Written as the author taught Hamlet every semester for a decade at Harvard University, these short essays ask big conceptual questions about the play with the urgency of a Shakespeare lover, and answer them with the rigor of a Shakespeare scholar. How do Danish politics work in the play, and how can they illuminate American politics today? How can Hamlet's madness help us understand mental illness in the modern world? What did Shakespeare think about philosophy? religion? gender? virtue? justice? death? fate? tragedy?
Prioritizing close reading over historical context, these explorations are both highly textual and highly theoretical, often philosophical, ethical, social, and political, informed by the intricacies of scholarship yet unafraid to mobilize the play for reflections on life today. Through that approach, Hamlet becomes a lens for theorizing everything from xenophobia, American fraternities, and religious fundamentalism to structural misogyny, suicide contagion, and toxic love. At a time when the humanities are said to be in crisis, these essays are concrete examples of the mind-altering power of literature and literary studies, unravelling the ongoing implications of the English language’s most significant artistic object of the past millennium.