Theory and Hamlet Gripe

 

 I met with my supervisor, Bill, for some feedback on my first piece of writing this week  – my literature review.  He seemed reasonably happy with it, but he is concerned that I still don’t have a strong research question that is new and original.  He also said (semi-in-jest) that  I was being prejudiced and lazy in my attitude to ‘theory’, which is true.  But I really feel that, however counter-cultural much theory claims to be, it is yet another form of cultural hegemony by which we are forced to live our lives, just a new way of labelling and pigeon-holing.  Also, if you don’t think/speak/write in a certain way, your thinking/speaking/writing is deemed less valid.  Deemed, in fact, to be not really thinking…  Also, theory was so dominated by men and now by women who think/speak/write like men.  However, as I’ve only read Derrida’s pasta packet essay and never got beyond a paragraph or two of Butler or Kristeva, then I am indeed being prejudiced and lazy!!! Pub-talk opinions will not stand-up to the scrutiny of a PhD external examiner, I expect.  Not that I ever go to the pub.   I have a second-hand copy of David Lodge’s Literary Theory Reader somewhere – perhaps I should work my way through that?

Going back to my PhD topic.  I am also still struggling with Hamlet and, indeed, Hamlet.  Much as I enjoyed de Grazia’s book Hamlet without Hamlet (and I must double-check how to layout a title which has a title in it), she actually spent half the book still writing about Hamlet the character and what other people thought of Hamlet the character.  (I counted the chapters and it really was half the book…).  Then the play itself consistently frustrates and angers me.  There is none of the interesting weird stuff that happens with language and plot in the late plays, although I suppose that in Horatio’s advice to Hamlet not to follow the Ghost, there is a premonition of Edgar and Gloucester’s mock-suicide. (Now that would be in my number 1 spot for The best 100 scenes in the history of English Literature ever!) As for Hamlet’s continual intellectualisation of PAIN, it makes me want to throw the book against the wall.  I know this is intentional (well, not perhaps to the extent of provoking book-throwing) and that Hamlet is juxtaposed with Ophelia’s mental disintegration and loss of coherent language  – unfortunately, this again reminds me of King Lear, the play I would rather be studying.  But it probably wouldn’t be healthy for me to spend six years peering into the abyss that is much of the later tragedy.  That way madness would truly lie.   

So, Hamlet.  I watched Olivier’s film for the first time since secondary school the other day and thoroughly enjoyed it, so perhaps I am being prejudiced and lazy about Hamlet too.  And Lin Zhaohua’s 哈姆雷特 Hamuleite (1989/1990/1994, toured1995) captivated me and, if I had the energy to be captivated by anything anymore, it will probably captivate me again.

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