Victor Turner, in “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage” defined liminality as a state between states. Although this originally applied only to the transitional state that rituals represent, some critics have adapted this idea to argue that liminality exists as a strong force in Hamlet.
A lesson in History:
Why is this important?
Shakespeare was writing Hamlet at a time of religious uncertainty; added to this was the uncertainty over the succession- there was confusion among many Elizabethans as to who the next monarch would be. This confusion- the inability to decide if something was right or wrong, true or false, is possibly reflected in “Hamlet”, where the sheer mass of examples of liminality arguably cannot simply be a coincidence (witness Hamlet’s “What should such fellows as I do crawling between heaven and earth?” among other examples). Other critics have suggested that perhaps Shakespeare’s motives in his presentment of liminality in the play was his intent on questioning religion, authority, even reality itself, and using drama to challenge the audience to wonder, rather than merely accept the world as it was. I would love to hear your thoughts on this- do you have any extra examples of liminality in “Hamlet”?
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