David McInnis reviews 'Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness' by Rhodri Lewis

David McInnis reviews 'Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness' by Rhodri Lewis

Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness

by Rhodri Lewis

Princeton University Press (Footprint), $77 hb, 392 pp, 9780691166841

There have been more than 600 publications on Hamlet in the last five years alone. Uniquely amongst Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet even has an entire journal devoted to it: Hamlet Studies. Offering something new in these circumstances takes courage. Drawing inspiration from Margreta de Grazia’s liberation of Hamlet from the anachronistic concerns of Romantic and post-Romantic critics (2007), Rhodri Lewis offers a striking account of the ‘unusual and arresting’ qualities of the Danish prince in terms of Shakespeare’s ‘dissatisfaction with various forms of late-sixteenth-century humanist convention’. Inverting the usual paradigm which limns Hamlet as an unwilling or unable revenger who cannot make up his own mind, Lewis prefers to characterise the play as ‘a tragedy in which Shakespeare confronts his audiences with the realization that they have no fixed points of reference with which to help them make up theirs’. Hamlet is at odds with the humanist moral philosophy of its time, yielding a ‘troubled portrait of human identity’.

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Published in March 2018, no. 399
David McInnis

David McInnis

David McInnis is the Gerry Higgins Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies at the University of Melbourne. In 2016 he was jointly awarded the Australian Academy of the Humanities' Max Crawford Medal (granted to Australian early-career researchers for outstanding scholarly achievement in the humanities). He is the author of Mind-Travelling and Voyage Drama in Early Modern England (Palgrave, 2013), co-editor of Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England (Palgrave, 2014; co-edited with Matthew Steggle), and is currently editing Dekker's Old Fortunatus for the Revels Plays series. With Roslyn L. Knutson, he is founder and co-editor of the Lost Plays Database.

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