W.W. Greg first identified the dumb show in Hamlet as problematic: if Claudius
sees the dumb show, which replicates his murder of Old Hamlet in mime, then
why does he not react until much later? Many explanations have been offered,
and this article responds to (in title and argument) John Dover Wilson’s influential
account in What Happens in Hamlet (1935) which inspired much further
debate. First discussing the anomalous nature of the dumb show in Hamlet,
before turning to the different versions of the dumb show as they appear in the
three substantive texts of Hamlet, this article considers the nature and content of
the information supplied by dumb shows and the critical arguments that can be
developed from these slippery inset performances.
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