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French Reflections in the Shakespearean TragicThree Case Studies$
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Richard Hillman

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780719087172

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719087172.001.0001

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Hamlet in three French lights

Hamlet in three French lights

(p.14) 2 Hamlet in three French lights
French Reflections in the Shakespearean Tragic

Richard Hillman

Manchester University Press

It is proposed that the central personage of Shakespeare’s tragedy derives his elusiveness and complexity in part from three clusters of French intertexts. The first, which produces a ‘philosophical Hamlet’, has as its centre the Essais of Montaigne, often cited for verbal and thematic parallels but here approached chiefly through images, especially that of the self-disarming fencer, which bring out the ambivalence of the protagonist’s role as revenger. The second group of texts (and contexts), discussed under the heading of the ‘political Hamlet’, also resonates with the play’s (anti)climactic fencing match but by evoking an incident in the life of Antoine de Bourbon (the father of Henri IV) which figures prominently in contemporary accounts. A parallel thereby emerges between Shakespeare’s character and that weak-willed prince’s failure to fulfil his potential as a hero of French Protestantism. Finally, Hamlet’s ‘psychological’ aspect is approached through the family drama of Gaston de Foix, whose destruction of his son is recounted in the volume of François de Belleforest’s histoires tragiques that also contains the story of Amleth. The narrative of Gaston and his son is also shown to intersect with the Edmund plot of King Lear.

Keywords:   Hamlet, Montaigne, Essais, fencing, Antoine de Bourbon, François de Belleforest, histoires tragiques, Gaston de Foix, Edmund, King Lear

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