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Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Controversies of Self$
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John Lee

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198185048

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198185048.001.0001

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A King of Infinite Space

A King of Infinite Space

(p.209) 7 A King of Infinite Space
Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Controversies of Self

John Lee

Oxford University Press

Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet has a self which is both a part of, and important to, his sense of identity. The last chapter put forward two complementary ways of describing and following this self. ‘That Within’ the Prince was seen to be an area discrete, though not separate, from his society, and that discreteness was seen to have been self-created; the Prince was seen to possess a self-constituting, as opposed to a self-fashioning, agency. Such an argument refutes the basic thrusts of the arguments of Cultural Materialists and New Historicists concerning English Renaissance literary subjectivity. It also concentrates on the similarities between the Prince's senses of self and more modern senses of self. However, at the heart of the descriptive approaches to self put forward in Chapter 6 is an insistence on the non-essentialist nature of self; Prince Hamlet's senses of self must be historically sited, distinct in various ways from our contemporary senses of self. Prince Hamlet must have aspects of his sense of self that make him of his time; to a point, he must acknowledge Claudius' claim of kinship in this, as in familial matters — no matter how distasteful that kinship may be to him. This chapter focuses on one aspect of this kinship, and so on one difference between the senses of self within Hamlet and modern senses of self. It argues that during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods there is a rhetorical sense of self. Such a rhetorical sense of self is examined as it can be seen within some of Shakespeare's plays, and is placed in relation to Prince Hamlet's senses of self.

Keywords:   Prince Hamlet, Shakespeare, sense of self, kinship, rhetoric

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