The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1810 Monday, 4 October 2004
Date: Saturday, 2 Oct 2004 09:09:51 +0100
Subject: Greenblatt on Hamnet & Hamlet
The Death of Hamnet and the Making of Hamlet
By Stephen Greenblatt
Shakespeare was in the business, all of his life, of probing the
passions of his characters and arousing the passions of his audiences.
His skill in doing so is almost universally acknowledged to have been
unrivaled, but the inner sources of this skill remain largely unknown.
Scholarship has tirelessly reconstructed at least something of his
wide-ranging, eclectic reading, but his own passionate life-his access
through personal experience and observation to the intense emotions he
represents -is almost completely mysterious. None of his letters,
working notes, diaries, or manuscripts (with the possible exception of
"Hand D" in Sir Thomas More) survives. His sonnets have been ransacked
for autobiographical evidence, but, though written in the first person,
they are baffling, elusive, and probably deliberately opaque.
Over centuries of feverish speculation, the most compelling reflections
on the presence of Shakespeare's emotional life in his
plays-preeminently, James Joyce's brilliant pages in Ulysses, but there
are many others-have focused on Hamlet. This biographical attention to a
work deriving from recycled materials and written for the public stage
would seem inherently implausible, were it not for the overwhelming
impression on readers and spectators alike that the play must have
emerged in an unusually direct way from the playwright's inner life,
indeed that at moments the playwright was barely in control of his
materials. I will attempt in what follows to trace Hamlet back to a
personal experience of grief and to sketch a long-term aesthetic
strategy that seems to have emerged from this experience.
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