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The Emperor's New Critique

From: New Literary History
Volume 34, Number 4, Autumn 2003
pp. 659-675 | 10.1353/nlh.2004.0010

Abstract

"The Emperor's New Critique" reads Hans Christian Andersen's famous 1837 tale as critiquing constitutional monarchy's endemic disarray and satirizing its opponents. If, as theorists from Sigmund Freud to Jacques Derrida have noted, the tale's truth is the fantasy-desire for the kind of truth that can be revealed, what happens when what is revealed is not naked power but a weak ruler? Does the public really want transparent government? Like Hamlet's father's ghostly whispering, like Dupin's Queen's purloined love letter, like the prophecy whispered to Laius and Jocasta, the weavers' description of beautiful cloth has the power to topple a king. To those who listen to such fabrications, the words are material and "true." They sell a particular idea that the king has something to be embarrassed about. Disgraceful revelation is the basis for all four stories, each of which is resolved by an act of discovering, recovering, uncovering, or covering up.



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