29072 - English Literature (1) (2nd cycle)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student will have mastered the main lines of development of English Literature and drama, in relation to European culture                   

Course contents

Hamlet(s): Subjectivity, agency, knowledge”

This course will discuss the development of the myth of Hamlet, from its pre-Shakespearian Scandinavian origins, to earlier Elizabethan versions of the drama, to the three Shakespeare texts of Hamlet and beyond, to later adaptations, rewritings and film versions. It will also enquire into the centrality of Shakespeare’s tragedy within modern and postmodern cultural theory: from Nietzsche to Freud to Lacan to Derrida.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is often considered the first modern tragedy, dramatizing the inner conflicts of a split and uncertain subject. Subjectivity and its discontents is a central issue in the play, as is the question of agency, given the protagonist’s difficult relationship with action. This theme extends significantly to the question of female agency: especially, on the one hand, the suspected complicity of Gertrude in the murder of her husband, and, on the other hand, the denial of agency to the mistreated Ophelia.

Equally important in the tragedy is the question – central to the early seventeenth century in which the play was conceived – of knowledge: self-knowledge, knowledge of others, knowledge of the truth, knowledge of the otherworldly. This course will contextualize the play with reference to early modern debates about the subject, about agency and about knowledge, from philosophy to religion to politics. It will also focus on treatments of these issues in earlier and later versions of the Hamlet story.


Primary texts

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. Washington, D.C.: Folger Shakespeare Library (Digital edition, available online)

Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda: Tales from Norse Mythology, ed. Jean I. Young. Berkeley: University of California Press (selected pages, available online)

The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, tr. Jesse L. Byock. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. (selected pages, available online)

Saxo Grammaticus, The History of the Danes, Books 1-9, ed. Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson. Woodbridge:London DS Brewer (Books 3 and 4, available online)

Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. New York: Grove Press, 1966 (available online)

Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet. London: Tinder Press, 2020 (selected pages, available online)

Critical and cultural texts

Ernest Jones, Hamlet and Oedipus. London: Gollancz, 1949 (selected pages, available online)

Janet Adelman, “Man and Wife is One Flesh: Hamlet and the Confrontation with the Maternal Body”, 1992 (available online)

Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001 (selected pages, available online)

Other critical and historical material will be provided during the course.

Teaching methods

Lectures (initially online); the reading of primary and secondary texts; class discussions; the viewing of performative material.

Assessment methods

Essay and oral exam


NB The programme remains unvaried for non-attending students  

Teaching tools

Video and digital material.

Office hours

See the website of Keir Douglas Elam