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).

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Arnett, David B. “What Makes Hamlet Run? Framing Cognition Discursively.” Hamlet Studies 16 (1994): 24-41.


Drawing strongly on William G. Perry’s cognitive research, this essay discusses “the conclusions we can come to about Hamlet’s vacillation by seeing them in a Perrian context” (25). Perry studied “students’ ‘cognitive structures’ as those structures developed from Simple [linguistic] Dualism to Commitment with [linguistic] Relativism” (27), leading to “a linguistic or rhetorical theory, even if he characterizes it as a cognitive one” (28). In Hamlet, the Prince’s “language of politics” evolves, “based on the foundations laid by the already evolved language of study at Wittenberg” (31). While his return to Elsinore for Old Hamlet’s funeral causes “deflections from growth,” “the moralistic rage of ‘Retreat’ into a dualism” (32), the comforting presence of Horatio enables Hamlet “to relinquish any hint of a moral polarity between himself and his opponent” (33). With his classmate, Hamlet does not need to “hide behind a corruption of words” (34). He only adopts “‘antic’ discourses” in the company of “those who manipulate language solely for their personal gain” (e.g., Claudius) because the pose “allows Perry’s authentically Committed person to maintain a necessary presence where his or her Commitments lie without unduly jeopardizing his or her position” (34). After learning of his father’s murder from the Ghost, Hamlet becomes committed to “gaining sufficient knowledge” for “authentic action” (35). The Mousetrap confirms Claudius’ guilt but leaves several uncertainties, such as the security of Gertrude and Denmark. Ultimately, Hamlet reaches “a new Commitment with Relativism”: “he knows enough to act, he knows enough to die, and he is ready for whatever Providence may provide” (37). To ask why Hamlet does not avenge his father’s murder sooner “is not only to deny the very human process of growth but also to deny the validity of a liberal education—the ultimate in revolutionary reconstructions” (38).

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Baldo, Jonahan. “Ophelia’s Rhetoric, or the Partial to Synecdoche.” Criticism 37.1 (1995): 1-35.


This article contends that “Renaissance plays, like Renaissance monarchs, owed a great deal of their power and claims to legitimacy to the trope of synecdoche” or “part/whole substitutions” (1). The writings of King James and Locke provide two contending opinions of an impartial monarch who symbolically unites a kingdom. Monarchs in the Shakespearean canon also provide various models of impartiality (e.g., Lear, Richard II). In Hamlet, the impartiality ideal in a king makes a subject (e.g., Horatio) appear “limited, partial, fragmented” and suggests “trouble at the heart of the dramatic (and monarchical) value of impartiality” (10). Hamlet’s malfunctioning synecdoche suggests why critics struggle with the play as if it were incomplete. Ophelia possesses an interest in the union of parts, and her eventual madness “may be a sign of a dis-integration deep within that trope of integration” (27). Confidence in the trope explains Shakespeare’s departure from the classical unities, but synecdochic discourses “are already being dismantled in the most celebrated of Renaissance texts, the tragedies of Shakespeare” (30).

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Brown, John Russell. “Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet.” Connotations 2 (1992): 16-33.


Given that a tragedy excites an audience’s interest in the hero’s private consciousness, this article asks, “Has Shakespeare provided the means, in words or action, whereby this hero [Hamlet] comes, at last, to be ‘denoted truly’?” (18). Throughout Hamlet, the protagonist speaks ambiguously. His linguistic trickery only heightens the audience’s anticipation of resolution (and revelation of Hamlet’s inner thoughts). Yet the last line of the dying Prince—“the rest is silence” (5.2.363)—proves particularly problematic, with a minimum of five possible readings. For example, Shakespeare perhaps speaks through Hamlet, “telling the audience and the actor that he, the dramatist, would not, or could not, go a word further in the presentation of this, his most verbally brilliant and baffling hero” (27); the last lines of Troilus and Cressida, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and Love’s Labor’s Lost suggest a pattern of this authorial style. While all five readings are plausible, they are also valuable, allowing audience and actor to choose an interpretation. This final act of multiplicity seems fitting for a protagonist “whose mind is unconfined by any single issue” (31).

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Campbell, Dowling G. “The Double Dichotomy and Paradox of Honor in Hamlet: With Possible Imagery and Rhetorical Sources for the Soliloquies.” Hamlet Studies 23 (2001): 13-49.


In addition to proposing “some important source considerations” of publications on honor (19) and exploring how some critics (e.g., Watson, Desai) have come so close (but failed) to identifying the key dichotomy in Hamlet, this essay suggests that “Shakespeare uses the vengeance convention to dramatize a paradox, one that is difficult to decipher because of language limitations: the inherently and tragically violent virtue/vengeance dichotomy within the honor code” (13). To avoid linguistic confusion with a single English word that signals diverse/conflicting meanings, this article utilizes the Spanish terms honor and honra: honor “refers to humility and forgiveness and expanded, private, internal goodness, whereas honra signifies pride and vengeance, public ‘satisfaction’ or retribution” (22). Honra seems the primary tenet of everyone in Denmark—except the Prince: honor “is instinctive and implicit in Hamlet’s nature” (13-14). But he also wants to believe that he shares the same principles, assumptions, and beliefs (and social constructs) as everyone else (24). “It is Hamlet’s simultaneous and continuos struggle with both sides of the dichotomy that constitutes his superlative characterization . . .”, his “depth of feeling, his passion” (24). The “devastating tug of war between private and public behaviors and values occurs in Hamlet’s soul, as the soliloquies confirm, and explains the hesitance or delay or dilemma” (14). Shakespeare infuses Hamlet’s soliloquies “with the dichotomy, starting with no blame, working into self-blame, and ending with a futile pledge of bloody vengeance. It is the failure of vengeance to uproot Hamlet’s sense of virtue which causes the underlying intensity” (37). Nothing can shake “an innate virtuous sensibility and spur Hamlet into killing,” not the “disgusting elemental considerations” in the graveyard (36-37), and not “the shock of Ophelia’s death” (35). “Claudius has to trick Hamlet into so much as drawing his sword” (35). But even then, “Virtue rules” (35): Hamlet is “apologetic” to Laertes, causing the conspirator to “feel sorry” and to lament the lethal plan “in an aside” (35). The “split within the honor code, complete with devastating paradox, is what troubles Hamlet and Shakespeare” (23). Shakespeare seems to be striving “to articulate the hypocrisy of the honor code itself throughout his canon” (43-44). In Hamlet (and Hamlet), he creates “a major theme with the honor/honra paradox, even if he lacks those two little terms” (46).

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Champion, Larry S. “A springe to catch woodcocks”: Proverbs, Characterization, and Political Ideology in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 15 (1993): 24-39.


This article analyzes Shakespeare’s conscious use of proverbs “to develop and enhance characterization and also to lend emotional and intellectual credibility to an ideological leitmotif that foregrounds political issues of concern to the Elizabethan spectator” (26). The proverbs spoken by Polonius, Laertes, and Ophelia “reflect an intellectual shallowness”; Claudius’ proverbs “suggest something sinister and Machiavellian” about his character; and Hamlet’s proverbs (as well as the ones others use to describe the Prince) “reveal something of the complexity of the man” (28). Aside from helping to develop characters, Shakespeare’s application of proverbs also “forces the spectators’ attention to political issues that underlie the major action” (32), such as the struggle for power and concern for legitimacy. Given the political climate of the Elizabethan period, Shakespeare’s audience was interested in these political matters. The playwright uses proverbs “to generate a high degree of interest in oppositional politics by depicting diverse ideologies that compete on stage in recreated Denmark and in the minds of the English spectators” (34).

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Engle, Lars. “Discourse, Agency, and Therapy in Hamlet.Exemplaria 4 (1992): 441-53.


Synthesizing the ideas of Foucault, Bakhtin, and Freud, this article offers “a compressed reading of Hamlet as a meditation on the balance between the power of circumambient discourses and the capacity of an exemplary (and privileged) human subject to find his way among them toward a therapeutic and pragmatic kind of agency” (444). Shakespeare’s play is dense with explorations of mental interiors through discourse, raising questions of agency. As Hamlet struggles to discover and accept a personal mode of agency, he shows “other people what they are doing by demonstrating to them what discursive fields they have entered” (446). For example, Hamlet parodies Laertes’ anger by Ophelia’s grave. He also considers “the discursive control which preempts agency,” as evident in the nunnery scene (448), and contemplates “the philosophical complexity of the compromise between agency and discourse,” as revealed after his meeting with the players (451). In all of these examples, Hamlet dramatizes/reenacts his “horror,” allowing him therapeutically to “exorcise or destroy or understand or forgive it” (452); hence, his calm attitude in the final act of the play. Hamlet learns to accept a personal mode of agency, the boundary condition of selfhood, and the allowance for “meaningful action amid constitutive discourses” (453).

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Findlay, Alison. "Hamlet: A Document in Madness." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 189-205.


By focusing on Hamlet and Ophelia, this essay examines "how gender dictates access to a language with which to cope with mental breakdown" and considers "how madness produces and is produced by a fragmentation of discourse" (189). The death of Old Hamlet marks the unraveling of language's "network of close knit meanings and signs" in Denmark (191). In this atmosphere, Hamlet and Ophelia "are threatened with mental breakdowns, rendering their need to define their experiences and re-define themselves particularly acute" (192). Hamlet attempts a "self-cure" to deal with his mental instability (192): he "uses his control over the written word to empower himself in emotionally disturbing situations"; examples include Hamlet's letters to Ophelia, Horatio, and Claudius, his forged orders to England, and his rewriting of The Murder of Gonzago (193). Hamlet discovers "a verbal and theatrical metalanguage with which to construct and contain the experience of insanity" (196), but Ophelia "does not have the same means for elaborating a delirium as a man" (197). She possesses "very limited access to any verbal communication with which to unpack her heart" before her father's death (199). After his passing, Ophelia is confronted "with an unprecedented access to language which is both liberating and frightening" (200). Her songs "are in the same mode as Hamlet's adaptation, The Mousetrap, and his use of ballad (III.ii.265-78); but, unlike Hamlet, she will not act as a chorus" (201). Also, she "cannot analyze her trauma" the way that he does (200). In the context of other Renaissance women dealing with insanity (e.g., Dionys Fitzherbert, Margaret Muschamp, Mary, Moore), Ophelia's experience of "trying to find a voice in the play" seems "a model for the difficulties facing Renaissance women writers" (202).

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Gorfain, Phyllis. “When Nothing Really Matters: Body Puns in Hamlet.” Bodylore. Ed. Katherine Young. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1993. 59-87.


By “calling attention to the astonishing energy of reflexive puns,” this article focuses “on how they reflect on the problematic relationship between the intellectual production of meaning and the physical body through which ideas must be expressed in precise social situations in the world of Hamlet” (60). While puns in general are probed within the article, puns voiced during social greetings and farewells merit attention because “these encounters are occasions for formulaic performances” (e.g., handshake, bow, embrace) (60). For example, at the beginning of The Mousetrap, Hamlet responds to Claudius’ greeting with puns in order to disrupt the social relationship and social form. Like every pun in Hamlet, the actor’s physical performance (e.g., posture, gesture) and body become factors, possibilities for meaning. Hamlet also uses puns “to undo, through language, the finality of death,” as his response to Polonius’ accidental murder demonstrates (76). The transport of Polonius’ dead body “places the real gravity of the body centrally next to the consoling rites and puns that would reinterpret death for cultural recuperation” (77). By the final scene, “the question of how to ‘take up the body’—physically and morally, verbally and symbolically—has been so thoroughly complicated by the puns on bodies and how and where to ‘take’ them, that no stage, just as no political realm, whatever its embodied metaphors may be, can fully contain the body’s dispositions” (80-81).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Mouse and Mousetrap in Hamlet.” Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 135 (1999): 77- 92.


Expanding on John Doebler’s work, this essay explores the plethora of connotations of mouse and mousetrap. In relation to Gertrude, the mouse reference in the closet scene could be “a term of endearment” or a pejorative reference to a lustful person (79). Historically, mouse is also connected with “the devil’s entrapment of human lust with the mousetrap” (80); hence, Hamlet’s diction suggests that he perceives Gertrude “at once as the snare that catches the devil Claudius (and the son Hamlet?) in lust, and snared herself in the same devil’s mousetrap” (82). With Claudius, the mouse implies “destructive and lascivious impulses” (84). Hamlet also is associated with the mouse in his role as mouser or metaphorical cat. For example, the “cat-like, teasing method in Hamlet’s madness” appears in his dialogue with Claudius immediately prior to the start of The Mousetrap (88). The mousetrap trope becomes “part of a pattern of images in Hamlet that poises the clarity of poetic justice against a universe of dark of unknowing,” as “the trapper must himself die to purify a diseased kingdom” (91).

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Hopkins, Lisa. "Parison and the Impossible Comparison." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 153-64.


This article argues that Hamlet's length and enigmatic nature are two interrelated characteristics because the play "doubles and redoubles its situations, its characters, its events and, ultimately, its meaning" (153). The play abounds with "the rhetorical trope of parison," a repetition of "the same grammatical construction in successive clauses or sentences," but Claudius is particularly "fond of the parison" (155). For example, in his first speech (1.2.1-14), Claudius speaks in a "constant generation of twinned structures: by offering two possible locations of meaning, they cancel out the possibility of any ultimate, single, authoritative interpretation or label" (156). The Prince "no less than his uncle is caught in the trap of doubled language and of doubled rhetorical structures, and most particularly in that of parison" (158). From his initial pun to his "To be, or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet's "obsessive use of parison" presents oppositional terms as "yoked together and forced into a position of syntactic and rhetorical similarity which militates considerably against the fact of their semantic difference" (160). An audience's every encounter with the play "becomes a complex negotiation between a series of incompatible choices where meaning is first offered and then shifted or denied, and where its production is always a delicate balancing act" (163).

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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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Nameri, Dorothy E. "The Dramatic Value of Hamlet's Verbal Expressions: A Linguistic-Literary Analysis." The Nineteenth LACUS Forum 1992. Lake Bluff: Linguistic Assoc., 1993. 409-21.


Utilizing "a linguistic-stylistic approach as an enlightening aid in literary analysis," this scientific study examines the playwright's "application of the dramatic value of the verb in depicting the character of his most diverse, controversial hero-Hamlet" (409). The linguistic methodology of Dorothy Nameri mathematically measures Hamlet's "semantic role that of an agentive ('active') or a non-agentive participant in the action described by the verb in the proposition" (410). Validating this thesis, charts, graphs, and percentages show "the compatibility between Hamlet's A [Agentive]/NA [Non-Agentive] verbal expressions and his corresponding semantic role" (417). For example, the closet scene marks a "rise in the percentage of his AVE [Agentive verbal expressions] here-71%-the highest in the play" (415). His lowest percentage of AVE-31%-appears in act four, scene four, when Hamlet is departing Denmark and encounters Fortinbras' forces (417). This study's results "illustrate an additional aspect of Shakespeare's artistry where he merges linguistics and stylistics in the creation of character" (418).

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Newell, Alex. The Soliloquies in Hamlet: The Structural Design. Rutherford: Associated UP, 1991.


This monograph locates “the soliloquies primarily in their dramatic contexts” (e.g., dramatic, poetic, verbal, structural/formal) “to determine their role—individually, in groups, and collectively—in portraying Hamlet and in clarifying the larger structure and meaning of the play” (24). It blends discussion of the soliloquies as a collective whole with “detailed attention to many of them individually” (23) in six theme-based chapters (e.g., “Images of the Mind,” “Discourse of Reason,” “Wills and Fates: Intimations of Providence”). It also refers “sparingly rather than abundantly” to critical scholarship on the play (23-24) and refrains “from unnecessary forays into textual matters” concerning the Quartos/Folio debates (25). As attention to each soliloquy’s context enables “one to see the speech as a part of the action, not apart from it” (23), findings are presented “as they arise simultaneously from the poetics of language and action, which often have various kinds of contextual significance that need to be recognized and understood” (24).

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Oshio, Toshiko. “Ophelia: Experience into Song.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 131-42.


This essay contrasts Ophelia’s “inability to express herself by means of words” (131) with her expressiveness and impressiveness “in her singing” (132). Ophelia first appears to possess “a degree of wit, not unlike Hamlet’s opening puns” (132) and an “earnest truthfulness” in her exchanges with Laertes and Polonius (133). Her description of Hamlet’s madness to Polonius reveals “dashing eloquence,” attention to detail, and a compulsion to tell all, “even though she may be extremely frightened” (133). As “a mere puppet” in the nunnery scene, Ophelia’s “words do not sound like her own,” and “Hamlet’s vicious attack” leaves her “split in twain or, even three” (134). But her soliloquy at the end of the scene reasserts her straightforwardness, as she disregards the audience behind the arras (135). Unfortunately, Ophelia fails to act, to fully express herself, or “to defend her relation with Hamlet in the first scene”: “By internalizing her grief, she breaks into madness” (135). She now finds release in songs that present “a range of different images, sharply contrasted one to another, from innocent or sacrificial victim to experienced whore” (136). During “these alternate tones of joy and despair Ophelia pours out her inner thoughts and feelings” (139). Fittingly, Ophelia dies singing, expressing herself in a powerful mode. The sheer “profusion of her songs is unrivaled in Shakespeare’s tragedies” and “contrasts keenly with the sparingness of her speech,” suggesting that this “character is represented fully in songs. Shakespeare made her entire being lyrical” (141).

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Ratcliffe, Stephen. “What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Ghost’s Speech.” Modern Language Studies 28.3 (1998): 125-50.


This article argues “that Claudius did not murder his brother” and explores the Ghost’s account of its poisoning as the imaginings of “a world beyond the world of stage, a world of words in which the eye sees only what the ear hears, thereby sounding the limits of perception itself” (126). The death of Old Hamlet “is performed by means of words whose effect is to ‘show’ us what cannot be shown” (130). A detailed linguistic analysis of the Ghost’s account highlights how the Ghost’s words “enter (as the poison entered the Ghost’s body) not just Hamlet’s ears but ours as well” (143). The “experience of a multitude of casual, seemingly insignificant patterns of interaction among words in this speech” invites the audience/reader “to imagine and believe in something that doesn’t happen in the play”—except in words (147). While The Mousetrap’s dumbshow “echoes visually the Ghost’s acoustic representation of that same event” (133), Claudius’ response to it does not prove his guilt—nor does his supposed confession. Claudius’ private words provide “no details that would place him at the scene of the crime that afternoon” and use “a syntactic construction whose hypothetical logic casts more shadow of doubt than light of certainty over what he is actually saying” (135). And the confession comes from an unreliable source, a figure whose every action in the play has “everything to do with subterfuge and deception” (137). Perhaps, Claudius “is not speaking from the bottom of his heart, as one who prays presumably does, but rather in this stage performance of a prayer means to deceive God” (137). Besides, the “confession” from “this master of deception” (138) is for “a purely imaginary, hypothetical event that takes place outside of the play, beyond the physical boundaries of the stage” (139).

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Sohmer, Steve. “Real Time in Hamlet.” Shakespeare’s Mystery Play: The Opening fo the Globe Theatre 1599. By Sohmer. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1999. 217-47.


This essay explores calendrical clues within Hamlet to gain insight into the play. References in the first scene to time, as well as reports of the multiple ghostly appearances, suggest that the play’s plot begins between October 30th and November 10th (223). The date of Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost is narrowed to November 2nd, implying a striking reference to Martin Luther: Elizabethan sources inaccurately listed that on this day in 1517, Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses. Such evidence “implies an intimate negotiation between Shakespeare’s knowledge of Luther and his creation of Prince Hamlet” (228). Similarities between Hamlet and Luther include a religious conversion and interaction with a king married to a dead brother’s wife (Claudius and Henry VIII, respectively). To validate the theory that Shakespeare did not carelessly refer to times/dates, a test is performed to ascertain the duration of the Old Hamlet-Gertrude marriage. Dialogue from The Mousetrap suggests that the husband dies before the thirtieth wedding anniversary—meaning that the son “must have been born at least 53 days before the Old Hamlet-Gertrude wedding” (236). Hence, the mystery of why Hamlet does not immediately succeed to the throne is finally resolved. Statements from various scenes (e.g., the graveyard) further support the argument and reveal the son’s awareness of his own bastard status. Interestingly, Luther’s legitimacy is also questionable, suggesting a final connection between Luther and Hamlet.

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Takahashi, Yasunari. “Speech, Deceit, and Catharsis: A Reading of Hamlet.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 3-19.


Drawing heavily on the linguistic theories of J. L. Austin, J. R. Searle, and Keir Elam, this article approaches Hamlet as “a remarkably complex and rich essay into the possible modes of speech and narrative” (6). Analysis of the play’s first five lines initiates a study of “expressionistic possibilities of language” (3). For example, Barnardo’s “Who’s there?” (1.1.1) suggests the setting’s dark lighting, the speaker’s anxiety, and the play’s central theme of uncertain identity (3-4). The protagonist’s psychological complexity provides particularly intriguing examples of language. In act one, scene two, Hamlet “attempts to speak of something within that cannot be adequately expressed and at the same time to hide that within which cannot be adequately hidden,” meaning that his “speaking is indistinguishable from counterfeiting” (9). After meeting the Ghost, he appropriates “as his own style the ‘pretended forms’ of speech” by donning the guise of madness (11). Hamlet leaps “out of the bounds of his ‘antic disposition’” to discover “the role of playwright / director,” as a result of the player’s Hecuba speech (14). Unfortunately, Hamlet’s theory of acting seems “at odds with what he practices”; the son’s overacting in the closet scene presents but one example of “the gap between the representor and the represented” (15). During his voyage at sea, Hamlet “takes an important step towards recovering his identity by using his father’s seal as his own” (16). Upon his return to Denmark, he speaks without counterfeiting, and his “speech on the fall of a sparrow provides ultimate proof of his transformation” (16). When Hamlet “unwittingly plays the role that providence has allotted to him,” in the final scene, the “gap between role and actor disappears” (17).

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Thompson, Ann and Neil Taylor. William Shakespeare: Hamlet. Writers and Their Works. Plymouth: Northcote House, 1996.


This text begins with a questioning of Hamlet's status within the canon. Although other Shakespearean tragedies (e.g., King Lear) have threatened to displace Hamlet in the past, its position currently seems secure. The section titled "Which Hamlet?" discusses the Folio/Quartos debate, as well as how understanding of the play's meanings and values vary "according to the reader, the actor or the audience" (17). The third chapter examines Hamlet "as a self-contained fiction which takes history and politics as part of its subject matter" and "as a late-Elizabethan play which can be seen in relation to the history and politics of its own time" (23). The next section explores rhetoric in the play, such as how all of the characters seem to speak in the same linguistic style and how some quotes from the play "have passed into common usage," creating challenges for performers (33). The chapter on gender examines the history of female Hamlets, questions of Hamlet's sex/gender, the play's female characters, and feminism's influence on the study of this tragedy. "The Afterlife of Hamlet" discusses how editors, actors, and directors "have added to the multiplicity of Hamlets by cutting and rearranging that text" (52), how the drama has been adapted to popular mediums, and how it has been appropriated for political purposes in various countries. The conclusion foresees an optimistic future for Hamlet, and assortment of illustrations and a select bibliography round out the monograph.

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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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Voss, Paul J. “To Prey or Not To Prey: Prayer and Punning in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 23 (2001): 59-74.


This article promotes a punning between prey and pray because such a pun “captures a central ethical debate surrounding the revenge tragedy” (to avenge or to wait for God’s justice?), “makes the reader aware of Hamlet’s primary dilemma shortly after the appearance of the ghost,” and “helps, finally, to concentrate the distinction between mercy and vengeance, meditation and action, reflection and instinct” (59). As evidence of “Conspicuous punning” in Elizabethan English (60), the prey/pray pun appears in Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander,” Spenser’s Amoretti, Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, as well as several of Shakespeare’s plays and poems (e.g., 1 Henry IV, Sonnet 143). In Hamlet, punning, “the guarded expression, the enigmatic reply, becomes Hamlet’s modus operandi,” with examples spanning from the opening scene to the last (61). When he tells Horatio, “I will go pray” (1.5.132), “his rebuttal disseminates and dissembles, promulgates and withholds: Although Hamlet conceals a truth, he also utters one” (63). Given his fresh promise of “action, not contemplation” to the Ghost (63) and Horatio’s immediate “alliterative response” and apparent “surprise” (“These are but wild and whirling words, my lord” [1.5.133]), the text supports the prey/pray pun (64). In addition to illuminating elements of the prayer and closet scenes, recognition of this pun “throws into relief two of Hamlet’s primary concerns” in the “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I” soliloquy (2.2.560-617): “he berates himself for a lack of action, the inability to prey” and voices the “theological consideration” that the Ghost may be a devil in disguise, supporting “the notion that Hamlet’s earlier intention to pray may not have been idle or feigned” (67). Interestingly, “the preyer, like the prayer, required both internal and external action: thoughts alone, without execution, make for an ineffectual revenger. In this way the distinction between revenge and meditation, or between action and thoughts, become rather more pronounced” (69). “The recognition of a single pun between pray and prey allows for a more complex and yet coherent understanding of the events in Hamlet” (69).

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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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Wood, Robert E. Some Necessary Questions of the Play: A Stage-Centered Analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1994.


Using a stage-centered approach, this monograph represents “if not a unified theory of theatrical expression at least a series of ‘necessary questions’ about the structural considerations that make possible the multiplicity of contemporary approaches to Hamlet” (21). It “begins with an examination of Hamlet’s use of real space and time as elements of a narration which is in part about a protagonist’s perception of space and time” (17). Its second section deals with how Hamlet’s use of “wit and soliloquy disrupt the normal language of drama” and of Hamlet, but the plays’ final act “marks the end of this dislocation and, significantly, the end of Hamlet’s distorted perception of space and time as well” (18). The last section “examines expectations we bring to the theater: our focus on the body as the locus of our attention, and our understanding of the generic framework which orders our experience” (18).

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