A World at Play: Metatheatrics in Hamlet Open Access

Buckley, Liam (Spring 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/0v838060s?locale=en
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Abstract

The world that Shakespeare lived in resembled a stage. In this thesis, I use the Shakespearean mantra “all the world is a stage” as a means to show that in the play Hamlet, Shakespeare puts the world of early modern England on the stage: its vibrant political, social, and economic scene becomes illuminated by characters acting out their roles, and audiences watching them perform them. I show how metatheatrics and self-reflexivity perpetuate a notion of a duel reality, and how we live in a world that is both theatrical and “real.” This essay explores how Shakespeare makes powerful use of the physical layout of the Globe theatre, showing us how the theatre acts as a microcosm for the city of London. In Hamlet, all the characters have roles to fulfill, and an act to put on; they excessively preoccupy themselves with their appearance and costume, and observe each other in secrecy. Likewise, the “real” world of England functioned very similarly to the theatre; the court relied on a combination of observation and ostentatious performance, while the elite Elizabethans underwent what Renaissance scholar Stephen Greenblatt theorized as a “self-fashioning” process. This essay argues that through the character of Hamlet, Shakespeare taps into this problem of self-fashioning – how we look versus how we feel. Using a New Historical lens, I show how the zeitgeist of the time (politics, social life, class, and early inklings of the Scientific Revolution) permeate Hamlet. I also readdress the age old question “is Hamlet mad or is he acting?” to show that Hamlet abides by acting standards of the time, as well as fits the symptoms of madness (as defined by early modern medicine practitioners). Thus, I dismiss the notion that we can separate these two spaces, madness and acting, to argue that we are all actors, and therefore, we are all a little bit mad too.

Table of Contents

Introduction.....................................................................................1

           As You Like It..........................................................................1

           My argument...........................................................................2

           New Historicism.......................................................................4

           Shakespeare’s London..............................................................5

           The Globe...............................................................................7

           Mimesis, Samuel Johnson, and illusionism...................................8

           Thesis Outline........................................................................11

Chapter 1: The Problem of the Texts...............................................13

           First Quarto, Second Quarto, and First Folio...............................13

           The plasticity of editing...........................................................18

Chapter 2: The Play-Within-the-Play...............................................19

           The Mousetrap and dumb-show................................................19

           Observation and Elizabethan playgoing......................................22

           Spying and “nested audiences” in Hamlet .................................26

Chapter 3: “He that plays the king:” Role-Playing in Hamlet...........28

           The Ghost of King Hamlet........................................................28

           The reconfiguring of the monarchy............................................30

           Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern....................................32

           Fortinbras..............................................................................34

Chapter 4: Restaging the Elizabethan Political Climate....................37

           Observation and Performative Display in the Royal Court.............37

           Costumes in Hamlet................................................................41

Chapter 5: “Self-Fashioning” and a Theoretical Lens.......................44

           Greenblatt and the “Self-Fashioning” process .............................44

           Hamlet, cosmetics, and Elizabethan vanity.................................45

           On fencing.............................................................................47

Chapter 6: The “Antic Disposition” .................................................51

           Hamlet and acting standards of the time....................................52

           London’s changing theatrical landscape.....................................56

           Hamlet as a producer..............................................................58

           Meta-commentary..................................................................59

           Hamlet versus the Players.......................................................62

           The delayed revenge...............................................................65

           “Distracted Globe”..................................................................66

Chapter 7: Science, Madness, and Changing Western Thought........69

           The Scientific Revolution and Shakespeare.................................70

           Madness in Early Modern England.............................................77

           Madness and theatre...............................................................79

           To be or not to be mad............................................................82

Conclusion......................................................................................85

           A summary............................................................................85

           A window, not a mirror............................................................88

Bibliography....................................................................................90

           Main sources..........................................................................90

       Non-printed sources................................................................94

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