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.


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


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

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Kerrigan, William. Hamlet’s Perfection. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994.


Self-described as “a love affair with Hamlet,” this monograph begins with a historical review of Hamlet interpretations that “reveals a finite number of ‘frameworks’ within which specific interpretations unwind” (2). The second chapter traces “the journey of a single phrase, ‘good night,’ through the text of Hamlet,” as the statement “presupposes two divisions, those of day from night and good from evil” (xiii). Chapters three and four continue “the theme of division” by concentrating “on Hamlet’s split apprehension of women and his attempt to salvage purity from an initial conviction of general debasement” (xiii). The final chapter “treats the self-revised Hamlet of Act 5” (xiii).

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


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

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


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

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