‘Flattering Unction’: Cosmetics in <i>Hamlet</i>

Farah Karim-Cooper

in Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print July 2006 | ISBN: 9780748619931
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652204 | DOI:
‘Flattering Unction’: Cosmetics in Hamlet

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This chapter argues that the use of cosmetic signifiers in Hamlet ironically help to uncover the play's preoccupation with the deceptive visibility of power while it demonstrates their meta-theatrical utility. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, cosmetics are deemed valuable because of their poetic and theatrical uses; cosmetic language is often used ironically, recalling, but not necessarily reinforcing, the contemporary arguments condemning women and their technology of beauty. Hamlet combined theatricality, cosmetics and traps to attempt to draw out and extinguish corruption from the court. Cosmetics come into play when considering the Tudor court: Shakespeare – like Thomas Middleton, John Webster and Ben Jonson – recognised the magnificent effect painted faces had on audiences, and therefore demonstrated through his own art that performance necessitates cosmetic materiality.

Keywords: cosmetic signifiers; Hamlet; Shakespeare; cosmetics; cosmetic language; beauty; Thomas Middleton; John Webster; Ben Jonson

Chapter.  9594 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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