The best counsellors are the dead: counsel and Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Paul, Joanne (2015) The best counsellors are the dead: counsel and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Renaissance Studies. ISSN 0269-1213

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This article demonstrates how Shakespeare used Hamlet to explore Renaissance ideas regarding political counsel, especially those epitomized in the maxim ‘optimi consiliarii mortui’ – the best counsellors are the dead. Examining Hamlet as a historical source, attention is drawn to the influence of Plutarch and Montaigne on the construction of conciliar characters, particularly Polonius, who is figured as the personification of late sixteenth-century debates over the nature of the counsellor. Polonius' humanist tendencies are shown to be ineffective and naive, and his Machiavellian plotting pernicious and destructive. In the end, as Hamlet declares, Polonius is a better counsellor when dead. Instead, a new conciliar model is propounded in Hamlet, in which the best counsellor is nothing more than the voice of the dead, lacking in both rhetorical ornamentation and scheming self-interest.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Shakespeare, Hamlet, counsel, Polonius, Plutarch, Renaissance
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History, 1453- > D219 1453-1648
D History General and Old World > DA History of Great Britain > DA020 England > DA129 By period > DA300 Modern, 1485- > DA310 Tudors, 1485-1603 > DA350 Elizabeth I, 1558-1603. Elizabethan age
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR2199 English renaissance (1500-1640) > PR2894 The drama. Individual authors. Shakespeare, William. General treatises, essays, etc. Comprehensive. English. General works
Depositing User: Joanne Paul
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2016 10:46
Last Modified: 08 Mar 2017 04:44

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