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


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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Partee, Morriss Henry. “Hamlet and the Persistence of Comedy.” Hamlet Studies 14 (1992): 9-18.


This article views Hamlet “as a profound comic figure developing within an intensely tragic context” (9). Hamlet initially appears to be the young lover and student, without volition, responsibility, nor self-awareness; he alternates between the extremes of depression and merriment, while remaining subordinate to authority (e.g., Claudius). But he gradually sheds these “trappings of comic detachment” (13) and begins to acquire the traditional characteristics of a tragic figure (e.g., personal guilt, moral responsibility). Hamlet’s shift parallels the state of Denmark, which originally seems stable but is slowly revealed as corrupt. Hamlet’s transformation is complete in the final moments of his life, when political concerns receive his focused attention and mature handling. Interestingly, Fortinbras’ convenient claiming of the throne “represents a distinct return to the domestic tranquility of comedy” (16). Ultimately, Hamlet’s complexity “stems from the interacting modes of comedy and tragedy” (16).

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Raffel, Burton. “Hamlet and the Tradition of the Novel.” Explorations in Renaissance Culture 22 (1996): 31-50.


This article contends that “there surely is something about Hamlet that simply does not get onto the stage, is never performed, and perhaps cannot be” (33-34). The play appears as “a theatrical entity that bears striking resemblances to much of what would be finding its way into the English novel in another century or so” (35). While Renaissance drama, unlike the novel, generally does not consist of three-dimensional characters nor of character-based plots, Shakespeare seems to be striving for both in Hamlet—and against the limitations of his medium/period. His “exploration of interior depths, which the novel offers,” succeeds in providing “more questions to think about than we can answer” (41). For example, why does Hamlet delay? Does he love Ophelia? Is he truly mad or merely feigning? Perhaps Shakespeare could not even answer all of these questions, but “on some level he was seeking answers” (40). Hamlet’s “unresolvable issues, and their unresolvability is intrinsic to the artistic situation in which . . . Shakespeare increasingly found himself” (47).

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