The Introspective Sponger: Hamlet in the Poetry of Bertolt Brecht

Maria Elisa Montironi

Abstract


Besides adapting Hamlet for radio in 1931, the German writer Bertolt Brecht wrote a challenging interpretation of the play in a sonnet entitled “Über Shakespeares Stück »Hamlet«” [On Shakespeare’s play «Hamlet»]. It is part of a poem collection called Studien [Studies] which gives alternative and critical readings of eight great works, attacking both literary works written in praise of somebody and literary reception which over-idealizes characters. Brecht always looked at cultural tradition in dialectical terms and, during his exile from Germany during the Nazi era, he especially felt a moral duty to develop the practice of questioning classic texts, reading them unconventionally and making them meaningful to his contemporary audience. In the sonnet on Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark is called the “introspective sponger” and described as the thoughtful hero unable to act, who was typical of the German reception of Hamlet in the Schlegel-Tieck translation and politically charged by German intellectuals who saw Germany as itself a Hamlet figure. Contrary to that tradition, Brecht finds Hamlet’s hesitation positive and criticizes his final decision to act after meeting Fortinbras and his army, whose battle against Poland is the main theme of an earlier Brecht sonnet “Sonett vom Sieger” [Sonnet of the victor]. Brecht’s poems on Hamlet reflect the barbarism of his own time and his anti-war stance. This article examines the nature and function of metatextual and intertextual relationships between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Brecht’s provocative sonnets.


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New Readings — ISSN: 13597485

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Published by: Cardiff School of Modern Languages