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Shakespeare: Hamlet

4. The Role of Hamlet

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About this Lecture


The role of Hamlet is in many ways absurd. Only Iago is as long, and at c. 1300 of c. 3900 lines, Hamlet’s role is (a) exceptionally dominant and (b) extremely demanding. Almost constantly on stage, and running a very wide gamut of emotions and moods including the volatility of the ‘antic disposition’, the role is (despite the famous soliloquies) predominantly in prose. At once melancholic and manic, it must have been a major professional challenge for its creator, probably Burbage, and in its constant self-awareness is also at the heart of the metatheatre, balanced between acting (doing) and acting (pretending).


In this course, Dr John Lennard explores Shakespeare's Hamlet. In the first module, we explore the idea of Hamlet as a revenge tragedy, and think about how Shakespeare has complicated the basic structure. In the second module, we consider the character of the Ghost, who is one of the most unusual ghosts in Shakespearean drama. In the third module, we think about the comparisons that the play insists upon, as well as the impact that "dramatic doubling" may have had on the play. In the fourth module, we look at the role of Hamlet himself, an exceptionally dominant and demanding role. And in the fifth module, we turn to the concept of metatheatre and its pervasiveness in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.


Born in Bristol, and educated at Oxford and St Louis, Dr John Lennard has taught English, American, and Commonwealth Literature in Cambridge, London, and Jamaica over more than twenty years. He has written two widely used textbooks (on poetry and drama) and monographs on Shakespeare, Paul Scott, Nabokov, and Faulkner, as well as two collections of essays on contemporary genre writers in crime, science fiction and fantasy, and romance. Enthusiastic, discursive, widely knowledgeable, and a demon for punctuation (on which he has also published extensively), he has been a popular Summer School Course Leader and lecturer for the Institute of Continuing Education since 1992.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Lennard, J. (2018, August 15). Shakespeare: Hamlet - The Role of Hamlet [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Lennard, J. "Shakespeare: Hamlet – The Role of Hamlet." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,