Belsey, Catherine. “Shakespeare’s Sad Tale for Winter: Hamlet and the Tradition of Fireside Ghost Stories.” Shakespeare Quarterly 61 (2010): 1–27.
At the heart of Belsey’s essay is the question of “textual strategies”: “[N]ot what the Elizabethans made of ghosts, so much as the matter out of which they made their ghost stories.” Looking closely at the suspenseful manner in which Shakespeare opens Hamlet—particularly his depiction of a ghost so different from the specters who were “conventionally bloodcurdling but not eerie”—Belsey asks whether this emphasis on “deepening mystery” and mounting unease, “hovering between disbelief and fear,” was Shakespeare’s invention or an example of his indebtedness to other influences that “relished the uncanny.” Whereas critics interested in exploring the antecedents of Hamlet’s Ghost have focused on either the influence of Senecan spirits or the ghost lore informing purgatorial narratives, Belsey investigates the popular narrative tradition of fireside ghost stories, old wives’ tales, and winter’s tales. Her close attention to the medieval legend called “The Three Living and the Three Dead”—the story of an unnerving encounter between three extravagantly attired, pleasure-seeking kings and the emaciated, terrifying corpses of three dead kings—and to its visual/narrative afterlife in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries reveals several similarities between the Ghost in Hamlet and the walking dead of the variously rendered legend: the revenant’s corporeality, capacity to provoke fear, desire to be addressed, demands on the living, and questionable identity (possibly demoniacal in nature). Tales of wandering corpses of popular imagination “testify to a tradition of winter’s tales that foreground the uncanny, the component that is so conspicuously missing from the early modern stage convention derived from Seneca,” but so palpable in Act 1 of Hamlet. “With an intensity unique among Shakespeare’s tragedies,” the play engages mortality in various forms (“bereavement, murder, military heroics, disintegration in the grave, [and] the fear of damnation”) and ends with an acknowledgment of the inevitability of death. But it begins by raising such issues “in the most theatrical of modes: a winter’s tale of an unquiet spirit walking the earth with a deadly mission for the living hero.”
Calderwood, James L. To Be and Not to Be: Negation and Metadrama in “Hamlet.” New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
Calderwood begins his highly original approach to Hamlet, as do many critics, by setting Hamlet between Fortinbras and Laertes. Fortinbras, who, like Hamlet, shares a name with his father, initially defines himself as the son of his father in seeking revenge through a projected attack on Denmark, but then is persuaded to set aside revenge and instead achieve his own identity through a military conquest in Poland, quite unrelated to his father. In contrast, Laertes never escapes the role of son, accepting, after the loss of his father, the paternal domination of Claudius. Hamlet, were he to adopt his father’s cause, as Laertes does, would have to betray himself, like Laertes; to remain true to himself, undefiled by taking action in a corrupt world, he would have to betray his father, as Fortinbras might be said to have done, although Fortinbras does indeed take action. In the middle of the play, when Hamlet seems arrested between these two undesirable alternatives, his “identity grows complex not by multiplying relationships but by multiplying disrelationships,” self-determination by negation, as “his roaming and irresolute self takes priority over the revenge-minded son” (italics added). Shakespeare metadramatically calls such attention to the hiatus between Hamlet’s vow of revenge (Act 1) and fulfillment of it (Act 5) as a way of differentiating his play from conventional revenge tragedy “with its built-in hiatus [see The Spanish Tragedy, below] . . . usually obscured.” It is only with “the return to Elsinore after the sea-voyage . . . [that] Hamlet begins to acquiesce to the dramatic context [of revenge tragedy] rather than trying to dominate and transcend it.” Finally, though, “Hamlet kills Claudius . . . not for his father, but for himself, . . . in direct retaliation for the attack on his own life.” After proposing this interpretation, Calderwood goes on to “suggest some of the ways in which the play resists positive interpretation, especially by its employment of the negative mode.” After also detailing the role of mediation in the play, he returns at the end to champion interpretation in the face of the threat to it posed by deconstruction.
Charnes, Linda. “The Hamlet Formerly Known as Prince.” In Shakespeare and Modernity: Early Modern to Millennium, edited by Hugh Grady, pp. 189–219. Accents on Shakespeare. London: Routledge, 2000. (The essay also appears as Chapter 5 in Charnes’s Hamlet’s Heirs: Shakespeare and the Politics of a New Millennium [London: Routledge, 2006].)
Seeking an explanation for the “unmatched boom” in American mass media Hamlets of the last decade of the twentieth century, Charnes uses the “prerogatives of patriarchy and monarchy” to shed light on the titular figure’s “startling” link with contemporary America, where the political and ideological touchstones of Shakespeare’s England have become “increasingly subsumed into and even transmogrified by the operations of an ideologically democratic nation.” She contends that Hamlet’s failure to inherit and refusal to seek his royal patrimony, the throne of Denmark, hold the key to his becoming the “unofficial legislator of late-twentieth-century democratic man—the man who would and would not be king.” Central to her argument are the plot’s “invoked and then forgotten” initial paternal crime (the “whisper” recounted by Horatio of Old Hamlet’s and Old Norway’s refusals to will entailed property to their respective sons [1.1.92–107]) and the command of the Ghost that Hamlet revenge and remember but not replace him as king (1.5.31, 98). Called to enact his father’s will “without succeeding him,” Prince Hamlet is robbed of substance: “An only son and first-born royal heir cannot be a once and future Prince.” While Hamlet speaks cogently to post-modern America’s “general dissatisfaction, nervous boredom,” and penchant for “rationalized delay,” the deeper connection may, surprisingly, lie in something he does not share with us: a strong sense of entitlement. “Even as we [who are not heirs apparent] demand our riches, we refuse to be held responsible for how the political system is actually run. To this extent Hamlet can certainly be regarded as a postmodern Everyman; or at least as a model of what the new American cyber-dream tells us we can all be—a virtual Prince.”
Dawson, Anthony. Hamlet: Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.
After considering the theatrical record spanning the years 1600–1900 (commenting specifically on the Hamlets of David Garrick, Edmund Kean, Edwin Booth, and Henry Irving), Dawson provides chapter-length studies of major revivals in the twentieth century. The discussion of “old ways meet[ing] the new stagecraft” in the 1920s focuses on productions starring John Barrymore (New York  and London ) and the “landmark” revival by Barry Jackson and H. K. Ayliff for the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (1925), its modern-dress, “anti-Romantic” presentation becoming a staple of Hamlet production. The chapter on Hamlet in the 1930s considers John Gielgud’s several portrayals of Hamlet (1930, 1934, 1936, 1939, and 1944) alongside Laurence Olivier’s single stage rendering (1937); for all their differences, the two rival actors are best seen “as complementary rather than opposed.” Subsequent chapters deal with postwar Hamlets at Stratford-upon-Avon (Michael Benthall’s 1948 version with Robert Helpmann and Paul Scofield alternating as Hamlet and Peter Hall’s 1965 “anti-establishment” staging with David Warner in the title role); London revivals at the Royal Shakespeare and Royal Court in 1980 (John Barton’s starring Michael Pennington and Richard Eyre’s featuring Jonathan Pryce, respectively); and the afterlife of Hamlet on film and television (the versions of Laurence Olivier , Grigori Kozintsev , Franco Zeffirelli [1990, with Mel Gibson], and Rodney Bennett [BBC, 1980, with Derek Jacobi]). Recognizing that Shakespeare is “one part of an elaborate system of global interchange,” Dawson devotes the final chapter to productions in Germany (Bochum, 1977; Deutsches Theater, Berlin, 1990) and the former Soviet Union (Taganka Theatre, Moscow, 1971). Commentary on Adrian Noble’s 1992 revival at London’s Barbican, starring Kenneth Branagh, frames this study of the reciprocity “between how the theatre gives Hamlet meaning and produces Hamlet’s subjectivity and how the culture generally approaches problems of meaning, value, and selfhood.”
Frye, Roland Mushat. The Renaissance Hamlet: Issues and Responses in 1600. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
Frye’s object is to reconstruct “the audience responses upon which Shakespeare played” in Hamlet by documenting “Elizabethan frames of reference” for the issues raised in the play. Among the events and documents Frye invokes are the following: “Homily against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion,” ordered read in all Anglican churches; the Wars of Religion in France that began in 1562 between Huguenots and Catholics (including Hamlet-like assassinations of rulers); Protestant beliefs that ghosts were demons, beliefs shared by Catholics, who also believed ghosts might be souls from purgatory; scripture, sermons, and conduct books forbidding private revenge; the obligation to revenge his father’s death laid on the infant King James I by his paternal grandparents, which James tried but failed to discharge; debates over the legitimacy of tyrannicide; the unseating of Lady Jane Grey from the throne of England in 1553 by Queen Mary, recognized as the legitimate heir by virtue of being (like Hamlet) the offspring of a former king; the considerable length of the mourning observed by Henry VIII after the death of his consort Jane Seymour; the marriage in 1567 of Mary Queen of Scots to the Earl of Bothwell, widely reputed to have assassinated her former husband, Lord Darnley, only three months earlier; the depiction of Fortune and Prudence in Renaissance visual art; emblems of Mars-Mercury; the opinion of the theologian William Perkins that “the excellency, goodness, and dignity of conscience, stands not in accusing, but in excusing”; the Babington Plot of 1586 designed to replace Elizabeth I on the throne of England with Mary Queen of Scots; the popularity of skulls, including skull-shaped watches, among the fashionable in sixteenth-century England; the fashion of transi as tomb effigies: beginning with “caro vilis, the merely lifeless corpse, . . . next came the vermis, with the flesh now rotting away and worms crawling in and out; . . . finally, there was the pulvis, either a shrunken, mummified cadaver or a skeleton”; the danse macabre, or Dance of Death; and biblical texts on the readiness for death.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Greenblatt examines the afterlife of purgatory—specifically, the traces of purgatory in Hamlet—in order to better understand how the Ghost achieves its “weird, . . . amazingly disturbing and vivid” effect. His concern is not with the “theology behind the ghost” or its provenance as either “Catholic” or “Protestant,” but rather with the play’s “magical intensity.” In the first three chapters, the author draws on a variety of materials—religious tracts, devotional works, narrative accounts of spectral hauntings, rites of memory (i.e., prayers and masses for the dead, chantries, and indulgences), and artwork (funerary inscriptions and sculptures, paintings, and manuscript illuminations)—to investigate the rise and fall of purgatory, as both a doctrine and a profitable institution by which Christians sought to ease the passage to heaven for both themselves and their deceased loved ones. In their staging of an “ontological argument about spectrality and remembrance,” early sixteenth-century texts (such as Simon Fish’s A Supplication for the Beggars and Thomas More’s Supplication of Souls) “unsettled the institutional moorings of a crucial body of imaginative materials and therefore made them available for theatrical appropriation.” Greenblatt follows his study of the “cult” and “poetics” of purgatory with a chapter on the staging of ghosts in the Elizabethan and Jacobean theaters; the focus is on the Shakespeare canon because, of all the major Renaissance English dramatists, only Shakespeare “fully participates in the popular vogue for presenting ghosts onstage.” In the chapter titled “Remember Me” (pp. 205–57), the author brings the historical and theatrical findings of the first four chapters to bear on an analysis of Hamlet and “literature’s most famous ghost.” He states that questions relating to Shakespeare’s motivation for shifting the dramatic emphasis of Hamlet from vengeance to remembrance and for placing the command “to remember” in the mouth of a ghost are best answered “by recognizing that 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,” which English Protestants attacked as being not only a fraud but also a “poet’s fable.” This turning of “negotiations with the dead from an institutional process governed by the church to a poetic process governed by guilt, projection, and imagination,” Greenblatt argues, “facilitated Shakespeare’s crucial appropriation of Purgatory in Hamlet”: a tragedy of “uncanny power,” resonant with the complexity of memory and the tangle of emotions felt by the living as they engage their dead.
Kinney, Arthur, ed. Hamlet: New Critical Essays. Shakespeare Criticism 23. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Kinney’s anthology consists of an introductory overview of the play’s critical and theatrical reception and ten new essays ranging in focus from editorial and production issues to studies of race and gender dynamics. The essays are grouped under three headings: (1) “Tudor-Stuart Hamlet” (E. Pearlman, “Shakespeare at Work: The Invention of the Ghost”; R. A. Foakes, “Hamlet’s Neglect of Revenge”; and Philip Edwards, “The Dyer’s Infected Hand: The Sonnets and the Text of Hamlet”); (2) “Subsequent Hamlets” (Paul Werstine, “ ‘The cause of this defect’: Hamlet’s Editors,” and Catherine Belsey, “Was Hamlet a man or a woman? The Prince in the Graveyard, 1800–1920”); and (3) “Hamlet after Theory” (Jerry Brotton, “Ways of Seeing Hamlet”; Terence Hawkes, “The Old Bill”; Ann Thompson, “Hamlet and the Canon”; Peter Erickson, “Can We Talk about Race in Hamlet?”; and Richard Levin, “Hamlet, Laertes, and the Dramatic Functions of Foils”). Kinney’s introduction identifies major critical issues and problems raised in Hamlet scholarship: Hamlet’s age, inconsistencies in the depiction of Horatio and Fortinbras, the Ghost as either purgatorial or demonic, and the play’s refraction of cultural conditions and beliefs relating to melancholy, suicide, and revenge. The essay also charts critical trends from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries through the Romantic and Victorian periods of the nineteenth century to the modern and postmodern phases of the twentieth, assesses the critical discourse that has linked the play to various ideological concerns (namely, the strands of deconstructivist readings that can be distinguished as feminist criticism, neo-Marxist criticism, New Historicism, and Cultural Materialism), and provides an overview of stage productions (from a performance said to have taken place on a voyage to the East Indies in 1607 to Mark Rylance’s revival at the new Globe Theatre in London in 2000) and cinematic transformations (with particular attention to the filmed Hamlets of Laurence Olivier , Grigori Kozintsev , Franco Zeffirelli , and Kenneth Branagh ). The volume underscores Kinney’s claim that “there is no end to meanings in Hamlet, since in ‘hold[ing] . . . the mirror up to nature’ [3.2.23–24], to changing human nature, it is ever capable of transference and transformation. . . . Discrepant readings and discrepant productions have, since the sixteenth century, been the result.”
Kott, Jan. “Hamlet of the Mid-Century.” In Shakespeare Our Contemporary, pp. 57–73. London: Methuen, 1964.
For Kott, “an ideal [stage production of] Hamlet would be one most true to Shakespeare and most modern at the same time.” The production he foregrounds took place in Cracow, Poland, shortly after the twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party and made Hamlet “a political drama par excellence,” with everyone under constant surveillance by the state—Polonius eying even his own son in Paris through his agent Reynaldo, and then watching from behind the arras the Queen with her son; the King watching Hamlet through his spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Shifting to a more general level, Kott divides the roles in the Hamlet of the midcentury into those clearly defined by their situations and those not so defined. Among the first are Claudius and Polonius: “Claudius does not play the part of a murderer and a king. He is the murderer and the King. Polonius does not play the part of a despotic father and a king’s councillor. He is the despotic father and the King’s councillor.” Among the second are Hamlet and Ophelia: “The situation does not define Hamlet. . . . The situation has been imposed on him. . . . He accepts the part, but is beyond and above it”; Ophelia is “an ordinary girl, who loved her boy, but has been given by the scenario of history a tragic part.” At the end, Fortinbras (“the man of the strong arm”), “a vigorous young lad[,] comes, and says with a charming smile: ‘Take away these corpses. Now I shall be your king.’ ”
Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy. London, 1594.
Shakespeare may have drawn on The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1589) in writing Hamlet, for Kyd’s drama includes many elements also found in Shakespeare’s play: the ghost, the difficulty in verifying that the party accused of murder is indeed guilty, the resulting need for delay, the apparent madness of the avenger (however feigned or real), the play-within-the-play, and the moral perplexities facing a sensitive man called to revenge. These shared elements are handled rather differently in the two plays. Kyd’s ghost is the Spaniard Don Andrea, killed in battle by the Portuguese Don Balthazar; however, Don Andrea does not visit his friend Don Horatio and impose on him an obligation to avenge his death, but enters at the beginning with the allegorical character Revenge, and the two watch the entire play, remaining aloof from the other characters. It is not, then, the death of Don Andrea that is avenged, but the murder of Don Horatio, whose avenger is his father, the Knight Marshall Hieronimo. The accusation of murder directed against Don Lorenzo and Don Balthazar by Bel-Imperia, the beloved of Don Andrea and then of Don Horatio, literally falls from the sky into Hieronimo’s hands in the form of a letter written in blood. Suspecting that the letter is part of a plot to ensnare his own life, Hieronimo delays. The play-within-the-play, arranged by Hieronimo once he has verified Bel-Imperia’s accusation, is the tragedy of Soliman the Turkish emperor, performed by Don Balthazar and the members of the Spanish court. In the course of it, Hieronimo, aided by Bel-Imperia, accomplishes his revenge. In spite of these differences, The Spanish Tragedy provides a remarkable counterpoint to Hamlet.
Levin, Harry. The Question of Hamlet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.
For Levin, “Hamlet is, above all, a man in a plight, a mind resisting its body’s destiny, a fighter against cosmic odds.” Without forgetting that Hamlet is an “Elizabethan dramatic production” and that it is a “vehicle for ideas,” Levin takes his critical method of a close reading of the play’s style and structure from the trivium—rhetoric, logic, and grammar—taught in the schools of Shakespeare’s day. His first chapter, called “Interrogation” after the rhetorical trope interrogatio, contemplates the play as “a mystery in the . . . highly speculative sense, a rite of initiation to painful experience, an exploration of stages of consciousness which dazzle and elude the spectator ‘With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls.’ ” His second chapter, called “Doubt” after the dubitatio, in which the orator deliberates between rival options, focuses on the oppositions between Claudius and Hamlet Senior (which Hamlet in 1.2 presents in terms of the rhetorical figure icon, or verbal portraiture), between Ophelia and Gertrude, and between “to be” and “not to be.” He concludes with the observation that Hamlet “never regains its lost certitudes; nor does it ever relax its movement of vacillation; but it derives new meaning out of its clash of values; and its overclouded patterns merge into a grander design.” Levin’s third chapter, called “Irony” after the rhetorical trope ironia, considers a number of different kinds of irony: “ ‘the drye mock,’ ” which is a statement that “means the contrary of what it purports to say” (as when Polonius asks to take his leave of Hamlet and Hamlet replies “You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal,” Hamlet’s politeness barely disguising his eagerness to be free of Polonius); dramatic irony (as when the audience is aware of Hamlet’s knowledge regarding Claudius’s plot on his life in sending him to England, while Claudius is unaware); irony of situation (as when Hamlet, “a cunning hero,” is “forced to wear the mask of stupidity,” his “antic disposition”); and, finally, “cosmic irony,” which “cannot resolve the incalculable contradictions between personal life and the nature of things, yet . . . can teach us to live with them.”
Mack, Maynard. “The World of Hamlet.” Yale Review 41 (1952): 502–23.
By “the world of Hamlet” Mack means “the imaginative environment that the play asks us to enter when we read it or go to see it.” This world is “like our own” in some respects, “but [also] unlike our own in being perfectly, or almost perfectly, significant and coherent.” Mack finds the first attribute of Hamlet’s world to be mysteriousness, which “is not simply a matter of missing motivations, to be expunged if only we could find the perfect clue.” Among its mysteries are Hamlet’s “delay, his madness, his ghost, his treatment of Polonius, or Ophelia, or his mother,” and whether the play is a success or failure, whether Hamlet is “a man of exquisite moral sensibility . . . or an egomaniac.” A second attribute of Hamlet’s world is its interrogative mood (“To be or not to be—that is the question”; “What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven?”) and its riddles, as, for example, Hamlet’s madness: “How much is real? How much is feigned? What does it mean?” In connection with this interrogative mood, Mack also contemplates “the problematic nature of reality and the relation of reality to appearance.” Behind the “glittering surface of Claudius’s court” may lie murder, adultery, and incest, at least according to an apparition, the Ghost. Or, in 3.3, Hamlet comes upon Claudius, who appears to be praying; but after Hamlet accepts this appearance for reality, we learn that Claudius was unable to pray. The third attribute of Hamlet’s world is a “powerful sense of mortality . . . conveyed . . . in three ways”: “the failure in man [as] time qualifies everything . . . including love, including purpose,” “the emphasis on infection” and poison, and “a profound consciousness of loss.” It is in this world that Hamlet is required to take revenge, an act, “though retributive justice, . . . that necessarily involves the doer in the general guilt.”
McCoy, Richard C. “A Wedding and Four Funerals: Conjunction and Commemoration in Hamlet.” Shakespeare Survey 54 (2001): 122–39
McCoy examines the play’s four funerals (King Hamlet’s expedited obsequies, Polonius’s “hugger-mugger” burial [4.5.91], Ophelia’s “maimèd rites” [5.1.226], and the “somewhat incongruous” soldier’s funeral for Prince Hamlet) in the context of the ambiguity (“liturgical double-bookkeeping”) that marked the Elizabethan compromise over Catholic-Protestant funerary practices and intercessory rituals for the deceased. Informing the discussion is the doctrine known as “the King’s Two Bodies” (i.e., the Body natural and the Body politic), specifically the efforts of the “cult of Elizabeth” to continue what has been called “the migration of the holy” begun by Henry VIII’s reforms in which “ ‘the socially integrative powers of the host’ were transferred ‘to the rituals of monarchy and secular community,’ ” a shifting from the eucharistic real presence to the royal presence. McCoy focuses on the closet scene (3.4) and the final episode (5.2) to argue that in the first, Hamlet desires a “regal apotheosis,” a supernatural conjoining of the king’s two bodies (“form and cause” [3.4.143]) that would recover sacramentally the royal presence. In the second, and more powerful, conjunction, Hamlet “supplants the ghost[,] acquir[ing] some of its uncanny powers.” In asking Horatio to tell his story, Hamlet not only reprises the paternal imperative “Remember me” but also appears to want the conjoining of his own “form and cause”; the final act thus “sustains the kind of conjunction described by [the theologian] Richard Hooker, making Hamlet ‘a presence of force and efficacie throughout all generations of men.’ ” Fortinbras may assert his own “rights of memory in this kingdom” (5.2.432) and order “rite[s] of war” (445) in honor of the dead prince, but Hamlet’s “rights of memory” are “powerfully vindicated” by the play’s conclusion. He, not Fortinbras, dominates modern memory. Like the venerated tomb of Elizabeth (circulating pictures of which, along with other memorial objects, invested commemoration with a degree of intercessory power), the conjunctions in Hamlet “permit contact with things absent even if they do not make them a real presence,” thereby demonstrating how “relationships with the living and the dead, with the actual and the imaginary, are . . . inescapable—and the source of much that matters in literature and in life.” Reformation rites and “rights of memory,” McCoy argues, enjoyed a greater resilience and efficacy than is generally thought.
Mowat, Barbara. “The Form of Hamlet’s Fortunes.” Renaissance Drama 19 (1988): 97–126.
Mowat engages the view of 1980s editors of Hamlet who represent the tradition of editing the play as monolithic. According to such editors, their predecessors uniformly conflated (combined into a composite) the texts of the Second Quarto (Q2 1604–5) and the Folio (F 1623). These 1980s editors react against this imagined tradition by omitting from their editions a great many of the passages unique to Q2. Mowat notes that the Hamlet editorial tradition can be characterized as monolithic only in the period 1866–1980, during which the Cambridge edition (1866), produced by W. Aldis Wright and W. G. Clark, exercised, for reasons we cannot now entirely recover, enormous influence on succeeding editors and thereby fixed in place a text of the play. Reviewing the earlier editorial tradition, Mowat finds no uniform practice of conflation of Q2 and F. The play’s first editor, Nicholas Rowe, evidently compared in detail the 1676 quarto (Q1676, based on Q2) with the Fourth Folio (F4, based on F); he included in his edition all passages peculiar to F4, but was highly selective in admitting passages unique to Q1676. Alexander Pope, Rowe’s immediate successor, based his edition on Rowe’s but consulted Q2; Pope not only included yet more Q2-only passages but also cut some F-only passages. The play’s next editor, Lewis Theobald, basing his edition on Pope’s, left out still more F-only lines and added still more Q2-only ones. Edward Capell’s edition of 1768, Mowat notes, was reputed by some twentieth-century experts to have initiated a reliance on Q2 (although only as conflated with F, as in the 1866 Cambridge edition) that would later characterize twentieth-century editing of Hamlet, beginning with J. Dover Wilson’s 1934 New Shakespeare edition. However, Mowat finds Capell by no means stable in his preference for Q2. Capell’s successors (up to the 1866 Cambridge editors) provide their readers with an ever-changing text of Hamlet in their inclusion and exclusion of Q2- and F-only passages and in their preference for the readings of individual words in Q2 and F. Thus the 1980s editors in their reaction against the 1866 Cambridge text of Hamlet return the editorial tradition to its customary state—instability.
Neely, Carol Thomas. “ ‘Documents in Madness’: Reading Madness and Gender in Shakespeare’s Tragedies and Early Modern Culture.” Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 315–38.
Making reference to Hamlet’s feigned and Ophelia’s real madness, as well as madness in Macbeth and King Lear, Neely sets out “to begin to examine why, how, and with what consequences madness was read and represented in England in the early modern period by focusing on how representations of madness in Shakespeare’s tragedies function within cultural contexts.” To establish such contexts, Neely consults a number of contemporary texts: Edward Jorden’s treatise on hysteria, The Suffocation of the Mother; Timothy Bright’s Treatise of Melancholy; Reginald Scot’s Discouerie of Witchcraft; Samuel Harsnett’s Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures; and the records of the physician Richard Napier from 1598 to 1624 as presented by Michael MacDonald in his Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing in Seventeenth-Century England. All these works witness the English Renaissance’s distinguishing of human madness from the supernatural (demonic or divine possession), the spiritual (sin, guilt, doubt), and witchcraft and bewitchment, and understand madness instead in secular and medical terms. The representation of madness in the secular context of the stage in such plays as Hamlet participates in this larger cultural shift. In Hamlet itself, Neely observes how madness is gendered, with only Ophelia’s madness somatized and eroticized, while Hamlet’s feigned madness is “fashionably introspective and melancholy,” its implications read as political. Neely notes that the language of what we are to take for actual madness on the stage is marked by fragmentation, obsession, and repetition, which, although prominent in Ophelia’s lines in the fourth act, are to be found in Hamlet’s speeches only directly after his first encounter with the Ghost in 1.5.
Schleiner, Louise. “Latinized Greek Drama in Shakespeare’s Writing of Hamlet.” Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 29–48.
Schleiner proposes that Aeschylus’s Oresteia and Euripides’ Orestes possibly influenced Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Though scholars have generally thought that Shakespeare read relatively little Greek, Schleiner claims he may have had access to the two Greek plays through Latin translations and a pair of now-lost English plays of 1599 titled Agamemnon and Orestes’ Furies. In particular, Schleiner detects the possible influence of the graveyard and matricide scenes of the Choephori (Libation Bearers) in Aeschylus’ Oresteia on Hamlet’s churchyard scene (5.1), for which there is no precedent in the play’s known sources and analogues. She also notes similarities in the roles of Horatio and Pylades (in both Aeschylus and Euripides). Even if Shakespeare did not read the Latin translations of these Greek plays himself, he could have learned of them from such fellow playwrights as Ben Jonson, John Marston, George Chapman, or Thomas Dekker, all of whom adapted Latin texts. Among the details shared by Hamlet and the Latinized Greek texts are the emergence from concealment of a pair of young men (Hamlet and Horatio in 5.1, Orestes and Pylades) to confront mourners, and the validation provided by a male friend (Horatio for Hamlet in 5.1, Pylades for Orestes) for the killing of a relative (Claudius by Hamlet, Clytemnestra—his mother—by Orestes). Schleiner concludes her discussion by invoking Julia Kristeva’s theory of intertextuality or “transposition” to analyze the relations of the Greek plays to Hamlet.
Shakespeare Quarterly 62.2 (Summer 2011).
This issue of Shakespeare Quarterly consists of nine entries on Hamlet under the headings “Positions,” “Articles,” and “Horatio Cluster.” In the first section, Lee Edelman (“Against Survival: Queerness in a Time That’s Out of Joint”), Carla Freccero (“Forget Hamlet”), and Kathryn Schwarz (“Hamlet without Us”) examine the play in light of the work of Jacques Derrida, specifically his notions of spectral haunting, “archive,” and “fratriarchy.” Bernice W. Kliman’s article “All at Sea about Hamlet at Sea” claims that the frequently cited record of performances of Hamlet off the coast of Africa in 1607 is most likely a forgery by John Payne Collier and should no longer be included in accounts of the play’s performance history. Elizabeth Hanson’s “Fellow Students: Hamlet, Horatio, and the Early Modern University” examines Prince Hamlet’s friendship with the poor scholar Horatio, both students at the University of Wittenberg, finding it “emblematic of the uneasy interpenetration of nobility and the clerical culture of the universities in sixteenth-century England.” In “ ‘Caviare to the general’? Taste, Hearing, and Genre in Hamlet,” Allison Kay Deutermann attends to an overlooked “crucial aspect of the play’s interest in audition—its intervention in a turn-of-the-century contest over how plays should sound, and how audiences should hear them.” Hamlet’s investigation of “formally specific modes of hearing” recuperates “revenge tragedy from charges of creaking irrelevance.” The “Horatio Cluster” provides three readings of the lines “Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man / As e’er my conversation coped withal” (3.2.56–57). Lars Engle (“How Is Horatio Just? How Just Is Horatio?”) claims that for Hamlet, being just and being conscientious derive from an ability “to take a disinterested, nonstakeholder’s attitude toward what one is thinking about,” a relative rather than absolute mode of moral thinking that Hamlet admires in Horatio but that he does not claim to have “with any consistency himself.” In “Reading Horatio,” Jonathan Crewe examines the passage as it appears in the First Quarto and the Folio; while almost identical in both versions, the lines reveal “significant variations” in their respective textual settings to yield different readings of the “same” lines. Karen Newman’s “Two Lines, Three Readers: Hamlet TLN 1904–05” addresses the “question of male friendship and the intimacies implied in Hamlet’s ‘my conversation.’ ” After reviewing the multiple meanings of “conversation” and “coped,” she contextualizes the passage by noting how Hamlet’s critique of theater and his call for its reform in the lines immediately preceding explain his choice of Horatio as a co-critic in the play-within-the-play scene.
Stallybrass, Peter, Roger Chartier, J. Franklin Mowery, and Heather Wolfe. “Hamlet’s Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England.” Shakespeare Quarterly 55 (2004): 379–419.
Beginning with the observation that “books play a prominent role in Hamlet,” the authors suggest that the most important book in the play, “both figuratively and literally,” is the book of memory, a book which Hamlet imagines as an inscribed “table” that can be wiped clean (1.5.102–11)—a “virtual table,” however, requiring “the supplement of actual tables” (1.5.114–15). Philip Melanchthon’s Rhetoric (1525) suggests that the indiscriminate collection of maxims and adages in writing tables and commonplace books could produce what is now called “information overload,” something that could be prevented by the use of erasable tables. With its ten blank leaves of specially treated paper and cleaning instructions, the 1604 almanac Writing Tables with a Kalender for xxiiii. yeeres, with sundry necessarie rules attests to the existence of such notebooks in England by the early seventeenth century. The essay deals with characteristics of Renaissance erasable notebooks and how one wrote in them without ink under the following headings: “wax tablets,” “erasable paper and asses’ skin,” “marketing writing tables,” “purchasing, giving, and using writing tables,” and “writing implements.” In the final two sections of the essay, “Tables, Memory, and Erasure” and “The Tables of the Mind,” the authors relate the table as an erasable technology to the erasure of memory in both Hamlet and Sonnet 122 and argue that the opposition between “technologies of permanence and technologies of erasure” runs throughout the play. To the extent that memory itself works like a table-book—an enduring record and a surface that can be wiped clean—it implies forgetfulness as much as remembrance. “The ‘Booke and Volume’ in which Hamlet imagines memorializing his father’s command fails to work, while the erasable tables, filled with commonplaces and jests, perform an ever-greater role within the play.” As the memory of his father’s ghost is attenuated after Act 3, the “trivial, fond records” of Yorick, the jester, “increasingly haunt, inhabit, and shape Hamlet.” Ultimately, the ghost of Old Hamlet “suffers an even more ignominious fate than does his murderous brother: he simply fades away, erased from the tables of memory.”
Weitz, Morris. Hamlet and the Philosophy of Literary Criticism. London: Faber, 1964.
Weitz believes that the history of criticism on Hamlet is so extensive and varied that an exploration of it can provide the opportunity to address “the traditional question, What is Criticism?” The first part of his book consists of a systematic exposition of the views of some major critics of Hamlet. These include from the twentieth century (1) A. C. Bradley, who in his Shakespearean Tragedy (1904) concentrates on the character Hamlet, whom he identifies as suffering from melancholy; (2) Ernest Jones, with his Freudian psychoanalytical approach in Hamlet and Oedipus (1949); (3) G. Wilson Knight, who in The Wheel of Fire (1930) offers to interpret “the inner core or essence” of Hamlet as “the triumph of mortality over life”; (4) T. S. Eliot, charging, in his essay “Hamlet” (1919), that the play is an artistic failure because its action is allegedly in excess of its essential emotion; (5) “Historical Critics,” including J. M. Robertson (The Problem of “Hamlet” ), E. E. Stoll (Hamlet: An Historical and Comparative Study ; Art and Artifice in Shakespeare: A Study in Dramatic Contrast and Illusion ; Hamlet the Man ), L. L. Shücking (Character Problems in Shakespeare’s Plays ; The Meaning of “Hamlet” ; The Baroque Character of the Elizabethan Tragic Hero ; Shakespeare und der Tragödienstil seiner Zeit ), Theodore Spencer (Shakespeare and the Nature of Man ), and Lily Bess Campbell (Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion ), all of whom are committed to the view that Hamlet “can be correctly understood only in Elizabethan terms, where by ‘terms’ they mean Elizabethan theatrical conditions, stage and dramatic conventions, or philosophical, psychological, and political ideas and ideals”; (6) Francis Fergusson, who in The Idea of a Theater (1940) links Hamlet with Greek tragedy and ancient ritual; (7) J. Dover Wilson (The Manuscript of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” ; a 1934 edition of the play in the New Shakespeare series; What Happens in “Hamlet” ), whose twin goals are the establishment of the play’s text and the elucidation of its plot; (8) Caroline Spurgeon (Shakespeare’s Imagery ) and W. H. Clemen (The Development of Shakespeare’s Imagery ), who seek to understand plays including Hamlet in terms of their dominant imagery, that is, their similes and metaphors. Weitz also surveys the writing of earlier critics, beginning as early as the seventeenth century with John Dryden and going forward with Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Leo Tolstoy. In the second part Weitz outlines what he sees as the main issues in Hamlet criticism, including “Is Hamlet mad?,” “Does Hamlet vacillate?,” “Is Ophelia honest, weak, in love with Hamlet?,” “Is Gertrude an adultress?,” and “Why is Hamlet tragic?,” among many more.
Werstine, Paul. “The Textual Mystery of Hamlet.” Shake-speare Quarterly 39 (1988): 1–26.
Werstine contemplates the differences among three of the Hamlet texts: the Second Quarto (Q2) of 1604–5, the Folio (F) of 1623, and the combination of the two (Q2/F) by the recent editorial tradition (see Mowat, above). He abstracts from the early printed texts (Q2 and F) a number of contrasting patterns regarding, especially, Laertes and Fortinbras, Hamlet’s relations to them, and his relation to Claudius. Because of a number of cuts from 1.2 (60–62), 4.7 (77–92, 130–40), and 5.2 (119–48, 151–56), as well as a small addition to 4.5 (185–87), F provides the play a Laertes who is more attractive than his counterpart in Q2. It may therefore be appropriate, argues Werstine, that the F Hamlet explicitly identify himself with Laertes in 5.2 in a passage that is not printed in Q2. The editorial combination Q2/F obscures this pattern, for it presents a Laertes who is mocked at length by both Claudius (in 4.7) and Hamlet (in 5.2) but is nonetheless also recognized by a sympathetic Hamlet in 5.2 as pursuing a cause similar to his own. A second patterned difference between Q2 and F arises for Werstine from Q2 Hamlet’s ability to maintain an advantage over Claudius until very near the end of the play by inexplicably anticipating the King’s plots against him. Only the Q2 Hamlet, because of a substantial cut in that text in 2.2 (258–89), is able immediately to detect that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Claudius’s spies without their betraying themselves to him with their speeches, as they do in F. And only the Q2 Hamlet knows of Claudius’s plot to kill him in sending him to England before he boards his ship, as is revealed in a Q2-only speech by Hamlet near the end of 3.4 (225–33). In contrast the F Hamlet seems far more limited in his ability to contend with Claudius. In the combined Q2/F text it is the limited F Hamlet who appears in 2.2 and the powerfully knowledgeable one in 3.4. However, Werstine does not argue that Shakespeare must be the one who created the patterns of contrast thus abstracted from Q2 and F. Instead Werstine recognizes that his patterns fail to embrace a great many other differences between Q2 and F that can be distributed into no patterned relations at all; hence his patterns fall short of accounting for texts of Q2 and F as wholes. He therefore observes that other agents, such as theatrical adapters making cuts (as they are known to have done), could have created, perhaps accidentally, the patterns he identifies, if these patterns are not simply the products of his own critical method.