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.l'-1'\.L..rn DCJ.\.J.\.! Hamlet: Nationhood and Identity 'What is my nation?' wondered the Irishman, Captain Macmorris, before the walls of Harfleur; and Henry V is among other things the story of national identity, the fusing of English, Irish, Scots, and Welsh into British. To this theme is assimilated the personal identity of the English (or Anglo-Welsh) leader, Henry. Henry Vis dated with certainty to '599, a year or so before Hamlet. The later play takes much further the sketch of nationhood and identity presented in Henry V. What had been a set of literals, the overt presence of four peoples, takes on in Hamlet a largely metaphorical status. Everything in Hamlet, whatever its physical reality, is in the end subsumed into Hamlet. Events have meaning as they bear upon the consciousness at the centre of the play. And for Hamlet, the drama of his consciousness unfolds through areas of national definition. The geography of Europe becomes, in the end, countries of the mind. This geography is distinguished by the concentration and certitude of its range. Hamlet is, if not a Nordic, most certainly a northern play. Nothing in it is exotic or oriental, virtually nothing is even Mediterranean . The mousetrap play 'is the image of a murder done in Vienna' (m.ii.248), the victim is called Gonzago, and the play 'written in very choice Italian' (m.ii.273-4). The remoteness of place and language serves the immediate needs of discretion. Otherwise, there are a few references to classical Rome. Claudius is guarded (incompetently) by 'Switzers' (IV.v.97). And that is the sum of the marginalia. Everything eise is focused upon six countries: Denmark, Norway, Poland, Germany, England , France. It is a northern cluster, and even France consists here only of Normandy and Paris. They appear as real options on the play's literal (and Hamlet's mental) landscape. 'Hamlet ... seems to be limited to the single place of Elsinore, but much of the effect of the play comes from the desperate effort of hero and play to fulfill the standard pattern, to break out of the first place and to reach the second place." But the play remains obstinately rooted in Elsinore, and the radial impulses of Hamlet, to and from the circumference, end in himself alone. Geography becomes identity . I wish here to trace the meaning of the six major nations in Hamlet. They hold different significances. France implies a cultural model: Germany a role, and an escape: Norway a mirror analogue: Poland a course UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME XLIX, NUMBER 4, SUMMER 1')80 0042-0247180/0800-0283 $01·50/0 © UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS .l.04 KA Ll't1 Jj,t;KKY of action. Denmark and England hold the deepest meanings for nationhood and identity, and these countries must begin and end our enquiry. DENMARK Hamlet is a Dane. His consciousness is rooted in the collective of a single nation state. But that does not impart a security of identity to Hamlet. Dane, Denmark offer a primary quibble of meaning, one that Shakespeare had exploited as early asKing John ('''Tis France, for England." "England, for itself": 11.i.202).2 Dane is a native of Denmark, or its King. Denmarkis the realm, or synecdoche for king. And here is part, at least, of the source of Hamlet's intense mental turbulence during I.ii, for the two words are played on repeatedly. 'You cannot speak of reason to the Dane, / And lose your voice: says Claudius to Laertes (l.ii.44-5): Hamlet, son of the late Dane, has lost his. 'The head is not more native to the heart, / The hand more instrumental to the mouth, / Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father' (47-9) refers to Laertes and Polonius, and can have only the most discordant of resonances for Hamlet. Then comes the key quibble, Gertrude's 'And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark' (69). The Queen's tactic is to convey a reproach via an ambiguity. The apparent meaning is 'Don't be so eager to leave your own country'; the covert rebuke is 'don't look with such hostility at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 283-303
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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