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

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL

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

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

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / PHILOSOPHICAL

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

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

HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS / PHILOSOPHICAL

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

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Jenkins, Harold. “‘To be, or not to be’: Hamlet’s Dilemma.” Hamlet Studies 13 (1991): 8-24.

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL / “TO BE, OR NOT TO BE” SOLILOQUY

This article suggests “that the question of ‘to be, or not to be,’ though it does not relate directly to Hamlet’s particular problems, is nevertheless evoked by Hamlet’s dramatic role, so that the hero’s particular dilemma is set in context with an archetypal dilemma which enables it to be viewed in a universal perspective” (13-14). The question “is applied to the universal man in whom the particular revenger is subsumed” (21). “Hamlet, no less than Augustine, is working out a theorem, which is of general application” (13) based on a “fundamental” question—perhaps “the fundamental one—concerning human life, the desirability of having it at all” (12). The response found in this “famous soliloquy” seems “a grudging affirmative: one decides in favour of life from a fear that death might be worse” (21-22). “But the answer that springs from Hamlet when he speaks of his own individual plight and gives vent to his personal feelings is most often negative, the answer which Augustine thought improbable and even reprehensible” (22). For example, “directly after the ‘To be, or not to be’ soliloquy,” Hamlet rejects Ophelia, rejecting “life and its opportunities for love, marriage and procreation. It is the choice of ‘not to be’” (22). “Yet this negative answer is not the plays’s final answer” (sic 22). In the graveyard scene, Hamlet comes to accept “his mortal destiny,” thus allowing him to achieve the “readiness to do the deed of revenge which he has so long delayed” (22). Ultimately, Hamlet and Laertes both avenge their fathers’ murders as well as “forgive and absolve one another”—suggesting “a very moral play” (23). Hamlet “recognizes original sin, the presence of evil in man’s nature; and it accepts that guilt must be atoned for” (23). “It offers us a hero who, in a world where good and evil inseparably mingle, is tempted to shun the human lot but comes at length to embrace it, choosing finally ‘to be’” (23).

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

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL

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

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

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL

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

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Levy, Eric. “‘Would it were not so’: Hypothetical Alternatives in Hamlet.” Literature and Aesthetics 11 (Nov. 2001): 33-46.

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL

While drawing on Descartes’ cogito ergo sum philosophy and Whitehead’s knowledge of “objectivist and subjectivist constructions of reality” (33), this article investigates “the invocation, in Hamlet, of hypothetical alternatives to ‘circumstances’ (II.ii.157) as they actually unfolded or currently obtain” (33-34). “Hamlet himself is intimately associated with hypothetical alternatives,” as indicated by his wishes to deny reality (e.g., his father’s death, his own birth) and to die (35). By persistently “brooding on hypothetical alternatives,” Hamlet “defers achievement of the ‘readiness’ (V.ii.218) to confront circumstance as they are—to progress definitively, that is, from the subjunctive to the indicative mood” (35). He gradually reduces his reliance on hypothetical alternatives, using various methods: Hamlet “verifies ideas through observation and inference” in the play scene (36), acknowledges “the possibility of purgation or regeneration” in the closet scene (36-37), and meditates on death (the epitome of “that which cannot be avoided”) in the graveyard (37). But “the occasion of death involves profound ambiguity” (37): while “acceptance of mortality” allows Hamlet to overcome “recourse to hypothetical alternatives” and to achieve “readiness to accept inevitability,” “the occasion of death triggers unbearable yearning for what might have been and uncertainty regarding what might be” (37-38). For example, Hamlet declares, “Let be” (V.ii.220), prior to the duel yet suffers a hypothetical-alternatives relapse when he is dying (37)—lamenting, “Had I but time” (V.ii.341). The play similarly presents the complexity of hypothetical alternatives: although “recourse” to them “appears in the play as a human failing or innate ‘fault’ (I.v.36)” (40), “the plot of Hamlet is driven by” characters “actively striving to implement” hypothetical alternatives,” as demonstrated by Hamlet’s and Fortinbras’ efforts to “reverse” the wrongs suffered by their fathers (41). Ultimately, Hamlet “quells his penchant for hypothetical alternatives, and heroically participates in the unfolding of history” designed by Providence (42-43). “But, in Hamlet, the individual contributes to his or her own destiny”—suggesting yet another of the play’s conundrums (44).

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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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Mousley, Andrew. “Hamlet and the Politics of Individualism.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 67-82.

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL

This article proposes “that there is no singular form of individualism to be extracted from the play, as different answers to the question of what it means or might mean to be an ‘individual’ are presented” (75). Hamlet’s struggle in the revenger role exemplifies the complexity of individualism: his “character and actions can be understood in different ways because the political and social orientation of his individualism is open-ended, extended beyond a traditional heroism but not yet determined by an essentializing liberal humanism” (79). While “the concept of the self as free-floating paradoxically deprives the individual of any meaningful social and political agency,” “agency in Hamlet is defined in terms of the range of possible responses to a concrete social and political situation which thereby constitutes but which does not wholly determine ‘the self’” (80). For the Elizabethan and Jacobean audience, witnessing a “princely agency within the orbit of other less exalted individuals/audience members” encourages “a complex sense of their own differentiated potentialities as social and political actors” (80).

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Usher, Peter. “Advances in the Hamlet Cosmic Allegory.” Oxfordian 4 (Fall 2001): 25-49.

HISTORY OF IDEAS / PHILOSOPHICAL

By asserting “that Hamlet contains a cosmic allegory,” this article suggests that Shakespeare “was well aware of the astronomical revolutions of his time, and by dramatizing the triumph of heliocentricism and the infinite universe as a subtext of his great play, he celebrated what is in essence the basis for the modern world view” (27). The play appears imbued with allusions to the astronomical debate based on linguistic references to the contemporary scientific terms (e.g., retrograde [1.2.114], infinite space [2.2.259]) and character names borrowed from actual scientists (e.g., Claudius Ptolemy, Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus). Even the plot seems charged, as Shakespeare departs from Historia Danica in the final scene to recognize that “the English cosmological contribution is an outgrowth of the Polish contribution”: Fortinbras goes “first to Poland, to pay homage to the grave of Copernicus, and then upon his return to salute the English ambassadors. Thus the two models favored by Shakespeare, the Polish and the English, are triumphant following the demise of geocentricism,” which Claudius and his followers represent (33-34). Aside from discerning meaning in the “opaque” dialogue between Hamlet, Horatio, and Osric in act five, scene two (42), this cosmological interpretation of Hamlet also uncovers the scientific basis for Hamlet’s “nutshell” (2.2.258).

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Wagner, Valeria. “The Unbearable Lightness of Acts.” The Ethics in Literature. Ed. Andrew Hadfield, Dominic Rainsford, Tim Woods. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999. 73-85.

HAMLET / PHILOSOPHICAL

Relying heavily on Baktin’s philosophy of action, this essay asserts “that the lightness whereby acts appear as too abstract to be enacted is intimately related to that whereby acts appear too easily enacted with respect to their ethical import” (75). In Hamlet, the Prince initially hesitates in his act of revenge because he strongly believes in a “continuity between motive and act” (76). As his reaction to the player’s Hecuba speech demonstrates, Hamlet believes that “his ‘cause’ would give effect to action, were he only impregnated with it—were he bearing it properly” (76). But his understanding of cause/action alters when he encounters Fortinbras’ army. In going to war without a cause, Fortinbras “demonstrates that reasons are neither compellent nor determinant, suggesting, moreover, that actions are fundamentally ungrounded in anything other than themselves” (77). Hamlet’s focus shifts “imperceptibly from the question of how (or whether) to accomplish this, to that of how to accomplish anything—how to act?” (80). Although Hamlet concludes his contemplation of Fortinbras and Fortinbras’ war with the declaration of his own “bloody thoughts,” “he does not follow Fortinbras’s example” because he perceives action as abstract/unqualified (80). Hamlet concludes “that there is no possible unity between content and enactment, motive and product, and hence that there is no relationship between the ethical import of an act and its actual enactment,” but his continued inaction suggests that a certain unity between the “phenomenological and ethical dimensions” is needed for action (81).

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Weitz, Morris. “Hamlet: Philosophy the Intruder.” Shakespeare, Philosophy, and Literature: Essays. Ed. Morris Weitz and Margaret Collins. New Studies in Aesthetics 10. New York: Lang, 1995. 17-33.

PHILOSOPHICAL

This monograph chapter argues against “the reduction of the play to some one philosophical theme that is abstracted from either the character of Hamlet, the soliloquies, the dialogue, the plot, the imagery, or the general atmosphere of the play and is then proclaimed the meaning of the play” (17). A sampling of Hamlet’s soliloquies and dialogue suggests the diverse philosophical material throughout the play and how easily critics can find/construe proof for generalizations. A review of critics who have fallen into such traps (e.g., Campbell, Spurgeon, Clemen, Fergusson, Stoll, Coleridge, Bradley) provides examples of errors. But the essay recommends attention to tone, as this aspect implies “a kind of irreducible complexity of human experience”: “sheer love of life,” woe, wonder, mystery, etc. (32). “It is in this aspect of the tone—the irreducible complexity of human experience as it mirrors man’s condition—that I find the philosophy of Hamlet” (33).

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

HAMLET / METAPHYSICS / PHILOSOPHICAL

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

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