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Caesar at Elsinore: Topicality and the History of Hamlet

 Feelings in the Room: Theatre Audiences and their Emotions

Hamlet and His Mother, Eugene Delacoix, 1849. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Date: Friday, June 27, 2014
Time: 4:00pm
Location: Room 202A, Learning and Innovation Building, The University of Queensland St Lucia Campus
Presenter: Laurie Johnson (University of Southern Queensland)


As Lisa Hopkins argues in The Cultural Uses of the Caesars on the English Renaissance Stage, a spate of thematic correspondences between Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Hamlet lend weight to the idea that the historical narrative of the Julio-Claudian dynasty provides a frame through which English audiences would have understood the trials of the Danish court both in Shakespeare’s play and in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. This seminar will distill some of the arguments presented in The Tain of Hamlet regarding the value of highly localized topical reading as one of the forms of evidence on which can be built a textually-evidenced cultural history of Shakespeare’s play. If we look to the ways in which the historical narrative of the Julio-Claudian dynasty is referenced in both the Q1 and Q2 texts of Hamlet in myopic detail, and with reference to primary archival materials from the Elizabethan era, we can pinpoint 1. evidence that a version of Hamlet could well have been performed by Shakespeare’s company at Oxford in 1593, which the Q1 residually records; and 2. grounds on which to argue that both the Q1 and Q2 versions provide topical references to a significant Elizabethan figure with a distinctly Julio-Claudian name: the lawyer and public servant, Julius Caesar.

LAURIE JOHNSON is Associate Professor in English and Cultural Studies at the University of Southern Queensland. His publications include The Tain of Hamlet (Cambridge Scholars, 2013), The Wolf Man’s Burden (Cornell UP, 2001), two edited collections – Embodied Cognition and Shakespeare’s Theatre: The Early Modern Body-Mind (edited with John Sutton and Lyn Tribble, Routledge, 2014), Rapt in Secret Studies: Emerging Shakespeares (with Darryl Chalk, Cambridge Scholars, 2010)—and articles and book chapters on Cultural Theory, Early Modern Studies, Ethics, Psychoanalysis, Shakespeare Studies, and related fields.