‘Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion – that is the Hamlet Doctrine.’ Friedrich Nietzsche’s interpretation of Hamlet forms a core around which the philosopher Simon Critchley and the psychoanalyst Jamieson Webster construct their by turns bold and subtle analyses of Hamlet. Critchley and Webster write in The Hamlet Doctrine that Hamlet ‘turns on the corrosive dialectic of knowledge and action, where the former disables the latter and insight into the truth induces a disgust with existence’.
The banal, biscuit-box Shakespeare needs to be broken up and his work made dangerous again. If the authorities really understood what was going on in Hamlet's head, students might never be allowed to study the text. Hamlet's world is a globe defined by the omnipresence of espionage, of which his self-surveillance is but a mirror. Hamlet is arguably the drama of a police state, rather like the Elizabethan police state of England in the late 16th century, or the multitude of surveillance cameras that track citizens as they cross London in the current, late-Elizabethan age. Hamlet's agonised paranoia is but a foretaste of our own.
Rather than look at Hamlet in the usual humanistic and moralistic manner—Hamlet is a nice guy who suffers from being given a task that is an overwhelmingly unbearable burden - we approach the play in a spirit of what Virginia Woolf calls rashness, illness, and irreverence. We look at the play through the lenses provided by a singular series of outsider interpretations that happen to mirror our mutual occupations and preoccupations—philosophy and psychoanalysis - and which shed some light on the question of Shakespeare and Englishness: Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Hegel, Freud, Lacan, Nietzsche, Melville and Heiner Müller. We’d like to give a little taste of each of these interpretations.
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At the beginning of the year we published another twelve titles in our seventh edition of The Radical Thinkers series including works by Alain Badiou, Willhelm Reich, Max Horkheimer, Simon Critchley and Ludwig Feuerbach. A fortnightly series of events introducing this latest set was held at the ICA in London, with the help of Peter Hallward, Stella Sandford, Esther Leslie, Federico Campagna and Nina Power. Through passionate discussions which took theory to a public forum outside of the academy, the events aimed to make clear why these writers should be read today. Verso believe that the writers in this series are just as accessible as most of those who are presented to us as 'public intellectuals' or 'popular philosophers' - yet they are far more pertinent and thought provoking.
Discussions occur on book pages throughout the site. The most recent discussions about the works of Simon Critchley are listed below.
What is the difference between this book and “Stay, Illusion!: The Hamlet Doctrine”by the same authors, published by Pantheon in June 2013?