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Hamlet in His Modern Guises

Hamlet in His Modern Guises

Alexander Welsh
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 190
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    Hamlet in His Modern Guises
    Book Description:

    Focusing on Shakespeare'sHamletas foremost a study of grief, Alexander Welsh offers a powerful analysis of its protagonist as the archetype of the modern hero. For over two centuries writers and critics have viewed Hamlet's persona as a fascinating blend of self-consciousness, guilt, and wit. Yet in order to understand more deeply the modernity of this Shakespearean hero, Welsh first situatesHamletwithin the context of family and mourning as it was presented in other revenge tragedies of Shakespeare's time. Revenge, he maintains, appears as a function of mourning rather than an end in itself. Welsh also reminds us that the mourning of a son for his father may not always be sincere. This book relates the problem of dubious mourning to Hamlet's ascendancy as an icon of Western culture, which began late in the eighteenth century, a time when the thinking of past generations--or fathers--represented to many an obstacle to human progress.

    Welsh reveals how Hamlet inspired some of the greatest practitioners of modernity's quintessential literary form, the novel. Goethe'sWilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Scott'sRedgauntlet, Dickens'sGreat Expectations, Melville'sPierre, and Joyce'sUlyssesall enhance our understanding of the play while illustrating a trend in which Hamlet ultimately becomes a model of intense consciousness. Arguing that modern consciousness mourns for the past, even as it pretends to be free of it, Welsh offers a compelling explanation of why Hamlet remains marvelously attractive to this day.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2412-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Medieval Hamlet Gains a Family
    (pp. 3-25)

    Ignorance about the lost play that was performed on the English stage some years before Shakespeare’sHamletmakes it all the more imperative to compare his play— traditionally the conflation of two texts, the quarto of 1604 and folio of 1623—with the still earlier narrative versions of the hero’s story that do survive. This procedure at least apprises us of features not wholly original to Shakespeare, even if it leaves us only with intelligent guesses as to the intervening contributions of anUr-Hamlet.¹ Comparison with the earlier narratives also yields a positive understanding of ways in which the play...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Hamlet’s Mourning and Revenge Tragedy
    (pp. 26-70)

    Because death imposes itself so heavily on the action—and because there is a much lamenting ghost—it seems odd that more interpretations ofHamletare not directly concerned with grief and mourning. In 1930 Lily Bess Campbell contributed a chapter on the play as “a tragedy of grief.” Hers was a level-headed assessment of “three young men—Hamlet, Fortinbras, and Laertes—each called upon to mourn the death of a father,” which assumed that Shakespeare was concerned to show how men of different temperaments “accept sorrow when it comes to them.” Campbell was not entirely consistent in her moralizing,...

  6. CHAPTER THREE History, as between Goethe’s Hamlet and Scott’s
    (pp. 71-101)

    Revenge as the real or imagined recourse of mourning has its human appeal, and the popularity of Shakespeare’sHamletboth attests to this appeal and very likely enhanced it. The conventions of revenge tragedy were not put to an end by the closing of the English theaters; some were reinvented for the Restoration stage, andHamletmade its own way with, or was taken over by, European enterprises of widely different sorts. No composite work of the Enlightenment, for example, could be more imposing than Mozart and da Ponte’sDon Giovanni, which owed its existence to another legendary hero altogether.¹...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Hamlet’s Expectations, Pip’s Great Guilt
    (pp. 102-139)

    In the polity of Shakespeare’s plays, expectations tend to be royal. Expectations that matter most and absorb the interest of all ranks are those of princes for the ensuing kingship. In Ophelia’s distraught summary of what Hamlet seemed to be before his mind was overthrown, he was “th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state” (3.1.146). This notion of succession and inheritance is a far cry from the private dream of improving his lifestyle that teases the imagination of Dickens’s young hero even before the lawyer Jaggers—“as the confidential agent” of someone— announces that Pip has “great expectations.”¹ Those...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Hamlet Decides to Be a Modernist
    (pp. 140-174)

    Mindful perhaps of the correlation between analysis and synthesis in chemical engineering, Freud toyed with the idea of dream synthesis in his own work of analysis,The Interpretation of Dreams. “I cannot disguise from myself,” he rather wistfully remarks, “that the easiest way of making these processes [condensation and displacement] clear and of defending their trustworthiness against criticism would be to take some particular dream as a sample . . . and then collect the dream-thoughts which I have discovered and go on to reconstruct from them the process by which the dream was formed—in other words to complete...

  9. Index
    (pp. 175-178)