Hamlet, Performance and Chaotic Cultural Networks
Since the 1960s, chaos theory has become an important but controversial tool used by scientists and mathematicians to describe physical or theoretical systems or networks. It explains how the simple can generate the complex. Its central tenets can also provide an alternative language and means of literary interpretation. This article will explore how the principles of chaos theory can be used to close read and systematise various aspects of the language and performance of Shakespeare. The argument is built upon an analysis of Hamlet, in an effort to understand the play and its reproduction as the evolution of interconnected complex networks. Various aspects of the text will be discussed, including its language, structural and character patterning, and its reproduction through performance and cinematic adaptation. Each of these topics, and the characters, devices or ideas they discuss, constitute nodes of the complex network of Hamlet as both text and idea.
Responding to the cultural analysis of other scholars, this article uses Hamlet as an ideal example of how the appropriation of scientific language can defamiliarise a particular literary or dramatic artefact. This allows fresh interpretation and understanding of its location within the broader networks of theatre and culture. I suggest the possibilities of close reading literary works through the lens of chaos and suggest how they might be applied and developed in conjunction with other texts, media or performances.
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