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Shakespeare and the Truth-TellerConfronting the Cynic Ideal$
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David Hershinow

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474439572

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474439572.001.0001

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Cynicism, Melancholy and Hamlet’s Memento Moriae

Cynicism, Melancholy and Hamlet’s Memento Moriae

(p.146) Chapter 4 Cynicism, Melancholy and Hamlet’s Memento Moriae
Shakespeare and the Truth-Teller

David Hershinow

Edinburgh University Press

Chapter 4 follows Shakespeare as he explores the lines of affiliation between the Cynic-inspired fantasy of unstoppable critical agency and his period’s romanticized portrait of intellectual melancholy. Drawing support from a range of early modern sources, including Robert Burton’s similar appropriation of Diogenes in his preface to The Anatomy of Melancholy, it shows that Shakespeare has Hamlet lay claim to a specifically Cynic form of thoughtful sadness, one that posits contemplative self-enclosure as public activism’s final frontier. After linking both Hegel’s and Marx’s philosophies of history to the legacy of Hamlet’s Cynic melancholy, the chapter shows how Shakespeare’s ultimate interest in problematizing this stance allows us to turn the tables on Hamlet’s modern philosophical reception: instead of using modern philosophy as a lens for better understanding an early modern Hamlet, we can use an early modern Hamlet as a lens for better understanding the conditions and limits of modern philosophy.

Keywords:   Cynicism, melancholy, Cynic melancholy, Hamlet, Robert Burton, Hegel

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