Killing the Dead: Duncan’s Corpse and Hamlet’s Ghost

Susan Zimmerman

in The Early Modern Corpse and Shakespeare's Theatre

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print February 2005 | ISBN: 9780748621033
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652198 | DOI:
Killing the Dead: Duncan’s Corpse and Hamlet’s Ghost

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This chapter argues that in Macbeth and Hamlet, Shakespeare comes brilliantly close to representing the unrepresentable; that is, the indeterminate being which escapes signification, the corpse itself. The argument is that these plays tap into early modern cultural anxieties at the same time that they stretch the possibilities of theatrical representation, conjuring powerfully that which cannot be given substantive shape, the dissoluble and transfixing corpse. Macbeth is hyperbolic, over the top: the play's relentlessly sustained death-in-life ambience is itself a sensational tour de force. It is suggested that Hamlet's ghost, the corpse in complete steel, represents a paradox which Hamlet, at the cost of great suffering, apprehends keenly: that is, the subsumption of his father's person in an undiscriminating, obliterating deliquescence.

Keywords: Macbeth; Hamlet; Shakespeare; Duncan; corpse; ghost

Chapter.  10643 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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