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The Hamlet Doctrine
Knowing Too Much, Doing Nothing
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Hardback
Hardback
288 pages / September 2013 / 9781781682562

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Ebook
Ebook
288 pages / September 2013 / 9781781682579

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"A serious provocation to both the biscuit-box Shakespeare industry and, more widely, to contemporary literary culture."—Independent

Arguably, no literary work is more familiar to us than Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. Everyone can quote at least six words from the play; often people know many more.

In this riveting and thought-provoking re-examination, philosopher Simon Critchley and psychoanalyst Jamieson Webster explore Hamlet’s continued relevance for a modern world no less troubled by existential anxieties than Elizabethan London.

Reading the drama alongside writers, philosophers and psychoanalysts—Schmitt, Benjamin, Freud, Lacan, Nietzsche, Melville, and Joyce—the authors delve into the politics of the era, the play’s relationship to religion, the exigencies of desire and the incapacity to love. It is an intellectual investigation that leads to a startling conclusion: Hamlet is a play about nothing in which Ophelia emerges as the true hero.

From the illusion of theatre and the spectacle of statecraft to the psychological theatre of inhibition and emotion, what Hamlet makes manifest is the modern paradox of our lives: where we know, we cannot act.

The Hamlet Doctrine is a passionate encounter with a great work of literature that continues to speak to us across centuries.

Reviews

“This is an engaging, eloquent, and insistently pleasurable text that makes the best case possible for “rash” reading. Hamlet can now be read in light of a number of new theoretical vocabularies such that we cannot think about love, self-reflection, doubt, or obstinacy without being haunted by its ghost. This collaborative writing gives us a dynamic set of forays, recruiting us into the start and stop of thought, making Hamlet crucial for the thinking of our own impasses and delights. In the mix is a singular and illuminating encounter between philosophy and psychoanalysis.”

“Critchley and Webster’s fierce, witty exploration of Hamlet makes most other writing about Shakespeare seem simpleminded.”

“I found myself ravenously turning pages. I absolutely love the book, which I think is brilliant both as a set of readings of the play and as a meditation on contemporary, postillusion existence. Hamlet is, as everyone knows, about everything , but it’s also about nothing , or rather, nothingness. And this almost impossibly aphoristic book penetrates to the center of this paradox. A thrilling performance.”

“The gap between thought and action has rarely been contemplated with so much intellectual excitement and energy as it is in this book. Indeed, this study of Hamlet is a kind of thrill ride, a breathless investigation of some of the most important ideas from philosophy and psychoanalysis from the Modern era. But the great pleasure it holds in store for most readers has to do with its profound understanding of reflection, and its discontents.”

“A brilliant set of readings of a work that, like an insistent ghost, seems to have more to tell us with each passing era.”

“In their provocative new study, Simon Critchley, a professor of philosophy at the New School, and Jamieson Webster, a practicing psychoanalyst and author, offer a novel take on this most commented-upon of dramas. It is as much an astute account of the reactions of various philosophers and psychoanalysts to the play—and their often profound and sometimes wacky analyses—as a chronicle of the authors’ own passionate response to virtually every aspect of the tragedy. The authors have an impressive mastery of all the factual details of the play . . . their discussions of such thinkers as Hegel and Nietzsche or Freud and Lacan are at once pithy and perceptive.”

“Critchley and Webster, a married couple, have clearly been conducting a long-running two-person seminar on 'Hamlet.' They call their book the 'late-flowering fruit of a shared obsession.' Desire and its repression, they conclude, might be too small a frame for 'Hamlet.' It’s better to think about the play in terms of love and its internal contradictions. They argue that we tell the story wrong when we say that Freud used the idea of the Oedipus complex to understand 'Hamlet.' In fact, it was the other way around: 'Hamlet' helped Freud understand, and perhaps even invent, psychoanalysis. The Oedipus complex is a misnomer. It should be called the Hamlet complex.”

“A treat. The authors — a philosophy professor and a psychoanalyst who are married to each other — claim no special expertise and argue no ironclad theory. They investigate, speculate and propose [...] A springy diving board poised over a deep pool of thought. Find one you like the looks of, bounce a bit, then plunge in.”

“A philosophy professor and a psychoanalyst—also husband and wife—take Hamlet well beyond the confines of literary criticism and Shakespearean scholarship. . . . In a tone that is companionable and conversational despite the authors’ obvious erudition, the book examines Hamlet through a variety of lenses—philosophical, psychological, political, Christian redemptive—without resolving the tension between thought and action that remains the essence of the work and generates so much fascination with it. . . . Critchley and Webster provide plenty of food for thought and fuel for obsession.”

“The gap between thought and action has rarely been contemplated with so much intellectual excitement and energy as it is in this book. Indeed, this study of Hamlet is a kind of thrill ride, a breathless investigation of some of the most important ideas from philosophy and psychoanalysis from the Modern era. But the great pleasure it holds in store for most readers has to do with its profound understanding of reflection, and its discontents.”

“A hugely enjoyable, aphoristic, punky, intellectually dazzling bomb of a book: a serious provocation to both the biscuit-box Shakespeare industry and, more widely, to contemporary literary culture.”

“Critchley and Webster don’t want to write just another book about Hamlet, and they are willing to be rashly provocative.”

““Critchley and Webster advance a daring commentary on the Bard’s Hamlet. . . . A spirited literary foray by audacious interlopers.”

“Impressive…Critchley and Webster offer some intriguing and original thoughts on what Hamlet has to say about shame and love, taking up a new tone that suddenly makes the play feel intimately connected to both the authors themselves and the state of the world today…it's refreshing to read such unorthodox and enthusiastic explorations of canonical literature. Critchley and Webster manage to show both how philosophy and psychology illuminate Hamlet and how Hamlet, conversely, has illuminated those fields and the worlds around them.”

“Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster read Shakespeare’s Hamlet in such a way that its homonymous character becomes more contemporary with us, 21st-century brooding and melancholic urbanites, than with its original audience. Approaching the play through a double philosophical and psychoanalytic lens, the authors foreground what is most vibrant in it: the power of powerlessness, meaninglessness, and death.”

“Stimulating and often quirkily expressed.”

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