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‘Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself’ (3.4.56): mythological portraits in Hamlet’s closet scene

Agnès Lafont

Résumés

L’article montre comment l’humanisme de la Renaissance, redécouverte du savoir classique, est mis en scène dans Hamlet pour opposer un passé idéalisé à un présent corrompu. Il se concentre sur la closet scene (III.iv) qui, pour Gertrude, et pour le public, oppose le portrait du père d’Hamlet, roi solaire, à celui de son frère, dépeint sous les traits d’un satyre, dans une image scénique qui fait écho à la réplique d’Hamlet dans un soliloque antérieur : « Un si excellent roi, qui était à celui-ci / Ce qu’Hypérion est à un satyre » (I.2.139-40) (traduction de J-M. Déprats). Cette scène met en perspective l’attitude de Gertrude depuis le début de la pièce, désormais veuve éplorée, et suggère une pulsion matricide chez Hamlet.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Tanya Pollard, ‘What’s Hecuba to Shakespeare?’, Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 5, no 4, Winter 2012, p (...)
  • 2 E. H. Gombrich, Symbolic Images: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance (London: Phaidon, 1978 [1972 (...)
  • 3 All quotations are taken from Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, New Cambridge Shakespeare, 3rd ed., eds. H (...)

1‘What’s Hecuba to Shakespeare?’, Tania Pollard asks in her provocative article on the Queen of Troy in early modern English tragedy. Requalifying Shakespeare’s long under-estimated Greek sources, she uses the tragic potential of Hecuba as a bereaved mother who seeks revenge to show that in the Renaissance ‘Hecuba’s suffering was also perceived as a potent threat to unjust male rulers’,1 thereby offering a female mirror for Hamlet’s action, adding yet another portrait to the play’s mythological gallery. Pollard seems to follow Ernst Gombrich’s methodology discussed by Yves Peyré who explains that Gombrich’s ‘principle of intersection’ is ‘a method to decipher early modern mythological symbolic images through the relationships between their subject, their style and their genre’.2 She selects several mythical components of the avenging Trojan figure to construct a coherent metatheatrical reading of Hecuba’s portrait in Hamlet. Thus, to interrogate Hamlet’s puzzled question to the Player, ‘What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her?’ (2.2.511‒12),3 invites both to challenge male tragic characterisation in Hamlet by using a powerful female figure as a dramatic tool to think about grief and revenge, and to lure the audience into watching the play’s many mythological portraits in relation to each other, rather than as set emblematic representations.

  • 4 As early as 1914, Gilbert Murray argued that Orestes could be a potential double for Hamlet. Gilber (...)

2The focus of this article is on act 3 scene 4, which presents the two mythological (male) portraits Hamlet shows to Gertrude; we will show that the scene necessarily resonates within a larger system of allegorical portraits within the play, and within the more global system of references to the Trojan epic. This pivotal scene opposes Hamlet’s idealised characterization of his father and his condemnation of his regicide uncle, while declaring himself inadequate: ‘no more like my father than I to Hercules’ (1.2.152–3). Yet a broader pattern of interpreting regal mythological portraits in a theatrical dynamic appears when this scene initiates a retrospective reading for the audience and harks back to the Player’s portrait of Hecuba, the Trojan Queen (in 2.2). First, the reference to the tragedy of the Trojan war in this earlier scene had set the mythological context of revenge, and second, the closet scene activates the imaginary presence of a Euripidean Orestes, a potential matricide, punisher of Clytemnestra — the epitome of the unfaithful wife for the audience.4 What’s Clytemnestra to Gertrude and Hamlet? Classical mythology brings power and tension to our understanding of Hamlet’s deadly intra-familial violence because it taps into a vast classical epic matrix and reconfigures these elements to create its own digested humanist antiquity. We will first define the code of the early modern allegorical princely portrait and see how Hamlet uses it to question Gertrude’s attitude as a grieving spouse in the closet scene. Then we will analyse how by holding up several mythological mirrors to his mother, Hamlet uses the humanist portrait as an unexpected laboratory for compassion, while briefly suggesting a matricidal impulse for the learned audience.

Methodological prelude: Defining the early modern allegorical portrait as mirror for princes

3Portraits of rulers are far from mimetic in the early modern period; instead, they follow the precepts of allegory and testify to a deep knowledge of classical culture for artists, patrons, as well as their spectators. Based on his study of French royal iconography, Panofsky defines ‘the rules of “allusive correlations”’ and explains how the system of comparison functions for the audience as ‘they permit both partial and multiple comparisons’.5 English royal iconography relies on such allegorical representations to celebrate the Kingdom of England as a powerful empire. The ‘Sieve Portrait’ of Elizabeth I, by Quentin Metsys the Younger (1583), offers an interesting case-in-point: the Queen is seen as both Tuccia (the Roman virgin who successfully cleared her honour by carrying water from the Tiber to Vesta’s temple in a sieve) and a victorious Aeneas thanks to the decorative pillar behind her, on the left.6

4Heroic Aeneas, as is narrated in Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid, sacrificed his love for Dido to fulfil his imperial mission and found Rome. Male and female attributes are used interchangeably to compose a full regal portrait which is iconographically accurate and in line with the intended eulogy. Hamlet’s mythological portraits obey the same rules of composition, using male and female vehicles of the simile interchangeably, inviting the audience to look beyond gender, while referring to gendered attributes.

  • 7 See for instance Frances Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (Harmondsworth (...)

5Hamlet’s spoken description of the portraits of Old Hamlet and of Claudius, along with their use on the early modern stage as stage properties, is thus topical and inscribes act 3 scene 4 in the tradition of allegorical portraits of rulers. Early modern audiences would have been familiar with these types of representation through official portraits, but also dramatised royal entries, and civic pageants.7

6Hamlet’s mythological portraits in the scene are also structural as they could be compared to the functioning of dumb shows in late medieval and early modern plays. In Hamlet, they are integrated into a complex system of textual and visual mythological echoes that reverberate throughout the tragedy: this process endows them with a unifying value on the structural and metaphorical levels. The spectator is intuitively led to decode Hamlet’s mythological portraits in 3.4 through the interaction of its subject (praising Old Hamlet’s virtue, condemning Claudius), style (epideictic use of classical mythology) and genre (revenge tragedy). The spectator restricts the classical allusions to the mythical segment involved and thus erases any conflicting segment which might cause a divergent interpretation. Thus, a coherent mythological portrait emerges from the script.

Hamlet’s Epideictic Mythological Portraits and Derisive Self-Portrait

  • 8 Leonard Barkan, The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism (New Haven-London: Y (...)

7Hamlet’s portrait of his father uses mythology to conjure up a glorious world of stability in which, as in a political pageant, his father is the rightful king, making the prince the rightful heir. He borrows from classical and humanistic mythology to celebrate order and the iconography he uses suggests his father’s military power. By using the pro-contra structure, an operative trope in Renaissance culture to describe the agôn, Hamlet unveils in his myth-making scene the oppositions he feels and he illustrates what he perceives as a universal break in the cosmos, due to Gertrude’s choice to back up Claudius, causing the end of a peaceful age. Leonard Barkan insists on this natural function of pagan mythology which is to ‘place the individual in a context of universal harmony’.8 Yet there is an inherent tension in the use of such classical material to evaluate Hamlet’s own current situation, as Lisa Hopkins notes:

  • 9 Lisa Hopkins, Greeks and Trojans on the Early Modern Stage (Boston/Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2020) (...)

Hamlet is obsessed with the classical world. Hamlet himself is a man of many doubles: he and Laertes (who like his sister Ophelia has a Greek name, in Laertes’ case one which specifically evokes the Odyssey) both lose a father and seek revenge, he and Fortinbras are both nephews of a reigning king, and he and his father share a name. Pyrrhus, who hesitates before he kills a king, is another such double, and in at least three recent productions the interval curtain has fallen on a Hamlet echoing Pyrrhus’ paused pose, standing above Claudius as Pyrrhus stands above Priam. Both Hamlet and Pyrrhus are sons of fathers whom they perceive to have been great, but who are now dead. Both find difficulty in living up to these fathers because they themselves are engaged in deeply questionable acts. In a way, both perfectly encapsulate the Renaissance itself, aware of past greatness but also aware that they themselves are belated, inadequate, and unworthy in comparison […].9

  • 10 Lisa Hopkins, Greeks and Trojans on the Early Modern Stage, p. 12.
  • 11 The proliferation of artistic categories is one of the running metatheatrical jokes in Hamlet: ‘tra (...)
  • 12 See Sarah Hatchuel’s article in this volume.

8Hopkins rightly stresses that the first lesson of humanist learning is that later generations could never equal earlier ones, as ‘humanity progressively degenerated and moved inexorably further away from its original Golden Age’,10 a nostalgia for a lost past, which was already voiced by Horatio’s use of the Roman motif in 1.1. Hopkins shows that some early modern humanist visions of historical changes reveal present anxieties and that using echoes of Greece, Troy, and Rome creates a sense of doom and decay, summoning the tempus edax topos. This is especially meaningful in the context of revenge tragedy. This nostalgia for an idealised past, I am suggesting, is furthered by the use of the two mythological portraits in 3.4 which function as hermeneutic tools for the audience: just as the allegorical portrait is a mute icon which belongs to a system of shared cultural references, perceived and understood by some members of the audience thanks to their knowledge of mythography and emblems, these portraits help to comment on what is seen on stage using the classical frame. Hamlet uses the rhetorical device of hypotyposis to portray his visual experiences through words so as to make them perceptible to the viewers’ eyes. The mythological portraits then become dramatic ciphers to describe the murderer and his brother and it works on several levels in the plot: they have a foreshadowing and a cohesive function (linking several distinct moments within the play); they signal to the spectator a hermeneutic pattern (inducing one to follow the Herculean reference throughout the script for instance); and they amplify the repercussion of the scene by playing on the visual memory of the spectator. Finally, the closet scene dramatises artistic self-consciousness with its insistent use of framing devices:11 the curtains at the back of stage (Polonius mentions them in 2.2.161), the portraits (in most modern productions), and even the onstage audience (Polonius — briefly — and Gertrude). Nowadays directors have suggested several options for staging these portraits: full-length portraits, miniature portraits, photographs, mimes, always playing on conscious intermediality.12

  • 13 On the Herculean imagery in Hamlet, see Eugene M. Waith, The Herculean Hero in Marlowe, Chapman, Sh (...)
  • 14 Hercules is used to praise French princes from King Henri II as the Hercules Gallicus (in 1549) to (...)

9By the time Shakespeare’s Hamlet was performed, the mere reference to Hercules immediately brought up the European cultural image of the brave and competent prince in the English audience’s mind,13 as Andrea Alciati’s well-known emblem exemplifies, to illustrate a government with eloquence superior to strength (‘Eloquentia fortitudine praestantior’)14. Yet Hamlet’s excessive idealisation of his father deconstructs this topical mythological celebration. Instead it leads to his own devaluation as he perceives himself as a diminished and altered copy of a lost original. When Hamlet criticises Claudius, he also implicitly refers to Hercules as the emblematic model for the perfect prince:

Hamlet: […] — married with mine uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules — […] (1.2.151‒53)

10In La Voix des Mythes, Yves Peyré draws attention to the irony of Hamlet’s first denial of his own princely stature, even when he criticises his uncle. Later, mapping out the stories related to Hercules in connexion with Hamlet’s representation of himself, Peyré notably shows that Hamlet speaks of himself as ‘the Nemean lion’:

[...] My fate cries out,
And makes each petty arture in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve. (1.4.81‒3)

  • 15 On the Nemean Lion, see Peyré, La Voix des Mythes, pp. 219–20; on Laertes, another of Hamlet’s doub (...)

11Peyré concludes that Hamlet’s rhetoric turns himself into a victim, as Renaissance mythological treatises define the Nemean lion as a metaphor for fury, anger, pride and cruelty. Thus Hamlet debases himself as he praises his father, thereby immediately undermining the audience’s confidence in his valour as a potential ruler.15

  • 16 See the Cambridge edition, ed. Philip Edwards, note to l.133.

12Hamlet’s revenge thus seems doomed from the beginning of the tragedy, reduced to a dry metatheatrical joke (2.2.358) as the emblem of the Globe theatre is supposed to have been Hercules carrying the celestial globe on his shoulders,16 and the prince seems to dissociate himself constantly from a heroic Herculean model. As the audience witnesses a breaking of the family bonds, Hamlet’s world is torn between two opposites: ‘what a piece of work is a man!’ (2.2.286), he is a god ‘in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!’ (2.2.288–9) and a piece of clay: ‘this quintessence of dust’ (2.2.290). In a way, Hamlet, just like Pyrrhus in 2.2, revenging his father Achilles, perfectly encapsulates the Renaissance itself, aware of past greatness but also aware that he himself is inadequate and unworthy in comparison.

Jupiterian Portraits and the House of Atreus

  • 17 Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, 2010 (2:01:35), recorded through National Theatre Live on 9th De (...)

13In the closet scene the two mythological portraits act as stage properties to epitomise and further play out Hamlet’s self-criticism and his undue glorification of a long dead ‘noble father [that he seeks] in the dust’ (Gertrude, 1.2.71). Contrasting the portrait of Old Hamlet, ‘the majesty of buried Denmark’ (Horatio, 1.1.48), an object of nostalgic idealisation, with Claudius’ present portrait, an object of disgust is yet another means of visualising the broken succession line in the royal family (even if Denmark is an elective monarchy). In Hamlet, as directed by Nicholas Hytner17 in 2010, Rory Kinnear (Hamlet) presents Clare Higgins (Gertrude) with a miniature portrait (a photograph) he takes from his own wallet, on the sofa, before violently taking down Claudius’ full-scale portrait from the backstage wall and throwing it down on the floor, front stage. In this production, as in the script, there is a sense that references to the pagan gods, inherited from classical times, are associated with a glorious past and connote a time when there was respect of the sacred bonds: a staged mythological reference immediately decoded by Hytner’s audience, as well as Shakespeare’s. This sense of an ending of a period of mythological grandeur is also present in the antiquated mode of indicating the time in the play-within-the-play, in one of Shakespeare’s explicitly classical moments:

Full thirty times hath Phoebus’ cart gone round
Neptune’s salt wash and Tellus’ orbèd ground,
And thirty dozen moons with borrowed sheen
About the world have times twelve thirties been
Since love our hearts, and Hymen did our hands
Unite commutual in most sacred bands.
(3.2.136‒41)

  • 18 Colin Burrow, Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 70‒1

14Colin Burrow makes clear that when Shakespeare is framing what he calls these ‘classical moments’, ‘it does not mean that he had a “humanistic” awareness of historical anachronism’ but ‘that he had a pragmatic sense of the emotional and the theatrical power that he could generate by creating the effect of distinct temporal and stylistic layers within his own works’.18 Here the beautified Antiquity, a time of love and mutual respect, is clearly in tension with the negative modernity.

  • 19 For further analysis of Jupiter tonans, see Peyré, La Voix des Mythes, p. 207.

15Building on the well-established mythological rhetoric of reigning monarchs, drawing from emblematic celebrations, Claudius, from the start of his reign, tries to pass himself off as Jupiter Tonans (‘Thundering Jove’), one of the epithets celebrating Jove:19

[...] the great cannon to the clouds shall tell,
And the king’s rouse the heaven shall bruit again,
Re-speaking earthly thunder. […]
(1.2.126‒8)

  • 20 See also Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Cambridge Shakespeare (2019), p. 171 (footnote). The OED states (...)

16In Hamlet’s eyes, this explicit analogy, meant to underscore that Claudius is entitled to reign, is not valid since ‘this realm dismantled was, / Of Jove himself’ (3.2.256‒7): Claudius is no Jupiter, only a ‘pajock’ (3.2.258), whatever that means.20

17To the murdered king, Hamlet lends all the attributes of the gods and when he describes ‘the front of Jove himself’ (3.4.56) to his mother, he establishes his father as the true Olympian:

See what a grace was seated on his brow;
Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command,
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill (3.4.55‒9)

  • 21 Robert Kilburn Root, Classical Mythology in Shakespeare, 1903, p. 85, cited by Peyré, La Voix des m (...)

18Old Hamlet was the solar king, as Hyperion is the Greek sun god ‒ sometimes named Helios or Apollo ‒, a powerful soldier like Mars, and as swift as Mercury, the Roman messenger of the gods: mixing Latin and Greek names only insists on the antiquity of the pagan gods evoked. The reference to Mercury may provide another link with the Trojan War cycle in Hamlet’s characterisation of his father. Hamlet sees him full of an airy grace: ‘New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill’. This phrase, according to Robert Kilburn Root, is the intertextual trace of a rewriting of the Virgilian evocation of ‘the herald Mercury’ landing on Mount Atlas before he gets to Aeneas to tell him to leave Dido in book 4 of The Aeneid:21

  • 22 Virgil, Aeneid, in Eclogues. Georgics. Aeneid: Books 1–6, Transl. H. R. Fairclough, rev. G. P. Gool (...)

And now in flight he descries the peak and steep sides of toiling Atlas, who props heaven on his peak […]. Here, poised on even wings, the Cyllenian first halted; hence with his whole frame he sped sheer down to the waves like a bird, which round the shores, round the fish-haunted cliffs, flies low near the waters.22

19When Hamlet thus emphasises the elegance of his father’s posture, with the discreet reference to Virgil’s Aeneid in mind, it may also point back to the player’s scene and the reference to Dido and Aeneas (2.2.404–5), adding coherence and further fleshing out the Trojan context of the play in a Virgilian perspective, interweaving classical sources to create a perfect portrait.

  • 23 About Hamlet’s uniting of Mars and Mercury, see R. M. Frye, The Renaissance Hamlet: Issues and Resp (...)

20What is more, in the emblems celebrating the Renaissance Prince, Mars and Mercury are often associated, ‘Tam Marti, quam Mercurio’ (As Mars, As Mercury).23 It is the union of the qualities of rash power attributed to Mars and the grace and intellect attributed to Mercury which transform the warlike impetuosity of the soldier and the intellectual qualities into a happy discordia concors which marries thought and wise action: ‘a combination and a form indeed / Where every god did seem to set his seal’ (3.4.61–2). The hendiadys indicates it is a happy fusion of disparate, or even conflicting, emblematic qualities when Ophelia could only lament Hamlet’s lack of harmony: combining a portrait uniting ‘the courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword’ (Ophelia, 1.3.145) is uneasy to achieve in the harsh realities of Hamlet’s life.

21Excising mythology from the scene may prove counterproductive: Antoni Cimolino’s production (Stratford Festival, 2020) featuring Jonathan Goad as Hamlet and Seana McKenna as Gertrude cut out all mythological references in the first tirade:

See what a grace was seated on his brow
And seem to set his seal
To give the world assurance of a man

22Not only does Cimolino’s production shorten this passage to the extreme — neither following the Q1, or Q2 or F version — having Goad threateningly brandish two miniatures up to McKenna’s face, but the script does not even retain the hendiadys, clearly downplaying this important moment, when Hamlet’s father, contrary to his son, offers a whole portrait of perfection.

23Indeed, several Renaissance emblems document allegorical associations of the pagan gods with man’s qualities: Jacques Grévin in Les emblemes du signeur Iehan Sambucus. Traduits de Latin en François (1567) offers an interesting illustration of such humanist readings of ‘Partes hominis’.24 Hamlet regrets that these qualities have disappeared since his father’s death. Even as he offers an idealised vision of his father’s upper body (his eyes, his forehead, his bright curls), he makes a sordid depiction of his uncle, reduced to his lower parts, ‘a satyr’ (1.2.140).25 The periphrasis ‘Hyperion’s curls’ in 3.4 is anticipated by Hamlet’s earlier soliloquy, which already pits Hyperion as a solar King against a satyr, that is to say a half-human, half-animal companion of Bacchus. The satyr, routinely associated with Pan and cowardice in Andrea Alciati ‘In subitum terrorem’ (sudden terror) in Livret des emblemes (Paris, 1536),26 is also associated with Lechery, in a personification of one of the seven Deadly Sins, in his later Emblemes (1549) (‘Luxure’).27 This classical opposition thus encapsulates Hamlet’s own reflexion on the complex nature of man, half-beastly and half-divine. There is no transition from the angel to the beast ‘stewed in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty.’ (3.4.93‒4).

24The lack of mythological portraits in the First Quarto of Hamlet (Q1) published in 1603 shows the contrary: depending on which version of Hamlet is read, the political impact of the allegorical portraits is changed. Mythology in the closet scene is much shortened in Q1 compared to the 1604‒1605 Second Quarto (Q2) and the Folio version (F). In Q1, there is no mention of Hyperion, and Claudius is not compared to a satyr, erasing the political condemnation of his lusty, or even beastly, behaviour. Besides, a less classicised framework of references makes the opposition between ‘your deceased husband’ and ‘your husband’ more straightforward, as it is reduced to the tension between Mars and Vulcan:

  • 28 Hamlet, the texts of 1603 and 1623, ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, Arden 3 (London: Bloomsbury [ (...)

[…] See here, behold this picture.
It is the portraiture of your deceased husband.
See here a face to outface Mars himself;
An eye at which his foes did tremble at;
A front wherein all virtues are set down
For to adorn a king and gild his crown;
Whose heart went hand in hand even with that vow
He made to you in marriage. And he is dead:
Murdered, damnably murdered. This was your husband.
Look you now,
Here is your husband with a face like Vulcan,
A look fit for a murder and a rape,
A dull, dead, hanging look, and a hell-bred eye
To affright children and amaze the world. (Q1, 11.24‒37)28

  • 29 Hamlet, Arden 3, p. 16.
  • 30 I thank Nathalie Rivère de Carles for her suggestion to read this passage as an incoherent mytholog (...)

25As Mars and Vulcan are the only deities mentioned, the humanist dimension of the play is toned down. ‘An eye like Mars’ in this version reads ‘Mars himself’. Vulcan, the blacksmith of the Roman gods, is usually thought to be sooty — Hamlet complains that “[his] imaginations are as foul/As Vulcan’s stithy” (3.2.73‒4). In their introduction, Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor note that this version is ‘fast, plot-driven and far less ruminative than the other texts’29 and I believe that this is illustrated by the treatment of the mythological portraits. Further, in Q1, mythological coherence is not privileged: the oppositional reference to Mars and Vulcan implicitly conjures up Venus’ presence; both gods, Venus’ lovers and her husband, are subdued by Venus’ powerful presence, turning Old Hamlet’s eulogy into Gertrude’s condemnation and Hamlet’s father and Claudius are associated rather than opposed.30

  • 31 See Dieter Mehl, The Elizabethan Dumb Show: the History of a Dramatic Convention (London: Methuen, (...)
  • 32 On metadramatic functions of the dumb shows, see Yves Peyré, ‘“Excellent dumb discourse”: le symbol (...)
  • 33 On modes of dramatic insertions, see Georges Forestier, Le Théâtre dans le théâtre sur la scène fra (...)

26In the scene as given in Q2 and F, Hamlet’s onstage ekphrasis of the portraits opposes him to his uncle, and links him with his father, establishing his pride of and his love for him; conversely, this depiction is made to Gertrude as an onstage spectator: as she listens to her son, she becomes a living portrait, a form of tableau vivant. Her countenance has now to be deciphered: is she another Hecuba, the portrait of a grieving mother, or another Clytemnestra, the guilty wife? While in 3.4 mythological portraits seemingly focus on the two kings, the recipient of the portraits, Gertrude, is also modified by their presentations. Portraits, be they metaphorical or stage properties, like dumb shows, offer dramatic moments at the interplay between text and spectacle. The analogy with the Elizabethan dumb show31 proves particularly useful in this scene, as it is also used earlier in the play: in the early modern period it was used as an allegorical moving picture outside the acts and scenes (and could function as a chorus)32 or as a pantomime intimately woven into the dramatic structure, as in The Mousetrap. The closet scene stages Gertrude as an almost completely mute spectator of her son’s ekphrastic soliloquies and his portraits, and thus her spectatorial activity calls in turn for our spectatorial interpretation in a mise en abyme reminiscent of Hamlet’s comments on Hecuba’s grief in 2.2.33

Holding Up the Mythological Mirror of his Father to his Mother

27‘[…] till I’ll set you up a glass / Where you may see the inmost part of you’ (3.4.19‒20), the son accusingly tells his mother, wishing to cause her compassion. Yet the audience is left with Gertrude’s momentary silence as to whether she will help him or not, in a strong plot-twist before she finally promises to help him (3.4.198–200) — in Q1 there is no such suspense as she promises to assist him. This ‘glass’ (3.4.19), I argue, is double: it is Hamlet’s father’s and uncle’s portraits and Gertrude tells Hamlet that he turns ‘her very eyes into [her] soul’, where she sees such ‘black and grieved spots / As will leave there their tinct’ (3.4.87–9). The closet scene is one of the play’s cruxes as it stages the tense relationship between mother and son, a scene which has become a topos of Freudian criticism, happily mocked in Olivier Py’s reinterpretation entitled Hamlet à l’impératif (2021).34 Yet, when considered from a mythological perspective, the scene connects with another classical model of bereaved spouse: Hecuba in the Player scene.

28In 2.2, a long mythological speech develops Aeneas’ narrative of the fall of Troy; Hamlet becomes identifiable with ‘the hellish Pyrrhus’ when he hacks Priam to pieces to revenge Achilles’ murder, his father, by Hector, Priam’s eldest son — but Hamlet can also be identified with Hecuba, due to his grief at his father’s death. This indirect portrait prevents the spectator from identifying Gertrude to Hecuba, the grieving mother whose cries ‘would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven, / and passion in the gods’ (2.2.474‒5), — or even to Hecuba, as the revenging wife, as Gertrude does not seem to grieve.

  • 35 Ovid, Metamorphoses, 13.399‒575.
  • 36 Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and Ovid (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 20.

29Hecuba’s story, notably in its Ovidian version,35 constitutes a set piece to explore female grief in the early modern rhetorical classroom.36 The icon of the bereaved mother and spouse, she witnesses the horrific and sacrilegious murder of her husband at the Gods’ altars and was used to help early modern students’ emotional identification:

  • 37 Leah Whittington, ‘Shakespeare’s Virgil: Empathy and The Tempest’, Shakespeare and Renaissance Ethi (...)

In following the models laid out for these exercises, the schoolboy trained himself to adopt the speech, gestures, and emotions of these grieving women as his own. He placed himself inside the mind of a fictional heroine, bringing her suffering to life and embodying her feeling. The humanist schoolroom, in other words, was a laboratory for compassion.37

  • 38 Lynn Enterline, The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University (...)
  • 39 Robert S. Miola, ‘Aeneas and Hamlet’, Classical and Modern Literature 8 (1988): pp. 281–6, p. 284. (...)

30Thus Hecuba comes to embody a poetic strategy of empathy. Yet, this has two consequences in Hamlet. First, it may minimise Hecuba’s impact on the play, relegating her to the role of a cliché, a minor and silent character.38 Second, when Hamlet finally compares the effect of Hecuba’s sorrow on the actor (that is to say on himself as he is playing a role at court), he indirectly indicts his mother, Gertrude, who does not know how to mourn. Indeed, as Robert Miola had already noted, ‘Hecuba is an affront to Gertrude’s own failure to mourn properly in Hamlet’s eyes’.39

31This first mythological portrait of Gertrude as a failed Hecuba already brought up the issue of the emotional impact of witnessing female grief on stage. Just as Hamlet-as-Pyrrhus offers a prototype to analyse Hamlet refusing to kill Claudius when he thinks he is praying (3.3), it thus offers a theatrical model to analyse the closet scene (3.4). To the audience, at this point, Gertrude is a failed Hecuba, in the sense that she does not grieve — and refuses to grieve — for her husband’s death, advising her son: ‘Do not /seek for thy noble father in the dust’ (1.2.71).

32What is more, in this confrontational closet scene, another mythological portrait, also derived from the Trojan war imagination, is activated for the spectator. Gertrude, as a potential accomplice to Claudius’ crime, is another Clytemnestra, Aegisthus’ lover, who plotted Agamemnon’s death (a bereaved mother who had sworn to revenge Iphigenia’s murder) and could be killed by her son for it (Orestes-like) and the closet scene may read as an (averted) matricidal scene. Dora and Erwin Panofsky’s rule of allusive correlations helps us to uncover this model. Indeed, the general parallel between Orestes and Hamlet as legendary heroes is that they are the cause of the death, the moral judges and the punishers of their mothers, and the avengers of their fathers.

33Once more, Q1 rules out this option. In the closet scene, instead of confronting his mother, Hamlet persuades her to become an accomplice in his revenge against her new husband, deflating any potential link between the references to the Trojan material:

And, mother, but assist me in revenge,
And in his death your infamy shall die.
(Q1, 11.95–6)

34In this version, too, Gertrude agrees:

Hamlet, I vow by that Majesty
That knows our thoughts and looks into our hearts
I will conceal, consent and do my best —
What stratagem soe’re thou shalt devise.
(Q1, 11.97–100)

35Q1 demystifies the plot and clarifies that Gertrude was not complicitous in Old Hamlet’s death. It also makes absolutely clear that Hamlet’s mother finds out that Claudius has tried to have Hamlet murdered when Horatio tells her so:

This letter I even now received of him
Wherein he writes how he escaped the danger
And subtle treason that the King had plotted.
Being crossed by the contention of the winds,
He found the packet sent to the King of England,
Wherein he saw himself betrayed to death. (Q1 14.2–7)

  • 40 The editor to the Cambridge edition makes clear that to him ‘this passage unmistakably indicates th (...)

36This is much less intriguing than in the Q2 and F versions of the play. What did Gertrude know? When did she know it? These are questions that remain open in these versions, even if the ghost meekly tries to defend her: ‘[He] won to his shameful lust / The will of my most seeming virtuous queen’ (1.5.45–6).40

  • 41 Schleiner, ‘Latinized Greek Drama’, p. 37.
  • 42 Schleiner, ‘Latinized Greek Drama’, p. 30.

37What other theatrical precedent could prepare the audience for such a scene? Louise Schleiner makes a particularly enlightening case that the closet scene in Hamlet is prompted by some lines in Euripides’ Orestes (ll. 287–91).41 Schleiner studied the influence of Latinised Greek drama in Shakespeare’s plays — as in early modern England, indirect circulation of Greek material was more frequent via Latin translations — and she argues that ‘at least some passages of Euripides’ Orestes and Aeschylus’ Oresteia (in the latter namely the graveyard and matricide scenes of the Libation Bearers) by some means influenced Hamlet’.42 Orestes declares that

  • 43 Quoted from Euripides, Helen: Phoenician women; Orestes, ed. David Kovacs, Loeb Classical Library ( (...)

I think that if I had asked my father face to face whether I should kill my mother, he would have put out his hand repeatedly to my chin, begging me never to thrust a sword into my mother’s throat since he was not going to come back to life and I in my wretchedness would have to endure ills like these. (Orestes, LCL, ll. 287–91)43

  • 44 About these plays see ‘The lost plays database’, see Thomas Dekker and Henry Chettle, Agammemnon (1 (...)
  • 45 David McInnis, Shakespeare and Lost Plays. Reimagining Drama in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Ca (...)

38Schleiner speculated that Euripides’ Orestes may well have been known to Shakespeare via the Admiral’s Men’s staging in 1599 of what she argues are two lost companion plays: Agammemnon and Orestes’s Furies,44 a theory recently resisted by David McInnis arguing for a lack of historical records.45 Yet, according to Schleiner, one of the sources for the play may derive from a double-column volume printed in Paris and whose circulation is attested in England. This edition of Aeschylus presents a Greek text by Adrien Turnèbe and a Latin translation by Jean de Saint-Ravy (of Montpellier), providing a common Latinised source for the two-play Oresteia (Agamemnon and Eumenides).

  • 46 The War of the Theatre (also known as the ‘Poetomachia’) refers to a competition between theatre co (...)

39Shakespeare, as he constructed the player’s antiquated revenge-tragedy speeches on Pyrrhus and Hecuba that so fascinate Hamlet, was perhaps alluding to earlier revenge tragedies and perhaps also parodying the Admiral’s Men bombastic lead tragedian, Edward Alleyn, who would, Schleiner assumes, have played the role of Orestes in the 1599 lost twin plays, Agamemnon and Orestes’s furies. The reference to Orestes and Clytemnestra would also then help place Hamlet in the War of the Theatres.46

40Schleiner astutely notes the displacement of a quote in the playtext to convey another interpretive possibility: Hamlet, who is no Orestes, does not want to commit matricide, he wants to limit chaos. If, as Orestes, Hamlet is both an aggrieved son and a murderer, he becomes a murderer by killing Polonius before he accomplishes his revenge. Conversely Orestes becomes a murderer only after taking revenge, that is to say after shedding his mother’s blood. Thus, Schleiner argues, the furies can be loosed upon Hamlet in advance, as in the closet scene he terrifies his mother and sees the ghost, now only visible to him, then madly hides Polonius’s body and frightens the king with his ravings. When Hamlet, haranguing his mother, sees the ghost, he cries out:

Save me, and hover o’er me with your wings,
You heavenly guards! (3.4.103–4)

41It recalls a similar moment when Euripides’ Orestes is struggling to bring Menelaus over to his side:

  • 47 Quoted from Euripides, Orestes in Helen. Phoenician Women. Orestes, edited and translated by David (...)

Uncle, my father’s own brother, imagine that the dead man beneath the earth hears all this! Imagine him as a soul hovering over you, speaking my words! (Orestes, 675‒6)47

42Here, Schleiner suggests direct intertextuality for this puzzling line. This direct hint taken from Euripides is a fascinating option to explain a complex line ‒ and gives the classical cue for the ghost’s apparition. It also supplements Shakespeare’s treatment of the classical figures of the avenging Pyrrhus and the grieving Hecuba in Hamlet, adding the House of Atreus’ history of murders to the Danish family conflicts: Clytemnestra’s death and Orestes’ matricide. This radically opens up Shakespeare’s script: in the Player’s tirade, Shakespeare’s rhyming fourteeners clearly imitate antiquated style (maybe even to the level of parody) and seem to draw from the medieval Troy book versions, or from Marlowe and Nashe’s Dido, Queene of Carthage (1584) for the traumatic speech about the horrors of war, as well as from his own reading of Aeneid (Book 2). The mythological attributes of the ‘rugged Pyrrhus’, with its ‘total gules’ and ‘coagulate gore’, recall a medieval narration, with the heraldic symbolism:

The rugged Pyrrhus, like th’Hyrcanian beast’ —
It is not so. It begins with Pyrrhus —
he rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose, did the night resemble
When he lay couched in an ominous horse,
Hath now this dread and black complexion smeared
With heraldry more dismal. Head to foot
Now is he total gules, horridly tricked
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons […]
And thus o’er-sizèd with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks
(2.2.441‒9; 453‒5)

  • 48 The Auncient Historie of the Destruction of Troy, London, Thomas Creed, 1597, STC (2nd ed.) / 15379 (...)
  • 49 The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, Written in French by Raoul Lefèvre, Translated and Printed (...)

43The (early modern) edition of the 1474 translation from the French poet, Raoul Lefevre’s Recoeil des histoires de Troyes (c. 1464) by William Caxton intituled The Recuyell of the historyes of Troye, is reprinted as The Auncient Historie of the Destruction of Troy (1597) and gives the account of Pyrrhus slaying ‘the king Priamus before the high altar, which was all be-bled with his bloud’.48 Arrestingly, the story of Pyrrhus is to be found only twenty pages before Orestes’ story: ‘CHAP. XXIX. How Horestes sonne of King Agamemnon cruelly auenged himselfe of the death of his father’49. Caxton’s translation thus presents both Pyrrhus and Orestes’ stories, clearly referring to them as avengers of their fathers’ treacherous murders:

  • 50 Emphasis mine. The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, Written in French by Raoul Lefèvre, Translat (...)

Then pyrrus enquyred dyligently where polixene was becomen / that was cause of the deth of his fader50

  • 51 Emphasis mine. The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, ed. Sommer, Vol. 2, 684.

How Horrostes [Orestes] sone of kyng Agamenon [Agamemnon] toke cruell vengeance of the deth of hys fader51

44There Pyrrhus and Orestes’ stories are clearly associated thanks to the common pattern of fatherly revenge. According to the principle of intersection isolated by Gombrich, Hamlet defines himself as an avenger, and according to the principle of allusive correlations as defined by Panofsky, matricide and death of his father’s late spouse loom large in the play’s imaginary backdrop.

45Yet the horrible death of Clytemnestra in Caxton’s version is not taken up in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

  • 52 The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, ed. Sommer, Vol. 2, pp. 685–6, quoted in Schleiner, ‘Latini (...)

In the morn Horestes dide his moder Clitemestra be brought to fore hym naked her handes bounden/ And assone as he sawe her/ he ran vpon her with his naked swerd/ and cutte of her two pappes/ and after slewe her with his handes/ a maad her to be drawen to the feldes for the houndes to ete and deuowre and to the byrdes. After he dyde do dispoylle egistus and do drawe hym thurgh the cyte. And after dide do hange hym on a forke... . / Thus vengid horestes the deth of the good kynge Agamenon his fader.52

46On the contrary, Hamlet does not want to ‘taint [his] mind’:

O heart, lose not thy nature. Let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.
Let me be cruel, not unnatural.
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
(3.2.354‒7)

47But we see how intermediary medieval-inflected sources of the Troy material may leave a deep, subterraneous imprint on Shakespeare’s interpretation of Hamlet’s story — and the effect it may have on the spectators who saw the stories of the House of Atreus, Agamemnon and Orestes’s furies, staged by the Admiral’s Men in 1599. These Aeschylean and Euripidean intertexts raise a violent possibility that resonates with Claudius’ fearful reaction to Hamlet’s setting of The Mousetrap, featuring regicide and a grieving widow.

Conclusion

48This study of Shakespeare’s reception of classical models of revenge and epic mythology, whether Ovidian (for the Jupiterian and Herculean models) or post-Homeric ‒ via Caxton’s version of the Troy Book and Latin translations of classicised drama (like Agamemnon and Orestes’ Furies) aims at suggesting the complexity of mythological portraits in Hamlet. The closet scene in 3.4 offers an intersection where theatrical convention plays out cultural reminiscences, as it stages in front of the audience’s eyes the paintings representing the two kings, thereby revealing the complex nature of Hamlet’s classical tragic imaginary.

  • 53 Leonard Barkan, The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism (New Haven-London: Y (...)

49In The Gods Made Flesh, Leonard Barkan reminds us that ‘[a]ll the verbal and pictorial imagery in which the world of the pagan gods is revived soon becomes three-dimensional in the spectacle’.53 This mythological scene fully benefits from the aesthetics of dramatic representation, as complex tensions derive from the previous scene in the play, from the dialogue between Hamlet and Gertrude and from the interplay between script and spectacle; as such this allows for a subtly ambiguous scene, leaving Hamlet momentarily in doubt about his mother’s responsibility, inviting playgoers to appreciate the performance and to look through it.

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Notes

1 Tanya Pollard, ‘What’s Hecuba to Shakespeare?’, Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 5, no 4, Winter 2012, pp. 1060‒93, p. 1072.

2 E. H. Gombrich, Symbolic Images: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance (London: Phaidon, 1978 [1972]), pp. 7–17 discussed in Yves Peyré, ‘Deciphering Classical Mythology in Renaissance Drama: Questions of Methodology’, Cahiers Élisabéthains 51 (1997), pp. 15‒27; quoted, p. 21.

3 All quotations are taken from Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, New Cambridge Shakespeare, 3rd ed., eds. Heather Hirschfeld and Philip Edwards (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

4 As early as 1914, Gilbert Murray argued that Orestes could be a potential double for Hamlet. Gilbert Murray, Hamlet and Orestes, a Study in Traditional Types, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1914. On Euripides’ influence, see Louise Schleiner, ‘Latinized Greek Drama in Shakespeare’s Writing of Hamlet’, Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 41, 1990, pp. 29–48. See also https://antigonejournal.com/2022/06/hamlet-oresteia-matricide/ (accessed 18 February 2024).

5 See Erwin and Dora Panofsky, ‘The Iconography of the Galerie François Ier at Fontainebleau’, Gazette des Beaux Arts, 52 (1958), pp. 113–90, p. 130; quoted by Peyré, ‘Deciphering classical mythology’, p. 23.

6 Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena, https://www.pinacotecanazionalesiena.it/portfolio/ritratto-di-elisabetta-i/ (accessed 18 February 2024).

7 See for instance Frances Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), pp. 88–111, where she describes the annual Accession Day Tilts (on November 17) and analyses the political use of the classical Astraea for the glorification of Elizabeth I. George Peele’s Descensus Astraea (1591), a civic pageant to celebrate London’s new mayor in the presence of the Queen as Astraea ‘descended of the Trojan British line’ (Yates, pp. 60–2), shows how audiences were conversant with such emblematic portraiture.

8 Leonard Barkan, The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism (New Haven-London: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 222.

9 Lisa Hopkins, Greeks and Trojans on the Early Modern Stage (Boston/Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2020), p. 11.

10 Lisa Hopkins, Greeks and Trojans on the Early Modern Stage, p. 12.

11 The proliferation of artistic categories is one of the running metatheatrical jokes in Hamlet: ‘tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral–comical, historical–pastoral, tragical–historical, tragical–comical–historical–pastoral’ (2.2.396–9).

12 See Sarah Hatchuel’s article in this volume.

13 On the Herculean imagery in Hamlet, see Eugene M. Waith, The Herculean Hero in Marlowe, Chapman, Shakespeare and Dryden (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), pp. 3959, and Yves Peyré, La Voix des mythes dans la tragédie élisabéthaine (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 1996), pp. 219–21, p. 219.

14 Hercules is used to praise French princes from King Henri II as the Hercules Gallicus (in 1549) to Prince Henri II of Bourbon-Condé (in 1623), see Françoise Bardon, Le Portrait mythologique à la cour de France sous Henri IV et Louis XIII, Mythologie et Politique (Paris, A. et J. Picard, 1974), pp. 42–3. For Andrea Alciato, Livret des Emblemes (Paris, Chrestien Wechel, 1536), see https://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/french/emblem.php?id=FALa093 (accessed 18 February 2024).

15 On the Nemean Lion, see Peyré, La Voix des Mythes, pp. 219–20; on Laertes, another of Hamlet’s doubles, who is twice associated with Hercules (1.3.46–51 and in the graveyard scene), see also pp. 220–1, and Charlotte Coffin, ‘Hercules’, in A Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Classical Mythology (2009-), ed. Yves Peyré. http://www.shakmyth.org/myth/111/hercules (accessed 18 February 2024).

16 See the Cambridge edition, ed. Philip Edwards, note to l.133.

17 Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, 2010 (2:01:35), recorded through National Theatre Live on 9th December, 2010 and available via Drama Online.org.

18 Colin Burrow, Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 70‒1.

19 For further analysis of Jupiter tonans, see Peyré, La Voix des Mythes, p. 207.

20 See also Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Cambridge Shakespeare (2019), p. 171 (footnote). The OED states that ‘pajock’ is of unknown origin, perhaps a variant of ‘patchock’ or perhaps a transmission error of ‘peacock’ (a Renaissance symbol of pride that hides under its feathers an ugly body).

21 Robert Kilburn Root, Classical Mythology in Shakespeare, 1903, p. 85, cited by Peyré, La Voix des mythes, p. 207, pp. 207–8 for the discussion on Mars and Mercury.

22 Virgil, Aeneid, in Eclogues. Georgics. Aeneid: Books 1–6, Transl. H. R. Fairclough, rev. G. P. Goold, Loeb Classical Library (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1999), 4.246‒53.

23 About Hamlet’s uniting of Mars and Mercury, see R. M. Frye, The Renaissance Hamlet: Issues and Responses in 1600 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 171–7; cited by Peyré, p. 208. ‘Tam Marti, quam Mercurio’ was the motto of George Gascoigne, a soldier-poet in his The Glass of Government (1575) where the motto appears under the engraved portrait of the frontispiece, and elsewhere on various title pages, signalled by Frye, The Renaissance Hamlet, p. 340, n11.

24 https://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/french/dual.php?type1=1&id1=FSAa081&type2=2&id2=sm429_h4r (accessed 18 February 2024).

25 The only occurrence of ‘satyr’ in the Shakespearian corpus.

26 https://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/french/dual.php?type1=1&id1=FALa105&type2=2&id2=sm23b_p2v (accessed 18 February 2024).

27 https://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/french/dual.php?type1=1&id1=FALb066&type2=2&id2=sm33_f7v (accessed 18 February 2024).

28 Hamlet, the texts of 1603 and 1623, ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, Arden 3 (London: Bloomsbury [2003], 2015).

29 Hamlet, Arden 3, p. 16.

30 I thank Nathalie Rivère de Carles for her suggestion to read this passage as an incoherent mythological programme.

31 See Dieter Mehl, The Elizabethan Dumb Show: the History of a Dramatic Convention (London: Methuen, 1965). See also Jean-Marie Maguin, ‘Strategies for the Page and Strategies for the stage: Interludes of Image and Language Basic to the production of Meaning’, Cahiers Élisabéthains 29 (1986), pp. 39–51.

32 On metadramatic functions of the dumb shows, see Yves Peyré, ‘“Excellent dumb discourse”: le symbolisme des Dumb Shows de la tragédie élisabéthaine de Gorboduc à Locrine’, Tudor Theatre IV: ‘Let there be covenants...’, ed. André Lascombes (Bern: Peter Lang, 1998), pp. 89–102.

33 On modes of dramatic insertions, see Georges Forestier, Le Théâtre dans le théâtre sur la scène française du XVIIe siècle (Paris, Droz [1981], 1996).

34 https://www.theatre-contemporain.net/video/Hamlet-a-l-imperatif-Ep-1-Un-point-c-est-tout; Olivier Py, Hamlet à l’impératif (Paris: Actes Sud, 2021).

35 Ovid, Metamorphoses, 13.399‒575.

36 Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and Ovid (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 20.

37 Leah Whittington, ‘Shakespeare’s Virgil: Empathy and The Tempest’, Shakespeare and Renaissance Ethics, ed. J. Cox and P. Gray (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 98120, p. 101.

38 Lynn Enterline, The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 166‒77. Pollard disagrees with this partial reading of the mythological figure (see ‘What’s Hecuba to Shakespeare?’, p. 1065).

39 Robert S. Miola, ‘Aeneas and Hamlet’, Classical and Modern Literature 8 (1988): pp. 281–6, p. 284. Heather James concurs:‘Any interest that Shakespeare may have in Hecuba, for instance, is subordinate to Hamlet’s troubled fascination with mimicry and widowed mothers’, Shakespeare’s Troy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 40.

40 The editor to the Cambridge edition makes clear that to him ‘this passage unmistakably indicates that the two had sexual relations before King Hamlet’s death’ (note to the line).

41 Schleiner, ‘Latinized Greek Drama’, p. 37.

42 Schleiner, ‘Latinized Greek Drama’, p. 30.

43 Quoted from Euripides, Helen: Phoenician women; Orestes, ed. David Kovacs, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press [1996], 2015).

44 About these plays see ‘The lost plays database’, see Thomas Dekker and Henry Chettle, Agammemnon (1599) and Orestes’s furies https://lostplays.folger.edu/Agamemnon#Critical_Commentary (accessed 18 February 2024). https://lostplays.folger.edu/Orestes%27_Furies (accessed 18 February 2024) and Martin Wiggins and Catherine Richardson, British Drama. 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol.4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 1186, who suggests no source for that play (he considers Agamemnon to be the only one).

45 David McInnis, Shakespeare and Lost Plays. Reimagining Drama in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), pp. 40‒57, especially p. 50 in Eumenides as an alternative analogue to the graveyard scene, as discussed earlier in relation to the Herculean paradigm see Schleiner, ‘Latinized Greek Drama’, pp. 345.

46 The War of the Theatre (also known as the ‘Poetomachia’) refers to a competition between theatre companies in late Elizabethan theatre, variously interpreted by critics to result from a mixture of personal and artistic rivalries, or even from a show of self-promotion. Hamlet’s subtext answering to the repertoire of another company would belong to this literary war.

47 Quoted from Euripides, Orestes in Helen. Phoenician Women. Orestes, edited and translated by David Kovacs (Harvard: Loeb Classical Library 11, 2002), Vol. 5.

48 The Auncient Historie of the Destruction of Troy, London, Thomas Creed, 1597, STC (2nd ed.) / 15379, p. 575. The 1597 Tudor edition of Caxton’s translation assumes its antiquity by the adjective added to the title.

49 The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, Written in French by Raoul Lefèvre, Translated and Printed by William Caxton, ed. H. Oskar Sommer (London, D. Nutt, 1894), Vol. 2, p. 589.

50 Emphasis mine. The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, Written in French by Raoul Lefèvre, Translated and Printed by William Caxton, ed. H. Oskar Sommer (London, D. Nutt, 1894), Vol. 2, p. 669.

51 Emphasis mine. The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, ed. Sommer, Vol. 2, 684.

52 The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, ed. Sommer, Vol. 2, pp. 685–6, quoted in Schleiner, ‘Latinized Greek Drama’, p. 39.

53 Leonard Barkan, The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism (New Haven-London: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 224.

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Agnès Lafont, « ‘Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself’ (3.4.56): mythological portraits in Hamlet’s closet scene »Arrêt sur scène / Scene Focus [En ligne], 13 | 2024, mis en ligne le 24 avril 2024, consulté le 24 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/asf/8352 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/11njg

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Agnès Lafont

Agnès Lafont is Senior Lecturer in early modern English Literature at the Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 and a member of Institute for Research on the Renaissance, the Neo-classical Age, and the Enlightenment (IRCL-UMR 5186). She has published articles on classical mythology in the English renaissance and edited Shakespeare’s Erotic Mythology and Ovidian Renaissance Culture (2013). She co-edited with Janice Valls-Russell and Charlotte Coffin, Interweaving Myths in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (2017). She is a contributor to the online Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Classical Mythology, ed. Yves Peyré (CNRS — University Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3) (www.shakmyth.org) and to Shakespeare's Classical Mythology: A Dictionary (forthcoming in 2024). She is currently co-editing (with Lindsay Reid) an anonymous play, The Maid’s Metamorphosis (1600). She serves as Assistant Editor for Cahiers Élisabéthains.

Agnès Lafont est Maître de Conférence en littérature de la Renaissance anglaise à l’université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 et membre de l’Institut de Recherche sur la Renaissance, l’âge Classique et les Lumières (IRCL-UMR 5186). Elle a publié des articles sur la mythologie dans le théâtre élisabéthain, a dirigé la publication de Shakespeare’s Erotic Mythology and Ovidian Renaissance Culture (2013) et a co-dirigé avec Janice Valls-Russell et Charlotte Coffin, Interweaving Myths in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (2017). Elle contribute au projet Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Classical Mythology, ed. Yves Peyré (CNRS — University Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3) (www.shakmyth.org) et à l’ouvrage, Shakespeare's Classical Mythology: A Dictionary (à paraître en 2024). Actuellement, elle co-édite, avec Lindsay Reid, The Maid’s Metamorphosis (1600). Elle est assistante d’édition pour la revue Cahiers Elisabéthains.

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