Watterson, William Collins. “Hamlet’s Lost Father.” Hamlet Studies 16 (1994): 10-23.


This article asserts that Yorick’s abstract presence and Hamlet’s memories of the court jester “constitute a benign inscription of paternity in the play, one which actively challenges the masculine ideals of emotional repression and military virtus otherwise featured so prominently in Shakespeare’s drama of revenge” (10). Unlike the other father figures in Hamlet who represent patriarchal authority (e.g., the Ghost, Claudius, Polonius), Yorick is the absent surrogate parent who showed a young Hamlet alternatives to phallocentric oppression and who “remains a central figure in Hamlet’s psyche precisely because he has been lost” (11). By prematurely dying (possibly due to syphilis), Yorick abandoned a seven-year-old Hamlet in the pre-genital stage; hence, Hamlet identifies him as the cause of his sexual deficiency “and associates him permanently with his own anality” (18). Yet Yorick also endowed Hamlet with the skills of jesting and merrymaking, which are so evident in the exchange between Hamlet and the gravediggers. All play is set aside during Hamlet’s interaction with Yorick’s skull, as the “residual child in Hamlet articulates the pain of loss” over his childhood mentor (16). Perhaps the mournful sentiments were shared by Shakespeare, who lost his father around the time that Hamlet was being written (17). While Yorick contradicts paternal cliches, he also raises questions regarding maternal stereotypes and the femininity of death. Even the origin of Yorick’s name suggests “an obscure conflation of gender, [which] actually encodes the idea of feminine fatherhood” (18). Ultimately, Yorick instills in Hamlet “values and emotions fundamentally at odds with the patriarchal codes of masculine behavior” (19).

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