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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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The Princes Hamlet

The Princes Hamlet

(p.228) 8 The Princes Hamlet
Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Controversies of Self

John Lee

Oxford University Press

The debate within Hamlet, involving as it does the presentation of competing conceptions of the nature of subjectivity, parallels at many points the controversies of self. One might say that the controversies of self are internal to Hamlet. Yet this debate over the nature of subjectivity is given no role within either New Historicist or Cultural Materialist discussions of the nature of English Renaissance subjectivity. The result of (or perhaps the reason for) this omission is to see Hamlet, as well as other plays, as static, unthinking objects that must demonstrate a certain, set, and single view of subjectivity. Under such a view, the play is rendered subject, its voices silent under the discourse of the critic. However, the play is in this respect, as in others, a voluble argument, an argument held both within itself and with its culture. It is this argument that generates the dynamic contingency between the play and its culture, a contingency which New Historicists and Cultural Materialists claim to value highly. It is also this argument which ensures that the play eludes causal historical explanation, another linchpin of New Historicists' and Cultural Materialists' stated approaches. The play of this book (in three acts, not five) draws to a close by listening to this argument in another way. As is fitting, perhaps, the protagonist is called forward to deliver a brief epilogue. However, as he does so, that protagonist is seen to be double; for when Prince Hamlet steps forward, it becomes clear that there is not one Prince Hamlet, but two. There are two Princes Hamlet because the verbal variants between the Q2 and Folio texts of Hamlet create two versions of the Prince, each with a different sense of self. This chapter argues that not only Hamlet but also Shakespeare can be seen debating the controversies of self. Shakespeare can be seen, in the Quarto-Folio variants, creating different senses of self for his Princes Hamlet.

Keywords:   Hamlet, self, New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, subjectivity

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