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George Washington University Hamlet without Us Author(s): Kathryn Schwarz Source: Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 62, No.

George Washington University

Hamlet without Us Author(s): Kathryn Schwarz Source: Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 2, SURVIVING HAMLET (Summer 2011), pp.

174-179

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Hamlet without Us

Kathryn Schwarz

We do it wrong, being so majestical,

To offer it the show of violence, For it is as the air, invulnerable,

And our vain blows malicious mockery.

Hamlet, 1.1.143-461

If the"I" in these poems is so difficult to locate, then how wary you and you, I, and they—should be in presuming to say "we"2

At the end of his essay, Lee Edelman poses a challenge t

"Could any pedagogy renounce the sublimation inherent in ac

ing, taking seriously the status of teaching as an impossible professio ing ourselves in relation to our students as agents of a radical queern assault on meaning, understanding, and value would take from them

than it could ever give?" (169). If, as Edelman argues, Hamlet repr

prototype of the modern subject as Child, the subject who attemp

an infinite future, to make present a ghostly past" (167), our vocatio that attempt, and our practices—of teaching literature, of teaching S of teaching Hamlet—instantiate, again and again, the present momen

the past lays its hand on the future.

When Edelman writes of Hamlet, "He establishes thereby the c

a reproductive futurism bringing archive and anamnesis together

ogy whose complicity with aesthetic education and therefore with th

of aesthetic education not only shapes the text of Hamlet but also

to its privileged position as the paradigmatic literary work of moder

culture" (155-56), he returns us to the questions of ideology and

that preoccupied, or more aptly haunted, the professional self-in of the 1980s. His scrutiny of influence and inheritance recalls Ala

G. Blakemore Evans, gen. ed., The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (Boston: H

flin, 1997).

Bruce R. Smith, "I, You, He, She, and We: On the Sexual Politics of Shakespeare's Son

nets," in Shakespeare's Sonnets: Critical Essays, ed. James Schiffer (New York: Garland Publishing,

1999), 411-29, esp. 427.

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HAMLET WITHOUT US 175

critique of the English educational system

final instance of the validity of Literature.

and universal experience, Literature mus

upon it becomes an instrument within the

schools adjust young people to an unjust s

order evokes Jacqueline Rose's analysis of t literary criticism: "Writing which proclaim which demands such integrity (objectivity/ that moment of repression when language place, putting down the unconscious proces

the Oedipal drama and of narrative form

King Hamlet's ghost and "a compulsory ret

father" (160) reprises Marjorie Garber's a

'"Remember me!' cries the Ghost, and Sh

literature, that which calls us back to ourse

self-chosen attribution of paternity.'Rem

against self-slaughter."5 Driven by the n

synecdoche and as subject, as text and as

our Bentham) for the edification of the ne

reanimates a primal scene in the history of

foundations of our continuity and recogniz

that to forget was to repeat. The proble

will-to-be-taught, the desire for a lesson

the zero" (169)—cannot be solved in the

tives exist, when to be in Hamlet's shadow

"No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was m

Prufrock absents himself from the line of itance bestowed by Hamlet as universal subj

of Edelman's inclusive proposition: "For

the concept of the human whose normative

Alan Sinfield, "Give an account of Shakespeare an

are effective and what you have appreciated about

references," in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in

and Alan Sinfield (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985), 134— Jacqueline Rose, "Sexuality in the Reading of S sure" in Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drak

102.

5 Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare's Ghost Writers: Literature as Uncanny Causality (New York:

Methuen, 1987), 176.

6 T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," in 7be Complete Poems

1950 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1971), 7.

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176 SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY

all" (164). Or, of course, he doesn't, as long as we are a

"bestow on its specter, and so on its always ungraspab

able value of a domesticated and domesticating good, o

literature to make us better, more fully human" (169)

project, so contentedly in thrall to a naive yet mercen

nation as a kind of bait, if Thomas C. Foster's How to

fessor is any indication. Foster takes up Prufrock's lin

Doubt, It's from Shakespeare

isomorphism: "Eliot's poem does more, though, than

It also opens up a conversation with its famous pre

of tragic grandeur, Prufrock suggests, but an age of h

recall that Hamlet is himself a hapless ditherer, and i

saves him from his own haplessness and confers on

tragic."' Prufrock was meant to be Hamlet after all, b

and by us if not by Eliot. And if Prufrock must be h

exogenetic—if, for that matter, Eliot must succum would disavow—we at least are secure, because we h

to which we are heir.

Why have I taken this turn? Not to accept domestic

cation; but to think, for a moment, about the relation

What would it mean for "us," with brazen infidelity to

to say'no" to Hamlet: to refuse not just an inheritance

tance, to see neither a web nor a line nor a mirror, b

retains a certain dated charm? There is little purchase

for we have been conscientiously trained to spot it as

am"; in this, at least, Foster does indeed show his read

fessor. A mixture of belatedness and overexposure mi

as in the story of a woman who, after finally seeing Ha

just a bunch of cliches. Apocryphal or not, this echoes

caustic comment: "English Seneca read by candle lig

,"

where he shares the

tences, as Bloud is a begger, and so foorth: and if you i

morning, he will affoord you whole Hamlets, I should

speaches."8 But Nashes preface to Robert Greene's M

so he cannot refer to our Hamlet, which is to say Sha

specifically Shakespeare's good Hamlet, and a long

ment to the elusive Ur-Hamlet embroils us in lineages

Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A

to Reading between the Lines (New York: HarperCollins, 2003)

Thomas Nashe, "To the Gentlemen Students of Both Univ

Greene, Menaphon Camillas alarum to slumbering Euphues (Lo

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HAMLET WITHOUT US 177

Margreta de Grazia says "no," cogently a

Hamlet, arguing that our obsession wit

undercuts the skills by which we live: "It Hamlet's complex interiority into focus.

Hamlet to appear modern, the premise

Twenty years earlier, Garber made a com

series of questions about revenge, forgetti

Hamlet—as I have suggested above—the pl construction of the modern subject?" She questions can be answered, tentatively, in at least in part for the befuddlement and demonstrate when they are asked to come

close to us. What look like critiques, an

make some other point (philosophical,

bring us back to the play itself, not as

the unknowability of origins, what Freud Garber, an anachronistic, peripatetic Ham

of the text; for de Grazia that figure in

ship has been content to treat the plot as

who can readily leave it behind to wander attached."11 Yet both analyses, like Edelm acy that mortgages the living to the dead

by ventriloquism and apostrophe: "Unca

transference of death to the living and v voice say? What kind of commandment d down?" De Grazia delineates a transaction

"The father's 'will' makes itself known

requires the son's sacrifice) rather than

Hamlet is left not with the patrimony pr

a suicidal paternal command to redress

relationship both to the Name-of-the-Fat ship of slippage, overlap, and breach, beq

Trapped by the mandate to live and d

ally—in another's name, Hamlet has n

order of or' that keeps what is from bein

9 Margreta de Grazia, "Hamlet" without Hamle

Garber, 157—58.

De Grazia, 3.

12 Garber, 147; de Grazia, 98.

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178 SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY

life from death is a false opposition, the sign of an or

manufactured to cover the spectacle of its own collap

this through readings of Lacan, Derrida, Zizek, and fi

that violates natures bounds to condemn violations

advance the order of or' he returns from the grave to

distinction pronounced in'To be, or not to be'" (166

must know the speciousness of "or," if not from phil ogy, or some precocious modernity, then from genre from the moment he gives credence to his father's m

in his beginning. For all its gnomic insistence in our

not to be" is not a question. In revenge tragedy, being

that sustains its automatism through the will—always

other lives with it. Here we are both belated and re

tors in a conversation that has dispensed with our int

posits neither counterfactuals nor even teleologies,

which, prefabricated by the machinery of plot, is

press toward iconoclasm? If so, let me press a little h

1603 text—disreputable "bad quarto" that it is—gets it be, I there's the point," Hamlet begins.13 There's the

This generic reduction, which suggests that Haml

than exceptionally ventriloquized and undead, does

man's own point about the consequences Hamlet h

zombie movie, made more respectable but also mor

respectability. In "The Uncanny," Freud writes, "M

feeling in the highest degree in relation to death and

of the dead, and to spirits and ghosts."14 Freud finds

tent across time, and adds a comment that might be "Most likely our fear still implies the old belief that

enemy of his survivor and seeks to carry him off to share

He does, however, wonder briefly about repression, i

but not obvious in so overt a fear. "But repression is

educated people have ceased to believe officially th

ible as spirits, and have made any such appearance

and remote conditions; their emotional attitude towar

13 William Shakespeare, The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet Prin

sig. D4v.

14 Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny" (1919), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychologi

cal Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey, 24 vols. (London: Hogarth Press,

1974), 17:217-56, esp. 240.

15 Freud, 241.

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HAMLET WITHOUT US 179

once a highly ambiguous and ambivalent o strata of the mind into an unambiguous f hold us in these coils; neither mourning n our entanglement with Hamlet mimics lov A hint of that piety inflects even Edelma

totype of the modern subject as Child" (

full-fledged from No Future, a book in w

to talk about birds.17 If we—that subsu

the ghost, could we perhaps give it a bit l a powerful point about history and accoun being willing to be haunted."18 Edelman's

we might, in the case of Hamlet, be alto

the spectral mandate of legacy, a reflexive

the impulse to question our methods an

Hamlet in the 1974 edition of the Riversid

"Coleridge's 'I have a smack of Hamlet' ma

remaking of Everyman in Hamlet's ima a time of obligatory and schematic intr

feel."19 Are we, by now, entitled to refuse?

16 Freud, 241-42.

17 Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and

132-33,135.

18 Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New

York: New York UP, 2005), 60.

19 Frank Kermode, introduction to Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, in The Riverside Shakespeare,

1183.

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