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Durham University

Department of English Studies


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Publication details for Dr Vladimir Brljak

Brljak, Vladimir (2018). Hamlet and the Soul-Sleepers. Reformation and Renaissance Review 20(3): 187-208.

Author(s) from Durham


The article argues that the soliloquy, ‘To be, or not to be,’ in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is informed by soul-sleeping: the belief that on its separation from the body at death, the soul enters an unconscious state typically described as sleep or a sleep-like stupor, in which it remains until wakened and joined with the resurrected body, and then assessed at the Last Judgment. The doctrine was advocated in some of Luther’s works of the 1520s and 1530s and found acceptance among some early English Protestants, but was destined to be repudiated by later Protestant orthodoxy, and was universally condemned by mainstream Protestant thinking of Shakespeare’s day. The article surveys the history of this heterodoxy in England, demonstrates its continuing significance in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century, elucidates the references to the doctrine in Hamlet’s soliloquy, and discusses their relevance to the broader understanding of the religious subtext of the play.

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