What’s happiness in Hamlet?

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaper


Rephrasing Dover Wilson’s famous question highlights in Hamlet a relationship between event and emotion. This, a play best known for its exploration of melancholy, can also be read as a meditation on the good life, as negative reflection upon utopia. Its account of suffering bears upon the nature of happiness, even if the latter is largely absent. The paper will explore Shakespeare’s use of ‘hap’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘happy’ and argue that the play imagines happiness as serendipity, or the evasion of conventional moral goods and totalising social systems. It will see Hamlet’s study of political repression as part of a broader thesis: that happiness lies in ‘hap’ (suddenness, spontaneity, chance) rather than bureaucratic prescription. The conditions for this kind of utopian freedom, however, are difficult to achieve, and the play’s tragic sting can be read in this light
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2011
EventShakespeare and Early Modern Emotion - University of Hull
Duration: 30 Jun 2011 → …


ConferenceShakespeare and Early Modern Emotion
Period30/06/11 → …
Internet address


  • Emotion
  • happiness
  • utopia


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