Essays on Hamlet

Written during the author's time teaching Hamlet every semester at Harvard University, the essays in this collection are built around the greatest paradox of the play: it helps us understand the world in which we live, yet we don't really understand the text itself. For all the attention Hamlet has received in modernity, we still don't know how it works or why it grips us so passionately. Thus, the essays in this collection pose first-order questions about what happens in Hamlet and why, mobilizing the answers for reflections on life. How do politics work in the play, and how can those politics (filled, oddly for an early-modern text written under a monarchy, with talk of "elections") help us understand modern democracy? How does madness work, and how can Hamlet's madness help us understand mental illness in a modern context? What about philosophy? gender? virtue? justice? death? fate? tragedy? How do these work in the play, and how can insights drawn from such questions lead us to better grasp the intricacies of our lived experience in the world? At a time when the humanities are said to be in crisis, these essays offer a series of concrete examples of the mind-altering power of literature and literary studies by unraveling the implications of the most important artistic object of the past millennium.