The Hamlet Formerly Known as Prince
The last decade of the millennium saw a Hamlet boom unmatched since the onset of American mass media. The prince who in Shakespeare’s play literally ends up nowhere (dying in a state that is neither quite Denmark nor Norway) now walks everywhere among us, a ghost in mass culture, from light comedies or adventure movies like L.A. Story and Last Action Hero to venues as ambitious as Branagh’s bombastic 1996 film version.1 The play has always been a rich reserve of Shakespearean sound bites and clichés. But this alone does not tell us much about why Hamlet in particular has enjoyed such a startling re-emergence into popular prominence. The same figure whose failure to inherit and refusal to take the throne in Denmark lead to the death of his state has somehow become (perhaps on the basis of this refusal) the unofficial legislator of latetwentieth-century democratic man – the man who would, and would not, be king. What Bartleby the Scrivener was to the man in the gray flannel suit, Hamlet has become to the Range-Rover set.