1st Edition

Histrionic Hamlet Shakespeare's Ultimate Metatheatrical Experiment

By Piotr Sadowski Copyright 2024
    248 Pages
    by Routledge

    According to psychological research on acting, the histrionic personality consists of a compulsive tendency to play-act, exaggerate emotions, succumb to illusions, seek attention through speech, body language and costume, to be seductive and impulsive.  An original intervention in the critical history of Shakespeare’s most famous play, Histrionic Hamlet argues that the Danish Prince is a stage representation of just such a personality—a born actor and a drama queen rather than a politician—incongruously thrown in the middle of ruthless high-stakes power struggle requiring pragmatic rather than theatrical skills.  Uniquely among other English revenge tragedies, in Hamlet a histrionic protagonist striking a series of gratuitous, baffling, self-indulgent, and counterproductive poses is called upon to carry out a challenging and brutal political task, which he spectacularly and tragically mismanages.  Unable to perform on a theatrical stage as a professional actor, the Clown Prince bitterly play acts anyway, turning all situations into opportunities of pretend play rather than effective political action.  In consequence he wastes tactical advantages over his enemies, endangers himself, and jeopardizes his revenge plan, if ever there was one.  Histrionic Hamlet should be of interest to students of Shakespeare, theater practitioners, and anyone interested in human dysfunctional and maladaptive behavior.

    Introduction: Between drama and life

    1.  “And all men and women merely players”: Social role playing and theatrical acting

    2.  “Report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied”: Audiences and critics

    3.  “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!”: Hamlet versus pragmatic avengers

    4.  “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?”: Hamlet’s teen angst

    5.  “This fellow in the cellarage”: Hamlet and the Ghost

    6.  “Doubt truth to be a liar”: The melancholy lover

    7.  “Will you see the players well bestowed”: Hamlet in his element

    8.  “The play’s the thing”: Hamlet’s unfortunate theatrical experiment

    9. “There’s letters sealed”: Hamlet’s nemesis

    10.  “The rest is silence”: The dénouement


    Piotr Sadowski is a Lecturer in Humanities in the Department of Film and Creative Media at Dublin Business School, Ireland.  He is also a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of English, Trinity College Dublin.  Sadowski is the author of several books on medieval and Renaissance literature, film history, and cognitive semiotics.