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The Chameleon’s Dish: Shakespeare and the Omnivore’s Dilemma

The Chameleon’s Dish: Shakespeare and the Omnivore’s Dilemma

Borlik, Todd A.

Early English Studies, vol. 2 (2008)

Abstract

This essay situates Shakespeare’s Hamlet within the emergent discourse of ethical vegetarianism in early modern England, challenging the prevailing assumption that the English were a nation of robust beef-eaters. Specifically, it argues that Hamlet has undertaken a commemorative fast for his father, which implies that he likely eschewed meat. It documents Hamlet’s repulsion with butchery and his morbid fascination with the physiological decay of the flesh, culling further evidence in the Prince’s denunciations of meat-eating in Shakespeare’s source. It relates Hamlet’s delay to his qualms about cold-blooded butchery, and deciphers the murder of Polonius as an ironic reenactment of the folk-play known as the Killing of the Calf. Finally, the essay unravels the metaphysical and ecocritical implications of Hamlet’s fast. By blurring the animal/human boundary, the tragedy problematizes the unthinking acceptance of carnivorism as divinely ordained by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

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