of parison," a repetition of "the same grammatical construction in successive clauses or sentences," but Claudius is particularly "fond of the parison" (155). For example, in his first speech (1.2.1-14), Claudius speaks in a "constant generation of twinned structures: by offering two possible locations of meaning, they cancel out the possibility of any ultimate, single, authoritative interpretation or label" (156). The Prince "no less than his uncle is caught in the trap of doubled language and of doubled rhetorical structures, and most particularly in that of parison" (158). From his initial pun to his "To be, or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet's "obsessive use of parison" presents oppositional terms as "yoked together and forced into a position of syntactic and rhetorical similarity which militates considerably against the fact of their semantic difference" (160). An audience's every encounter with the play "becomes a complex negotiation between a series of incompatible choices where meaning is first offered and then shifted or denied, and where its production is always a delicate balancing act" (163).

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / HAMLET / METADRAMA / MOUSETRAP

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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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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Kállay, Géza. “‘To be or not to be’ and ‘Cogito, ergo sum’: Thinking and Being in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Against a Cartesian Background.” AnaChronist [no vol. #] (1996): 98-123.

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL

This essay juxtaposes “some aspects of a dramatised, metaphorical display and a systematically argued, conceptualised presentation of the question as to the relationship between thinking and being, while drawing on Cavell’s insightful dramatisation of Descartes’ universal doubt on the one hand, and on the widely-known (though of course by no means exclusive) conception of Hamlet as the tragic philosopher on the other” (102). According to Descartes, “thinking ensures the fact of his existence, and, further, the existence of God, who will, in turn, ensure the existence of the Universe” (120). In comparison, “Hamlet uses thinking not so much to settle the question of ‘what exists and what does not,’ but to give its extent, to mark out its ‘bourn,’ the frontier dividing being and non-being, only to see one always in terms of the other. The major reason for Descartes’ and Hamlet’s different approaches is, of course, that in Hamlet’s world there is no final and absolute guarantee: in Shakespeare’s Hamlet God seems to interfere neither with thinking, nor with being” (120). But, late in the play, Hamlet claims, “There is a divinity that shapes our end” (5.2.10). These words signify that “his principle of possibility in full operation, paraphrasable as follows: ‘It is indeed doubtful to count with God as an absolute guarantee. But this uncertainty should not make us discard the possibility. It might be the case that he is even willing to ensure and assure us through his bare existence or otherwise, so we must give both alternatives equal chance.’” (121).

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Kawai, Shoichiro. “Hamlet’s Imagination.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 73-85.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

The thesis of this article is that “Imagination is closely related to both passion and reason, and it is through his imagination that he [Hamlet] regains his composure in the last Act” (74). Notable philosophers (e.g., Bacon, Plato, Burton, Wright, Donne) have long considered imagination as “the intermediary between sense and reason”: the senses perceive information to create a “phantasma” or image of an object that the reason judges (74). Hamlet does not have an overactive or problematic imagination; for example, he sees the same ghost that others witness (76), but his awareness of potentially interfering passions motivates him to test his judgement, ergo The Mousetrap. Because “passion betrays itself and brings forth a misconceived action” (e.g., Polonius’ murder), Hamlet continuously “tries to control his emotions” (78). As the arguments surrounding Sir James Hales’ suicide and the three branches of action show, “one has to have some emotions and impulses aroused by imagination” in order to complete an act (80). Unfortunately, Hamlet’s “imagination works in such a way that it weakens his resolution instead of strengthening it” (81). After his voyage, Hamlet’s imagination helps him to realize that he was not “born to set things right,” nor is he Hercules facing a “most difficult task” (83): “if he is to be the heaven’s ‘scourge and minister’ (III.iv.175), it is not through his own will, but heaven’s” (83-84).

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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.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

“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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Knowles, Ronald. “Hamlet and Counter-Humanism.” Renaissance Quarterly 52 (1999): 1046-69).

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

This essay reexamines “the question of subjectivity in Hamlet by reappraising the significance of the Renaissance revival of philosophic skepticism; the continued debate between medieval views of the misery of man’s life and the Renaissance celebration of existence; the particular importance of the commonplace in the theory and practice of dialectical and rhetorical topics” (1066). “In the anguish of grief and loathing Hamlet’s subjectivity is realized in a consciousness which rejects the wisdom of tradition for the unique selfhood of the individual” (1066). Yet culture “is as much within as without the mind and Hamlet is forced to submit to the plot and history, albeit in a series of burlesque roles, but for a moment he has stood seemingly, ‘Looking before and after’ (4.4.37), back to antiquity and forward to our own age . . . in which ‘identity crisis’ has become a commonplace expression” (1066-67).

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Landau, Aaron. “‘Let me not burst in ignorance’: Skepticism and Anxiety in Hamlet.” English Studies 82.3 (June 2001): 218-30.

GHOST / HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / NEW HISTORICISM / PHILOSOPHICAL / THEOLOGICAL

This essay proposes that, by considering Hamlet “within the context of the Reformation and the concurrent skeptical crisis, the distinctly epistemological making of Hamlet’s ineffectuality takes on an intriguing historical dimension: it suggests the utter ineffectuality of human knowledge as this ineffectuality was advocated by contemporary skeptics” (218). The opening scene presents “the debacle of human knowledge” (219), the “mixed, inconsistent, confused, and tentative versions of human understanding” through the “uselessness” of Horatio’s learning to communicate with the Ghost and the in-conclusiveness of Bernardo’s “Christian narrative” to explain the spirit (220). This “contradistinction with standard versions of early modern skepticism, which vindicate and embrace human ignorance as against the violent pressures of early modern religious dogmatism,” suggests Shakespeare “to be anxious about uncertainty and its discontents in a way that Greek and humanist skeptics never are” (220). Hamlet’s direct echoing “of contemporary thinkers as diverse as Montaigne and Bruno only strengthens the impression that the play, far from representing a systematic or even coherent line of thought, virtually subsumes the intellectual confusion of the age” (221). “The ghost functions as the very emblem of such confusion” (221), withholding “the type of knowledge most crucial to early modern minds: religious knowledge” (220). The “very issues that are associated, in the Gospels, with the defeat of skeptical anxiety, had become, during the Reformation, axes of debate, rekindling skeptical anxiety rather than abating it” (223). In this context, the Ghost appears “as an implicit, or inverted, revelation” (222), “a grotesque, parodic version of Christ resurrected” (223): instead of “elevating Hamlet to a truly novel and unprecedented level of knowledge” (224), the Ghost “leaves Hamlet with nothing but ignorance” (222). Hamlet claims to believe the Ghost after The Mousetrap, but his ensuing “blunders” “debunk the sense of certainty that he pretends to have established” (227). The problem seems the “inescapably political” world of Denmark, where “errors, partial judgements, and theological (mis)conceptions are never only academic, they cost people their lives and cannot, therefore, be dismissed as unavoidable and innocuous imperfections or indifferent trifles,” as Montaigne and Pyrrhonist believe (228).

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Lawrence, Seán Kevin. “‘As a stranger, bid it welcome’: Alterity and Ethics in Hamlet and the New Historicism.” European Journal of English 4.2 (2000): 155-69.

HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / PHILOSOPHICAL

After exploring the competing theories of Levinas and Heideggar and supporting the first, this essay contends “that while Hamlet recognizes the ethical demands impinging upon him, he avoids them”; he “attempts to reduce the Other to the Same” (163). The Ghost ultimately charges Hamlet to “Remember me” (1.4.91), and Hamlet writes down the order. But penning the command “is a significant gesture in Hamlet’s effort to sidestep it,” to transform it into “my word” (1.5.110) (167). “Hamlet tries to avoid the past as responsibility, defining the Ghost and thereby conquering its alterity” (167). Hamlet also tries to conquer/control death by killing (166). For example, in the prayer scene, Hamlet decides to refrain from murder “until he cannot only control Claudius’ death, but also effectively avert any threat that his ghost, like the elder Hamlet’s, might return from purgatory” (166). “To bring death within his control and to avoid the conscientious claim which ‘the death of the Other’ would have upon him, Hamlet must turn the Other into something at least theoretically capable of appropriation” (166). But Hamlet’s “struggles against conscience only end in his becoming a sort of tyrant” (163). “Like Hamlet, critics try to shake the hold which the past as Other has upon us,” but new historicists should avoid repeating Hamlet’s mistakes (169).

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Levy, Eric P. “‘Defeated joy’: Melancholy and Eudaemonia in Hamlet.” Upstart Crow 18 (1998): 95-109.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / PHILOSOPHICAL

Approaching Hamlet’s melancholy in terms of “eudaemonia or the classical idea of happiness,” this article explores how Hamlet’s “pain is eventually linked with a distinctly tragic doctrine of eudaemonia according to which unhappiness or dysdaemonia can fulfill a purpose higher than eudaemonia” (95). In a classical context, happiness “is not merely a state but the ultimate goal or telos of life,” “directed by virtue” and achieved by “the appropriate use of an aptitude or capacity” (96). Unfortunately, the Ghost’s call for revenge “launches Hamlet on a dramatically ambivalent ‘course of thought’ (III.iii.83) concerning the proper exercise of his own thinking” (97), making him “eudaemonistically challenged” (98). “Hamlet’s antithetical pronouncements on the proper exercise of reason reflect—and to some extent epitomize—the great antipodes of Renaissance moral doctrine: Stoicism and opportunism” (98). “According to Stoicism, happiness or eudaemonia requires emotionless acceptance of circumstance over which the individual has no final control”; “But according to opportunism, happiness or eudaemonia results from the deft exploitation of circumstance” (105). The Murder of Gonzago emphasizes the “conflict between these opponent interpretations of fortune”: “the impromptu staging of that play exemplifies shrewd opportunism,” but the Player-King stoically articulates “the fragility of human ‘enterprises’ (III.i.86)” (105). “The disjunction between Stoicism and opportunism—acceptance of universal scheme or exploitation of immediate circumstance—achieves ‘reconcilement’ (V.ii.243) in the notion of the drama, Hamlet, as subsuming design unfolded through the singular actions of character” (106). For example, Hamlet opportunistically rewrites his own death warrant but “is acutely aware of a higher power directing his destiny. Hence, the notion of ‘play’ or drama not only becomes a metaphor for the encompassing design of end-shaping divinity, but also underscores Hamlet’s own status as the eponymous hero of the tragedy concerning him” (106).

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Levy, Eric P. “‘Nor th’ exterior nor the inward man’: The Problematics of Personal Identity in Hamlet.” University of Toronto Quarterly 68.3 (Summer 1999): 711-27.

HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / PHILOSOPHICAL

This essay argues that Hamlet “profoundly critiques prevailing assumptions regarding this relation [of inner/outer dimensions], and dramatizes an alternate conceptualization of human identity” (711). In Hamlet, inwardness “is notoriously problematic and in need of outward verification” (712). “But outward verification of inwardness is itself notoriously problematized in the world of the play,” where characters hide behind false exteriors “to probe behind the presumedly false exteriors of another” (715). While exemplifying this problem in the play, Claudius and Polonius’ hiding behind the curtain to spy on Hamlet and Ophelia also “epitomizes the notorious discord between inward and outward during the Renaissance” (715). The period’s “emphasis on self-presentation” led to suspicions “concerning authenticity” (715); hence, Hamlet applauds the actors’ skills “at simulating the emotions deemed appropriate” (717). This stress on outwardness also created an “inconsolable isolation,” as individuals had to conform to the moral expectations of their audiences rather than their own inner worlds (716). In the play, death appears as a metaphor for “the plight of inwardness, isolated from authentic and intelligible outward expression” (717). For example, the Ghost’s “private suffering” cannot be spoken of because the horror is too great (717), and a dying Hamlet’s assertion that “the rest is silence” (5.2.363) “associates death with the incommunicable privacy of that centre of interiority” (718). But, in the closet scene, Hamlet seems to realize that behavior can do “more than confirm the inmost part. It can also modify or transform it” (722). He directs Gertrude to “Assume a virtue” (3.4.162), “not a false appearance, but a sincere imitation of virtue in order to overcome ‘habits evil’ (3.4.164)” (723). This “notion of cathartic action, outward expression becomes the means of effecting inward reform” (725). Unfortunately, Hamlet cannot completely reconcile the inner/outer “reciprocal estrangement in the world of the play” because he does not possess “exclusive control” (724). The play ends with Horatio’s and Fortinbras’ eulogies of the Prince, which transform “Hamlet’s own exterior man” (724).

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Levy, Eric. “The Problematic Relation Between Reason and Emotion in Hamlet.” Renascence 53.2 (Winter 2001): 83-95.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

This article suggests that, “though Hamlet is filled with references to the need for rational control of emotion, the play probes much deeper into the relation between reason and emotion—particularly with respect to the role of reason in provoking as opposed to controlling emotion” (84). According to “the classical definition,” “man” is “the rational animal whose reason has the ethical task of rationally ordering the passions or emotional disturbances of what is formally termed the sensitive appetite” (83). But the Aristotelian-Thomist notion of sorrow holds that “reason not only controls emotion but also provokes it,” as “inward pain is perceived by the mind”—“a mental event” that cannot exist without thought (88). The Aristotelian-Thomist synthesis proposes that “inward pain seeks relief through outward expression” (90). Yet such a purging of inner pain “can subject its audience to tremendous strain,” as the play demonstrates, for example, through the effects that Hamlet’s destructive guise of madness have on Ophelia (90). Instead of relief through outer expression, the play suggests that inward pain can be escaped by recognition/understanding of how thought contributes to it and by “modification of the mode of thought creating that pain” (89). For example, Claudius advises Hamlet to end his prolonged mourning by accepting the “inevitability of death” (89); and Hamlet soothes his “misgiving” prior to the duel by shifting his focus to providence (90). Interestingly, his embracing of providence allows Hamlet to convert, what the Aristotelian-Thomist doctrine terms as the “anxiety” and “perplexity” induced by “unforeseen circumstance” into “emotional peace” through “mental awareness (91-92)—“Let be” (5.2.220). While Aristotelian-Thomist synthesis perceives the role of reason as controlling emotion, through moderation, Hamlet uses his thinking to transform emotion (93)—“there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” (2.2.249-50). “The highest task of conscience in Hamlet concerns the moral evaluation not only of the objects of thought or apprehension, but also of the act of thinking about those objects,” for “There remains the responsibility of thought to recognize the emotional consequences of its own activity” (94).

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Levy, Eric P. “‘Things standing thus unknown’: The Epistemology of Ignorance in Hamlet.” Studies in Philology 97 (Spring 2000): 192-209.

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL

This article approaches Hamlet “as an epistemological tragedy in which the need to know collides with the need to maintain the security of ignorance which, in turn, intensifies the turmoil caused by unexpected knowledge” (193-94). While some of the play’s characters (e.g., Claudius) work to maintain ignorance of the truth, those who gain knowledge (e.g., Hamlet) consequentially suffer; hence, “the urge to know threatens the safety of ignorance” (199). The play’s “fundamental epitemological problem” seems “the disruptive effect of acquiring knowledge. Yet in Hamlet, the knowledge most urgently needed but most reluctantly acquired is self-knowledge” (198). A review of Platonic notions suggests that one achieves self-knowledge through the recognition/acceptance of ignorance and the “exertion of self-control” (201). In this light, Hamlet’s delay “is the means by which he progressively directs the need to know towards its morally obligatory goal: self-knowledge” (207). “Only when Hamlet masters his own insistent need to know and probes the implications of ignorance can he move successfully to revenge” (206). “The unexamined irony of Hamlet’s progress toward revenge is that it foregrounds and sets in tragic opposition contradictory aspects of his character: successful thought maturation, with respect to deepening awareness of ignorance, versus enraged reaction to his own censorious judgement” (208). But Hamlet ultimately “achieves epistemological self-control through acceptance of the limits of knowledge, an attitude echoed in his last four lines: ‘the rest is silence’ (5.2.363)” (209).

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Low, Anthony. “Hamlet and the Ghost of Purgatory: Intimations of Killing the Father.” English Literary Renaissance 29.3 (Autumn 1999): 443-67.

GHOST / HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / THEOLOGICAL

This article contends that “Buried deeply in Hamlet, in the relationship between the prince and his father, is a source tale, an unspoken acknowledgement that the modernist project of achieving complete autonomy from the past rested . . . on the denial and forgetting of Purgatory” (446). During “the eve of the Reformation,” the English people—of all classes—were interested in Purgatory because of “concern for their souls and those of their ancestors, together with a strong sense of communal solidarity between the living and the dead” (447). But the reformation put an end to the belief and its practices. As inheritances of material goods replaced inheritances of the moral and “legal obligation” to pray for the dead (and hence to remember past/origin) (451), “focus turned from community and solidarity, with the dead and the poor, toward self-concern and individual self-sufficiency” (466). In Hamlet, the Ghost implies “that he, King Hamlet, was Catholic” (453) and that he has returned from Purgatory because of Claudius’ worst crime: “callousness to a brother’s eternal fate” (454). “Notably, when Hamlet’s father asks his son to ‘remember’ him, he asks for something more than vengeance, but couches his request in terms less explicit than to ask him to lighten his burdens through prayer” (458). Shakespeare’s caution with “his mostly Protestant audience” seems the obvious explanation for this subtlety, but the Ghost’s stage audience suggests another possibility: “throughout the play it appears that Hamlet and his friends, as members of the younger generation, simply are not prepared to hear such a request” (458). “Nowhere in the play does anyone mention Purgatory or pray for the dead” (459), and Shakespeare “leaves the present state of religion in Denmark ambiguous” (461). Hamlet initially appears as the only person mourning Old Hamlet, but the son “does not really remember why or how he should remember his father”; “he has forgotten the old way to pray for the dead” (463). When he is accused “of unusual excess in his grief,” Hamlet “cannot grapple with the theological questions implied. Instead, he is driven inward, into the most famous of all early-modern gestures of radical individualist subjectivity: ‘But I have that within which passes show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe’ (1.2.85-86)” (463). Hamlet’s “plangent words reveal . . . that his deepest concern is not only for his lost father but for himself and for his innermost identity” (463). The son “does not forget his father, he remembers him—insofar as he is capable” (465). But Hamlet’s “ironic legacy” is to complete, “by driving further inward, that earlier self-regarding assertion of progressive, autonomous individualism by his predecessors, who in a moment struck out ruthlessly against the communal past and against the generous benefactions and the crying needs of the dead" (467).

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Low, Jennifer. “Manhood and the Duel: Enacting Masculinity in Hamlet.” Centennial Review 43.3 (Fall 1999): 501-12.

DUEL / FEMINISM / HAMLET

This essay proposes that “in the course of the fencing exhibition, Hamlet discovers a means of performance acceptable to him” (501). Prior to this climactic scene, Hamlet struggles to balance the expectations of his public persona (e.g., prince) with those of his domestic roles (e.g., son). The conflict between the rational thoughts of ideal masculinity and the violent actions necessary to exact revenge compound Hamlet’s dilemma. Hamlet can only act when he finds a personal “form of masculine decorum,” “uniting private and public identities” and performing “the part of a man according to his father’s model” (504). A brief history of dueling proves that Hamlet finds a fitting means to act: “the duel embodies the notion of manhood, both through the correspondence of word and deed and through the implicit legitimization of vigilantism (and, by extension, individualism) as a means of achieving justice” (505). While the duel is initiated with the formality of tradition and ritual, its context within the theatrical production “interrogates the very structure of drama’s mimetic framework” (506). The nature of this lawful duel for entertainment is also altered by the unlawful and lethal intentions of Claudius and Laertes. Claudius seems solely responsible for the deadly results because “The violence set in motion by the king becomes the swordsman’s prerogative” (508). Thanks to Claudius’ ploy, Hamlet is able “to die as an avenger and a true prince” (509).

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Lucking, David. “‘Each word made true and good’: Narrativity in Hamlet.” Dalhouse Review 76 (1996): 177-96.

DECONSTRUCTION / HAMLET / MOUSETRAP

This article explores Hamlet’s “preoccupation with what might be termed self-actualizing narrativization, the process that is by which narrative not only reflects but in some sense constitutes the reality with which it engages” (178). When the Ghost appears in the first scene, interrupting Barnardo’s narrative of previous sightings, “words are translated into facts, story becomes history” (181); but the Ghost does not speak, he does not narrate. In the next scene, the audience meets Hamlet, a figure “destitute of a role” but obviously seeking a cause to warrant his animosity towards Claudius (184): he “has the elements of a story already prepared, and only requires confirmation of that story in order to establish a role for himself” as the avenger (186). Horatio’s report of the Ghost meets Hamlet’s need, and the Prince works quickly to appropriate the phantom for his own story by swearing all parties to secrecy. When he meets alone with the Ghost, Hamlet hears confirmation of his suspicions in a linguistic style remarkably similar to his own. He then uses The Murder of Gonzago “to manipulate Claudius’s behavior in a manner that will fulfil the narrative demands the prince is making on reality, to determine the course of nature and not to mirror it” (190). Regardless of the various possible reasons for Claudius’ reaction to the play, Hamlet interprets guilt to suit his narrative. But the other characters have their own stories, in which Hamlet is interpreted. In the final scene, Horatio “is invested with narrative control,” and there is no certainty that he reports Hamlet’s story—or his own (195).

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Mallette, Richard. “From Gyves to Graces: Hamlet and Free Will.” Journal of English and German Philology 93 (1994): 336-55.

HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / THEOLOGICAL

This essay places Hamlet in the context of sixteenth-century Protestant controversies regarding fate and free will in order to “suggest how, in the last act, Hamlet transcends Reformation discourse even while incorporating their understandings of human freedom” (338). Although the Calvinist view of human will held that sin was innate and unavoidable, a “moderate Protestant” undercurrent promoted a capability to choose correct action. Both views appear, and at times conflict, within the play, as Hamlet appears to develop an understanding of human potency. Initially he bemoans his sense of spiritual imprisonment (even though he voluntarily submits, for example, to the Ghost’s wish for revenge). The killing of Polonius seems the first commitment to action and suggests Hamlet’s growing awareness of freedom. Rather than the sudden ideological shift frequently claimed, Hamlet’s return from the sea voyage marks the continuation of an evolving sense of will. He ultimately achieves “spiritual understanding” of fate and free will—their sharing in mutual and cooperative interaction (350). But Calvinist tenets have not been eradicated from the play: Hamlet’s salvation remains in question, and “human wickedness” increases during the plot’s final stages of progression (351). Judgement beyond the grave remains undetermined by the play; instead, Hamlet fixates on “a reckoning to death itself” (353). In the end, “Hamlet’s embrace of the mystery of his mortality has mysteriously liberated his will” (354-55).

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Malone, Cynthia Northcutt. “Framing in Hamlet. College Literature 18.1 (Feb. 1991): 50-63.

GHOST / HAMLET / METADRAMA / MOUSETRAP / PERFORMANCE

With the goal of bringing “the self-effacing frames of Hamlet into focus” (50), this essay examines “the particular theatrical frame in which Hamlet was first performed, the Globe theater” and considers “thematic and formal issues of framing in Hamlet, positioning these textual issues within the discussion of the theatrical space” (51). The performance space “cannot be contained completely by the theatrical frame; it seeps outward: before [e.g., “extruding limbs or bodies of actors”], behind [e.g., actors’ “holding place ‘behind’ the stage”], between [e.g., “sites of transition” between spectacle and spectator or inside and outside], above [e.g., the Globe’s open roof], below [e.g., the Ghost’s voice from beneath the stage]” (52). While the theatrical frame simultaneously defines and questions the boundaries of the performance space, “Hamlet plays out a sequence of dramatic frames that mirror the theatrical frame and double its doubleness” (53). For example, the Ghost provides the pretext for the revenge plot but “functions at the outermost edges of the play” (53), seeming “to inhibit the very borders of the dramatic world” (54); in The Mousetrap, “Revenge drama is enacted within revenge drama, with the players of the central drama as audience, and stage as theater” (57); Hamlet exists inside and outside of The Mousetrap, enacting the roles of both chorus and audience (58). But Claudius’s interruption of the play within the play “begins the process of closure for the configuration of frames” (58), and “All of the frames in the play undergo some transformation in the process of closure” (59). For example, “the framing Ghost of Hamlet” is internalized by the son when Hamlet fully appropriates his father’s name (59): “This is I, / Hamlet the Dane” (5.1.250-51); Hamlet transforms into the avenger, murderer (Claudius’s double), and victim (Old Hamlet’s double) (59). Ultimately, he passes “from the world of speech to the world beyond”; in comparison, Horatio “is released from his vow of silence, his function is transformed from providing the margin of silence surrounding Hamlet’s speech to presenting the now-dumb Prince” (60). As Hamlet’s body is carried away, “a figured silence closes the frame and dissolves into the background of life resumed” (60).

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Milne, Joseph. “Hamlet: The Conflict Between Fate and Grace.” Hamlet Studies 18.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1996): 29-48.

HAMLET / THEOLOGICAL

This article proposes “that Hamlet did have the choice to submit to Fate or not and that the option of regenerative Grace was open to him but that he rejected it” (32). “Shakespeare is concerned with ultimate choices, life or death choices, and these are dramatically framed within the Christian Platonism of the Renaissance”: the election of grace/heaven brings “the power of love and of regenerative mercy,” while the selection of fate/hell brings sin, chaos, destruction, and a reversed order of nature (31). In the play’s first act, Hamlet “is at the crossroads of a higher or a lower state of being. These two states are represented by the demands of the Ghost on the one hand, and those of Ophelia on the other”; the first “demands death,” and the latter “demands new life” (37-38). Unfortunately, Hamlet rejects Ophelia and the “Absolute Beauty” that she represents, marking “a decisive change in his state of being” (38). The “consequence is a negation of the power of Grace and a reversal of the unitive power of Love” (41). For example, Claudius possesses the possibility of redemption (particularly in his post-Mousetrap attempts with prayer), but Hamlet’s thirst for revenge—“not mercy, not even justice”—causes the Prince to miss a golden opportunity in the prayer scene (43). Instead, of redeeming or even slaying Claudius, Hamlet goes to his mother’s closet and kills Polonius. “With this deed the first steps of Claudius upon the path of salvation are halted and reversed,” as they are also for Laertes (44). Polonius’ son now “mirrors Hamlet’s original situation exactly” (45). In the final scene, Hamlet apologizes to Laertes by drawing distinctions between himself and his deeds—a merciful separation that he could not make with Claudius and his father’s murder. “Had Hamlet applied this transformative principle to Claudius, then the play would not have been a tragedy” (46). But it is. “The play ends with the natural order reversed, with vengeance lord where Grace should rule, death where life should be” (47).

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Mollin, Alfred. “On Hamlet’s Mousetrap.” Interpretation 21.3 (Spring 1994): 353-72.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / MOUSETRAP

After debunking the popular theories of why Claudius fails to respond to The Mousetrap’s dumb show and makes a delayed exit during The Murder of Gonzago, this article offers a “fresh approach” by dissecting the reactions of Claudius and the stage audience to Hamlet’s The Mousetrap (359). The accuracy of the dumb show suggests to Claudius that Hamlet has some proof that may turn the stage audience against the King. But Claudius consistently maintains his composure during even the most volatile situations (e.g., Laertes’ mob riot), and the pantomime does not identify an incriminating familial relationship between Player-Murderer and Player-Victim. In the spoken play, the Player-Queen’s similarities to Gertrude increase Claudius’ internal anxiety. But to halt the play would be to force Hamlet’s hand. “Claudius has no choice but to wait and discover how severe Hamlet’s accusation will be” (361). Hamlet’s identification of the murderer as a nephew, rather than a brother, initially causes Claudius relief that there is “no public indictment”; “But the game is over. The Mousetrap accomplished its purpose. Claudius has silently unmasked himself” because an innocent person would have immediately responded (362). Meanwhile, the stage audience is shocked by the “tasteless dumb-show” and the insulting spoken play that makes Hamlet’s theater production appear treasonous (362). They must wonder why any king would endure “such threats and insults” (363). Fortunately, Hamlet calms the stage audience by interrupting the performance to explain the source and to indirectly note the drama’s divergence from recent events. Claudius chooses this moment to exit because he realizes that, in remaining silent, he has revealed himself to Hamlet. He also recognizes the staged covert threat: the Player-Nephew kills the Player-King. Staging The Mousetrap “with Claudius outwardly calm and unmoved throughout both the dumb-show and the spoken play, reacting only after his unmasking,” seems “preferable” and “most faithful to the text” (369).

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Morin, Gertrude. “Depression and Negative Thinking: A Cognitive Approach to Hamlet.” Mosaic 25.1 (1992): 1-12.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

Using the cognitive-behavior approach, this essay hopes to demonstrate that “Hamlet is, essentially, a portrayal of a tortured, depressed young man who loses his way in the labyrinth of his negative thoughts” (2). Rather than agree with Freud’s assessment of Hamlet as a victim of the unconscious, this article presents the protagonist as the responsible party of a “common occurrence”—depression (2). Hamlet reacts to the loss of his father and his mother’s hasty remarriage “by employing negative schematic processes”—learned responses (3). His soliloquies reveal examples of “cognitive logic error that leads to and reinforces the depressive’s negative view” (4): Hamlet’s fascination with death reflects “selective abstraction,” in which the positive aspects of life are overlooked (5-6), in favor of “absolutist, dichotomous thinking,” which views death as the “principal reality” (6); he suffers from the cognitive error of “overgeneralization” when he concludes that Gertrude’s flaws extend to all women (7-8); his poor prediction for the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude (and thus the creation of a self-fulfilling prophesy) demonstrates “arbitrary inference” (8); Hamlet’s various methods of self-criticism include “magnification and minimization” (9), “inexact labeling” (9-10), as well as “self-coercive” thoughts (10). According to this approach, the depressed person “thinks him/herself into an impaired mood” (11). While literary studies may benefit from the new insights of cognitive-behavioral research, the simultaneous hope is that psychologists, researchers, and patients may benefit from reading Hamlet (11).

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Nameri, Dorothy E. "The Dramatic Value of Hamlet's Verbal Expressions: A Linguistic-Literary Analysis." The Nineteenth LACUS Forum 1992. Lake Bluff: Linguistic Assoc., 1993. 409-21.

HAMLET / RHETORICAL

Utilizing "a linguistic-stylistic approach as an enlightening aid in literary analysis," this scientific study examines the playwright's "application of the dramatic value of the verb in depicting the character of his most diverse, controversial hero-Hamlet" (409). The linguistic methodology of Dorothy Nameri mathematically measures Hamlet's "semantic role that of an agentive ('active') or a non-agentive participant in the action described by the verb in the proposition" (410). Validating this thesis, charts, graphs, and percentages show "the compatibility between Hamlet's A [Agentive]/NA [Non-Agentive] verbal expressions and his corresponding semantic role" (417). For example, the closet scene marks a "rise in the percentage of his AVE [Agentive verbal expressions] here-71%-the highest in the play" (415). His lowest percentage of AVE-31%-appears in act four, scene four, when Hamlet is departing Denmark and encounters Fortinbras' forces (417). This study's results "illustrate an additional aspect of Shakespeare's artistry where he merges linguistics and stylistics in the creation of character" (418).

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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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Nyberg, Lennart. "Hamlet, Student, Stoic-Stooge?" Cultural Exchange Between European Nations During the Renaissance: Proceedings of the Symposium Arranged in Uppsala by the Forum for Renaissance Studies of the English Department of Uppsala University, 5-7 June 1993. Ed. Gunnar Sorelius and Michael Srigley. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia 86. Uppsala: Uppsala U, 1994. 123-32.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

Attempting "a synthesis of what has been discovered about the intellectual and theatrical nature of the play," this study approaches Hamlet "from the point of view of the idea of role-playing, as it is explored in the play and reflected in the intellectual background, especially in the Italian sources of Castiglione and Machiavelli" (125). The very "idea of role-playing, which in many of the comedies is explored with a sense of joy and liberation, is in Hamlet more often than not viewed with disgust" (127). For example, Hamlet spends much of the play not only trying out roles for himself but making the masks of others slip (128-29). Castiglione considers an individuals mask "affectation" (127). Hamlet has the "skill to read the deceptive masks of others," as the nunnery scene proves (129). But he never really succeeds in unmasking Claudius with The Mousetrap. The problem is that the King "is as skillful a role-player as Hamlet himself" (129). Both share striking characteristics of Machiavellism (130) and of an adeptness with improvisation (129). Even their "expressions for a belief in providence" are eerily similar (130). Together, Claudius and Hamlet suggest the play's conflicting assessments of role-playing: "On the one hand the role-playing capacity of man is celebrated but, on the other hand, the immoral purposes it can be employed for give it a dark tinge" (131).

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Ozawa, Hiroshi. “‘I must be cruel only to be kind’: Apocalyptic Repercussions in Hamlet.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 73-85.

CLAUDIUS / GHOST / HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / THEOLOGICAL

This essay examines “the problematic ‘poetry’ of Hamlet as an expression of the [Elizabethan] period’s apocalyptic concerns” (87). Prophetic signs (e.g., eclipse, a nova, the Armada’s defeat) heightened a sense of millenarian expectations in Shakespeare’s audience (88-89). Hamlet contains “an ominous sign foreshadowing ‘some strange eruption’” that “endows the play with a haunted sense of eschatology” and that “embodies and objectifies an apocalyptic ethos”: the Ghost (89). Interestingly, “fury, almost a violent ecstasy, is first and foremost triggered by the fatal encounter with the Ghost, that is, by an eschatological provocation” (91). A brief history of self-flagellation shows “that the eschatological ethos induced an ascetic self-torture in the hope of purging earthly sins from the body” as well as “engendered self-righteous violence towards Jews (and Turks), people marked as fatal sinners and Antichrist in the Christian tradition” (90). This combination is labeled “oxymoronic violence” (91). In Hamlet, the Prince alternates between “extrovert and introverted violence” (92): he berates himself and attacks all perceived sinners (e.g., Gertrude, Ophelia). He “is too intensely possessed with a disgust at fleshly corruption” rather that with an interest in revenge (93). While Hamlet parallels radical sects (95), Claudius is similar to King James; both rulers fear the danger of “fantasies” or madness, “a real political threat” to any throne (96). Shakespeare’s play “is a cultural rehearsal of an apocalyptic psychodrama which lies close to the heart of the Christian West” (98).

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Partee, Morriss Henry. “Hamlet and the Persistence of Comedy.” Hamlet Studies 14 (1992): 9-18.

GENRE / HAMLET

This article views Hamlet “as a profound comic figure developing within an intensely tragic context” (9). Hamlet initially appears to be the young lover and student, without volition, responsibility, nor self-awareness; he alternates between the extremes of depression and merriment, while remaining subordinate to authority (e.g., Claudius). But he gradually sheds these “trappings of comic detachment” (13) and begins to acquire the traditional characteristics of a tragic figure (e.g., personal guilt, moral responsibility). Hamlet’s shift parallels the state of Denmark, which originally seems stable but is slowly revealed as corrupt. Hamlet’s transformation is complete in the final moments of his life, when political concerns receive his focused attention and mature handling. Interestingly, Fortinbras’ convenient claiming of the throne “represents a distinct return to the domestic tranquility of comedy” (16). Ultimately, Hamlet’s complexity “stems from the interacting modes of comedy and tragedy” (16).

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Porterfield, Sally F. "Oh Dad, Poor Dad: The Universal Disappointment of Imperfect Parents in Hamlet." Jung's Advice to the Players: A Jungian Reading of Shakespeare's Problem Plays. Drama and Theatre Studies 57. Westport: Greenwood P, 1994. 72-98.

HAMLET / JUNGIAN / PARENTHOOD / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This essay presents a Jungian reading of Hamlet's "universal experience of parental discovery" (74). The death of the "good father" and the remarriage that transforms the "good mother" into a sexual being force "the ideal, archetypal parents of imagination to die a violent death" (75). Hamlet copes with the psychological upheaval by regressing "to an earlier stage of his development": he becomes the "trickster" (75). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern represent "another manifestation of the trickster" (76); hence, the pair must die to mark Hamlet's "integration of the trickster figure" (77) and his ability to leave childhood behind (94). The Gravediggers also appear as the trickster figure to show that "he is not within Hamlet" and that "he has been integrated" (94). In this scene, Laertes functions as the "shadow" and Ophelia as the "rejected anima"; Hamlet "becomes one with both" when he leaps into the grave (94). Horatio is the "self" for Hamlet, "the ideal man he would become" (88), and Fortinbras offers another form of the "self," "the man of action" (97); "these two symbols of the self" merge in the final scene (96-97). But Hamlet's progression towards integration proves difficult, alternating between depression and mania. Only the presence of art (symbolized by the players) causes Hamlet to be "taken out of himself by interest in the world around him," demonstrating his "dependence upon art as salvation" (86). Hamlet's use of The Mousetrap drama suggests a hope "not simply to kill but to redeem" Claudius and "to rediscover the goodness he seeks so desperately in those around him" (87). Ultimately, Hamlet cannot avoid violence, "but he gives us courage, generation after generation, to attempt the ideal while existing with the sometimes nearly unbearable realities that life imposes" (97).

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Reschke, Mark. “Historicizing Homophobia: Hamlet and the Anti-theatrical Tracts.” Hamlet Studies 19 (1997): 47-63.

FEMINISM / HAMLET / METADRAMA / NEW HISTORICISM / QUEER THEORY

After acknowledging the complications of studying sexuality before the late eighteen hundreds and the feminist efforts to historicize misogyny, this article examines Hamlet “to demonstrate how misogyny intersects with a nascent form of homophobia, a cultural fear of male-male sexual bonding articulated in the anti-theatrical tracts” (49). A survey of anti-theatrical propaganda reveals cultural anxieties about effeminacy, sexual promiscuity (e.g., sodomy), and any behavior that undermines social/patriarchal institutions (53). Hamlet “seems to embody the specific juncture of misogyny and fear of male-male sexual desire that the anti-theatrical tracts begin to coordinate” (55): he clearly shows misogynistic tendencies with Gertrude and Ophelia; he also voices his attraction to “dead or distant men” (e.g., Old Hamlet, Yorick, Fortinbras) because his fears of the sodomy stigma restrict the expression of such sentiments to “men only in relationships in which physical contact is impossible” (56); with Horatio, Hamlet disrupts every moment of potential intimacy by interrupting himself, “trivializing his own thoughts,” pausing, and then changing the discussion topic to theatrical plays (57). Hamlet’s behavior “demonstrates the power of anti-theatrical homophobia to regulate male behavior” and “expresses the anti-theatrical complex that . . . anticipates modern homophobia” (57). While the playwright “comes close to overtly acknowledging the cultural/anti-theatrical association of sodomy with the male homosociality of theatre life,” “A metaphoric treatment of anti-theatrical concerns, including homophobia, corresponds to—and possibly follows from—the meta-theatrical concerns that structure form and character in Hamlet” (58).

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / GHOST / HAMLET / HORATIO / LAERTES / OPHELIA / PERFORMANCE / POLONIUS

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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Russell, John. Hamlet and Narcissus. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1995.

HAMLET / PARENTHOOD / PSYCHOANALYTIC

In the introduction, this monograph presents comprehensive descriptions of Freud’s psychoanalytic premises (e.g., Oedipus Complex, Pleasure Principle), of Margaret Mahler’s advancements in the study of infant development, and of Heinz Kohut’s explorations of the self and its development. The primary arguments are that distinctions seperate the Freudian and psychoanalytic projects, that “the conflicts that inform and structure Shakespearean tragedy are precisely those elucidated by contemporary psychoanalysis” (16), and that Hamlet’s “commitment finally is not to reality but to the distortions of narcissistic fantasy” (23). After this laying of groundwork, the first chapter focuses “on the distortions in Hamlet’s behavior that are the result of that most characteristic pre-Oedipal strategy of defense, splitting”; the next chapter examines Hamlet’s mother/son relationship with Gertrude; chapter three draws on Kohut’s understanding of the Oedipal period in order to explore the Prince’s father/son relationship with the Ghost/Hamlet, Sr.; chapter four explains “the puzzling and controversial delay” in Hamlet; and the final chapter treats Hamlet’s “surrender to one of the deepest and most powerful of narcissistic fantasies, the fantasy of death” (38). Similar to psychoanalysis, “the great theme of Shakespearean tragedy is the death of fathers and the complex of narcissistic conflicts that congregate around the passage of authority from one generation to the next” (180-81).

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Sadowski, Piotr. "The 'Dog's day' in Hamlet: A Forgotten Aspect of the Revenge Theme." Shakespeare and His Contemporaries: Eastern and Central European Studies. Ed. Jerzy Liman and Jay L. Halio. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1993. 159-68.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

Focusing primary on Hamlet's words to Laertes-"The cat will mew, and dog will have his day" (5.1.292)-this essay proposes that many of Hamlet's "cryptic statements" have a "profound significance and point to a complex of ideas existing outside of Shakespeare's text in the sources and traditions to which Hamlet's story originally belonged" (159). For example, possible Hamlet sources (e.g., Historia Danica, History of Rome, Ambales saga, Shahname) consistently contain "the identification of the heroes with dogs or wolves in their role of fierce avengers and rectifiers of their wrongs" (161). These "canine allusions" "refer to a well-defined complex of cultural ideas and rituals, particularly characteristic of pre-Christian Scandinavia, in which canine symbolism played a dominant role" (161). Hamlet's "barbaric, 'canine' soul" ultimately awakens in the play's final scene, doing justice to "the vast and old heroic tradition of pagan Scandinavia" (166).

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Scott, William O. “The Liar Paradox as Self-Mockery: Hamlet’s Postmodern Cogito.” Mosaic 24.1 (1991): 13-30.

DECONSTRUCTION / HAMLET

By studying Hamlet’s attempts to refashion himself, this article hopes to clarify “selfhood and the self-reflexive nature of speech and action” as well as “some relationships among the phenomena of postmodernism” (13). Hamlet demonstrates psychologist T. S. Champlin’s self-contradiction, self-evidence, self-knowledge, self-deception, and paradoxical self-reference. The theatrical dimension of Hamlet only contributes to the paradoxes of self-refashioning’s linguistic methods. Fortunately, Montaigne offers insights. After exercising this gamut, Hamlet discovers providence, “the external form to embody the mystery and to direct an ultimate, fatal self-fashioning” (28). Hamlet has already taken actions and set events into motion; hence, his providence “completes a process that begins in a paradoxical knowing and accepting of one’s weakness” (28). Hamlet’s “passiveness and his ironic view of self-consciousness make him in effect a precursor of postmodernism, and locate postmodernism itself in ancient paradox” (29).

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Shimizu, Toyoko. “Hamlet’s ‘Method in madness’ in Search of Private and Public Justice.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 57- 72.

HAMLET

After reviewing critics who proclaim Hamlet mad, this article contends that the Prince only feigns the appearance of insanity to pursue “his reality, his own identity” as an avenger and a monarch (61). Although Gertrude, Polonius, and Ophelia are fooled, Claudius “could never mistake Hamlet’s assumed madness as real” (67). The King correctly identifies insanity in Ophelia and sanity in Hamlet, only agreeing with others’ psychological evaluations of the Prince as a pretense to send Hamlet away. Unfortunately, Hamlet “is obliged to obey” Claudius’ order to England because he is “at a disadvantage” (68). Hamlet is in “the most passive and most uncertain situation” (62): “he can do nothing” because “he does not have any facts that would enable him to verify the ghost’s story of royal crime” (63). The Mousetrap does not provide “psychological confirmation” (67), and the execution commission to England offers tangible but indirect proof (69). As “the first modern revenger on the Elizabethan stage to doubt the objectivity of a ghost,” Hamlet “is indeed a man of modern consciousness,” who “suffers from a moral dilemma” of logic and reasoning (65). He experiences “a succession of deeply disturbing events,” but he “retains his inner self all the time,” never forgetting his personal and social duties (64). Hamlet returns from the voyage “prepared for his destiny in a state of serenity” and awaiting “divine justice in the duel” (69). While he may suffer from melancholy, Hamlet maintains “his noble mind” “to search for private and public justice” (69-70).

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / HAMLET / OPHELIA / PSYCHOANALYTIC

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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Stanton, Kay. "Hamlet's Whores." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 167-88.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / LAERTES / OPHELIA

This interpretation explores all the variations of whore-dom in Hamlet. The women are not the only ones prostituted. Like Ophelia, Hamlet is "'whored' by the father": "The older generation incestuously prostitutes the innocence of the younger" (169). Further examples include Polonius prostituting Laertes and Reynaldo with plans of spying and Claudius, the "symbolic father," similarly misusing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (169). But the victims are not entirely innocent either. Hamlet "whores" the theater and its actors--"his great love"--by perverting artistic purpose and integrity (173), and the play-within-the-play "whores him as he has whored it, making him no longer one of the innocent, but one of the 'guilty creatures' at and in the play" (185). Laertes misuses his favorite pastime, fencing, to destroy his perceived enemy (180). The duel, "a gruesome perversion of the sex act" complete with phalluses and pudendum (181), leaves a dying Hamlet to whore Horatio, Fortinbras to whore Hamlet's story, and a new "bawd" to reestablish the patriarchy (182). Because these males insist on a binary opposition between genders, ever fearing womanly characteristics within themselves, they project their "whorishness" onto female targets, covering over masculine violence (178). The closet scene exemplifies this technique: after Hamlet murders Polonius, Gertrude's "supposed sin is made to overshadow his actual sin and somehow to justify it" (179). Only in death does Ophelia escape the whore image, but she becomes the "worshipped Madonna as Hamlet and Laertes can then safely whore their own self-constructed images of pure love for her as rationale for violence against each other" (179). The whoring consumes the play, as Hamlet "'whores' Hamlet the prince to be the organ for its art" (183).

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / HAMLET / “OLD MOLE”

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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Takahashi, Yasunari. “Speech, Deceit, and Catharsis: A Reading of Hamlet.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 3-19.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC / RHETORICAL

Drawing heavily on the linguistic theories of J. L. Austin, J. R. Searle, and Keir Elam, this article approaches Hamlet as “a remarkably complex and rich essay into the possible modes of speech and narrative” (6). Analysis of the play’s first five lines initiates a study of “expressionistic possibilities of language” (3). For example, Barnardo’s “Who’s there?” (1.1.1) suggests the setting’s dark lighting, the speaker’s anxiety, and the play’s central theme of uncertain identity (3-4). The protagonist’s psychological complexity provides particularly intriguing examples of language. In act one, scene two, Hamlet “attempts to speak of something within that cannot be adequately expressed and at the same time to hide that within which cannot be adequately hidden,” meaning that his “speaking is indistinguishable from counterfeiting” (9). After meeting the Ghost, he appropriates “as his own style the ‘pretended forms’ of speech” by donning the guise of madness (11). Hamlet leaps “out of the bounds of his ‘antic disposition’” to discover “the role of playwright / director,” as a result of the player’s Hecuba speech (14). Unfortunately, Hamlet’s theory of acting seems “at odds with what he practices”; the son’s overacting in the closet scene presents but one example of “the gap between the representor and the represented” (15). During his voyage at sea, Hamlet “takes an important step towards recovering his identity by using his father’s seal as his own” (16). Upon his return to Denmark, he speaks without counterfeiting, and his “speech on the fall of a sparrow provides ultimate proof of his transformation” (16). When Hamlet “unwittingly plays the role that providence has allotted to him,” in the final scene, the “gap between role and actor disappears” (17).

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Taylor, James O. “The Influence of Rapier Fencing on Hamlet.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 29.3 (1993): 203-15.

DUEL / HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

This article contends that Hamlet’s transformation in the last act of the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s execution, as well as the slayings of Claudius and Laertes “are best understood if seen in the context of fencing, the imagery of which informs and illuminates the play” (203). A brief survey of Elizabethan fencing trends and of Vincentio Saviolo’s guidance to duelers provides an informative backdrop for the argument based on “the relationship between the rapier as an effective weapon and the word as a rapier—an even more effective weapon” (205). Throughout Hamlet, fencing and language are related because Hamlet’s “metaphorical sharpening and focusing of language” mirrors the duelist’s need to “keep his weapon honed and his skill exercised so that he will be ready to counter any attack” (206). For example, Hamlet’s words in 2.2 moves “toward the satiric tradition in which words are wielded as whips and lances and daggers”; the Prince turns “to Juvenal for instruction in their [words’] use because he has not yet fully mastered their power” (208); Hamlet’s meeting with the players marks the moment when “the satirist and avenger coalesce in Hamlet,” as he grasps “the potential of language to strip pretence from the hypocrites and cut deceit from corrupt statesmen” (209); with Gertrude and Ophelia, Hamlet’s “speech becomes pointed and rapier-edged”: “he is as menacing and relentless as the aggressive swordsman who presses every advantage in the fray” (212). With the death order for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet heeds Saviolo’s warning that “the duellist could not afford the luxury of merely wounding or disabling his opponent. The duel was an all-or-nothing venture” (213). Saviolo’s wisdom is also obeyed when Hamlet launches a proper frontal assault on Claudius in the final scene. Although “hardened by his duel with evil and his futile attempts to avenge his father’s murder, Hamlet of the final act has maintained his humanity” (214).

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Terry, Reta A. “‘Vows to the blackest death’: Hamlet and the Evolving Code of Honor in Early Modern England.” Renaissance Quarterly 52 (1999): 1070-86.

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

This article attests that “analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and in particular its characters’ use of promise, provides new and revealing insights into evolving Renaissance codes of honor” (1070). Historical documents show that the Renaissance period marked a “transition in the evolution of the code of honor”: the medieval “external code” (e.g., lineage, deeds, loyalty to a lord) “coexisted and overlapped” with “an internalized concept” (e.g., conscience, godliness, political allegiance) (1071). But, for all of the changes, “the concept of promise did not diminish” (1074). In Hamlet, the major characters “represent different stages in the evolution of a changing code of honor” (1076). For example, Horatio, “utterly loyal and obedient” to Hamlet, “represents the chivalric, medieval concept of honor” (1077); and Claudius, manipulator of loyal courtiers, epitomizes “the way in which a system of honor that is entirely politicized can be perverted” (1082). In comparison, Hamlet appears “as a transitional character in the changing code of honor” (1079): his initial oath commits him to kill Claudius based on “familial loyalty,” while his later vows are voiced “in terms of Christian images” (e.g., “Sblod” [2.2.336], “God’s bodkin” [2.2.485]); also, he voices the first oath privately, in a soliloquy but converts it “to a public form of oath” in discussion with Horatio (1.5.140-41) (1080-81). By medieval standards, Hamlet must avenge his father’s murder; but to kill a king, “God’s anointed ruler” and “an elected king,” is to go against the new honor of conscience (1081). Interestingly, Hamlet “exacts revenge for his father’s murder only after Claudius’s treachery has been publicly revealed by both Gertrude and Laertes,” allowing him to fulfill the initial vow of vengeance and to retain his political/theological honor (1082). But Hamlet’s effort to find a balance in the shifting honor codes “contributes not only to his own tragic death, but to the deaths of several others as well” (1084). Through Hamlet’s characters and their promises, Shakespeare “takes a conventional stance in a period of change” (1084).

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Thatcher, David. “Sullied Flesh, Sullied Mind: Refiguring Hamlet’s ‘Imaginations.’” Studia Neophilologica 68 (1996): 29-38.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This essay hopes “to ascertain what specific ‘imaginations’ (=mental pictures, imaginings, ‘figures’) were in Hamlet’s mind, to ask whether they were transitory, and to pose this crucial question: which they do gravitate towards more—his father’s murder or his mother’s behavior?” (29). While his “imaginations” are visual, the Prince does not imagine the Ghost, nor does his melancholy create the mental projection. However, an awareness of his emotional vulnerability motivates Hamlet to seek confirmation of the Ghost’s report. Hamlet doubts his source immediately prior to the testing of Claudius’ guilt: “imaginations are as foul / As Vulcan’s stithy.” His reference to Vulcan, both the Roman cuckold and “the black lord of hell,” metaphorically reflects on Hamlet, Sr., the Ghost, and Gertrude’s adulterous relationship with Claudius (33). Aside from the fact that Hamlet actually fails to confirm the Ghost’s report and Claudius’ guilt, this article doubts that Hamlet’s “imaginations” would cease if the King were found innocent because the “Oedipal fixation on Gertrude’s sexual abandonment would remain, as it actually does, uneradicated, a proliferating and contaminating source of ‘foul imaginations’” (36).

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Tiffany, Grace. “Anti-Theatricalism and Revolutionary Desire in Hamlet (Or, the Play Without the Play).” Upstart Crow 15 (1995): 61-74.

HAMLET / METADRAMA / NEW HISTORICISM / RHETORICAL / THEOLOGICAL

This essay contends that “Hamlet’s use of the tropes of performance to combat illicit performance parallels a paradoxical strategy which . . . proved useful in the published pamphlets of Puritan reformers of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries”; it also discloses “the structural centrality of these prophetic anti-theatrical discourses to the great ‘anti-play’ of Hamlet” (63). As the writings of Puritan reformers (e.g., Munday, Gosson, Rainolds, Prynne) show, Puritanism’s anti-theatricalism consisted of “three discursive elements”: “social disgust framed in anti-theatrical terms, explicit longing for withdrawal into an as yet unrealized world, and a call for authentic military action to purge the present rotten state” (65). In act one, scene two, Hamlet displays several of these characteristics: his unique dark clothing signals “his puritanist refusal to don the ceremonial garb worn by Gertrude, Claudius, and the rest of the court” (65); in soliloquy, he rejects “all the world’s ‘uses’ (ceremonies) (I. ii. 134)” (65-66); and his “frustrated desire to return to Wittenberg (symbolically important to Elizabethans as the originating site of Reformation discourse) is replaced by a vaguer desire to be ‘taken out of this world’ (recalling Prynne’s phrase)” (66). His “resistance to illicit social theater ultimately taints Hamlet’s response to the traveling players,” as his soliloquy upon their exit “runs curiously parallel to two passages in Saint Augustine’s Confessions, oft quoted by Puritans in condemnation of playhouses” (66-67). Paradoxically, like “the puritanist pamphlets that used the language of play-acting to damn play-acting” (69), Hamlet’s Mousetrap “constitutes anti-theatrical theater, employing role-play to blast role-play” (69-70). The-play-within-the-play also provides an example of Hamlet’s “resistance to traditional tragic plot structures” (68): its “obviousness” makes clear Hamlet’s “awareness of Claudius’ guilt and his plan to punish it” (70). Hamlet rejects “the conventional revenge behaviors of plotting, feigning, and backstabbing” and embraces “overt military action: authentic performance in the genuine theater of war” (71). In the play’s final scene, Hamlet “kills Claudius openly, non-theaterically, and spontaneously . . . he completes the total extermination of a corrupted order” (71). “Like Renaissance puritanist discourse, Hamlet’s rhetoric and action bespeak a mood of the age: an unwillingness to negotiate with a culture whose institutions were perceived as fundamentally corrupt, and an increasing preference for the alternatives of flight or purgative destruction” (72).

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Voss, Paul J. “To Prey or Not To Prey: Prayer and Punning in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 23 (2001): 59-74.

HAMLET / RHETORICAL

This article promotes a punning between prey and pray because such a pun “captures a central ethical debate surrounding the revenge tragedy” (to avenge or to wait for God’s justice?), “makes the reader aware of Hamlet’s primary dilemma shortly after the appearance of the ghost,” and “helps, finally, to concentrate the distinction between mercy and vengeance, meditation and action, reflection and instinct” (59). As evidence of “Conspicuous punning” in Elizabethan English (60), the prey/pray pun appears in Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander,” Spenser’s Amoretti, Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, as well as several of Shakespeare’s plays and poems (e.g., 1 Henry IV, Sonnet 143). In Hamlet, punning, “the guarded expression, the enigmatic reply, becomes Hamlet’s modus operandi,” with examples spanning from the opening scene to the last (61). When he tells Horatio, “I will go pray” (1.5.132), “his rebuttal disseminates and dissembles, promulgates and withholds: Although Hamlet conceals a truth, he also utters one” (63). Given his fresh promise of “action, not contemplation” to the Ghost (63) and Horatio’s immediate “alliterative response” and apparent “surprise” (“These are but wild and whirling words, my lord” [1.5.133]), the text supports the prey/pray pun (64). In addition to illuminating elements of the prayer and closet scenes, recognition of this pun “throws into relief two of Hamlet’s primary concerns” in the “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I” soliloquy (2.2.560-617): “he berates himself for a lack of action, the inability to prey” and voices the “theological consideration” that the Ghost may be a devil in disguise, supporting “the notion that Hamlet’s earlier intention to pray may not have been idle or feigned” (67). Interestingly, “the preyer, like the prayer, required both internal and external action: thoughts alone, without execution, make for an ineffectual revenger. In this way the distinction between revenge and meditation, or between action and thoughts, become rather more pronounced” (69). “The recognition of a single pun between pray and prey allows for a more complex and yet coherent understanding of the events in Hamlet” (69).

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Wagner, Joseph B. “Hamlet Rewriting Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 23 (2001): 75-92.

GHOST / HAMLET / METADRAMA / RHETORICAL

This article posits two intertwined arguments: Hamlet “identifies with his dead parent by reiterating language that honors the older character as a model of morality”; and Hamlet’s need to “adapt his own personality to be sufficiently compatible with his father’s” motivates him “to change or rewrite his play” (76). Although the Ghost seems a rather limited character (rarely appearing or speaking on stage), Shakespeare establishes—and maintains—the audience’s “sharp awareness of the Ghost’s controlling personality” “by taking the imagery, diction, and values that are present in the Ghost’s brief speeches of 1.5 . . . and by re-using them in the thoughts and speeches of Prince Hamlet. Hamlet and the Ghost think alike, and they use almost exactly parallel diction: thus, as he describes his father’s virtues and imitates his father’s speech patterns, Hamlet continually invoked the father’s ethos, and in this way the Ghost’s dynamic presence is maintained when it is not on stage at the same time that the son is going through the process of identification” (78-79). The “identification process culminates” (66) when, “in the dual persona of both son and father, he [Hamlet] appropriates the very image and seal of the father” (77-78). Although it is “an offstage decision that takes him for reaction to action” (76), Hamlet describes “an experience that might be called meta-theater in that he is director and observer, as well as actor”: “he writes the new commission and steers the play into its final course of confrontation with Claudius” (77). But this is not Hamlet’s only attempt “to transform the play” (85). Aside from “his addition of ‘some dozen or sixteen lines’ (2.2.535) to the text of The Murder of Gonzago” (86), his changes to the appropriated play during its performance, and his rewriting of Gertrude in the closet scene, a demonstrative example of Hamlet rewriting Hamlet includes his “considering, like a writer, some alternative ways of rewriting the script so that he can more closely realize his father’s behavior and personality” in the prayer scene (87). With every rewriting (and identification with the father), Hamlet “slowly develops the power to choose action rather than delay or reaction” (88). In the final scene, Hamlet performs one last rewrite: he gives his dying voice to Fortinbras and, thereby, “corrects” the “forged process” that Claudius used to claim the throne (89-90).

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Watterson, William Collins. “Hamlet’s Lost Father.” Hamlet Studies 16 (1994): 10-23.

HAMLET / PARENTHOOD / PSYCHOANALYTIC / YORICK

This article asserts that Yorick’s abstract presence and Hamlet’s memories of the court jester “constitute a benign inscription of paternity in the play, one which actively challenges the masculine ideals of emotional repression and military virtus otherwise featured so prominently in Shakespeare’s drama of revenge” (10). Unlike the other father figures in Hamlet who represent patriarchal authority (e.g., the Ghost, Claudius, Polonius), Yorick is the absent surrogate parent who showed a young Hamlet alternatives to phallocentric oppression and who “remains a central figure in Hamlet’s psyche precisely because he has been lost” (11). By prematurely dying (possibly due to syphilis), Yorick abandoned a seven-year-old Hamlet in the pre-genital stage; hence, Hamlet identifies him as the cause of his sexual deficiency “and associates him permanently with his own anality” (18). Yet Yorick also endowed Hamlet with the skills of jesting and merrymaking, which are so evident in the exchange between Hamlet and the gravediggers. All play is set aside during Hamlet’s interaction with Yorick’s skull, as the “residual child in Hamlet articulates the pain of loss” over his childhood mentor (16). Perhaps the mournful sentiments were shared by Shakespeare, who lost his father around the time that Hamlet was being written (17). While Yorick contradicts paternal cliches, he also raises questions regarding maternal stereotypes and the femininity of death. Even the origin of Yorick’s name suggests “an obscure conflation of gender, [which] actually encodes the idea of feminine fatherhood” (18). Ultimately, Yorick instills in Hamlet “values and emotions fundamentally at odds with the patriarchal codes of masculine behavior” (19).

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Wiggins, Martin. "Hamlet Within the Prince." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 209-26.

HAMLET / RECEPTION THEORY

After identifying the weaknesses in readings of Hamlet by psychoanalysts (e.g., Freud, Jones) and distinguishing dramatic characters from actual human beings, this article charges that "if there are mysterious depths to be sounded in Hamlet, the text itself must refer us to them"-not a knowledge of the Oedipus complex (215). For example, psychoanalytic critics devote a great deal of energy to accounting for Hamlet's delay; but Hamlet directly states his motive when he finds Claudius at prayer: the villain deserves to go to hell (3.3.93-95). Dating back to the 1750's, critics have struggled with a hero voicing plans for a person's damnation. The speech has been censored, denied, and omitted, but disbelieving Hamlet's own words "lies at the root of the internalizing urge in critical readings of the character" (218). Those "who internalize the action of Hamlet are not in fact discussing Shakespeare's play at all, but a palimpsest created through repression in the middle of the eighteenth century, a palimpsest that was subsequently digested and transmitted into the folklore of the play" (220).

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Wright, Eugene P. “Hamlet: From Physics to Metaphysics.” Hamlet Studies 4 (1992): 19-31.

HAMLET / METAPHYSICS / PHILOSOPHICAL

This article analyzes Hamlet’s struggle with “the spiritual mystery of the nature of the cosmos, the nature of mankind, and mankind’s relationship with the cosmos” (20). Hamlet initially views the cosmos as a chaotic garden, but he discovers evidence of “moral order” in the grave yard (23). The unearthed skulls provide tangible evidence, showing “clearly that emphasis upon things physical [e.g., material gains, heroic deeds, death] is useless and insignificant” (24). His shift to metaphysical contemplation is “based upon his understanding of the physical” (25). Although not a product of distinct logic, the conclusion Hamlet comes to is that “indeed a moral order of the universe does exist and that he, and by implication all humans, must act in accordance with that order” (22). Ultimately, Hamlet “uses the best that mankind has, reason, to get at the answers” of challenging questions (28).

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Yoshioka, Fumio. “Silence, Speech, and Spectacle in Hamlet.” Shakespeare Studies 31 (1996): 1-33.

HAMLET / PERFORMANCE

“This study aims to analyse and interpret Hamlet on the premise that the tragedy opens in silence, with a sort of dumb-show” (4-5). Like most early modern play texts, Hamlet’s opening scene “is not furnished with elaborate stage directions,” but the two watchmen most likely do not “embark on conversation right upon their entrance” (6). During this silent posturing, Francisco approaches Barnardo, creating “an instant shift of balance”: “the one who watches is suddenly transformed into the one who is watched” (6). This blurring of watcher/watched initiates “the inseparable and insoluble questions that the play continues to pose” through double spying and The Mousetrap, for example (7). In addition, Barnardo’s groping in the night anticipates Hamlet’s struggle with “darkness,” “blocked vision and invisibility” in the Danish court (7-8). The scene’s dark lighting, suggesting night, eventually relieved by the dawning sun, also creates a binary of black/red that bears “psychological implications” (10): the protagonist “hesitates at the entrance of the grim world of black and red, black for revenge and red for blood” (11). For example, the “initial section of ‘Priam’s slaughter’ is portrayed conspicuously in black and red,” while Hamlet calls for a drink of “hot blood” (3.2.381) and for bloody thoughts (4.4.65-66) after gaining confidence with The Mousetrap (12). The opening scene’s first lines foreshadow the ensuing play: “Who’s there?” and “Stand and unfold yourself” (1.1.1-2). While the first suggests Hamlet’s silent question to the people around him and to himself, the latter highlights the lack of answers, the rift in communication (23-24), and the drive to uncover mysteries—all concerns that consume the play (27). The cemetery scene “unfolds the ultimate phase of human nature and existence to the protagonist” (28). The Prince discovers “spiritual tranquility” but only briefly (29). At the play’s end, a dying Hamlet declares, “the rest is silence” (5.2.359), and the muted funeral procession that follows “is the last of a string of dumb-shows whose theatrical eloquence has served to tell so much of the tragedy” (30).

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / EYE & EAR / HAMLET

“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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Zimmermann, Heiner O. "Is Hamlet Germany? On the Political Reception of Hamlet." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 293-318.

HAMLET / RECEPTION THEORY

This essay examines the "appropriation or, rather, the national German 'expropriation' of Hamlet . . . as an example to show how thoroughly the recipient's historical position and interests can predetermine the meaning distilled from a text, and how far the history of the reception of a text in another culture can acquire an autonomous momentum" (293). When Germans discovered Hamlet in the 1790's, they identified with its protagonist and established the play's mythic importance (293). Since then, the German audiences have alternated between love and hate of the Danish Prince. But by "finding ever new ways of recognizing themselves in Hamlet, the Germans made their understanding of him a pattern of their national comprehension of themselves in crucial historical situations over the last two centuries" (293).

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Contact the author at h.blankenship@hamlethaven.com