Hamlet: A Tragedy of Errors or the Fate of Shakespeare?

At the grave yard Hamlet does not manifest any feelings towards his late father who according to the traditional interpretation, must have been buried there only a couple of months before that. Hamlet’s behavior remains the same even when the grave-digger mentions king Hamlet. There appears an impression as if Hamlet had two different fathers: the one whose death he mourns, and the other one whom he does not remember. This is not strange because in the text, there are two Hamlets : the one who is about twenty, and the other one of thirty years of age.

According to the applied version of the Literary Theory, the only possible explanation is that Shakespeare created Hamlet as a menippeah containing several full-scale plots based on the same text. In every such work, there always exists an ‘inner story’ in this case, in a form of a drama reflecting the events in Elsinore, while its characters should correspond to ‘real’ persons with altered biographies.

An attentive reading reveals that the ‘now living King’ married Gertrude not a couple of months before the described events began but rather more than twenty years earlier, when prince Hamlet was a baby. This conclusion is supported with multiple facts scattered over the text of Hamlet. By employing them, several strictly logical conclusions are made:

King Hamlet and king Fortinbras were brothers; King Hamlet won Denmark by having killed his brother. (That is only too obvious. ‘King Claudius’ mentions the Norway as his brother. The Norway and the late king Fortinbras were brothers as well. Therefore, ‘King Claudius’ and Fortinbras were brothers. Further, ‘King Claudius’ assassinated king Hamlet who was his brother. Therefore, king Hamlet and king Fortinbras were brothers.) Well, is not that obvious, indeed? Did we really need four centuries to reveal that?

Prince Hamlet is king Hamlet’s son only within the ‘inner drama'; in ‘reality’ he is the last son to king Fortinbras. (Queen Gertrude delivered prince Hamlet in Elsinore on the very day of the battle. The castle was still in the possession of Fortinbras, therefore only his spouse could deliver Hamlet there.) (2)

Prince Hamlet and young Fortinbras were brothers as they were both the children to the same king Fortinbras?queen Gertrude couple. That explains why before his death prince Hamlet gives his vote for the throne in favor of prince Fortinbras.

In ‘reality’, King Hamlet was never poisoned by his brother. On the contrary, having killed his brother Fortinbras, he has been living with Gertrude for thirty years. We see him ‘alive’ for all five Acts, until his nephew Hamlet kills him. The act of poisoning took place only within the plot of the inner drama.

In ‘reality’, king Claudius does not exist at all; that is merely a character of the inner drama.

As Hamlet appears to be a menippeah with an ‘inner story’, there follows the necessity to perform certain steps:

Within the menippeah, there should exist a special character narrating the text. He must be the main object at whom Shakespeare’s satire is aimed. The hidden intention of that character is the most important composition element of Hamlet.

Within the main plot of Shakespeare’s work, it is necessary to define the identity of the ‘proxy author’ who has created the inner story. That might be the Narrator himself or some other person, but in any case that must be one of the characters of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

It is imperative that the borders delimiting the ‘main’ body of Hamlet and the inner story should be defined. —Alfred BarkovHamlet: A Tragedy of Errors or the Fate of Shakespeare? (Wiliam Shakespeare Authorship — Geocities)

Extremely interesting close reading. I’m going to spend some more time reading this more closely. The argument is remarkably consistent and thorough — for instance, the author argues that a “real” plot takes place in prose, while a nested “performance” takes place in verse — that The Mousetrap (the play that Hamlet asks the players to perform) actually encompasses many sequences that we have taken to be the text of Hamlet. Barkov suggests that the interruption of the play-within-the play is scripted, so that much of the action that follows the interruption is still part of the play. I’d love to have the chance to stage something like this, but the founding principles (such as the claim that Hamlet from the outermost drama is really the son of Fortinbras senior, who was killed by Hamlet senior in battle) don’t stand up too well to even a casual application of Occam’s razor.


I’m scheduled to teach “Drama as Literature” this fall, and Hamlet (and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern) are probably going to be on the syllabus. Thus, yet another attempt to find meaning within meaning will make good reading. (See also Laura Bohannon’s wonderful “Shakespeare in the Bush,” in which an American anthropologist, convinced that Hamlet has a single, universal meaning, tests her theory by telling the story to the elders of an African tribe.)