How Not To Be: D. H. Lawrence's "The Ship of Death"

Elise Brault-Dreux


This article examines D. H. Lawrence’s fragmentary intertextual references to Hamlet and his idiosyncratic approach to the play in his poem “The Ship of Death”. Throughout his oeuvre, Lawrence insists on the essential passage through oblivion, a state of not being that eventually brings the individual to a new life – a state where mental knowledge yields to physical experience, in darkness, where nothing is known. In “The Ship of Death” he states that a flesh-denying “quietus” would be disastrous, while a complete “quiet” would be rejuvenating. Not to be, then, is not dying nor making “one’s own quietus with a bare bodkin”. It is, echoing Hamlet, a sort of sleep, but one which enables the aristocratic supreme self to go through a pagan salvation. Lawrence, in his subversive intertextual devices, seeks to indirectly condemn Hamlet for being a “mental creature”, “corrupt in the flesh” and therefore unable to fully experience not being. So the Lawrentian poetic voice, fleetingly speaking through the mask of Hamlet, attempts to provide a new incarnation of the Shakespearean figure whose pessimism is passionately inverted in a Lawrentian optimism. In recontextualising and destabilising Hamlet’s speech, the poetic Lawrentian performer seems to be trying to rescue the living potential of the dramatic persona.

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New Readings — ISSN: 13597485


Published by: Cardiff School of Modern Languages