Four Diseases of Social Speech in Hamlet

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The vast multitudes of Hamlet studies almost predominantly concern themselves with the central figure of Hamlet himself. Outside of this figure, very little attention has been payed to the swirling political malefactions that surround the Danish Prince in the play. In this paper I will explore the effect that events occurring outside of his mammoth personality have on informing his selfhood, and conversely how his character sheds light upon those social ills that comprise his immediate environment. By running the gamut of major political disturbances, war (the threat of Fortenbras), revolution (the humanism of Hamlet and Horatio), civil disorder (the coup of Laertes) and social degeneration (the corruption of Claudius’ court), the play is not only a piece of masterful drama but a sophisticated meditation on politics. These crises being concentrated around the figure of an uncommonly loquacious and anxious Prince seems to suggest that these crises are indeed social anxieties of speech.

Hence, the speech philosophy of the German sociologist Eugen Roenstock-Huessy will be reviewed in the service of this task. Rosenstock recommended a dialogical theory of speech as a new foundation for the social sciences, an alternative direction in contrast to the materialist and idealist strands of social thought. His emphasis upon the dynamics of command and response helps to diagnose the various political crises as breakdowns of social speech. Applying such a speech philosophy to the most prolix play in the Western canon allows us to diagnose political ills as aberrations in the chain of social dialogue. Silence, misunderstanding, inarticulateness, disrespect and decadence within social speech inevitably bring about political fractures.


Keywords: Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Speech, Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies , Political Science, Politics
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr Andrew Russ

Casual Lecturer, Adelaide University, Centre for European Studies
Adelaide, SA, Australia

Andrew Russ has recently finished his PhD in European Studies with a dissertation entitled "The Illusion of History: Time and its Absence in the Radical Political Imagination", a study of Rousseau, Marx and Foucault and their connection to Immanuel Kant. He is currently seeking a publisher for this work. He is also a founding member of an experimental theatre company in Adelaide, The Border Project, which works on self devised shows for the stage.

Ref: H08P0414