'Most retrograde to our desire': translating recusant identity in Hamlet

Richard Chamberlain, Liz Oakley-Brown (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


This essay offers a reading of Hamlet and Shakespearian ‘refusal’ in the light of recent translation theory. The title character of this play is one of a number who withdraw their assent from social participation and consequently disrupt legitimation of the existing, exploitative, social order. Considering at first the possibility of an historicist interpretation which would see the play as ‘translating’ cultural anxieties about Elizabethan religious dissidence into early modern drama, the essay concludes that this essentially communicative move would, in fact, run counter to the principle of intransigence embodied in the play. Arguing that contextual historicism and much recent translation theory share a common problematic of participation and exchange – which is ostensibly liberating but ultimately serves to reproduce the ‘bad’ society – the essay turns to Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Task of the Translator’ (1923) for an alternative logic of translatability-as-refusal which illuminates more faithfully the nature of Hamlet’s negativity and its political effects
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShakespeare and the Translation of Identity in Early Modern England
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages186
ISBN (Print)9780826441690
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011

Publication series

NameContinuum Shakespeare studies


  • Translation theory
  • Shakespeare's refusers


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