Article Title

Hamlet's Bloody Thoughts and the Illusion of Inwardness


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Centrally, Hamlet seeks the right relation between thought and action. Thematically, so does Hamlet. That the prince and the play share this vexed obsession accounts for critical efforts to locate the play's lineaments in some branch of philosophy. But there are more things in heaven and earth and on stage than are dreamt of in our philosophies, and questions about the intricate relationships between thought and action, inner word and outer deed, belong as much to dramaturgy as to intellectual inquiry. For a playwright to create the illusion of a character's having an inward and pre-existing consciousness, implicit thoughts for that character must be-quite literally-embodied. (I use thought here to signal idea, perception, motive, anxiety, desire, memory-the entire province of human inwardness, including the buried vault of the unconscious.) In drama, every thought and every attendant word must be expressed physically, by the reverberation of a particular set of vocal cords or, perhaps, by the gesture of a particular arm. Drama is the fleshly genre, and the central dramaturgical fact is embodiment. Nowhere is that fact more explicit or more elusive than in Hamlet, the play that has elicited more speculation about a fictive character's inner life-more attempts at mind-reading than any other. This speculation is not fortuitous; it arises both from the presence of several soliloquies, which seduce us into feeling we can know an inward Hamlet, and from the persistent efforts of those around Hamlet to pluck out the heart of his mystery, to fathom his motives, to read his mind. Hamlet specifically raises the question of how interiority may be represented on stage, and attention to Hamlet's dramaturgical strategies will enlarge our understanding of Shakespeare's own strategies for embodying the implied consciousness of his protagonist, for fostering the illusion of inwardness.1

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