Ahrends, Günter. "Word and Action in Shakespeare's Hamlet." Word and Action in Drama: Studies in Honour of Hans-Jürgen Diller on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday. Ed. Günter Ahrends, Stephan Kohl, Joachim Kornelius, Gerd Stratmann. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 1994. 93-105.


While contending that Hamlet "is a meta-play dealing with fundamental principles of the art of acting," this essay analyzes the play's didactic presentation of word and action: "the verbal and the mimic-gesticulatory forms of expression are equally significant signs which have to be put into a balanced relationship with each other" (93), otherwise "they degenerate into deficient signs" (94). Through the player's excellence with the Hecuba speech and Hamlet's reaction to it, Shakespeare's "most famous tragedy contains not only a theory of mimesis but also a concrete example of how theoretical principles can be translated into practice" (98). Hamlet understands the principles of the art of acting, as he demonstrates in his advice to the players, and his insight motivates The Mousetrap. While The Mousetrap succeeds in provoking Claudius, the closet scene is "a continuation of the play within the play in so far as it is now Gertrude's turn to reveal her guilt" (100). Hamlet's initial effort with his mother fails because he "proves to be a bad actor" (101), but the son eventually remembers his own advice to the players and matches action with word; "It is exactly by making Hamlet's first attempt fail that Shakespeare turns the bedroom scene into a further example of how the principles of theatrical representation have to be transformed into practice" (100). Hamlet, like Claudius and Gertrude, "appears as a dissociated human being" for most of the play because his words and actions are unbalanced; but he distinguishes himself from the others with his knowledge "that the art of theatrical representation makes it possible for man to overcome the state of dissociation by not tolerating the discrepancy between action and word" (102).

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Anderson, Mary. “Hamlet: The Dialect Between Eye and Ear.” Renaissance and Reformation 27 (1991): 299-313.


This article analyzes Hamlet to discern Shakespeare’s “comparison between the eye and the ear as the two faculties by which sense data are transmitted to the reason” (299). A collaboration of the two senses must exist for the success of reason because, alone, the ear is prone to “malignant” information and the eye suffers “incomplete or ineffectual” information (302). For example, Hamlet mistakenly assumes that Claudius is at prayer based on only sight (similar to a dumb show) and accidentally kills Polonius based solely on sound. In comparison, the simultaneous use of ear and eye in The Mousetrap allows Hamlet to successfully confirm Claudius’ guilt. Various models of the eye/ear relationship emerge in the development of Polonius, Gertrude, Ophelia, and Fortinbras. In Hamlet, Shakespeare appears to defend “the theatre as a very effective moral medium which stimulates both eye and ear into a dialectic within the reason and conscience” (311).

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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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Danner, Bruce. �Speaking Daggers.� Shakespeare Quarterly 54.1 (Spring 2003): 29-62.


This study focuses upon �the context of the play�s tragic form [. . .] to connect its metatheatrical self-consciousness with the ethical imperatives of Hamlet�s dilemma, one in which theatricality is called on to stabilize ambiguity and to authorize the prince�s call to action� (30). The playwright �offers a courtier struggling with the divide between action and acting, a figure whose call to violent force is countered by an obsession with the images of theater, text, and icon� (31). In The Mousetrap, Hamlet conflates the act of murder with the threat of revenge, �applies theatrical mimesis as a weapon� to prick Claudius�s conscience, and �begins to confuse the imaginary with the real, the verbal with the martial� (32). He �progresses from speaking pictures to speaking daggers, from enargeia to catachresis, conflating the violence he is called on to perform with the language by which he names it� (62). He �spends so much time meditating on his revenge in word and image that it becomes the name of action and its imaginary form that he fears losing rather than the violence itself. To lose the name of action in a context where action can only be named represents a crippling tautology� (58-59).

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Goldman, Michael. “Hamlet: Entering the Text.” Theatre Journal 44 (1992): 449-60.


While suggesting “that drama may provide, at least in some respects, the more illuminating case of the encounter with writing,” this article explores Shakespeare’s treatment of the person/text “negotiation” in Hamlet (449). Through “the dynamism of performance, script and actor become inseparable” (450) because “scriptedness” and “improvisation” merge on stage (450). This “interplay of script and improvisation” underlies the call to revenge in Hamlet: the Ghost “seems to provide a clear cut script for his son,” but Hamlet’s “path to revenge is tortuous, filled with improvised diversions and digressions” (452). While “the play explores” the “necessary relation” between “scriptedness” and “improvisation,” it is also “concerned . . . with what’s involved in entering into a script” (452). Hamlet “regularly reenacts the basic scene that takes place when an actor prepares or performs a part,” the “entry into the text” (453), such as the replaying of a situation (e.g., Old Hamlet’s murder) (453). While such a metadramatic “acting exercise” (453) suggests one method of entering the text, “a concern with the stability and instability of texts runs through the play” (454). Hamlet’s sense “of a tense and uncertain relation to a text, which exacts both commitment and risky departure, may have had a special relevance to the circumstances of Elizabethan dramatic production” (455) because the performance of an Elizabethan play momentarily “stabilized the uncertain mix of possibilities contained in the playhouse manuscript” (456). The play’s exploration of “play-acting and the relation of texts and scripts to performance may also be reflective of “the larger problematic of human action” that Hamlet experiences and, ultimately, comes to terms with: “human action itself, like the performance of an actor, is an intervention, an entry into something very like a script, a text of interwoven actions, an entry that, though it raises the central questions of human choice and responsibility, can never be made in full knowledge or confidence about the ultimate result of that choice” (457). This article recommendation is “to conceive of this critical relation . . . of reader and text, in a way that acknowledges something of that importance which is felt by all who are drawn to literature—as a relation of commitment, a relation of responsibility, a relation certainly requiring the focus of one’s full bodily life on something which is not oneself, a relation constrained by time and history and the need for choice, but above all a relation of adventure” (460).

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Gorfain, Phyllis. “Toward a Theory of Play and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 13 (1991): 25-49. [Reprinted in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism (1994) and in Ronald Knowles’ Shakespeare and Carnival: After Bakhtin (1998).]


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” audience (5.21.88).

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Hirsh, James. �Hamlet�s Stage Directions to the Players.� Stage Directions in Hamlet: New Essays and New Directions. Ed. Hardin L. Aasand. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2003. 47-73.


This study sets out to uncover the significance of Hamlet�s directions to the players through �careful analysis of its [the episode�s] dramatic context� (47). Necessarily, the traditional belief that Hamlet�s theatrical theories are those of Shakespeare must be addressed: �the directions that Hamlet gives the players are distinguishable from the actual dramatic practices exhibited in Shakespeare�s play� (66); for example, discrepancies �between speech and action pervade Hamlet� (53). Hamlet himself commits most of the theatrical crimes that he tells the actors not to do, such as �clowning� in his �antic disposition� (58), and improvising upon the Ghost�s directions (i.e., delaying) (59). �In addition to setting up numerous ironic comparisons with Hamlet�s own behavior, the passage in which Hamlet gives directions to the players is one of a long series of episodes in which one character tells one or more other characters how to act� (59). �Hamlet dramatizes the complex dynamics of situations in which people give directions and brings into high focus by exaggerating [. . .] the potentially incongruous, ironic, or problematic elements of such situations. Rather than being an exception to the rule, Hamlet�s directions to the players provide a detailed and vivid example of the pervasive pattern� (67). They also create ironic similarities between Hamlet and his enemy, Claudius. For example, Hamlet must hold his tongue while Claudius delivers directions and �ironically places the players in a similar situation� (71); while Hamlet recommends �smoothness� (5.1.8) to the players, Claudius calls for �smoothness in devising his plot to send Hamlet to his death in England� (4.3.7-9) (49). Hamlet �has indeed come to resemble his royal uncle in putting to death anyone whom he finds inconvenient� (67). �Rather than Shakespeare�s declaration of his own theatrical principles, Hamlet�s harangue reinforces the ironic and tragic similarities between Hamlet and his �mighty opposite�� (72).

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Hunt, Maurice. “Art of Judgement, Art of Compassion: The Two Arts of Hamlet.” Essays in Literature 18 (1991): 3-20.


This article uses the Troy playlet, which Hamlet requests of a player, and The Murder of Gonzago to argue two points: “Shakespeare’s idea of the relevance of mimetic art for the past and future,” and “Shakespeare’s conception of the humane use of his tragic art” (3). The Troy playlet seems an odd choice for Hamlet because it displaces sympathy from the avenger to his victim; but, for Shakespeare, its blending of vengeance and compassion seems to imply that art does not mirror life, it refines human experience. Although Hamlet initially praises the Troy performance, his hunger for revenge overrules his appreciation of art. He misuses art in The Mousetrap scene, with the utilitarian hope of detecting guilt and without recognition of the form’s power to influence/transform will. The player king recommends human compassion, but Hamlet only judges others. His (unmerited) condemnation of Gertrude leads him to fail in his goals with The Mousetrap. While Hamlet remains unmoved by The Murder of Gonzago, the theater audience is encouraged to join him in scrutinizing Claudius’ (and Gertrude’s) reaction. York’s skull offers another example of Shakespeare’s metadramatic commentary because it “resembles dramatic tragedy in its effect upon certain viewers” (14). After shifting from pity for to criticism of the skull, Hamlet exploits the object as “an iconographically stereotyped battering ram in the Prince’s campaign against women” (14). The skull is misused, just like The Murder of Gonzago. In the course of Hamlet, the protagonist harshly assesses others who seem deserving of pity but never questions the Ghost, who is suffering for previous crimes. Hamlet’s judgement reminds the audience “of what makes his experience tragic, and of what we might attempt to avoid in our lives beyond the theater” (16).

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Kottman, Paul A. “Sharing Vision, Interrupting Speech: Hamlet’s Spectacular Community.” Shakespeare Studies 36 (1998): 29-57.


This essay attempts “to think through what it might mean to share in the experience of a spectacle rather than a verbal narration, and to consider what Hamlet’s unique thematization of this difference might tell us about what distinguishes Shakespeare’s work from a more narrative theatricality” (30). The play opens with Barnardo recounting his sightings of the Ghost. Through this narrative’s verbal introduction of the awaited visual spectacle, Hamlet demonstrates “the limits of linguistic narration” (38), such as the absence of the narrative object and the problems of “temporal heterogeneity” (39). But the play also presents “the way in which the theater has the power to transgress these limits” (38): the Ghost’s entrance on stage and interruption of the retelling “renders superfluous the verbal narration of its appearance” (39). With “this injunction Hamlet interrupts or suspends the ‘theater-as-storytelling’ and inaugurates a more spectacular theater—both within the unfolding of Hamlet, and within the history of the Western theatrical experience more generally” (39). Barnardo, Marcellus, and Horatio respond to the mute apparition by becoming paradoxically silent-yet-sharing spectators (like the theater audience). In this theatrical moment, Hamlet offers “a model of sharing in which a relation to others is predicated upon a disjunction between seeing and speaking, upon a spectacle which suspends spoken interaction” (43). But “this suspension is not a total silencing” (44), as Barnardo and Marcellus eventually ask Horatio to speak with the spirit. Their motivation/compulsion seems “to overcome the solitude of visuality” (45) “to affirm that the spectacle is shared,” and to confirm the visual “through the speech of another” (47). Even “as Hamlet breaks with oral narration, presenting us with a disjointed community founded upon spectatorship and the suspension of spoken interaction—the play also presents us with the compulsion to speak in response to this spectacle,” to this “experience which is shared, and yet not through interaction” (51).

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Malone, Cynthia Northcutt. “Framing in Hamlet.College Literature 18.1 (Feb. 1991): 50-63.


With the goal of bringing “the self-effacing frames of Hamlet into focus” (50), this essay examines “the particular theatrical frame in which Hamlet was first performed, the Globe theater” and considers “thematic and formal issues of framing in Hamlet, positioning these textual issues within the discussion of the theatrical space” (51). The performance space “cannot be contained completely by the theatrical frame; it seeps outward: before [e.g., “extruding limbs or bodies of actors”], behind [e.g., actors’ “holding place ‘behind’ the stage”], between [e.g., “sites of transition” between spectacle and spectator or inside and outside], above [e.g., the Globe’s open roof], below [e.g., the Ghost’s voice from beneath the stage]” (52). While the theatrical frame simultaneously defines and questions the boundaries of the performance space, “Hamlet plays out a sequence of dramatic frames that mirror the theatrical frame and double its doubleness” (53). For example, the Ghost provides the pretext for the revenge plot but “functions at the outermost edges of the play” (53), seeming “to inhibit the very borders of the dramatic world” (54); in The Mousetrap, “Revenge drama is enacted within revenge drama, with the players of the central drama as audience, and stage as theater” (57); Hamlet exists inside and outside of The Mousetrap, enacting the roles of both chorus and audience (58). But Claudius’s interruption of the play within the play “begins the process of closure for the configuration of frames” (58), and “All of the frames in the play undergo some transformation in the process of closure” (59). For example, “the framing Ghost of Hamlet” is internalized by the son when Hamlet fully appropriates his father’s name (59): “This is I, / Hamlet the Dane” (5.1.250-51); Hamlet transforms into the avenger, murderer (Claudius’s double), and victim (Old Hamlet’s double) (59). Ultimately, he passes “from the world of speech to the world beyond”; in comparison, Horatio “is released from his vow of silence, his function is transformed from providing the margin of silence surrounding Hamlet’s speech to presenting the now-dumb Prince” (60). As Hamlet’s body is carried away, “a figured silence closes the frame and dissolves into the background of life resumed” (60).

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McGuire, Philip C. “Bearing ‘A wary eye’: Ludic Vengeance and Doubtful Suicide in Hamlet.” From Page to Performance: Essays in Early English Drama. Ed. John Alford. East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1995. 235-53.


This essay explores how audiences and readers “find themselves engaged in judging and interpreting Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” (235). For example, in the final scene, how does Hamlet stab and poison Claudius? In what manner? Does he balance “reason and passion” during the act(s) (241)? Actors and directors must judge and interpret the ambiguous stage directions, as must audiences and readers. Fortinbras interprets the dead Hamlet to be a potential soldier in order to convert “his claim to the Danish throne into a political fact” (245); and Horatio interprets events “for reasons that are at least partly political”: “to avoid social and political disorder” (245-46). By ending with these “acts of interpretation and judgement,” Hamlet holds up “a mirror in which those who experience the play—in performance or on the page—can see the processes of interpretation and judgement in which they are themselves engaged” (246). Ophelia’s questionable demise provides one facet of this mirror, as several characters (e.g., grave diggers, priest) “impose certainty of judgement on what is ‘doubtful’” (248-49). “Hamlet is profoundly concerned with the specific judgements and interpretations one comes to, but it is also concerned, at least equally, with the processes by which they are reached” (250).

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Motohashi, Tetsuya. “‘The play’s the thing . . . of nothing’: Writing and ‘the liberty’ in Hamlet.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 103-118.


Launching out of Polonius’ introduction of the players—“For the law of writ, and the liberty, these are the only men” (2.2.37-8)—this essay approaches Hamlet as “a theatrical critique of writerly power” (104) and as a statement on “liberty” as “a delicate balance of freedom and constraint” (103). According to this article, Shakespeare’s tragedy “attests to the lethal power of writing,” as Hamlet’s forgery of a death warrant shows (104). While Claudius appears as the masterful “manipulator of words” (105), Hamlet initially struggles to articulate his inner emotions. Being “acutely aware of the external’s failure to represent ‘that within,’” Hamlet internalizes the “external’s failure” “as his own feelings of insufficiency in comparison to his father” and develops “an ultimate form of self-denial, a suicide wish” (106). Although others “inscribe their own messages on his body” by trying to interpret the mad behavior,” Hamlet rediscovers “the capacity for dialogue in a reader or audience” through the visiting players (107). A brief review of Elizabethan documents regarding the “control exchanged between players, government officials, the City and Church authorities” (107) presents “liberty” as “an ambiguous notion embracing several contrasting perspectives” (109). It also suggests that the players in Hamlet represent “a new theatrical space,” “a marginal space in which Hamlet presents a play of his own composition” (110). Hamlet realizes that acting has the power to mediate between external/internal, seems/is (110), word/action, as well as “rival body-images” (111). His excitement over the players’ arrival provides a “metadramatic commentary on the intercultural and transboundary characteristics of the popular theatre” (111). While “the Players’ collective bodies hybridized with those of their audience, that realized the ‘liberty’” (111), the play-within-the-play allows the Prince to poison the King’s “ears with his writing” and to inscribe on Claudius’ body (113). In the closet scene, Hamlet is not restrained by theatrical acting; he thrusts his dagger into the hidden Polonius, “as if he held a Pen in his hand to write on the curtain’s sheet, and kills a counterfeit—a forger” (114). The plot “is now overtaken by writing that kills” (115). For example, Claudius and Laertes “write the last ‘play’ of fencing with a murderous intention” (115). Hamlet’s dying statements suggest that “the dialogue inherent in acting remains problematic to the end” (116).

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Reschke, Mark. “Historicizing Homophobia: Hamlet and the Anti-theatrical Tracts.” Hamlet Studies 19 (1997): 47-63.


After acknowledging the complications of studying sexuality before the late eighteen hundreds and the feminist efforts to historicize misogyny, this article examines Hamlet “to demonstrate how misogyny intersects with a nascent form of homophobia, a cultural fear of male-male sexual bonding articulated in the anti-theatrical tracts” (49). A survey of anti-theatrical propaganda reveals cultural anxieties about effeminacy, sexual promiscuity (e.g., sodomy), and any behavior that undermines social/patriarchal institutions (53). Hamlet “seems to embody the specific juncture of misogyny and fear of male-male sexual desire that the anti-theatrical tracts begin to coordinate” (55): he clearly shows misogynistic tendencies with Gertrude and Ophelia; he also voices his attraction to “dead or distant men” (e.g., Old Hamlet, Yorick, Fortinbras) because his fears of the sodomy stigma restrict the expression of such sentiments to “men only in relationships in which physical contact is impossible” (56); with Horatio, Hamlet disrupts every moment of potential intimacy by interrupting himself, “trivializing his own thoughts,” pausing, and then changing the discussion topic to theatrical plays (57). Hamlet’s behavior “demonstrates the power of anti-theatrical homophobia to regulate male behavior” and “expresses the anti-theatrical complex that . . . anticipates modern homophobia” (57). While the playwright “comes close to overtly acknowledging the cultural/anti-theatrical association of sodomy with the male homosociality of theatre life,” “A metaphoric treatment of anti-theatrical concerns, including homophobia, corresponds to—and possibly follows from—the meta-theatrical concerns that structure form and character in Hamlet” (58).

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Tiffany, Grace. “Anti-Theatricalism and Revolutionary Desire in Hamlet (Or, the Play Without the Play).” Upstart Crow 15 (1995): 61-74.


This essay contends that “Hamlet’s use of the tropes of performance to combat illicit performance parallels a paradoxical strategy which . . . proved useful in the published pamphlets of Puritan reformers of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries”; it also discloses “the structural centrality of these prophetic anti-theatrical discourses to the great ‘anti-play’ of Hamlet” (63). As the writings of Puritan reformers (e.g., Munday, Gosson, Rainolds, Prynne) show, Puritanism’s anti-theatricalism consisted of “three discursive elements”: “social disgust framed in anti-theatrical terms, explicit longing for withdrawal into an as yet unrealized world, and a call for authentic military action to purge the present rotten state” (65). In act one, scene two, Hamlet displays several of these characteristics: his unique dark clothing signals “his puritanist refusal to don the ceremonial garb worn by Gertrude, Claudius, and the rest of the court” (65); in soliloquy, he rejects “all the world’s ‘uses’ (ceremonies) (I. ii. 134)” (65-66); and his “frustrated desire to return to Wittenberg (symbolically important to Elizabethans as the originating site of Reformation discourse) is replaced by a vaguer desire to be ‘taken out of this world’ (recalling Prynne’s phrase)” (66). His “resistance to illicit social theater ultimately taints Hamlet’s response to the traveling players,” as his soliloquy upon their exit “runs curiously parallel to two passages in Saint Augustine’s Confessions, oft quoted by Puritans in condemnation of playhouses” (66-67). Paradoxically, like “the puritanist pamphlets that used the language of play-acting to damn play-acting” (69), Hamlet’s Mousetrap “constitutes anti-theatrical theater, employing role-play to blast role-play” (69-70). The-play-within-the-play also provides an example of Hamlet’s “resistance to traditional tragic plot structures” (68): its “obviousness” makes clear Hamlet’s “awareness of Claudius’ guilt and his plan to punish it” (70). Hamlet rejects “the conventional revenge behaviors of plotting, feigning, and backstabbing” and embraces “overt military action: authentic performance in the genuine theater of war” (71). In the play’s final scene, Hamlet “kills Claudius openly, non-theaterically, and spontaneously . . . he completes the total extermination of a corrupted order” (71). “Like Renaissance puritanist discourse, Hamlet’s rhetoric and action bespeak a mood of the age: an unwillingness to negotiate with a culture whose institutions were perceived as fundamentally corrupt, and an increasing preference for the alternatives of flight or purgative destruction” (72).

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Wagner, Joseph B. “Hamlet Rewriting Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 23 (2001): 75-92.


This article posits two intertwined arguments: Hamlet “identifies with his dead parent by reiterating language that honors the older character as a model of morality”; and Hamlet’s need to “adapt his own personality to be sufficiently compatible with his father’s” motivates him “to change or rewrite his play” (76). Although the Ghost seems a rather limited character (rarely appearing or speaking on stage), Shakespeare establishes—and maintains—the audience’s “sharp awareness of the Ghost’s controlling personality” “by taking the imagery, diction, and values that are present in the Ghost’s brief speeches of 1.5 . . . and by re-using them in the thoughts and speeches of Prince Hamlet. Hamlet and the Ghost think alike, and they use almost exactly parallel diction: thus, as he describes his father’s virtues and imitates his father’s speech patterns, Hamlet continually invoked the father’s ethos, and in this way the Ghost’s dynamic presence is maintained when it is not on stage at the same time that the son is going through the process of identification” (78-79). The “identification process culminates” (66) when, “in the dual persona of both son and father, he [Hamlet] appropriates the very image and seal of the father” (77-78). Although it is “an offstage decision that takes him for reaction to action” (76), Hamlet describes “an experience that might be called meta-theater in that he is director and observer, as well as actor”: “he writes the new commission and steers the play into its final course of confrontation with Claudius” (77). But this is not Hamlet’s only attempt “to transform the play” (85). Aside from “his addition of ‘some dozen or sixteen lines’ (2.2.535) to the text of The Murder of Gonzago” (86), his changes to the appropriated play during its performance, and his rewriting of Gertrude in the closet scene, a demonstrative example of Hamlet rewriting Hamlet includes his “considering, like a writer, some alternative ways of rewriting the script so that he can more closely realize his father’s behavior and personality” in the prayer scene (87). With every rewriting (and identification with the father), Hamlet “slowly develops the power to choose action rather than delay or reaction” (88). In the final scene, Hamlet performs one last rewrite: he gives his dying voice to Fortinbras and, thereby, “corrects” the “forged process” that Claudius used to claim the throne (89-90).

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Wilson, Luke. “Hamlet, Hales V. Petit, and the Hysteresis of Action.” ELH 60.1 (Spring 1993): 17-55. <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0013-8304%28199321%2960%3A1%3C17%3AHHVPAT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-N_gt; 20 Feb. 2002.


In response to attacks that new historicism lacks “an adequate account of agency and action” (17), this article counters “that Hamlet and Renaissance legal discourse seem to anticipate a post-structuralist hysteresis of action” by attempting “to reconsider the structure of action in Hamlet and to account for the ways conceptualizations of action moved between legal and theatrical fields” (22). Hamlet’s groundwork with The Mousetrap provides a key example of the theatrical action structure: in soliloquy, Hamlet announces his new-found plan—after setting it in motion with the players. The theatrical necessities of informing the audience about motives behind The Mousetrap and of getting Hamlet alone on stage to provide the soliloquy force “the intrusion of the temporal logic of compositional activity into the temporality of dramatic representation” (25). The resulting structure of action is organized by an “entanglement of prospective and retrospective, since it is in retrospection that the prospective is constituted as such, that is, since the teleological structure of intentional action entails a retroactive element” (25). “The legal analysis of action finds its way into Hamlet in the form of structures and concepts immanent in a shared rhetoric of action” (28). The Elizabethan period marked an “increase in the sophistication of legal conceptualizations of intention” (31). For example, in the Hales vs. Petit case (the gravedigger’s source for arguments determining Ophelia’s cause of death), the court retrospectively examined the evidence of a drowning/suicide to hypothesize intention and to determine liability. In this way, theater and law shared “the temporal folding that structures action” (34) and the “fictionalizations of intention” (31). “The increasingly litigious and legalistic culture in which Hamlet was produced made the means to manipulate accounts of intentional action widely available for use in both inculpatory and exculpatory schemes, at the same time that new market forces—both produced by and enabling this culture—led to conceptualizations of person that tended to frustrate the business of linking actions to agents” (44).

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All information Copyright © 2002-2007 Harmonie Blankenship
Contact the author at h.blankenship@hamlethaven.com