Constitutions of Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.348  Wednesday, 19 October 2016


From:        Anthony Burton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 18, 2016 at 2:37:48 PM EDT

Subject:    Constitutions of Hamlet


It’s always good to know that the world hasn’t stopped wrestling with the many facets of Hamlet.  Yet, in what Simon Ryle describes as an “age of analysis,” and endless wrestling in “academic discourse” over “political theologies,” in search of a “teletechnological episteme” with Hamlet him/itself as the “quintessential object of academic desire,” I sigh and think of the latest member of literature’s pantheon, Bob Dylan, and his wonderfully apposite “he not busy being born is busy dyin.”  


Will Hamlet’s stuffed head ever be mounted over the mantelpiece of academia’s epistemic trophy room?  Not a chance; it’s too busy being born — in every reader, every viewer, every actor, every moment.


But who doesn’t love a bull session?


Tony Burton




Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.347  Tuesday, 18 October 2016


[1] From:        Mark Alcamo <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 17, 2016 at 5:55:41 PM EDT

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: Election


[2] From:        Sidney Lubow <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 17, 2016 at 11:20:51 PM EDT

     Subj:         Shakespeare on Election




From:        Mark Alcamo <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 17, 2016 at 5:55:41 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Election 


“Interestingly, and far more pertinent to this forum, neither they nor any other SHAKSPERean have commented on my observation that it appears that Shakespeare also had a healthy distrust and disdain for populism.”


Regarding Larry’s observation about Shakespeare and populism, I have to confess one of my own favorite lines from Shakespeare is Cade’s, "Was ever feather so lightly blown to and fro as this multitude? The name of Henry the Fifth hales them to an hundred mischiefs.” Of course, I’m also aware I like it because it frequently reflects my own disposition (and suspecting it resonated for its author as well).


Best regards,

Mark Alcamo



From:        Sidney Lubow <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 17, 2016 at 11:20:51 PM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare on Election 


The immortal Bard is still waiting for someone to cure the diseases with which some scholars pricked him, after they apparently misunderstood his Sonnets. Those slurs were as this 2016 Election held in these United States of America. Let us count the ways, even according to Nature herself, specifically referring to Sonnet 20, of what some women “of gentle heart” can practice, even though they are “not acquainted / With shifting change as is false women’s fashion.”. Shakespeare was certainly not speaking to our own election referring to no person but himself if you can understand what he is the other two characters in the Sonnets.


Sonnet 20

A Woman's face with Nature's own hand painted,

Hast thou the Master Mistress of my passion,

A woman's gentle heart but not acquainted

With shifting change as is false women's fashion,

An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling:

Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth,

A man in hue all Hews in his controlling,

Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.

And for a woman wert thou first created,

Till Nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,

And by addition me of thee defeated,

By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.

  But since she pricked thee out for women's pleasure,

  Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.


This sonnet, full of bawdy puns, is the only one that uses feminine rhymes throughout.  Will, a new Narcissus, has created an alter ego, whom I call Ego, the “Master Mistress,” of his “passion,” birthed with the help of Mother “Nature,” who “fell a-doting” with what they had together “wrought,” a second I, an alter Ego, a “man” with “a woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted.”  The teenage Narcissus shunned both men and women as friends, for which he was punished and thereby, “fell a-doting,” of himself.  This Narcissus, son of the river king, Cephisus, and the naiad who swam in the stream of the king, loves women sexually, but distrusts them and thinks they have “rolling” eyes and are “false.”  In sonnet 10, he has no love for anybody.  He expects full and complete loyalty from his alter Ego, who is “not acquainted with shifting change” as the “deceived husband”, who, cannot accept that his wife’s heart is at some “other place”, (S 93.2.4), “the Master Mistress” that readers think is a real person, giving rise to mistaken homoerotic conjectures.  It should be noted that the word “Master” is usually capitalized for a lad as youthful and noble as Narcissus.  (i.e. The Master of Ballantrae), the Bard’s use of the word “Mistress,” describing a beauteous young man with a “woman’s face”, appearing on the neck of another woman, will finally be understood as “becoming” and appropriate in sonnets 127 and 131.  Nature has “charged” Will, that having been given the sexual powers he so admires in himself, even the rakish “power to charm a sacred nun”, (ALC 260) “that he hoard them not.” (in ALC 220 )  To him, the vice of “inconstancy” of his “fickle dame”, the “fickle maid” of ALC’s first stanza, “that Muse” of sonnet 21 that  appears “more in women.” (The Passionate Pilgrim, XVII 12)  In A Lover’s Complaint, the Muse told us of Will’s many adulterous affairs with false women, “heard where his plants in others’ orchards grew.” (171) Will is “a man in hue” and so is Ego, both men who “steal men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.”  For a woman too, was Ego created, “till Nature,” added “one thing,” which to Will’s use or “purpose,” is no “thing” he need add.  And since “she pricked” Ego “out for women’s pleasure, mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure.”  “That’s a fair thought to lie between maid’s legs,” puns Hamlet to Ophelia, (III, ii, 118) and she asks him, “What is, my lord?” to which Hamlet, his head upon her lap, replies, “Nothing.”  Responding to the bawdy pun, Ophelia says, “You are merry, my lord.”  (See the unmistakably bawdy pun, “some-thing sweet to thee,” (S 136,12) The “one thing” Will has use for from Ego, is the gift of heartfelt, ideal love, Ego’s “heart” that he will “keep so chary.” (S 22.11)  “Much Ado about Nothing,” we must remember that Will, has also broken the heart of that other rejected “fickle maid” of A Lover’s Complaint. (5) One he thinks is “false” with a “rolling” eye, who has tearfully confided her woes to the “reverend man that graz’d his cattle nigh,” a “blusterer” who will spread the tales of the many women Will has seduced. (ALC 197-218)  Will, in the first line, describes the fair youth as having “a woman’s face,” described also in his favorite book, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Golding, VIII, (OM 434-6) of the similarities of girls’ and boys’ teen-age faces. 


“Her countenance and her grace / Was such as in a Boy might well be called a Wench’s face, /  And in a Wench be called a Boy’s.”


As Francis Meres wrote, Will, is “among his private friends.”  If Will is a man in love with himself, it is narcissism that is being described and not homoeroticism that some commentators mistakenly read into this bawdy sonnet.  As a matter of fact, not only have we been told of Will’s amorous affairs with many women in A Lover’s Complaint, the broken-hearted “fickle maid,” Melpomene, the Muse of tragedy, knows since sonnet 18 that she has a rival in the alter ego.  The third character of the Sonnets, after telling her story in A Lover’s Complaint, and “reconciled,” (ALC 329) is about to be pointedly introduced as “that Muse” (S 21.1) designed to make our heads turn as she enters.  (Note the disparaging reference to “that Muse”, who will woo away her rival in the mirror. All of the above proves that the Bard was speaking to himself and not to any of the candidates, man or woman running in our Election of 2016...


Sid Lubow 




"High Art" and the Nobel

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.346  Tuesday, 18 October 2016


From:        Scott Newstok <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 17, 2016 at 4:44:41 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: High Art


Jim Carroll <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> wrote, 


I am speaking of the recent Nobel prize in literature award, which has somehow confused genres.


I discuss Dylan briefly at the close of my recent essay on Shakespeare in Duluth:



Scott Newstok

Department of English

Rhodes College




Podcast: Melissa E. Sanchez

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.345  Tuesday, 18 October 2016


From:        Neema Parvini <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 18, 2016 at 7:26:08 AM EDT

Subject:    Podcast: Melissa E. Sanchez


Neema interviews Melissa E. Sanchez (University of Pennsylvania) about her forthcoming book Shakespeare and Queer Theory for the Arden Shakespeare and Theory series. Discussion includes queerness in Shakespeare, whether or not it is important to ask if Shakespeare himself was gay, Shakespeare’s view of sexuality, and misogyny in the current US presidential election. 



CFP: Constitutions of Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.344  Tuesday, 18 October 2016


From:        Simon Ryle <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 18, 2016 at 10:53:06 AM EDT

Subject:    CFP: Constitutions of Hamlet


CFP: Constitutions of Hamlet: Afterlives and Political Theologies of Trauerspiel

University of Split, Croatia

16th December 2016 (abstract deadline: 20th November 2016)

Keynote speakers: Prof. Andreas Höfele and filmmaker Ken McMullen


Tragedy and mourning plays stage, for Walter Benjamin, the point of failure around which absolutism constitutes itself. And the trauerspiel, or sorrow play, is never more acutely realized than in Hamlet’s melancholic Prince who, as Benjamin describes, “holds history like a sceptre in his hand,” but who is “incapable of declaring the emergency his very function is to prevent.” Yet this site of failure is also an intimation of futurity. As Carl Schmitt notes, modern European culture has never produced a constitutional myth with as great a reach as Hamlet. For Schmitt, the play signals an emergent modernity in its presentation of the Jacobean monarchy as historical intrusion into the drama, whose kingship has been emptied out - or “desacrilized” as Franco Moretti will later state - but whose absolutism agonistically obscures this fact from itself. This tension is met in Jacques Derrida’s notion of the play’s spectre as the ghostly presentation of that presence which “seems to remain as ineffective, virtual, insubstantial as a simulacrum.” Constituting for Derrida a “hauntology” of political theology, Hamlet speaks of a crisis in political representation by undoing the difference “between the thing itself and its simulacrum.”


Derrida’s hauntology pinpoints one reason why, following the crisis of language, or Sprackrise, that seizes major thinkers and works of high modernism, Hamlet recurs as constitutive text across vital moments of the European twentieth century. The play reopened the Deutsche Theatre in the Soviet occupied zone of Berlin following the collapse of the Nazi regime with Gustav von Wagenheim’s production, and forty-four years later the same theatre reopened for business following the collapse of communism with Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine. The melancholic Dane took a recurrent role in aiding revolutionary fervour to evade the censorship of communist regimes. In Romania, Alexandru Tocilesau’s 1985 Bucharest Hamlet strongly inferred parallels between Claudius and Ceaucescu. In Bulgaria two pre-independence productions used Hamlet as a mode of cultural reconstruction, and in Poland the Dane had played repeatedly since Wyspiański’s 1905 interpretation as a tool of political subversion; Wajda’s 1990 post-independence production was a key moment in national reconstitution.


Hamlet’s afterlives also show us how in modernity political theologies are transmitted as mass technological event. Benjamin’s analysis of melancholy and mass media technology, and Friedrich Kittler’s media archaeology are here invaluable. For it is the case that the age of analysis, the teletechnological episteme initiated in the newly established discourse networks of the 1880s and 90s (enabled by the technological development and mass uptake of the phonograph, cinema and typewriter), constitutes an unprecedented constitutional moment for Hamlet. Taking a central place in Freud’s theory of the unconscious, and critiqued in academic discourse vastly more than any other narrative, Hamlet is a quintessential object of analytic desire. Likewise, filmed more than any other story, the play wielded a constitutive influence upon the early cinema. Jointly in the institutional verification of analysis and the technological implementation of cinema, Hamlet haunts modernity.


This one-day symposium will explore how Shakespeare reworks early modern political theologies, and why modernity finds itself speaking of politics and subjectivites so frequently with and through Hamlet. In the context of Britain’s melancholic contemporary quest for political isolation, a quest arguably bound to an updated form of the very failure of political absolutism that Benjamin identifies as the heart of trauerspiel, it is perhaps more timely than ever to consider the political theologies constituted by Shakespeare's sorrowful Danish play.


The conveners welcome paper proposals that explore the subjective, philosophical, epistemological constitutions and political theologies of early modern tragedy, melancholy and trauerspiel, and the various ghosts, hauntologies and afterlives that reconstitute Shakespeare across modernity.


Please send abstracts of about 200 words to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 20th November 2016.



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