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Rudat, W.E. (1981). Ernest Jones' Hamlet Interpretation and Nevile's Translation of Seneca's Oedipus. Am. Imago, 38(4):369-387.

(1981). American Imago, 38(4):369-387

Ernest Jones' Hamlet Interpretation and Nevile's Translation of Seneca's Oedipus

Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, Ph.D.

This article compares Shakespeare's Hamlet with one of the elaborations of the Oedipus myth, Alexander Nevile's translation of Seneca's Oedipus, published in 1581. It specifically addresses itself to J. Philip Brockbank's critique of Jones in his 1977 Shakespeare Survey article, “Hamlet the Bonesetter.” Brockbank argues: “The postulated nature of the ‘unconsciousbeing what it is, … there can be no accessible evidence to demonstrate Shakespeare's complicity, as it were, in Ernest Jones' understanding. We are left to assume some obscure collaboration between the unconscious responses of playwright, of character and of audience … I would suppose this too intimate and too non-political an interpretation of the play, and the point may be pursued further through a comparison with [Sophocles'] Oedipus Rex.”

The difficulty with Brockbank's approach is that, while it ingeniously tries to read Hamlet in terms of the ancient sacrificial tragedy which he sees represented in Oedipus Rex, it neglects textual data which might indeed suggest Shakespeare's own “complicity” in the oedipal conflict. Brockbank deals with Sophocles' version of the Oedipus myth and not with that of Seneca and his Renaissance English translators, even as he frequently makes reference to the Senecan tradition and to Seneca's Oedipus in particular.

Let us first look at the closing lines in Nevile's rendering of Seneca's play:

O cursed head: O wicked wight, whom all men deadly hate.


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