chapter  5
39 Pages

Bestial Oblivion in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

WithBenjamin Bertram

Ecocriticism has enabled us to rethink old, seemingly exhausted topics in William Shakespeare studies. Perhaps the most hackneyed and unpromising question that remains alive, at least in high school classrooms, is "Why does Hamlet delay?" Yet this chapter wants to propose that the problem of action in Hamlet is worth revisiting now that ecocriticism, actor-network theory, and posthumanism have taught us to be more skeptical about the stability of the human as an ontological category. Shakespeare follows the lead of military writers in the way he addresses the problem of action in a time of war but the graveyard scene, the chapter argues, sets up a contrast with Hamlet's speech on Fortinbras's army, a speech that affirms militarism and humanism. The chasm between "godlike reason" and "bestial oblivion" appears less daunting once we recognize that Hamlet's godlike father, not reason, is what is really important to his ability to remember.