ABSTRACT

The subject of this paper is the relation between philosophy and violence in Hamlet, an unsurprising conjunction in a play that oscillates so conspicuously between moments of arrested fascination with the "pale cast of thought" and uncontrollable bloodletting. Yet one must acknowledge that for many reasons, interpreters of Hamlet (especially in the twentieth century) have been less interested in explaining the violence of the play, which is of course a given of the revenge narrative, than in detecting an underlying psychological dynamic whose interpretive role has been to resolve the relation between thought and inaction. Shakespeare's play is full of "philosophical" ideas, but its ideas seem to explain very little about Hamlet's thought, if that thought is the cause of his inaction. Hamlet's philosophical ideas are at best echoes of Montaigne, and at worst quotations from a stock of knowledge common to the literate culture of the day. The great critical motif of Hamlet's anticipatory modernity is founded on just the inadequacy of the ideas in the play to what Hamlet is presumed to be thinking, an inadequacy that opens up the space of his inferiority, now a decidedly psychologized, even sexualized space.3