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Shakespeare in Southern Africa

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The Life in Stories, Life as Stories: Hamlet and narrative reanimation

Anna Kurian

Abstract


This article studies Shakespeare’s employment of narrative and storytelling in terms of ‘life after death’ in Hamlet. It argues that Shakespeare posits and postulates the possibility of life after death not in spiritual terms but in terms of the narratives that one leaves behind, in the stories, enunciated and heard by others, that perpetuate, after a fashion, one’s life. Hamlet shows us, readers and viewers, that life and the afterlife are about stories and storytelling. I contend that while his natural life does end, Hamlet’s life continues via the narrative authority he bestows on Horatio, making Horatio the author of his story and in doing so prolonging it but also leaving it inconclusive. I identify a mode of reanimation, as one might think of it, in Hamlet: in addition to worms which live off a corpse and thus reanimate the dead there is also a revivification which takes place via the narratives and speech of the living about the dead. The narrative reanimation of those who die perpetuates their lives: keeping them alive in minimal ways and making of them a form of the living dead.




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