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  • Avant-Garde Hamlet: Text, Stage, Screen by R. S. White
  • Bríd Phillips
White, R. S., Avant-Garde Hamlet: Text, Stage, Screen (Shakespeare and the Stage), Madison, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015; hardcover; pp. 218; R.R.P. US $78.00, £52.95; ISBN 9781611478556.

R. S. White begins by placing Hamlet in the avant-garde aesthetic. He suggests it is a play that struggles against conformity whilst incorporating an edge of provocative novelty. White convincingly argues for this unique categorization of the play by outlining what Hamlet has to offer the avant-garde creative. Here, White acknowledges that he does not seek to universalize the play, but rather, he wishes to celebrate 'its inherently experimental and revisionist qualities that make it always, by its very nature, an oppositional, avant-garde work of art' (p. 4). White achieves his aim through deep and diffuse engagement with a plethora of instances of scholarship including literary, theatrical, and cinematic exemplars of the avantgarde milieu. In particular, he notes the metatheatrical aspects of Hamlet as one facet which draws attention to the modes and mechanics of this artistic form. Another mode of the genre is exemplified by the numerous direct addresses to the audience which need to be considered in some way as an Elizabethan form of the radical. White suggests that the soliloquy works in two ways in Hamlet—both as the direct address form and also as the actor speaking to himself.

White unpacks the Hamlet text to expose its contemporary and experimental roots that sustain its position as a creative touchstone for the avant-garde movement. Using the idea of madness as one example, he traces a historical line of thinking from Shakespeare to modern times that aligns the play with subversive and alternative positions. By situating Hamlet alongside avant-garde offshoots from Tristram Shandy through to Ulysses, whilst not forgetting the work of writers such as John Updike, this book galvanizes the field with the strength of the artistic disruptions spawned by Hamlet. Such comparative work serves to underline the reasons why the play was adopted by each generation's avant-garde dissenters. Stage and screen productions of the play earn similar treatment as White demonstrates the persistent and unrelenting alternative element that can be found in Hamlet. Nor does White insist that Hamlet is always disruptive, noting those times when the play was subsumed into conformist renditions which make departures appear more discordant. White offers an absorbing insight into why [End Page 265] the play 'never seems to lose its radical edge' (p. 186) and presents us with a comprehensive overview of an ever-adaptable play with global appeal. [End Page 266]

Bríd Phillips
The University of Western Australia


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pp. 265-266
Launched on MUSE
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