Too much in the son : Hamlet and the nineteenth-century novel of male development

Dobrutsky, Jay Stephen, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Virginia
Cantor, Paul, Department of English, University of Virginia

After Pip, the hero of Great Expectations, attends a performance of Hamlet at the center of Dickens' novel, he is troubled by the dream of having to "play Hamlet . . . before twenty thousand people, without knowing twenty words of it." This dissertation explores the ways in which the problem of playing Hamlet is central to the nineteenth-century novel of male development. The debate over the cultural use of Hamlet emerges in critical and theatrical representations of his character. This dissertation shows how three novels of male development reflect the debate at the heart of the larger reception of Hamlet's character.

First, I examine the ways in which the eighteenth-century English reception of Hamlet produced a character that both inspired and troubled the novel of male development. I then show how Goethe engages the contradictions implicit in the use of Hamlet as a model for bourgeois male identity in his inaugural Bildungsroman, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. The next two chapters examine the ways in which "Hamlets" produced in nineteenth-century English culture are contested at the center of two novels of development . By contextualizing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein within the Romantic reception of Hamlet's character, I show how competing Hamlets are stitched together in the character of Victor Frankenstein. Next, by reading Great Expectations in light of Dickens' interest in producing historically authentic and ennobling versions of Shakespeare's plays on the Victorian stage, I show how the story of Pip's development reflects a suspicion on Dickens' part that Shakespearean heroism could no longer speak to the concerns and needs facing the nineteenth-century male.

The Epilogue examines the influence of the nineteenth-century novelization of Hamlet on modern notions of male subjectivity, particularly in Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex. While my main focus remains the relationship between nineteenth-century Hamlets and the English novel of male development, this study, in its largest sense, examines how the reception of Shakespearean character has shaped notions of both novelistic character and human subjectivity.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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