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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Bristol, Michael D. "'Funeral bak'd-meats':
Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet." William Shakespeare,
Hamlet. Ed. Susanne L. Wofford. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism.
Boston: St. Martin's, 1994. 348-67. [Reprinted in Shakespeare's Tragedies,
ed. Susan Zimmerman (1998).]
CARNIVAL / CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / MARXISM
While supplying a summary of Marxist theory and of Bakhtin's
principles of the Carnival, this essay contends that Claudius and Hamlet
camouflage themselves with carnivalesque masks but that Hamlet has an
advantageous "understanding of the corrosive and clarifying power
of laughter" (350). Appearing "as a complex variant of the
Lord of Misrule," Claudius first speaks of a festive commingling
between marriage and death, but he only appropriates carnivalesque themes
and values "in order to make legitimate his own questionable authority"
(355). Ironically, his means of securing the crown "typically mocks
and uncrowns all authority" (356). Although Hamlet initially rejects
festivities, his killing of Polonius marks the change in him. Hamlet's
use of "grotesque Carnival equivocation" in the following
scene with the King, his father/mother, suggests Hamlet's development
(358). Hamlet's interaction with "actual representatives of the
unprivileged," the Gravediggers, completes Hamlet's training in
carnivalism (359). Aside from the "clear and explicit critique
of the basis for social hierarchy" (360), this scene shows Hamlet
reflecting on death, body identity, community, and laughter. He confronts
Yorick's skull but learns that "the power of laughter is indestructible":
"Even a dead jester can make us laugh" (361). Now Hamlet is
ready to participate in Claudius' final festival, the duel. True to
the carnival tendencies, the play ends with "violent social protest"
and "a change in the political order" (364). Unfortunately,
Fortinbras' claim to the throne maintains "the tension between
'high' political drama and a 'low' audience of nonparticipating witnesses"
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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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Gorfain, Phyllis. “Toward
a Theory of Play and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet.” Hamlet
13 (1991): 25-49. [Reprinted in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for
Criticism (1994) and in Ronald Knowles’ Shakespeare and
Carnival: After Bakhtin (1998).]
AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CARNIVAL / METADRAMA
Drawing heavily on Bakhtin’s understanding of carnivalesque,
this article approaches Hamlet “as Shakespeare’s
most ludic and metatheatrical tragedy” (26). The “carnivalesque
in Hamlet intensifies its complex tragic mode” (27),
as the “irreversible and vertical movement of tragic form joins
to the reversible and horizontal continuum of carnival in Hamlet
to produce the double vision” (28). “The alliance of
linear consequence with cyclical carnivalesque reversibility becomes
most evident in the final act of Hamlet”: on the one
hand, the play “concludes with a carnivalesque fearlessness and
freedom as Hamlet decides to engage in an open-ended fencing match”;
but, on the other hand, it “also concludes with a devastating
finality when the cheating and intrigue of Claudius defeat this ludic
spirit” (31). “This consolidation of irreversible history
and reversible art matches other patterns of assertion and denial in
the play” (31), such as “wordplay (punning, witty literalism,
clownish malapropism, word corruptions, nonsense)” (31) and storytelling
(which “in Hamlet then replaces revenge)” (29).
The repetitive presentation of Old Hamlet’s murder, through narrative,
mime, and performance, demonstrates how the “self-reflexive play
with the boundaries between event and representation, past and present,
subjunctive and actual, audience and performers defines and dissolves
the differences between the world of the play and the world of the theater”
(29). “As carnival obscures the differences between performers
and audience, blending us all in a comedic vision of performance culture,
so Hamlet uses its reflexive ending to make us observers of
our own observing, objects of our own subjective knowledge, inheritors
of the playful knowledge paradox” (43)—and “the noblest”
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