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'NOTHING IS BUT WHAT IS NOT'

A Comparison of Hamlet and Macbeth with Special Reference to the Role of the Supernatural

by

Anders Klitgaard


Dissertation submitted for the M.Litt. in Shakespeare Studies

at the University of St Andrews

30 August 1997

 

ABSTRACT

Paying due attention to the contemporary beliefs of the two plays on the subject of the supernatural, the dissertation attempts to undertake a comparison of Hamlet and Macbeth. The reading of Hamlet and Macbeth upon which the comparison rests must acknowledge its being ultimately indebted to the Romantics: as regards the approach to the plays, there is a recognition of being reader, not playgoer; as regards the plays themselves, there is an appreciation of the notion of character. Also twentieth century critics have informed the reading of the two plays: A C Bradley, G Wilson Knight and Harold Bloom are particularly important in terms of general influence.
It is the main objective of the dissertation to determine to what extent Hamlet and Macbeth resemble each other when examined specifically from the perspective of the supernatural. The dissertation will conclude that Macbeth has the more intense supernatural atmosphere. Paradoxically, however, the witches, who incarnate the supernatural, are less important to Macbeth than the Ghost is to Hamlet. This is because the witches, unlike the Ghost, aren't characters proper. In opposition to the view that Hamlet is guilty of procrastination, the dissertation will account for Hamlet's reasons for postponing his revenge. The reading of Macbeth will elaborate how evil, from an objective realm, incarnates in humans.