New Historicism

Aguirre, Manuel. “Life, Crown, and Queen: Gertrude and the Theme of Sovereignty.” Review of English Studies 47 (1996): 163-74.

GERTRUDE / MYTHIC CRITICISM / NEW HISTORICISM

This article seeks “to explore Renaissance changes in the application of a traditional literary metaphor,” sovereignty, by focusing on “the mythical status of Gertrude and, beyond this, to explore the role, and the fate, of myth in Hamlet” (163). Evidence in Celtic, Greek, and Germanic myths, including The Odyssey, demonstrates consistent attachment of significance to the symbols of cup, water, and cloth—commonly associated with female sovereigns. The (re)appearance of these elements in Hamlet creates intriguing parallels and suggests that Gertrude, not Claudius, possesses sole authority to choose the new king. Some myths offer a defense of the charges against Gertrude (e.g., adultery). For example, in myth there appears a tendency to connect sovereignty with marriage/sexual union. Such myths afford an explanation for the immediacy and compression of wedding and coronation in Hamlet 1.2, which conflicts with the modern perspective of chronological order. While “the queen is the life is the crown” through validating traditional myth (169), the increasing realism of the Renaissance causes a loss of meaning and thus a crux in the play: Hamlet, a “realist,” views the Queen’s marriage to Claudius as stripped of symbolic meaning, as only adultery (171). Subsequently, Hamlet “presents the conflict itself between the old and new as embodied in a modern hero’s confrontation with an ancient myth” (174).

 

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Ayers, P. K. “Reading, Writing, and Hamlet.” Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1995): 423-39.

NEW HISTORICISM / TEXTS

This article analyzes “the literal and metaphorical texts involved in Hamlet and the various reading practices they generate” (423). Hamlet reflects the Renaissance’s transition from scribal culture to print culture. For example, Hamlet’s manipulation of a text, to taunt Polonius indirectly (II, ii), demonstrates that the signifier/signified relationship has shifted from a solid association to an opportunity for creative invention and linguistic crisis; Hamlet’s silent reading, in the same scene, suggests that reading has progressed from the audible and social interaction of limited scribal texts to the private experience allowed by plentiful print texts. Historical perception also alters: past and present were once bonded by scribal texts, and then were divided by print texts; Fortinbras’ disregard for the land compact written by his father and Hamlet, Sr. demonstrates a concern for the present and a disassociation from the past. Another loss brought by the transition is the commonplaces of the scribal culture, which Polonius seems so fond of reciting; in actuality, he possesses a superficial reading of the “ethical rhetoric” (430), and his faulty reading practices suggest a problem associated with the increasing availability of books (431). Reading Hamlet becomes a problem because Hamlet, by asking Horatio to tell his story, has authored a compromised text that is self-generated within a closed system (436). The dramatic text suffers by the processes of print, performance, etc., resulting in a deeply corrupt record of scribal original(s) (436). Hamlet reflects “the shifting cultural landscape from the perspective of the no-man’s land situated between the lines of the great textual boundary disputes of the early seventeenth century” (438-39).

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Baldo, Jonahan. “Ophelia’s Rhetoric, or the Partial to Synecdoche.” Criticism 37.1 (1995): 1-35.

NEW HISTORICISM / RHETORICAL

This article contends that “Renaissance plays, like Renaissance monarchs, owed a great deal of their power and claims to legitimacy to the trope of synecdoche” or “part/whole substitutions” (1). The writings of King James and Locke provide two contending opinions of an impartial monarch who symbolically unites a kingdom. Monarchs in the Shakespearean canon also provide various models of impartiality (e.g., Lear, Richard II). In Hamlet, the impartiality ideal in a king makes a subject (e.g., Horatio) appear “limited, partial, fragmented” and suggests “trouble at the heart of the dramatic (and monarchical) value of impartiality” (10). Hamlet’s malfunctioning synecdoche suggests why critics struggle with the play as if it were incomplete. Ophelia possesses an interest in the union of parts, and her eventual madness “may be a sign of a dis-integration deep within that trope of integration” (27). Confidence in the trope explains Shakespeare’s departure from the classical unities, but synecdochic discourses “are already being dismantled in the most celebrated of Renaissance texts, the tragedies of Shakespeare” (30).

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CARNIVAL / DECONSTRUCTION / NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE

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

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Bell, Millicent. “Hamlet, Revenge!” Hudson Review 51 (1998): 310-28.

GENRE / METADRAMA / NEW HISTORICISM

This article perceives Hamlet as contemporary and as belonging “to that latest Renaissance moment which Shakespeare shares with Montaigne. Yet it deliberately frames its modernity within an archaic kind of story” (311). The stock characteristics of the revenge drama genre receive modernist twists, as if Shakespeare struggles “to evade tradition and audience expectations” (314). For example, the traditional Revenger’s feigning of madness should divert suspicions, but Hamlet’s use of a mask draws attention and raises questions of appearance versus reality; Hamlet’s elements of the metadrama and the mystery play also contribute to such questions, challenging the distinctions between theater/reality and actor/audience. Another conundrum presented in the play is the problem of self-conception. Hamlet appears so pliable in nature, through appearances and contradictions, that he seems the dramatic embodiment of Montaigne’s Essays, which “denied the stability—or even reality—of personal essence” (319). He also seems tortured by the Shakespearean period’s anxiety over the “new man” who challenged prescribed form (320). But Hamlet must come to terms with the conflict between thought and action; he must accept his primary role of Revenger, just as Shakespeare must concede to the audience’s expectations (327).

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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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Champion, Larry S. “A springe to catch woodcocks”: Proverbs, Characterization, and Political Ideology in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 15 (1993): 24-39.

HISTORY OF IDEAS / NEW HISTORICISM / PROVERBS / RHETORICAL

This article analyzes Shakespeare’s conscious use of proverbs “to develop and enhance characterization and also to lend emotional and intellectual credibility to an ideological leitmotif that foregrounds political issues of concern to the Elizabethan spectator” (26). The proverbs spoken by Polonius, Laertes, and Ophelia “reflect an intellectual shallowness”; Claudius’ proverbs “suggest something sinister and Machiavellian” about his character; and Hamlet’s proverbs (as well as the ones others use to describe the Prince) “reveal something of the complexity of the man” (28). Aside from helping to develop characters, Shakespeare’s application of proverbs also “forces the spectators’ attention to political issues that underlie the major action” (32), such as the struggle for power and concern for legitimacy. Given the political climate of the Elizabethan period, Shakespeare’s audience was interested in these political matters. The playwright uses proverbs “to generate a high degree of interest in oppositional politics by depicting diverse ideologies that compete on stage in recreated Denmark and in the minds of the English spectators” (34).

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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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Dane, Gabrielle. “Reading Ophelia’s Madness.” Exemplaria 10 (1998): 405-23.

FEMINISM / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA

Admittedly negotiating the simultaneous rationalization and preservation of insantiy, this article attempts to answer the important question of how to read Ophelia’s madness. Ophelia initially appears “shaped to conform to external demands, to reflect others desires” (406): she is Laertes’ “angel,” Polonius’ “commodity” (407), and Hamlet’s “spectre of his psychic fears” (410). While the conflicting messages from these male/masculine sources damage Ophelia’s psychological identity, their sudden absence provokes her mental destruction. Optimistically, Ophelia’s madness offers the capability of speech, the opportunity to discover individual identity, and the power to verbally undermine authority. A thorough analysis of Ophelia’s mad ramblings (and their mutual levels of meaning) provides “a singular exposé of society, of the turbulent reality beneath its surface veneer of calm” (418); but her words still suggest a fragmented self and provide others the opportunity to manipulate meanings that best suit them. Ophelia’s death is also open to interpretation. While the Queen describes “the accidental drowning of an unconsciously precocious child” (422), this article suggests that “Ophelia’s choice might be seen as the only courageous—indeed rational—death in Shakespeare’s bloody drama” (423).

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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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Fienberg, Nona. "Jephthah's Daughter: The Parts Ophelia Plays." Old Testament Women in Western Literature. Ed. Raymond-Jean Frontain and Jan Wojcit. Conway: UCA, 1991. 128-43.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA / THEOLOGICAL

This essay explores "cultural resonances between the politically unstable time of Judges in Israel's history, the political confusion in Hamlet's Denmark, and the anxiety over succession in late-Elizabethan England" (133). While Jephthah's daughter and Ophelia share similarities, they also differ in an important way: the unnamed daughter is an obedient sacrifice, and Ophelia "develops from her status as a victim" to "an author of a potentially different story, a woman's story" (133-34). Ophelia comes to realize her subversive potential and, in a commanding oration about the weakening of Hamlet's "noble mind," laments the lose of her own political ambitions (135). But her madness empowers her with liberties, such as demanding a meeting with Gertrude. Once granted entrance, "she, like a wandering player, comes to hold a mirror up to the court" (136). Gone is her submissive voice, replaced by "a range of voices" (137). Ophelia now "commands attention" (137). Interestingly, her invasion of the court parallels Laertes' rebellious entrance: they have "competing political claims, his assertive and explicit, hers subversive and encoded in mad woman's language" (137). Because her songs "introduce the protesting voice of oppressed women in society" through the veils of a ballad culture, Ophelia is not understood by her male audience; but her "rebellion against the double standard and its oppression of women arouses fear in Gertrude, who understands" (138). When the Queen reports Ophelia's drowning, she insists "on her time and the attention of the plotting men" (138). Her description portrays "a woman who draws her understanding of her world from women's culture" (139). The Queen, "perhaps like Jephthah's daughter's maiden friends, returned from temporary exile to interpret the meaning of the sacrificed daughter's life" (140).

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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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Floyd-Wilson, Mary. “Ophelia and Femininity in the Eighteenth Century: Dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds.” Women’s Studies 21 (1992): 397-409.

FEMINISM / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA / RECEPTION THEORY

This article contends that “by the late eighteenth century, the era’s evolving notions of gender and the paradoxical effects of censorship actually infused representations of Ophelia with ‘erotic and discordant elements’” (397). Performance reviews and the script from William Davenant’s revival of Hamlet present the Prince as the ideal and honorable hero, Ophelia as the ideal woman, and their relationship as (the ideal) romance. Such changes from the original source are made possible through the deletion of dialogue: Laertes’ cautioning of Ophelia about Hamlet’s intentions, Polonius’ directing of Ophelia to withdraw from Hamlet’s suit, Ophelia’s replies to Hamlet’s sexual innuendoes, and Ophelia’s most bawdy lines in the mad scene. The final product is a sexually unaware and innocent Ophelia, but this shadow of Shakespeare’s character “combines the residual (though censored) sexual awareness of the Renaissance with an emerging ideal of the inherently pure and moral female” (402). Almost a century later, David Garrick introduced large production changes, including modifications to endow Ophelia with the “natural” feminine qualities valued in his own period: “passivity and emotionalism” (403). His Ophelia actor, Susannah Cibber, initiated the “femininity”’ in Ophelia. The contrasts between the two productions of Hamlet and the social periods suggest that the eighteenth century’s censorship “helped turn sex into a secret—synonymous with truth—resulting in the modern desire to release it from its ‘repressive’ constraints” (407).

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Fox-Good, Jacquelyn A. “Ophelia’s Mad Songs: Music, Gender, Power.” Subjects on the World’s Stage: Essays on British Literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Ed. David C. Allen and Robert A. White. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1995. 217-38.

FEMINISM / MUSIC / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA

After discussing the study of Shakespearean music, this essay approaches the words and music of Ophelia’s mad songs as “constituting her own story, using her own voice for her own grief, and for rage and protest” (222). In the historical context of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, music is associated with madness, a “female malady” to borrow Showalter’s phrase (231-32). Aside from the subversive power of music, this medium’s identification with the female/effeminate creates “fear, which led many writers of the period to issue strong warnings against the dangers of music and music education” (232). Ophelia’s songs end her dutiful silence and “constitute her character” (233). “Specifically, in their melodies, harmonies, tempos, and generally in the bodily power of their music, her songs are expressions of loss and emptiness but also of a specifically female power” (233). Ophelia’s assertion of “her power in music makes music a kind of secret code, a deceptively ‘pretty’ language”; music “is nothing (nothing but all things); it is noting; it is to be noted, and reckoned with” (234).

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / METADRAMA / NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE

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

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Greenblatt, Stephen. “The Mousetrap.” Shakespeare Studies 35 (1997): 1-32. [Reprinted in Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt’s Practicing New Historicism (2000).]

NEW HISTORICISM / THEOLOGICAL

This article begins by exploring the observation that “most of the significant and sustained thinking in the early modern period about the nature of linguistic signs centered on or was deeply influenced by Eucharistic controversies” (8), such as theatricality, idolatry, and vulnerability of matter. This article then proposes “that the literature of the period was written in the shadow of these controversies” and “that apparently secularly works are charged with the language of Eucharistic anxiety” (20). In Hamlet, the protagonist reports that the dead Polonius may be found at supper: “the supper where the host does not eat but is eaten is the supper of the Lord” (21). He also comments on worms, an “allusion to the Diet of Worms where Luther’s doctrines were officially condemned by the Holy Roman Emperor” (21). The allusion functions “to echo and reinforce the theological and, specifically, the Eucharistic subtext” (21). Hamlet explains his meaning as “Nothing but to show you how a king may / go a progress through the guts of a beggar” (4.3.30-31). While “half-buried here is a death threat against the usurper-king,” “the rage in Hamlet’s words reaches beyond his immediate enemy to touch his father’s body, rotting in the grave” (21). The father charges Hamlet to revenge his murder, but “the task becomes mired in the flesh that will not melt away, that cannot free itself from longings for mother and lover” (23). “And the task is further complicated by the father’s own entanglements in the flesh” because he died with sins on his head (23). Furthermore, “the communion of ghostly father and carnal son is more complex, troubled not only by the son’s madness and suicidal despair but by the persistent, ineradicable materialism figured in the progress of a king through the guts of a beggar” (25). In the graveyard scene, “when Hamlet follows the noble dust of Alexander until he finds it stopping a bung-hole, he does not go on to meditate on the immortality of Alexander’s incorporeal name or spirit. The progress he sketches is the progress of a world that is all matter” (26). The significance of the Eucharistic controversies “for English literature in particular lies less in the problem of the sign than in . . . the problem of the leftover, that is, the status of the material reminder” (8).

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Greenblatt, Stephen. “Remember Me.” Hamlet in Purgatory. By Greenblatt. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001. 205-57.

GHOST / NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE / THEOLOGICAL

While continuing the monograph’s historical exploration of “the afterlife of Purgatory” and of remembrance of the dead in England (3), this chapter begins by examining Hamlet’s “shift of spectral obligation from vengeance to remembrance” (207) and by analyzing how Shakespeare “weirdly and unexpectedly conjoins memory as haunting with its opposite, the fading of remembrance” (218). It then approaches the core argument of the monograph: “the psychological in Shakespeare’s tragedy is constructed almost entirely out of the theological, and specifically out of the issue of remembrance that . . . lay at the heart of the crucial early-sixteenth-century debate about Purgatory” (229). Although “the Church of England had explicitly rejected the Roman Catholic conception of Purgatory and the practices that had been developed around it” in 1563 (235), the Elizabethan theater circumvented the resulting censorship by representing Purgatory “as a sly jest, a confidence trick, a mistake . . . But it could not be represented as a frightening reality. Hamlet comes closer to doing so than any other play of this period” (236). Through “a network of allusions” to Purgatory (e.g., “for a certain term” [1.5.10], “burned and purged” [1.5.13], “Yes, by Saint Patrick” [1.5.136], “hic et ubique” [1.5.156]), as well as Hamlet’s attention to (and brooding upon) the Ghost’s residence/source (236-37), the play presents a frightening-yet-absolving alternative to Hell. The play also seems “a deliberate forcing together of radically incompatible accounts of almost everything that matters in Hamlet,” such as Catholic versus Protestant tenets regarding the body and rituals (240). The prevalent distribution of printed religious arguments heightens the possibility that “these works are sources for Shakespeare’s play”: “they stage an ontological argument about spectrality and remembrance, a momentous public debate, that unsettled the institutional moorings of a crucial body of imaginative materials and therefore made them available for theatrical appropriation” (249). For example, Foxe’s comedic derision of More’s theological stance “helped make Shakespeare’s tragedy possible. It did so by participating in a violent ideological struggle that turned negotiations with the dead from an institutional process governed by the church to a poetic process governed by guilt, projection, and imagination” (252). “The Protestant attack on ‘the middle state of souls’ . . . did not destroy the longings and fears that Catholic doctrine had focused and exploited”; instead, “the space of Purgatory becomes the space of the stage where old Hamlet’s Ghost is doomed for a certain term to walk the night” (256-57).

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Gross, Kenneth. “The Rumor of Hamlet.” Raritan 14.2 (Fall 1994): 43-67.

GHOST / HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM

This study proposes that the “nature of Hamlet’s verbal offense comes through with particular resonance if we read the play against the background of Elizabethan attitudes towards slander and rumor” (45). Although Hamlet expresses a concern for reputation while waiting with Horatio for the Ghost and later in the final scene, he dons the disguise of madness “which makes him nothing but a blot, a shame, on the memory of his former self and on the court of Denmark”; he also becomes “the play’s chief slanderer”—slandering “the entire world, it seems” (48). In Elizabethan England, the belief that “human beings cannot escape slander is a commonplace” (49). Hamlet is located in a historical context where “slander is seen as the product of an uncontrollable passion” and as “a poison that wounds its speaker as much as its victims” (50). The “difficulty of controlling rumors invests them with a fearful power” (52). Hamlet’s power is in his “complexly staged desire to seal away a self, or the rumor of a self” (57). “Hamlet’s refusal to be known may constitute one facet of his revenge against the world for having had his liberty, his purposes and desires, stolen by the demands of the ghost” (58). The Ghost “is, like Hamlet, a figure at once subjected by and giving utterance to slander and rumor” (60). Its account of Claudius’ crime, if true, offers “one of the play’s more troubling images of the way that scandalous rumor can circulate in the world’s ear” (63). The scene also “suggests that the authority which seeks to control or correct rumor is itself contaminated with rumor, even constituted by it” (64). Perceiving the Ghost as rumor “can prevent us from assuming that the words of the ghost have a nature essentially different from the words which other human characters speak, repeat, and recall within the course of the play” (66). Perhaps “we are endangered as much by our failure to hear certain rumors as by our taking others too much to heart” (67).

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Guillory, John. “‘To please the wiser sort’: Violence and Philosophy in Hamlet.” Historicism, Psychoanalysis, and Early Modern Culture. Ed. Carla Mazzio and Douglas Trevor. Culture Work. New York: Routledge, 2000. 82-109.

NEW HISTORICISM / PHILOSOPHICAL

This essay explores “the difference between philosophy and theology as early modern discourses; philosophy . . . can be seen to counter the fratricidal or sectarian violence provoked by theological dispute” (84). Philosophy appears “as a discourse that in the sixteenth century could contemplate its own incompleteness, in contrast to the field of theology, where every position violently excluded some other position” (87-88). Given the period’s budding interest in materialism, the ambiguities of the Ghost and Hamlet’s obsession with matter (e.g., dirt, dust) suggest that Hamlet contains “the performance of philosophy” (93). Perhaps the intent was to attract a sub-sect of the elite audience towards the common theater and away from the child troupes (93). This particular audience was well aware of how the court’s “elaborate machinery of ceremony, manners, and fashion served to sublimate the violence latent in struggles for position or patronage” (97). But violence was never completely eradicated, as methods of “intrigue” and “faction”—both prevalent in Hamlet—provided alternatives (97). Hamlet initially attempts to expose rather than avenge his father’s murder by resorting to the “cultural form of the theater” (99). But The Mousetrap fails him and “delegitimates not Claudius but court society itself” (99). Philosophy, “an alternative to violence,” can only provide Hamlet with temporary relief (102). He ultimately embraces providence, God, etc., marking the moment when theology “overtakes the play not to announce an exilic peace, but to incite violence” (103). Perhaps Shakespeare attempted to “provoke the ‘wiser sort’ to entertain the most radical pacific of philosophical thoughts, what we now call materialism, the great philosopheme of early modernity” (104).

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Harries, Martin. “The Ghost of Hamlet in the Mine.” Scare Quotes from Shakespeare: Marx, Keynes, and the Language of Reenchantment. By Harries. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000. 93-122.

GHOST / MARXISM / NEW HISTORICISM

While contributing to the monograph’s argument “that Shakespeare provides a privileged language for the apprehension of the supernatural—what I call reenchantment—in works by Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and others” (1), this chapter begins by identifying Marx’s “appropriation” of “Well said, old mole” (1.5.162) as “an instance of phantasmagoria of a kind, a moment where what is, in theory, emergent—the rupture caused by the ‘revolution’—takes the form of old, in the allusion to Hamlet” (97). In comparison, the Ghost, that “old mole,” “is an archaic face for a nascent world of economic exchange” (97) because the Ghost “in the mine is a spirit of capitalism” (98). Hamlet’s reference to the Ghost as “mole,” “pioneer” (1.5.163), and “truepenny” (1.5.150)—all mining terms—and the spirit’s mobile presence in the cellarage scene initiate “the matter of the relationship between the economic and authority in Hamlet as a whole” (106). For example, Hamlet “unsettles the Ghost’s authority” by calling attention to its theatricality (106)—“this fellow in the cellarage” (1.5.151); but the scene “links the Ghost and its haunting to one of the crucial phantasmagorical places of early modern culture: the mine. The mine was at once source for raw materials crucial to the growing capitalist culture and, so to speak, a super-nature preserve, a place where the spirits of popular belief had a continuing life,” as historical accounts on mining show (108). Perhaps “the cellarage scene aroused fears related to the rising hegemony of capitalist forms of value” (108). “By focusing on the entanglement of the Ghost and the mine, a different Hamlet becomes visible, one that locates a troubled nexus at the heart of modernity—the phantasmagorical intersection of antiquated but powerful authority, the supernatural, and, in the mines, the material base of a commodity culture” (116).

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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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Hillman, David. “The Inside Story.” Historicism, Psychoanalysis, and Early Modern Culture. Ed. Carla Mazzio and Douglas Trevor. Culture Work. New York: Routledge, 2000. 299-324.

NEW HISTORICISM / PSYCHOANALYTIC

Hoping to illuminate “aspects of the early modern period” (299), this essay traces “uses of the spatial metaphor of inner and outer and some of the ways in which it has profound ties to questions of faith and doubt” (300). It begins “by briefly examining the role of this [inner/outer] binary in the constitution of the subject as it is understood by psychoanalysis” and, then, outlines “some ways in which the figure can be seen to be pervasive in early modern English culture” (300). Lastly, this essay explores how Hamlet “engages the question of inward and outward through its protagonist’s obsessive attention to the body’s innards and a concomitant attachment to an idea of the truth as something specifically and exclusively interior” (300). “The strident insistence on an absolute separation of inner and outer collapses in upon itself, as the external world and its inhabitants are found to be always already within, and the private, internal world is revealed to be expressible, after all, in the ‘forms, moods, shapes’ of the body and the words that emerge from its interior” (317).

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Hirsh, James. “Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies.” Modern Language Quarterly 58 (March 1997): 1-26.

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

This article declares that the “To be, or not to be” passage was originally staged as “a feigned soliloquy, spoken by Hamlet to mislead other characters about his state of mind” (2). The Shakespearean canon provides evidence that Shakespeare, perhaps more than other playwrights, “explored the potential consequences, comic and tragic, of the fact that human beings do not have access to one another’s minds” (9). He was able to do so because Elizabethan theatergoers were not required to distinguish “soliloquies that represent speech from those that represent thought” (7). In Hamlet, when a suspicious Hamlet “arrives at the location designated by his enemy, sees Ophelia, and draws the obvious conclusion that she has been enlisted in a conspiracy against him, he also sees an opportunity to turn the tables on the conspirators” (12). He does not mention his real concerns: the Ghost, Claudius, and The Mousetrap. And, departing from his other soliloquies, Hamlet never refers to “his personal situation” or uses a first-person singular pronoun (12). Although the “To be, or not to be” passage “was originally staged as a feigned soliloquy” (14), the closing of the theaters in 1642 broke the “English theatrical tradition” (15). When they reopened in 1660, preferences had changed: “Restoration playgoers lacked the taste for elaborate eavesdropping episodes that had so fascinated Renaissance playgoers” (15). A historical survey charts the results of this “profound change in taste,” such as the misapplication of the term soliloquy and the obliteration of any “distinction between the representation of speech and the representation of thought” (17). Unfortunately, the “erroneous belief that the ‘To be’ soliloquy represented Hamlet’s thoughts and the erroneous belief that soliloquies of all ages typically represented the thoughts of characters became mutually reinforcing” (22). If critics continue to operate with a “blind adherence to untenable orthodox assumptions,” then this “most famous passage in literature, countless other episodes in plays before the middle of the seventeenth century, the history of dramatic technique, and the history of the construction of subjectivity will all continue to be grossly misunderstood” (26).

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Jardine, Lisa. “‘No offence i’ th’ world’: Hamlet and Unlawful Marriage.” Uses of History: Marxism, Postmodernism and the Renaissance. Ed. Francis Barker, Peter Hume, and Margaret Iverson. Essex Symposia: Literature/Politics/Theory. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1991. 123-39. [Reprinted in David Scott Kastan’s Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1995).]

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM

While distinguishing its approach from “retrospective critical activity” (126), this essay sets out “to provide a historical account which restores agency to groups hitherto marginalised or left out of what counts as historical explanation—non-élite men and all women” (125). In Hamlet, Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius appears “unlawful” by the early modern period’s standards, and “it deprives Hamlet of his lawful succession” (130). Gertrude “has participated in the remarriage—has (literally) alienated her son, and Old Hamlet’s name” (135). In denying Gertrude exoneration, “we have recovered the guilt surrounding her as a condition of her oppression”: “women are not permanently in the object position, they are subjects. To be always object and victim is not the material reality of woman’s existence, nor is it her lived experience” (135).

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Kallendorf, Hilaire. “Intertextual Madness in Hamlet: The Ghost’s Fragmented Performativity.” Renaissance and Reformation 22.4 (1998): 69-87.

GHOST / HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM

While arguing against a reductive/restrictive view of Hamlet, this essay proposes “that the entextualization of the relevant passages” of Reginald Scot’s The Discouerie of Witchcraft and King James I’s Daemonologie “from their original positions in the cultural dialogue, along with their appropriation by Shakespeare and recontextualization in his play, alter our understanding of Hamlet’s madness” and add “another dimension, another voice—by offering a diabolical ‘mask’ for the Ghost to try on” (70). The “cultural and linguistic processes of entextualization, appropriation, and recontextualization inevitably result in the fragmentation of discourse”; “And what is madness but one potential fragmentation of discourse?” (70-71). Hamlet’s madness, commonly perceived as a factor of “the Ghost’s message” (77), is represented in terms of demonic possession. For example, when the Ghost appears in the closet scene, Gertrude describes Hamlet’s visual appearance “using the language of the exorcists to describe demoniacs” (77-78). Although critics generally attribute Hamlet’s “symptoms” to melancholy (78), the two “demonological treatises” (70) support the notion that many Elizabethans and Jacobeans viewed melancholy as “actually caused by demons” (78). Interestingly, the Ghost, particularly in its first appearance, “is also illuminated by these two treatises” (75). From its armor to its “ultimate purpose” for revenge (77), the Ghost parallels details found in the two treatises regarding the supernatural. While one “might see Hamlet’s ‘mad’ fragmented discourse as part of a larger pattern in his character” (79), “few have interpreted the Ghost in light of this same performativity theme” (80). In actuality, the Ghost, “like Hamlet, tries on different identities in the course of the play” (80-81). Perhaps “the incessant trying on of different identities by both Hamlet and the Ghost in this play” is what continues to fascinate audiences and scholars (81).

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Kusunoki, Akiko. “‘Oh most pernicious woman’: Gertrude in the Light of Ideas on Remarriage in Early Seventeenth-Century England.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 169-84.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM

Contending that Shakespeare’s original audience would have viewed the Queen as “a potent figure in her flouting of patriarchal dictates through her remarriage,” this reading of Hamlet “examines the significance of the representation of Gertrude in the context of society’s changing attitudes towards a widow’s remarriage in early seventeenth-century England” (170). Gertrude’s remarriage “demonstrates an interesting possibility of female agency” that contributes to the undermining of residual cultural values in the play (173). Religious and literary sources of the Elizabethan period (e.g., Characters, The Widow’s Tears) reflect “dominant sentiments against a widow’s remarriage,” but historical research shows the social reality that upper class widows often remarried (175). Their independence and ability to choose a new mate “presented a contradiction to patriarchal ideology” and “posed a radical threat to the existing social structure” (176). But changing attitudes were also emerging during this period: Puritans started to argue the benefits of a widow’s remarrying, and Montaigne’s Essays proposed an “utterly realistic understanding of human nature”—particularly of female sexuality (179-80). In this light, the marriage between Claudius and Gertrude “might not have seemed to some members of the Elizabethan audience particularly reprehensible” (179). Although Hamlet succeeds in desexualizing his mother in the closet scene, Gertrude maintains her own authority by continuing to love Claudius while denying his order not to drink from the chalice (180). Her “attitude to her remarriage points to the emergent forces in the changing attitude towards female sexuality in early seventeenth-century England” (180).

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Kurland, Stuart M. “Hamlet and the Scottish Succession?” SEL 34 (1994): 279-300.

NEW HISTORICISM

This article argues that “the late Elizabethan succession question—specifically the anticipation that James VI of Scotland might succeed the aging Elizabeth—figures importantly in Hamlet” (279). Research of historical facts and private correspondences suggest the anxiety of Shakespeare’s audience. Horatio’s concern for the populace’s reaction to Hamlet’s death and to Fortinbras’ claim to the throne seems out of character but perhaps reasonable in light of the audience’s fears. Claudius’ precarious hold on the crown always seems seriously endangered (by real, imagined, or potential threats), as Laertes’ rebellion shows. But Claudius’ responsibility for the problems of his court are limited: Polonius represents the corruption of the courtiers in various countries. While this article makes no claims of a literal association between literary and historical figures (e.g., Fortinbras/James VI), it does insist that Shakespeare’s “audience would have been unlikely to see in Hamlet’s story merely a private tragedy or in Fortinbras’ succession to the Danish throne a welcome and unproblematic restoration of order” (293).

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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. “‘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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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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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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Matheson, Mark. “Hamlet and ‘A matter tender and dangerous.” Shakespeare Quarterly 46 (Winter 1995): 383-97.

HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / PHILOSOPHICAL / THEOLOGICAL

This essay asserts that a consideration of Stoicism “within a religious context illuminates Hamlet’s involvement with comprehensive ideological systems and helps to prepare the way for an analysis of his subjective transformation at the end of the play” (383). Hamlet’s “awkwardness in the filial role is symptomatic of his ambivalent relationship to the ideological order represented by his father, a culture whose values he consciously embraces but whose established cultural roles he is unable to perform” (e.g., revenger, obedient son, devout Catholic) (385). Unfortunately, Stoicism does not appear as a viable “ideological alternative” for Hamlet (387). Its discourse “proves useless to him as a way of ordering his mind or of assisting him in carrying out the will of his father” (388). The contradictions between Hamlet’s advice to the players and his behavior during The Mousetrap “confirm that in the world of the play the ideologies of Stoicism and humanism are failing” (389). Caught “in the throes of an ideological unhousing from both the residual and dominant cultural systems of Danish society,” Hamlet cannot find “a secure identity or an ideological basis for action” in either “the feudal Catholic world nor the humanist Renaissance court” (389). Through an examination of “early modern ideology,” this essay argues “that the impasse in which Hamlet finds himself is broken in the final act by the emergence of a specifically Protestant discourse of conscience and of God’s predestinating will” (390). Evidence suggests that “the history of Protestantism functions as a kind of subtext in Hamlet” (391). For example, Hamlet’s discussion on “a special providence in the fall of a sparrow” (5.2.165-68) seems a “moment in the play when the radical Protestant subtext surfaces quite clearly” (394). “That predestination and its worldly consequences were tender political matters may be an important reason for Shakespeare’s rather oblique and suggestive handling of Hamlet’s transformation” (397).

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Motohashi, Tetsuya. “‘The play’s the thing . . . of nothing’: Writing and ‘the liberty’ in Hamlet.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 103-118.

METADRAMA / NEW HISTORICISM

Launching out of Polonius’ introduction of the players—“For the law of writ, and the liberty, these are the only men” (2.2.37-8)—this essay approaches Hamlet as “a theatrical critique of writerly power” (104) and as a statement on “liberty” as “a delicate balance of freedom and constraint” (103). According to this article, Shakespeare’s tragedy “attests to the lethal power of writing,” as Hamlet’s forgery of a death warrant shows (104). While Claudius appears as the masterful “manipulator of words” (105), Hamlet initially struggles to articulate his inner emotions. Being “acutely aware of the external’s failure to represent ‘that within,’” Hamlet internalizes the “external’s failure” “as his own feelings of insufficiency in comparison to his father” and develops “an ultimate form of self-denial, a suicide wish” (106). Although others “inscribe their own messages on his body” by trying to interpret the mad behavior,” Hamlet rediscovers “the capacity for dialogue in a reader or audience” through the visiting players (107). A brief review of Elizabethan documents regarding the “control exchanged between players, government officials, the City and Church authorities” (107) presents “liberty” as “an ambiguous notion embracing several contrasting perspectives” (109). It also suggests that the players in Hamlet represent “a new theatrical space,” “a marginal space in which Hamlet presents a play of his own composition” (110). Hamlet realizes that acting has the power to mediate between external/internal, seems/is (110), word/action, as well as “rival body-images” (111). His excitement over the players’ arrival provides a “metadramatic commentary on the intercultural and transboundary characteristics of the popular theatre” (111). While “the Players’ collective bodies hybridized with those of their audience, that realized the ‘liberty’” (111), the play-within-the-play allows the Prince to poison the King’s “ears with his writing” and to inscribe on Claudius’ body (113). In the closet scene, Hamlet is not restrained by theatrical acting; he thrusts his dagger into the hidden Polonius, “as if he held a Pen in his hand to write on the curtain’s sheet, and kills a counterfeit—a forger” (114). The plot “is now overtaken by writing that kills” (115). For example, Claudius and Laertes “write the last ‘play’ of fencing with a murderous intention” (115). Hamlet’s dying statements suggest that “the dialogue inherent in acting remains problematic to the end” (116).

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

ART / FEMINISM / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA

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

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Rees-Mogg, Lord. “The Politics of Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 17 (1995): 43-53.

CLAUDIUS / NEW HISTORICISM

By studying the politics of Hamlet, this article presents Claudius as a model of the new ruler. Like many British rulers (e.g., Henry IV, Elizabeth I, Richard III), Claudius kills a family member, performing “an act of state” and following “a tradition which every English monarch had had to accept for two hundred years” (45). Once on the throne, he must begin the process of securing his position: praising the dead king, forming political alliances, marrying Gertrude, dealing with the threat of Fortinbras, conciliating ministers (e.g., Polonius), and attempting a reconciliation with his primary rival Hamlet. Because Hamlet refuses to embrace the new king, Claudius must engage in spying tactics to gain knowledge about his potential enemy and, ultimately, decide to terminate the threat. But in Shakespeare’s political tragedy (unlike the realities of British history), murderers are destined to fail. Aside from the fact that all of his supporters die (e.g., Polonius, Laertes), Claudius proves a weak leader because he “invariably prefers compromise to confrontation, placatory gestures to open defiance” (51-52). Perhaps if Claudius had not delayed his efforts to kill Hamlet, he might have been able to maintain his position as ruler; but the King “was such a nice man, in a way, that he decided to defer the action” (52).

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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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Roberts, Katherine. “The Wandering Womb: Classical Medical Theory and the Formation of Female Characters in Hamlet.” Classical and Modern Literature: A Quarterly 15 (1995): 223-32.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA

This essay approaches wombsickness (a.k.a. hysteria) as a “condition, described early in patriarchal Western culture, [which] has been a literary motif from classical to modern literature” (223). Evidence spanning from Greek medical theories to the doctrines of sixteenth-century physicians testifies to the belief that the female womb has physiological needs (e.g., sexual intercourse); left unmet, these demands result in hysteria. Simultaneously, stringent social codes of the Renaissance restricted female sexuality. A patriarchal culture defined women—socially and medically—by their relationships to men. Ophelia and Gertrude suffer classic symptoms of wombsickness. As a young girl of marriageable age and emotional instability, Ophelia is a prime candidate for wombsickness. She has been mentally and physically preparing herself for marriage/sex with Hamlet; but in the loss of all male figures to guide and support her, Ophelia becomes “completely vulnerable to her own femaleness” (229). Gertrude also suffers symptoms of hysteria, according to Hamlet’s account of “a woman whose physiology apparently required frequent intercourse” (230). In the absence of her original husband to sate and govern her sexual energies, Gertrude is easily seduced, and her disorderly behavior damages the society. As “her natural guardian,” Hamlet must intervene to “constrain her”—hence the closet scene (231). While Gertrude properly responds to his chastising by transferring her allegiance from Claudius to Hamlet, and in a sense recovering from her wombsickness, it is too late to prevent the destruction of the throne’s inhabitants. This article makes no definitive claims about Shakespeare’s intentions but notes that Renaissance literature “reflects and reinforces” previously developed concepts of women, bringing “those concepts into the twentieth century” (232).

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

ART / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA / PSYCHOANALYTIC

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

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / GHOST / NEW HISTORICISM

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

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Siegel, Paul N. “‘Hamlet, revenge!’: The Uses and Abuses of Historical Criticism.” Shakespeare Survey 45 (1993): 15-26.

NEW HISTORICISM / RECEPTION THEORY

This article surveys “the major historical criticism on the subject of Hamlet’s revenge and on such ancillary matters as the reasons for Hamlet’s delay, the nature of the ghost, and the significance of the play’s conclusion” (15). The works of Stoll, Bowers, Campbell, Prosser, Babb, Bradley, Dover Wilson, Mercer, Frye, McGee, and others represent the “fray on the critical battlefield” and show “interpretations advanced and disputed, errors made and refuted” (15). Although abused at times, the use of historicism in literary studies “has contributed to a growing weight of opinion . . . that has corrected opinions of the past” (25).

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Sohmer, Steve. “Real Time in Hamlet.” Shakespeare’s Mystery Play: The Opening fo the Globe Theatre 1599. By Sohmer. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1999. 217-47.

HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / RHETORICAL

This essay explores calendrical clues within Hamlet to gain insight into the play. References in the first scene to time, as well as reports of the multiple ghostly appearances, suggest that the play’s plot begins between October 30th and November 10th (223). The date of Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost is narrowed to November 2nd, implying a striking reference to Martin Luther: Elizabethan sources inaccurately listed that on this day in 1517, Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses. Such evidence “implies an intimate negotiation between Shakespeare’s knowledge of Luther and his creation of Prince Hamlet” (228). Similarities between Hamlet and Luther include a religious conversion and interaction with a king married to a dead brother’s wife (Claudius and Henry VIII, respectively). To validate the theory that Shakespeare did not carelessly refer to times/dates, a test is performed to ascertain the duration of the Old Hamlet-Gertrude marriage. Dialogue from The Mousetrap suggests that the husband dies before the thirtieth wedding anniversary—meaning that the son “must have been born at least 53 days before the Old Hamlet-Gertrude wedding” (236). Hence, the mystery of why Hamlet does not immediately succeed to the throne is finally resolved. Statements from various scenes (e.g., the graveyard) further support the argument and reveal the son’s awareness of his own bastard status. Interestingly, Luther’s legitimacy is also questionable, suggesting a final connection between Luther and Hamlet.

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Takahashi, Yasunari. “Hamlet and the Anxiety of Modern Japan.” Shakespeare Survey 48 (1995): 99-11.

NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE / RECEPTION THEORY

This essay traces the history of Hamlet’s reception in Japan: “the whole labour of assimilating Hamlet, from the beginning down to the present day, could be seen as the mirror up to the nature of Japan’s modernization since 1868” (101). With a “grand rationale of modernization-as-westernization,” Japan was eager to appropriate works like Hamlet (100-01). But such a transplanting required “acclimatization” of the play and kabuki, the traditional Japanese theater (100). For example, in the first Tokyo production of Hamlet (1903), all soliloquies were cut because the expression-of-inner-thought style “was something unknown to kabuki,” and the tradition of onnagata (only male actors on stage) was challenged by a female’s playing the role of Ophelia (104). In 1907, Shoyo Tsubouchi attempted a more accurate production (e.g., Western costumes, original character names, “To be” soliloquy), “using a translated (not adapted) text,” but his “sensibility had been nurtured too deeply by the old kabuki tradition to allow him to be ‘absolutely modern’” (106). His second attempt in 1911 similarly failed. While his later production marked the end of adaptation and “the beginning of an age of faithful translation,” it also confirmed “the impression that Shakespeare was ‘old-fashioned’” (107). Shakespeare was replaced by Ibsen and other European avant garde playwrights, while “shingeki, or ‘new drama’ (in Western-style)” was displacing “forms of traditional drama” (107). Between 1913-1926, the play “ceased to be the battleground of creative experiment in theatre” (107). Part of this stalling resulted from the perception of Hamlet as “the ‘safest’ play to avoid being targeted by the secret service police” (107-08). After the war, Hamlet made “a comeback to the forefront of the theatrical scene”: Tsuneari Fukuda’s 1955 production “was a two-fold critique of the limitation of shingeki and, more broadly, of the modernity of Japanese culture” (107). Currently, Japanese dramatists (e.g., Ninagawa, Suzuki) liberally strive to “make Shakespeare feel contemporary” (109). Until “the anxiety of modernity has been overcome by the ‘ludic’ spirit of post-modernity,” new Hamlets “must and will keep emerging, embodying the perennial and specific anxieties of contemporary self” (111).

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / BIBLIOGRAPHIC / FEMINISM / NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE / RHETORICAL

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

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

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / GERTRUDE / MYTHIC CRITICISM / NEW HISTORICISM

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

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Wilson, Luke. “Hamlet, Hales V. Petit, and the Hysteresis of Action.” ELH 60.1 (Spring 1993): 17-55. <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0013-8304%28199321%2960%3A1%3C17 %3AHHVPAT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-N> 20 Feb. 2002.

LAW / METADRAMA / NEW HISTORICISM

In response to attacks that new historicism lacks “an adequate account of agency and action” (17), this article counters “that Hamlet and Renaissance legal discourse seem to anticipate a post-structuralist hysteresis of action” by attempting “to reconsider the structure of action in Hamlet and to account for the ways conceptualizations of action moved between legal and theatrical fields” (22). Hamlet’s groundwork with The Mousetrap provides a key example of the theatrical action structure: in soliloquy, Hamlet announces his new-found plan—after setting it in motion with the players. The theatrical necessities of informing the audience about motives behind The Mousetrap and of getting Hamlet alone on stage to provide the soliloquy force “the intrusion of the temporal logic of compositional activity into the temporality of dramatic representation” (25). The resulting structure of action is organized by an “entanglement of prospective and retrospective, since it is in retrospection that the prospective is constituted as such, that is, since the teleological structure of intentional action entails a retroactive element” (25). “The legal analysis of action finds its way into Hamlet in the form of structures and concepts immanent in a shared rhetoric of action” (28). The Elizabethan period marked an “increase in the sophistication of legal conceptualizations of intention” (31). For example, in the Hales vs. Petit case (the gravedigger’s source for arguments determining Ophelia’s cause of death), the court retrospectively examined the evidence of a drowning/suicide to hypothesize intention and to determine liability. In this way, theater and law shared “the temporal folding that structures action” (34) and the “fictionalizations of intention” (31). “The increasingly litigious and legalistic culture in which Hamlet was produced made the means to manipulate accounts of intentional action widely available for use in both inculpatory and exculpatory schemes, at the same time that new market forces—both produced by and enabling this culture—led to conceptualizations of person that tended to frustrate the business of linking actions to agents” (44).

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York, Neil L. “Hamlet as American Revolutionary.” Hamlet Studies 15.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1993): 40-53.

NEW HISTORICISM / RECEPTION THEORY

After briefly reviewing the performance and print histories of Hamlet during the American Revolution, as well as allusions to the play in political propaganda, this article asks, why were the colonists so attracted to Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Basic explanations include the audience’s “rote knowledge of certain passages” and the play’s “almost universal appeal” (44); also, the play’s themes of conspiracy, patriarchy, and paternity parallel the fears of the Revolutionaries; similar to Hamlet, American colonists shared “geopolitical questions” and “acted with trepidation” (47). Although “there is no hard and fast documentary proof” to confirm such explanations, this article proposes the question, how did the “tragic Dane help mold American Revolutionaries” (48)?

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