Hamlet as a Historical Document: The Challenges of New Historicism
New Historicism in Hamlet PDF 15: A Critical Analysis
Hamlet is one of the most famous and influential plays by William Shakespeare. It tells the story of Prince Hamlet, who seeks revenge on his uncle Claudius for murdering his father and marrying his mother. Hamlet is a complex and multifaceted character, who struggles with his own doubts, emotions, and moral dilemmas. He also reflects the political and social turmoil of his time, as he faces the corruption and decay of the Danish court.
New Historicism In Hamlet Pdf 15
But how can we understand Hamlet better in the light of modern literary theory? One possible way is to apply the lens of new historicism, which is a method of literary analysis that emphasizes the historical and cultural context of a text. New historicism also examines how texts are influenced by and influence other texts, as well as how they represent and challenge power relations in society.
In this article, we will explore how new historicism can help us interpret Hamlet in a deeper and more nuanced way. We will also discuss the benefits and limitations of this approach, and how it can enrich our appreciation of Shakespeare's masterpiece.
What is new historicism?
New historicism is a literary theory that emerged in the 1980s, mainly influenced by the works of Michel Foucault, Stephen Greenblatt, and Louis Montrose. It rejects the idea that texts can be analyzed in isolation from their historical and cultural context, and instead argues that texts are products and producers of history. New historicists view texts as sites of struggle, where different voices and perspectives compete for meaning and authority.
New historicism also pays attention to how texts interact with other texts, both within and across genres, periods, and disciplines. This concept is known as intertextuality, which means that texts are not original or autonomous, but rather shaped by and shaping other texts. New historicists also examine how texts represent and challenge power structures in society, such as class, gender, race, religion, etc. They explore how texts both reflect and resist dominant ideologies and discourses.
What is Hamlet about?
Hamlet is a tragedy that was written by William Shakespeare around 1600. It is based on an old legend of a Danish prince who avenges his father's murder by his uncle. The play begins with the ghost of King Hamlet appearing to his son Prince Hamlet, and telling him that he was killed by his brother Claudius, who then usurped the throne and married his widow Gertrude. The ghost urges Hamlet to revenge his death, but Hamlet hesitates and delays his action.
Hamlet pretends to be mad to conceal his true intentions, but this causes him to alienate his friends and family. He also spurns his love interest Ophelia, who eventually goes mad and drowns herself. He accidentally kills Polonius, Ophelia's father and Claudius' advisor, which provokes the wrath of Polonius' son Laertes. He also confronts his mother Gertrude about her marriage to Claudius, and accuses her of being unfaithful to his father.
Meanwhile, Claudius plots to kill Hamlet by sending him to England with two spies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who carry a letter that orders Hamlet's execution. However, Hamlet discovers the letter and replaces it with one that orders the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead. He then returns to Denmark, where he finds out that Ophelia is dead and that Claudius has arranged a duel between him and Laertes. Claudius also poisons a cup of wine and a sword to ensure Hamlet's death.
The duel ends in a bloodbath, as Hamlet wounds Laertes with the poisoned sword, and Laertes wounds Hamlet with the same sword. Laertes then reveals Claudius' plot, and Hamlet stabs Claudius with the sword and forces him to drink the poisoned wine. Gertrude also drinks the wine by mistake and dies. Hamlet then dies in Horatio's arms, after asking him to tell his story to the world. Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, arrives and claims the throne of Denmark.
Why is Hamlet relevant for new historicism?
Hamlet is a play that can be interpreted in many different ways, depending on the perspective and context of the reader or viewer. It is also a play that has been adapted and reimagined in various forms and media, such as films, novels, operas, comics, etc. Therefore, it is a rich and fertile text for new historicist analysis, as it offers multiple layers of meaning and complexity.
Hamlet is also relevant for new historicism because it deals with themes and issues that are still pertinent today, such as power, politics, identity, madness, morality, justice, revenge, etc. It also reflects and challenges the historical and cultural context of its time, such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Elizabethan era, etc. It also engages with other texts and traditions, such as classical mythology, medieval literature, humanism, etc.
How does new historicism approach Hamlet?
The historical context of Hamlet
One of the ways that new historicism can approach Hamlet is by examining its historical context. This means looking at how the play relates to the events and circumstances of its time, such as the political, social, religious, cultural, etc. aspects of Shakespeare's world.
For example, one of the historical contexts that can be relevant for Hamlet is the Renaissance period, which was a time of intellectual and artistic flourishing in Europe. The Renaissance was characterized by a revival of interest in classical learning and culture, as well as a spirit of exploration and discovery. The Renaissance also witnessed the rise of humanism, which was a philosophical movement that emphasized human dignity and potential.
Hamlet can be seen as a product and a critique of the Renaissance culture. On one hand, Hamlet is a well-educated prince who displays his knowledge of classical literature, philosophy, art, etc. He also expresses his admiration for human achievements and capacities. On the other hand, Hamlet is also disillusioned by the corruption and decay of his society. He questions the value and meaning of human existence in a world that seems chaotic and cruel.
Another historical context that can be relevant for Hamlet is the Reformation period, which was a time of religious turmoil and conflict in Europe. The Reformation was triggered by Martin Luther's protest against the Catholic Church's practices and doctrines in 1517. The Reformation led to the emergence of various Protestant sects that challenged the authority and unity of the Catholic Church.
Hamlet can be seen as a reflection and a challenge of the Reformation culture. On one hand, Hamlet shows his familiarity with both Catholic and Protestant beliefs and practices. He also expresses his concern for his father's soul and his own salvation. On the other hand, Hamlet also exposes the hypocrisy and inconsistency of both religions. He questions the validity and morality of ghostly apparitions, divine providence, revenge killings, suicide, etc.
The power dynamics in Hamlet
Another way that new historicism can approach Hamlet is by examining its power dynamics. This means looking at how the play represents and challenges the power relations in society, such as class, gender, race, religion etc.
For example one of power dynamics that can be relevant for Hamlet is class hierarchy which was a system of social stratification based on birth wealth status etc Class hierarchy determined people's rights duties privileges opportunities etc in society Class hierarchy also influenced people's access to education culture justice etc in society
also has access to education, culture, justice, etc. He also uses his class privilege to manipulate and mock others, such as Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, etc. On the other hand, Hamlet is also a victim of class hierarchy. He is oppressed by his uncle Claudius, who usurps his throne and his mother. He is also betrayed by his friends and family, who side with Claudius. He also suffers from the injustice and corruption of the court system.
Another power dynamic that can be relevant for Hamlet is gender hierarchy, which was a system of social domination based on sex and gender. Gender hierarchy determined people's roles, expectations, behaviors, etc. in society. Gender hierarchy also influenced people's access to power, freedom, expression, etc. in society.
Hamlet can be seen as a representation and a challenge of gender hierarchy. On one hand, Hamlet is a male character who enjoys more power, freedom, expression, etc. than female characters. He also uses his gender privilege to control and criticize others, such as Gertrude, Ophelia, etc. On the other hand, Hamlet is also constrained by gender hierarchy. He is expected to act as a manly hero who avenges his father's death. He is also conflicted by his own feelings and emotions, which he considers feminine and weak.
The intertextuality of Hamlet
A third way that new historicism can approach Hamlet is by examining its intertextuality. This means looking at how the play interacts with other texts, both within and across genres, periods, and disciplines. Intertextuality shows how texts are influenced by and influence other texts.
For example one of the intertexts that can be relevant for Hamlet is the legend of Amleth which was an old Scandinavian tale that inspired Shakespeare's play The legend of Amleth tells the story of a prince who pretends to be mad to avenge his father's murder by his uncle The legend of Amleth also contains elements such as the ghost the play within the play the poisoned sword etc
Hamlet can be seen as an adaptation and a transformation of the legend of Amleth On one hand Hamlet follows the basic plot and structure of the legend of Amleth He also borrows some of its motifs and themes such as madness revenge justice etc On the other hand Hamlet also modifies and adds to the legend of Amleth He introduces new characters such as Horatio Fortinbras etc He also develops new subplots such as Ophelia's madness and death He also explores new issues such as existentialism morality religion etc
Another intertext that can be relevant for Hamlet is the play The Murder of Gonzago which is a fictional play that Hamlet stages to test Claudius' guilt The play The Murder of Gonzago is a tragedy that mimics the murder of King Hamlet by Claudius The play The Murder of Gonzago also contains elements such as poison incest ambition etc
Hamlet can be seen as a reflection and a critique of the play The Murder of Gonzago On one hand Hamlet uses the play The Murder of Gonzago as a tool to expose and confront Claudius He also uses the play The Murder of Gonzago as a mirror to reflect his own situation and feelings On the other hand Hamlet also questions and challenges the play The Murder of Gonzago He wonders if the play can capture the truth and reality of his father's death He also doubts if the play can provoke any action or change in him or Claudius
What are the benefits and limitations of new historicism in Hamlet?
The advantages of new historicism in Hamlet
One of the benefits of new historicism in Hamlet is that it can help us understand the play better in its historical and cultural context It can help us appreciate how Shakespeare was influenced by and responded to his time It can also help us recognize how Shakespeare influenced and shaped his time
Another benefit of new historicism in Hamlet is that it can help us appreciate the complexity and diversity of the play It can help us explore how the play offers multiple perspectives and voices It can also help us acknowledge how the play invites multiple interpretations and responses
The challenges of new historicism in Hamlet
One of the limitations of new historicism in Hamlet is that it can be too selective and subjective in choosing its historical and cultural context It can be biased and partial in favoring some contexts over others It can also be anachronistic and inaccurate in applying some contexts to the play
Another limitation of new historicism in Hamlet is that it can be too relativistic and skeptical in its analysis of the play It can undermine the authority and validity of the play It can also neglect the aesthetic and artistic value of the play
Summary of the main points
In this article, we have discussed how new historicism can approach Hamlet in a critical and creative way. We have examined how new historicism can explore the historical context, the power dynamics, and the intertextuality of the play. We have also discussed the benefits and limitations of this approach, and how it can enrich our understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare's masterpiece.
Implications and recommendations
New historicism is a useful and interesting method of literary analysis that can help us read Hamlet in a deeper and more nuanced way. However, it is not the only or the best way to read Hamlet. We should also be aware of its assumptions and limitations, and be open to other perspectives and approaches. We should also remember that Hamlet is not only a historical and cultural text, but also a literary and artistic text. We should enjoy and admire Hamlet as a work of art, as well as a work of history.
Here are some frequently asked questions about new historicism in Hamlet:
What is the difference between new historicism and old historicism?
Old historicism is a traditional method of literary analysis that focuses on the historical facts and events that influenced a text. It treats texts as sources of information and evidence about history. New historicism is a modern method of literary analysis that focuses on the historical and cultural context that shaped and was shaped by a text. It treats texts as sites of struggle and negotiation between different voices and perspectives.
What are some examples of new historicist readings of Hamlet?
Some examples of new historicist readings of Hamlet are: - Stephen Greenblatt's "Shakespeare and the Exorcists", which examines how Hamlet reflects and challenges the religious controversies and conflicts of its time, especially regarding the nature and role of ghosts. - Catherine Belsey's "The Case of Hamlet's Conscience", which examines how Hamlet reflects and challenges the moral dilemmas and debates of its time, especially regarding the ethics and politics of revenge. - Margreta de Grazia's "Hamlet without Hamlet", which examines how Hamlet reflects and challenges the humanist ideals and values of its time, especially regarding the concept and identity of the human subject.
What are some criticisms of new historicism in Hamlet?
Some criticisms of new historicism in Hamlet are: - Harold Bloom's "The Invention of the Human", which argues that new historicism reduces Hamlet to a product of its time, and ignores its universal and timeless appeal as a work of genius. - Jonathan Dollimore's "Radical Tragedy", which argues that new historicism is too conservative and complacent in its analysis of power, and fails to recognize the radical potential of Hamlet as a work of resistance. - Marjorie Garber's "Shakespeare After All", which argues that new historicism is too narrow and limited in its focus on context, and neglects the richness and diversity of Hamlet as a work of art.
How can I apply new historicism to other texts?
To apply new historicism to other texts, you can follow these steps: - Identify the historical and cultural context of the text, such as the political, social, religious, etc. aspects of its time. - Analyze how the text represents and challenges the power relations in society, such as class, gender, race, religion, etc. - Examine how the text interacts with other texts, both within and across genres, periods, and disciplines. - Evaluate the benefits and limitations of new historicism in your interpretation of the text.
Where can I find more information about new historicism?
Some sources where you can find more information about new historicism are: - The New Historicism by H. Aram Veeser (ed.), which is a collection of essays by leading new historicist scholars that introduce and illustrate their approach to literary analysis. - Practicing New Historicism by Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, which is a book that explains and demonstrates how new historicists conduct their research and writing. is a book that provides a clear and comprehensive introduction to the main concepts and debates of new historicism.