n Shakespeare in Southern Africa - The myth of the multitude : "The displeased commons of the citie" - : essay

Volume 26, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-582X



Heiner Müller observed that in "The break-in of time into the play constitutes mythos" - by which I understand him to have meant that "myth" was one possible response to the social, political and psychological demands of Shakespeare's context. In 1600 the times would press on the text and performance of the play at many points: politically, the succession crisis which faces Denmark haunted Elizabeth's reign for decades; personally, the death of the playwright's son Hamnet (aged only 11) in 1596 may have felt like a prefiguration of the end of the Danish Prince. 's transformation of both social history and individual experience into myth is of its nature tragic: James I and VI (the philosopher king?) and Fortinbras (the soldier) succeed, but Hamnet, like , dies, although he, too, "was likely, had he been put on,/ To have proved most royal". (5.2.404-405) This is a reminder that "the category of myth [even in the perhaps special sense suggested here] reflects the interests of those who employ it." Myths are imagined rather than revealed. In the light of these and further observations, this paper sets out to examine whether or not the image and action of the crowd in a sequence of Shakespeare's works can be said to achieve anything like the dimensions of myth. This project has been inspired and given traction by Peter Titlestad's "Hamlet the Populist Politician" and Kai Wiegandt's .

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