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Stay, Illusion!: The Hamlet Doctrineby Simon Critchley
Synopses & Reviews
The figure of Hamlet haunts our culture like the ghost haunts Shakespeare’s melancholy Dane. Arguably, no literary work is more familiar to us. Everyone knows at least six words from Hamlet, and most people know many more. Yet the play—Shakespeare’s longest—is more than “passing strange,” and it becomes even more complex when considered closely.
Reading Hamlet alongside other writers, philosophers, and psychoanalysts—Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Freud, Lacan, Nietzsche, Melville, and Joyce—Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster go in search of a particularly modern drama that is as much about ourselves as it is a product of Shakespeare’s imagination. They also offer a startling interpretation of the action onstage: it is structured around “nothing”—or, in the enigmatic words of the player queen, “it nothing must.”
From the illusion of theater and the spectacle of statecraft to the psychological interplay of inhibition and emotion, Hamlet discloses the modern paradox of our lives: how thought and action seem to pull against each other, the one annulling the possibility of the other. As a counterweight to Hamlet’s melancholy paralysis, Ophelia emerges as the play’s true hero. In her madness, she lives the love of which Hamlet is incapable.
Avoiding the customary clichés about the timelessness of the Bard, Critchley and Webster show the timely power of Hamlet to cast light on the intractable dilemmas of human existence in a world that is rotten and out of joint.
"In this insightful interpretation, philosopher Critchley (The Faith of the Faithless) and psychoanalyst Webster (The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis) offer their take on Hamlet, using as touchstones the work of analysts such as Freud and Jacques Lacan, philosophers like Walter Benjamin and Nietzsche, and writers such as James Joyce, all of whom have written about the play. The authors discuss Hamlet's bizarre obsession with his mother, his inability to kill Claudius, as well as the oppression caused by the near-constant spying on others, among other topics. Of the theories presented to explain Hamlet's failure to avenge his father, the most interesting is Hegel's suggestion that with his experience with death, he becomes disgusted with humanity, and no longer cares to engage in the world except in an absurd, punning way; 'the wrong man' for the job, he dies as a result of his own hesitation and external circumstance. Ophelia's situation is also explored; used by Hamlet, Polonius, Laertes, and Claudius and Gertrude as bait, 'her desire explodes onto the stage' in her madness scene and in the description of her death. Whether singing of flowers and their reproductive cycles, or appearing in a pool 'mermaid-like' and with a voice 'heavy with Ã¢Â€Â˜drink,'Â ' Ophelia finally expresses the sexuality restrained and ignored by others. The authors' passion for the play and its questions are clearly evident. Agent: Nemonie Craven, Jonathan Clowes Ltd. (U.K.). (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The figure of Hamlet haunts our culture like the Ghost haunts him. Arguably, no literary work, not even the Bible, is more familiar to us than Shakespeare's Hamlet. Everyone knows at least six words from the play; often people know many more. Yet the play—Shakespeare's longest—is more than ”passing strange” and becomes deeply unfamiliar when considered closely.
Stay, Illusion! is a passionate encounter with the play that affords an original look at this work of literature and the prismatic quality of the play to project meaning. Along the way, Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster consider the political context and stakes of Shakespeare's play, its relation to religion, the movement of desire, and the incapacity to love.
About the Author
Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. He also teaches at Tilburg University and the European Graduate School. His many books include Very Little . . . Almost Nothing, The Faith of the Faithless, and The Book of Dead Philosophers. He is the series moderator of The Stone, a philosophy column in The New York Times, to which he is a frequent contributor.
Jamieson Webster is a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City. She is the author of The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis: On Unconscious Desire and Its Sublimation and has written for Apology, Cabinet, The New York Times, and many psychoanalytic publications. She teaches at Eugene Lang College at the New School and supervises doctoral students in clinical psychology at the City University of New York.
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