Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Hamlets: Shakespeare, Modernity and the Present

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course



DESCRIPTION William Shakespeare's Hamlet is one of the pre-eminent works in the Western canon. Its reinterpretation, both in performance but also in literary revisitations of it and in critical reassessments, is ongoing and incessant. Modernist and postmodernist adaptations of Hamlet in theatre, fiction, poetry, theory and cinema have been particularly rich. This study-unit seeks to survey and critique the contrasting directions and forms of those adaptations, exploring why it is that Hamlet exerts such an enduring fascination and analysing certain key reworkings of the play in modern and contemporary literature and criticism.

After an initial look at the play's history in performance and in criticism, as well as a consideration of differences in the First Folio, the First Quarto and the Second Quarto versions of the play, the study-unit looks closely at reworkings of Hamlet in modernist and postmodernist literature, particularly (but not exclusively) in texts by James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Tom Stoppard. Highly influential reinterpretations of Hamlet by leading figures in literary theory, notably Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida, are then discussed, before attention is directed at some key readings of the play which have emerged in the last decade, particularly in the work of Catherine Belsey, Stephen Greenblatt and Margareta de Grazia. Ongoing reference will be made to some momentous Hamlets in theatre, cinema and television, from Laurence Olivier to Rory Kinnear, from John Gielgud to David Tennant. Finally, the rise of posthumanist readings of Hamlet is evaluated.

Throughout, emphasis is laid on the rich and sometimes cohesion-poor pluralities of the Hamlet tradition -- hence the study-unit's title -- and on the justification of continuing to consider -- perhaps counter-intuitively -- Shakespeare's play as a key part of the modern and contemporary canon, as well as a play very much embedded in its own time.

Study-unit Aims

(i) To provide students with an awareness of all the different Hamlets of the play's multiple editors.

(ii) To explore some of the reasons for Hamlet's pre-eminence in the literary canon and its enduring place in theatrical, cinematic and televisual performance, as well as in literary and critical reworkings of the play.

(iii) To familiarise students with some of the major critical statements on Hamlet.

(iv) To guide students in writing with confidence, poise and purpose on one of the most commented works in the canons of world literature.

(v) To allow students the opportunity for discussions of the diverse Hamlets in literature, criticism, performance and textual scholarship.

(vi) To help students understand better the relations between the pre-modernist canon and modern and contemporary literature and criticism.

Learning Outcomes

1. Knowledge & Understanding:
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Write perceptively about textual variations and their significance in assessing a major canonical work;

- Relate a major canonical work of the Early Modern period with literature, culture and criticism from the modernist and contemporary periods, articulating that relation in both seminar and written discussion;

- Overcome hesitancy when attempting to write comprehensively and with focus on a major work of the literary canon;

- Acquire broad awareness of the reworking and reinterpretation of Hamlet in post-1890 literature and criticism;

- Analytically read criticism through the literature that has driven it, as well as more conventionally reading literature more powerfully through some of the leading critical texts in this particular area;

- Appreciate Hamlet -- and Shakespeare -- more deeply.

2. Skills:
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Apply certain specified theoretical and interdisciplinary approaches to the reading of Hamlet and other texts (literary, critical and otherwise);

- Keep the techniques of textual scholarship, liberal humanist critical interpretation and post-structuralist critique in productive relation in seminar and written discussion;

- Read the relations between literary texts from different periods with enhanced confidence and incisiveness;

- Handle the discourse of Elizabethan literature and the relevant critical approaches and their terminologies with greater adeptness.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings

Bate, Jonathan, The Genius of Shakespeare, new ed. (London: Picador, 2008).

Belsey, Catherine, Shakespeare and the Loss of Eden: The Construction of Family Values in Early Modern Culture (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2001).

Belsey Catherine, Why Shakespeare? (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

Bloom, Harold, Hamlet: Poem Unlimited (New York: Riverhead, 2003).

de Grazia, Margreta, Hamlet without Hamlet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Greenblatt, Stephen, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

Hapgood, Robert, Hamlet: Shakespeare in Production (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Herbrechter, Stefan and Ivan Callus, eds, Posthumanist Shakespeares (London: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).

Lacan, Jacques, ‘Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet’, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. James Hulbert, Yale French Studies 55/56: Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Reading Otherwise (1977).

Wills, David, Dorsality: Thinking Back through Technology and Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

Note : All texts are/will be available through the library or as part of the lecturer's resources. Students will be given a comprehensive study pack at the start of the study-unit.

ADDITIONAL NOTES Pre-requisite qualifications: BA (Hons) or BA General in English, or equivalent

Co-Requisite Study-units: ENG5000 and ENG5001

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Presentation SEM1 No 20%
Assignment SEM1 Yes 80%

LECTURER/S Ivan Callus

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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2021/2. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.