Hamlet’s Father: Hauntology and the Roots of the Modern Self

Lukas Szrot


In his 1949 work Hamlet’s Ghost, Richard Flatter wrote of the ghost of Hamlet’s father that the play ultimately belongs to him, to the ghost.  Modernity, like the play, belongs to its ghosts, to its dead fathers haunting their wayward sons, the metaphysical specters it imperfectly endeavors to exorcise. Critical theory has often focused on the possibility, and the contours, of a utopia populated by liberatory spirit and liberated persons. Less well explored, however, are the implications for tradition, religion, and the transmission of culture at a metaphorical echelon—those ostensibly “pre-modern” ideas which the broader project of Enlightenment liberalism never fully leaves behind.  Drawing upon thinkers as diverse as Marcuse, Derrida, Weber, and Nietzsche, I read Shakespeare’s Hamlet, particularly the interaction between the ghost of the father and his vacillating son, as a metaphor for the failure to achieve a sought-after post-metaphysical world, and the ominous potential that inheres in the resulting ambivalence. The implications of these philosophical and sociohistorical developments are centered around the social psychological emergence of a modern self, at once alienated from history and nature, but perhaps able to re-imagine selfhood from “outside the iron cage.”


critical theory; Nietzsche; Weber; modernity; science; pragmatism; nature; religion; ontology; literary theory

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.32855/fcapital.201902.008


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