Andreas, James R. “The Vulgar and the Polite: Dialogue in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 15 (1993): 9-23.


Drawing on the ideas of Erving Goffman, Geoffrey Bateson, and Mikhail Bakhtin, this article examines “the tension generated by the dialogic interaction of Hamlet’s rhetoric of the vulgus (the folk, villein, vulgar, the plain, the proverbial, and the parodically double) and Claudius’ rhetoric of the polis (the polity, policy, polite, police and politically duplicit)” in Hamlet (10). The King (and his representatives, e.g., Polonius) attempts to control context, speaks in a “fairly straightforward authoritarian voice” (15), and “restricts and restrains the vulgar” (17); in comparison, the Prince fluctuates between multiple contexts, exercises “verbal play and parody” (15), and introduces the “dialogically ‘deviant’” (17). This “dialogical clash of two verbal styles” generates Hamlet’s energy (10). The literary styles and devices seem derived “respectively—and disrespectfully—from the master genres of the vulgar and the polite that can still be heard clashing in the streets and courts of today” (20).

[ top ]

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).]


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" (365).

[ top ]

Fendt, Gene. Is Hamlet a Religious Drama? An Essay on a Question in Kierkegaard. Marquette Studies in Philosophy 21. Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 1999.


This monograph begins by surveying the different definitions of religious drama. Chapters two and three discuss the "scholarly cruxes" of Hamlet (e.g., Hamlet's delay) and evokes Aristotle and Aquinas to assist in comprehending "what a religious understanding of Hamlet might be" (16). Chapters four and five explore the contrast between Hamlet and Kierkegaard's and Taciturnus' writings on religious art, "examine the metaphysical and philosophical presuppositions of the ordinary understanding of religious drama as representations bearing on dogmatic truths," and "show how Kierkegaard's indirect communication seeks to avoid that philosophical problematic" (16). The last chapter uses Bataille's theories of religious economies to argue Hamlet's status as a religious drama.

[ top ]

Harries, Martin. “The Ghost of Hamlet in the Mine.” Scare Quotes from Shakespeare: Marx, Keynes, and the Language of Reenchantment. By Harries. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000. 93-122.


While contributing to the monograph’s argument “that Shakespeare provides a privileged language for the apprehension of the supernatural—what I call reenchantment—in works by Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and others” (1), this chapter begins by identifying Marx’s “appropriation” of “Well said, old mole” (1.5.162) as “an instance of phantasmagoria of a kind, a moment where what is, in theory, emergent—the rupture caused by the ‘revolution’—takes the form of old, in the allusion to Hamlet” (97). In comparison, the Ghost, that “old mole,” “is an archaic face for a nascent world of economic exchange” (97) because the Ghost “in the mine is a spirit of capitalism” (98). Hamlet’s reference to the Ghost as “mole,” “pioneer” (1.5.163), and “truepenny” (1.5.150)—all mining terms—and the spirit’s mobile presence in the cellarage scene initiate “the matter of the relationship between the economic and authority in Hamlet as a whole” (106). For example, Hamlet “unsettles the Ghost’s authority” by calling attention to its theatricality (106)—“this fellow in the cellarage” (1.5.151); but the scene “links the Ghost and its haunting to one of the crucial phantasmagorical places of early modern culture: the mine. The mine was at once source for raw materials crucial to the growing capitalist culture and, so to speak, a super-nature preserve, a place where the spirits of popular belief had a continuing life,” as historical accounts on mining show (108). Perhaps “the cellarage scene aroused fears related to the rising hegemony of capitalist forms of value” (108). “By focusing on the entanglement of the Ghost and the mine, a different Hamlet becomes visible, one that locates a troubled nexus at the heart of modernity—the phantasmagorical intersection of antiquated but powerful authority, the supernatural, and, in the mines, the material base of a commodity culture” (116).

[ top ]

This website is for educational purposes.
All information Copyright © 2002-2007 Harmonie Blankenship
Contact the author at