Hamlet – interpretations & performances

David Garrick Late-eighteenth-century actor-director who aimed to improve Hamlet’s moral stature by excising passages such as Hamlet’s responsibility for the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Early eighteenth century Period in which Hamlet was refashioned as an exemplary hero, with “Hamlet” the play seen as an exploration of the moral ideal of ‘poetic justice’.
Dr Samuel Johnson Late-eighteenth-century critic who defended Shakespeare as a great moralist, but who struggled to reconcile this view with Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia.
Goethe Nineteenth-century Romantic critic for whom hesitation and delay are “the key to Hamlet’s whole procedure”.
Coleridge Nineteenth-century critic who described Hamlet’s delicate Romantic sensibility as an “overbalance of the imaginative power”.
Hegel Nineteenth-century German writer, for whom Hamlet is characterised by failure: he achieves revenge only through chance, not active self-realization.
Anna Jameson Questioned Hamlet’s admirable qualities in light of his treatment of “Poor Ophelia!” (1832)
Schlegel Criticised Hamlet in the 1800s, saying he was “too much overwhelmed with his own sorrow to have any compassion to spare for others”.
Henry Irving Victorian actor-manager for whom Hamlet was a man stricken with love for Ophelia (deleting Hamlet’s references to sending Claudius to hell and ending the production with “the rest is silence”, rather than with Fortinbras).
“Deutschland ist Hamlet.” In 1844 Ferdinand Freiligrath compared Hamlet’s hesitancy to Germany’s failure to reunify politically, using a catchy slogan.
Hermann Ulrici Described in 1839 Hamlet’s paralysis as “the Christian struggling with the natural man” – the primitive code of revenge cannot be reconciled with Christian faith.
Nietzsche German philosopher who, in 1872, argued that Hamlet was held back by tragic knowledge of the utter futility of action in a corrupt world.
Leopold Jessner Highly politicized 1926 version of “Hamlet” that cast the character as a rebel hero defying the autocratic regime of Claudius (Kaiser Wilhelm).
Gustav Gründgens Highly politicized 1936 version of “Hamlet” that cast the character as a national-socialist hero, a fair-haired Saxon son of a Nordic prince who had destroyed the Poles.
Hamlet and Oedipus 1910 essay by Ernest Jones that propounded Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical hypothesis that Hamlet is driven by subconscious incestuous desire for his mother and hence a psychological inability to punish his uncle for having done what Hamlet fears most in himself.
Grigori Kozintsev 1954 film version of “Hamlet” that was intended to analyse what was “happening in the prison state” of (post-) Stalinist Russia; Hamlet as existential hero resisting oppression.
A. C. Bradley Critic, whose 1904 “Shakespearean Tragedy”, viewed Hamlet as an idealist of deep moral sensibility, whose “whole mind is poisoned” on account of his passion for generalization.
Edgar Elmer Stoll Offered a 1933 corrective to dominant psychological interpretations of the play: “Hamlet” is a revenge story (albeit a sophisticated one)!
Lily Bess Campbell “Hamlet” is a study in the passion of grief, according to her 1952 book “Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion”.
Hamlet and Revenge Eleanor Prosser’s 1967 book foregrounded the play’s context of production, highlighting that Shakespeare’s Christian contemporaries would have regarded the Ghost as “demonic” and that his commandment of revenge should not be obeyed.

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