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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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Something more than Fantasy

Something more than Fantasy

(p.70) 3 Something more than Fantasy
Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Controversies of Self

John Lee

Oxford University Press

New Historicists, given their self-definitions and critical practice, were seen to have many reasons to focus on Hamlet as a key text to substantiate their arguments regarding notions of subjectivity. Yet Hamlet was an absent presence, often sensed but rarely seen; the play was described as the ghost that walked across the New Historicist stage, representing as it did both an unacknowledged past and a critical task that remained deferred in the present. Cultural Materialists, by contrast, recognize that, given their concerns over subjectivity, it is Hamlet that ‘would be spoke to’. What is more, Cultural Materialists question this play directly and repeatedly; Hamlet becomes what it always promised to be within New Historicism — a central text. Explaining the presence of Hamlet at the centre of Cultural Materialist criticism is a particularly profitable way of distinguishing that critical movement from New Historicism — at least in respect of those movements' discussions of the issue of subjectivity. In examining this presence, this chapter focuses predominantly on areas which distinguish the two movements. This might give the impression that there are simple, clear-cut divisions between the two critical movements, but this is not so. They are deeply interrelated, though often antagonistic to each other — kin though less than kind.

Keywords:   Hamlet, New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, subjectivity

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