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Hamlet's Perfection

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How does the rash yet serene Hamlet of Act 5 arise from the passive and grief-stricken Hamlet of Act 1? What path leads him from sickened thoughts of birth and incest to the certainty that thoughtfulness itself must be escaped through bold action? The roles of Senecan revenger and patient Christian may seem worlds apart, observes William Kerrigan, but Shakespeare fused them in a character that has fascinated the world for centuries. In his lively new study, Kerrigan celebrates both Hamlet's perfection, the ...
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Overview

How does the rash yet serene Hamlet of Act 5 arise from the passive and grief-stricken Hamlet of Act 1? What path leads him from sickened thoughts of birth and incest to the certainty that thoughtfulness itself must be escaped through bold action? The roles of Senecan revenger and patient Christian may seem worlds apart, observes William Kerrigan, but Shakespeare fused them in a character that has fascinated the world for centuries. In his lively new study, Kerrigan celebrates both Hamlet's perfection, the character's creation of new ideals out of an inheritance of disillusionment, and Hamlet's perfection, the play's brilliance as Shakespeare's greatest tragedy. Kerrigan's approach reflects his interests in literary formalism, historical scholarship, intellectual history, and psychoanalysis. In an overview of the history of Hamlet criticism, Kerrigan argues that recent critics have done little or nothing to elucidate the play, and he suggests ways in which the abandoned tradition of Hamlet commentary might still inspire fruitful approaches to the play. He explores the phrase "good night" in terms of the play's nocturnal preoccupations of grief, melancholy, haunting, crime, and death. He moves from the division of day from night and good from evil to Hamlet's split apprehension of women and his attempt to "salvage purity from an initial conviction of general debasement." His final chapter treats the "self-revised" Hamlet of the final act.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
It is both the character and the play that are flawless, says Kerrigan (English, U. of Massachusetts). He traces how the young man creates new ideals out of an inheritance of disillusionment, transforming himself from anguished impotent to bold avenger; and shows how the play contains and portrays the transformation without a seam. He also scoffs at recent criticism of the play. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Philosophy and Literature
Kerrigan's reading of the tradition is illuminating, subtle, informed, and informative, and he uses it to establish his reading of the play, working within the tradition but extending it to hitherto unseen and insightful ways.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801847196
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1994
  • Pages: 200

Meet the Author

William Kerrigan is professor of English at the University of Massachusetts. His books include The Prophetic Milton and The Sacred Complex.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Hamlet in History: A Brief Polemical Guide from the Romantics to the Theorists 1
2 Hamlet's Good Night 34
3 A Woman's a Two-Face 63
4 Hamlet's Virgin 94
5 The Last Mystery 122
Notes 153
Index 173
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