Nietzsche’s Hamlet puzzle

Life affirmation in The Birth of Tragedy

Authored by: Katie Brennan

The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138936126
eBook ISBN: 9781315677019
Adobe ISBN:


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In this essay, I focus on a passage from The Birth of Tragedy in which Nietzsche briefly touches on Hamlet. This passage is interesting because of its apparent lack of fit within its context. Hamlet, an Elizabethan, English play, without a chorus appears during Nietzsche’s discussion of ancient Greek tragedy, its chorus, and its effect on its audience. I explore the puzzling nature of this passage, review a popular misreading, and suggest a new approach that illustrates how this Hamlet passage can illuminate Nietzsche’s notion of life affirmation in The Birth of Tragedy. I conclude by providing a Nietzschean reading of Hamlet, which demonstrates the reverberations between Nietzsche’s philosophy and Shakespeare’s tragedy. I argue that Hamlet is a dramatization of Nietzsche’s concept of life affirmation: it is only as an artist, and not as the actor in his own failed attempt to set things right, that Hamlet finally acts.

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