Hamlet Literary Criticism

Feminist Literary Criticism of Hamlet


Psychoanalytic Approach


Marxist Literary Criticism of Hamlet


Hamlet Literary Critics:

  1. Paul Cantor – “Hamlet”
  2. Maynard Mack – “Everybody’s Shakespeare” – “The Readiness is All”,
  3. Martin Evans
  4. Eleanor Prosser
  5. David Bevington
  6. Robert Hapgood
  7. Réné Girard
  8. Oscar James Campbell
  9. Richard D. Altick
  10. Kenneth Muir
  11. George Detmold
  12. Ernest Jones
  13. Bertram Joseph
  14. Baldwin Maxwell
  15. Theodore Lidz
  16. LC Knights
  17. Arthur Kirsch
  18. Edgar Johnson
  19. J Dover Wilson

Sigmund Freud – “The Interpretation of Dreams” (1900)
Elaine Showalter – defends Ophelia
Carolyn Heilbrun – “Hamlet’s Mother” 1957 (defends Gertrude – popular w/ feminists)

“Hamlet’s world,” Maynard Mack says, “is pre-eminently in the interrogative mood.” Harry Levin quotes this, going on to say: “… the word ‘question’ occurs in Hamlet no less than seventeen times, much more frequently than in any of Shakespeare’s other plays. Recalling that it comes as the final word in Hamlet’s most famous line,” [“To be, or not to be, that is the question,” (III, i, 56)] “we may well regard it as the key-word of the play … Furthermore, besides direct inquiry, there are other modes of questioning, notably doubt and irony….”

L. C. Knights says: “If this ghost turns out to be one who clamours for revenge, then we have every reason to suppose that Shakespeare entertained some grave doubts about him.” This is, moreover, a “Ghost whose command had been for a sterile concentration on death and evil.”

A.C Bradley
‘…while Hamlet certainly cannot be called in the specific sense a ‘religious drama,’ there is in it nevertheless both a freer use of popular religious ideas, and a more decided, though always imaginative, intimation of a supreme power concerned in human evil and good, than can be found in any other of Shakespeare’s tragedies.’

‘It was not that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy or most perfect work of art; it was that Hamlet most brings home to us…the sense of the soul’s infinity…’

He calls Hamlet a ‘tragedy of thought’ and says Hamlet’s downfall ‘is connected rather with [his] intellectual nature and reflective habit than with any yielding to passion’.

Jan Kott

‘Hamlet is a great scenario, in which every character has a more or less tragic and cruel part to play, and has magnificent things to say. Every character has an irrevocable task to fulfill, a task imposed by the author. The scenario is independent of the characters; it has been devised earlier. It defines the situations, as well as the mutual relations of the characters. But it does not say who the characters are. It is something external in relation to them. And that is why the scenario of Hamlet can by played by different sorts of characters. ‘

Hamlet might so easily have been manufactured into an enigma, or a puzzle, and then the puzzle if sufficient pains were bestowed, could be completely taken to pieces and explained. But Shakespeare created it a mystery, and therefore it is forever suggestive; for ever suggestive and never wholly explicable
Edward Dowden

The single characteristic of Hamlet’s innermost nature is by no means irresolution or hesitation or any form of weakness, but rather the strong conflux of contending forces
A.C. Swinburne

He sees it pictorially, not as the problem of an individual at all, but as something greater and even more mysterious, as a condition for which the individual himself is apparently not responsible, any more than the sick man is to blame for the cancer which strikes and devours him, but which, nevertheless, as its course and development impartially and relentlessly annihilates him and others, innocent and guilty alike. That is the tragedy of Hamlet, as it is, perhaps, the chief tragic mystery of life.
Caroline Spurgeon

Hamlet […] cannot be comprehended except as a study of emotion.
L.L Schüking

The concentration at Ellsinore of all that happens enhances the impression of inactivity, which is enhanced again by the sense given us of the constant coming and going around Hamlet of the busier world without
Harley Granville-Barker


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