The Maritime Modernity of Hamlet

Yi Wu

Abstract


This essay investigates the rôle of the North Atlantic as a silent actant in the dramatic economy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It takes the series of actions of Hamlet’s deportation by sea, his nocturnal transformation on board and his surprise return with the pirate ship as the axis around which the play turns. It examines the movement of deterritorialization and mimesis in the constitution of sovereignty by the ceaseless transference of piracy and inter-imperial rivalries and passages. Interpreting Hamlet as being not just a play of nothingness and nihilism, born of and residing in the interstice of disjointed historical time, this essay argues that Hamlet is a play that inherits and inhabits the cranny of fractured historical space from Elizabethan to Jacobean England when the English isle became what Carl Schmitt called the “agency of the spatial turn to a new nomos of the earth.” The old nomos of the earth, terra firma in the Greco-Roman and feudal senses, was challenged by the new freedom of the sea which demanded a separate and distinct global order. This essay poses the question whether the dramatic economy of Hamlet as split by and revolving around the physical presence and symbolic charges of the North Atlantic in fact constitutes the irrhythm and mis-punctuation of this spatial turn toward a maritime modernity.

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