Hamlet's (Un)manly Grief: the Cult of the Past in the Age of Theatrical Power

  • Received : 2017.01.31
  • Accepted : 2017.02.12
  • Published : 2017.02.28


The mourning and grief practice richly registered in Shakespeare's Hamlet is one of the abiding themes that critics have been fascinated with. This paper attempts to take a fresh look at the issue by building its arguments on Benjamin's insight that the modern art (mechanically) reproducing the exhibition value brings about the destruction of the ritual value and favors the conditions of melancholy. Instead of taking for granted that Hamlet's performance of grief is fundamentally different from those of other characters such as Gertrude, Ophelia, and Laertes, this paper argues that Hamlet's performance comes to be recognized masculine and different from others, only because he presents himself to be so through his theatrical performance as well as his princely power that the subjects (others in the story) ought to ascribe to. To prove this point, this paper closely analyzes Hamlet's rhetorics and the ways he constructs his mourning self, which is emblematic of the shift in art history that Benjamin has characterized with the terms of "ritual value" and "exhibition value." In conclusion, this paper suggests that Shakespeare's Hamlet marks the change of the historical horizon, a permanent removal from the past in which the ritual value had been once protected, pushing us to a new age to live with melancholy and the disconnection from things and their muted language.