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Schmitt’s Hamlet or Hecuba and the Historical Archive

Drew Daniel’s “‘Neither Simple Allusions Nor True Mirrorings’: Seeing Double with Carl Schmitt” appears in Telos 153 (Winter 2010). Read the full version at TELOS Online website.

In response to recent criticisms of Schmitt’s argument as “tendentious” and symptomatic, this essay seeks to perform a reparative reading of the central claim of Hamlet or Hecuba for a substantial resemblance between the events within Shakespeare’s play and the murky circumstances surrounding the death of King James’s father, Lord Darnley. First, the historical archive surrounding Lord Darnley’s death is sounded for evidence that might support Schmitt’s claim and illuminate unresolved questions within the plot of Hamlet (in particular, the mysterious “sins” referred to by the Ghost). Secondly, the archive of James’s own published writings on sovereignty, demonology, and witchcraft are placed into relation with Jean Bodin’s similar writings, and brought to bear upon Schmitt’s reading of Shakespeare’s ghost scenes. The cruxes within Shakespeare’s play and Schmitt’s text about the ghost scene (“spirit of health” or “goblin damned”? Catholic or Protestant?) illuminate the relationship between sovereignty and demonology in early modern England: the two discourses are linked by the attempt to establish the divine status of sovereignty and the corresponding subordination of demons and ghosts to theologically established limits and laws. Departing from Schmitt’s initial arguments, this essay extends them in order to illuminate the political-theological terrain within which Hamlet functions.

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