Hamlet, the Knight’s Tale, and the economy of fraternal relations

Shearer, Kayla Gayle
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Hamlet criticism was forever changed when Freud compared Shakespeare’s play to Oedipus Rex and pronounced the infant sexual desires that drove both stories. Since Freud, considerations of the play have suffered from what I consider both a “father-fixation” and an assumption of female hypersensuality that obscures other, more powerful family relations driving the play. To uncover these forces I use a combination of René Girard’s theory of mimetic triangulated desire and Eve K. Sedgwick’s feminist revision of his work, which emphasizes how triangulation legitimizes an economy of exchange in women in which they signify male worth. Additionally, I posit Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale as an alternate source for Shakespeare’s portrayal of fraternal rivalry that does not implicate the parents in the sons' violence. With these tools I reframe the structure of male political power in Hamlet as based on fraternal, rather than filial, relationships. This reveals the way that mimetic rivalry shapes the relationship between Hamlet and Laertes, and offers a reading of Gertrude and Ophelia that de-emphasizes their sexual culpability.