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Sigma Alpha ElsinoreThe Culture of Drunkenness in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Sigma Alpha ElsinoreThe Culture of Drunkenness in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Claudius likes to party—a bit too much. He frequently binge drinks, is arguably an alcoholic, but is not an aberration. Hamlet says that Denmark is internationally known for heavy drinking. That’s what Shakespeare would have heard in the sixteenth century. By the seventeenth, English writers feared that Denmark had taught their own nation its drinking habits. Synthesizing criticism on alcoholism as an individual problem in Shakespeare’s texts and times with scholarship on national drinking habits in the early modern age, this essay asks what the tragedy of alcoholism looks like when located not on the level of the individual but on the level of a culture, as Shakespeare depicts in Hamlet. Our window into these early modern cultures of drunkenness is sociological studies of American college fraternities plus social-learning theories that explain how one person—one culture—teaches another its habits. For Claudius’s alcoholism is both culturally learned and culturally significant. And, as in fraternities, alcoholism in Hamlet is bound up with ethnicity, wealth, masculinity, and tragedy. Thus alcohol imagistically reappears in key moments of Hamlet—the vial of “cursed hebona,” Ophelia’s liquid death, and the poisoned cup in the final scene—that stand out in recent performances and adaptations with alcoholic Claudiuses and Gertrudes. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png English Language Notes Duke University Press

Sigma Alpha ElsinoreThe Culture of Drunkenness in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

English Language Notes , Volume 60 (1) – Apr 1, 2022

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Copyright
Copyright © 2022 Regents of the University of Colorado
ISSN
0013-8282
eISSN
2573-3575
DOI
10.1215/00138282-9560210
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Claudius likes to party—a bit too much. He frequently binge drinks, is arguably an alcoholic, but is not an aberration. Hamlet says that Denmark is internationally known for heavy drinking. That’s what Shakespeare would have heard in the sixteenth century. By the seventeenth, English writers feared that Denmark had taught their own nation its drinking habits. Synthesizing criticism on alcoholism as an individual problem in Shakespeare’s texts and times with scholarship on national drinking habits in the early modern age, this essay asks what the tragedy of alcoholism looks like when located not on the level of the individual but on the level of a culture, as Shakespeare depicts in Hamlet. Our window into these early modern cultures of drunkenness is sociological studies of American college fraternities plus social-learning theories that explain how one person—one culture—teaches another its habits. For Claudius’s alcoholism is both culturally learned and culturally significant. And, as in fraternities, alcoholism in Hamlet is bound up with ethnicity, wealth, masculinity, and tragedy. Thus alcohol imagistically reappears in key moments of Hamlet—the vial of “cursed hebona,” Ophelia’s liquid death, and the poisoned cup in the final scene—that stand out in recent performances and adaptations with alcoholic Claudiuses and Gertrudes.

Journal

English Language NotesDuke University Press

Published: Apr 1, 2022

References