Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness is a radical new interpretation of the most famous play in the English language. By exploring Shakespeare's engagements with the humanist traditions of early modern England and Europe, Rhodri Lewis reveals a Hamlet unseen for centuries: an innovative, coherent, and exhilaratingly bleak tragedy in which the governing ideologies of Shakespeare's age are scrupulously upended. This book establishes that life in Elsinore is measured not by virtue but by the deceptions and grim brutality of the hunt. It also shows that Shakespeare most vividly represents this reality in the character of Hamlet: his habits of thought and speech depend on the cultures of pretence that he affects to disdain, ensuring his alienation from both himself and the world around him. Lewis recovers a work of far greater magnitude than the tragedy of a young man who cannot make up his mind. He shows that in Hamlet, as in King Lear, Shakespeare confronts his audiences with a universe that received ideas are powerless to illuminate--and where everyone must find their own way through the dark.
A major contribution to Shakespeare studies, this book is required reading for all students of early modern literature, drama, culture, and history.
Rhodri Lewis is professor of English literature and a fellow of St. Hugh's College at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Language, Mind and Nature: Artificial Languages in England from Bacon to Locke and William Petty on the Order of Nature.
List of Illustrations xiPreface and Acknowledgements xiiiNote on the Text xviiIntroduction Hamlet within Hamlet 11 Hamlet, Humanism, and Performing the Self 13Humanism, Self-Knowledge, and Public Living 18Moral Dislocation and the Unsettled Self 272 Hamlet, Hunting, and the Nature of Things 43Establishing the Hunt 47Pursuit 62Commerce of Cunning 80Transforming Saxo Grammaticus 92Faking It: Huntsmen, Hypocrites, and Seeming Virtue 983 Hamlet as Historian 112Rights of Memory and the History of the Danes 114The Dozy Arithmetic of Memory 120Memory, Reason, and the Eyes of the Mind 129Remember Me 147Memory, Recollection, and the ars memoriae 154Metaphor and Misrepresentation 162A Slave to What Memory? 1694 Hamlet as Poet 174A Passionate Speech 178The Mirror Up to Nature 195Foul Imaginations 205Play-within-a-Play 214Very Like a Poet 2195 Hamlet as Philosopher 238The Good, the Bad, and the Boethian 242More Things in Heaven and Earth 253Being, Nothingness, and Inconsequentiality 266Dull Revenge 279Rough-Hewn Providence 284Conclusion Shakespearean Tragedy and the Death of Humanism 304Appendix: How Old Is Hamlet? 315Bibliography 325Index 355