Shakespeare’s Hamlet is considered by many to be the cornerstone of the English literary canon, a play that remains universally relevant. Yet it seems likely that we have spent so long reading the play for its capacity to reflect ourselves that we have lost sight of the thing itself. The goal of this book is to look beyond the Hamlet that has bedazzled critics for centuries, to seek to apprehend the play in all of its historical distinctness. This is not simply the search for what the play meant to early modern audiences, less still the pursuit of the author’s intention. Instead, the “tain” of Hamlet is offered as the historical, material evidence of how the play came to be, from its sources in Danish legend to the contemporary historical forces that shaped the business world of Elizabethan players and playwrights. Drawing on methods from textual studies and cultural history, this investigation into the origins of Shakespeare’s most famous play unravels a number of longstanding myths about the players, the printers, the patrons, and other historical figures whose lives intersected with the making of Hamlet, including the Bard himself.
Laurie Johnson is Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies and a member of the Public Memory Research Cluster at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. His publications include The Wolf Man’s Burden (Cornell University Press, 2001) and Rapt in Secret Studies: Emerging Shakespeares (Cambridge Scholars, 2010, co-edited with Darryl Chalk), along with articles and chapters on cultural theory, Early Modern studies, ethics, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and Shakespeare studies. An edited collection on The Early Modern Body-Mind: Embodiment and Cognition in Shakespeare’s Theatre (co-edited with John Sutton and Evelyn Tribble) is forthcoming with Routledge in 2013.