Past Event

Columbia Shakespeare Seminar: Lowell Duckert (University of Delaware) Hamlet on Ice

February 14, 2020
5:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Columbia University Faculty House




Abstract: This presentation investigates the affective “it” behind Hamlet’s mundane comment to Horatio on the battlements of Elsinore: “The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold” (4.1.1). What exactly was “cold” at the time of the play’s composition (1600-1)? Culling hypotheses from contemporary pamphlet literature and natural-philosophical treatises concerning the substance of cold during the period known as the Little Ice Age (ca. 1350-1800), I argue that “it” materializes cold’s animacy. “The air,” after all, “bites.” Hamlet’s cold occurrences reveal how networks are made between human spectator (Danish guard) and nonhuman landscape (shrewd “air”). In addition, the questionable “it” may sponsor modern-day speculations about the planet’s cold places. In 2003, the “Ice Globe” – an Elizabethan replica built entirely from blocks of the Torne River’s frozen banks – opened in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. That year, the National Theatre Beaivváš produced a shortened version of Hamlet in the Sámi language. With temperatures hovering around -40°C, the play’s preoccupation with cold “air” was surely felt by outdoor audiences. Gauging the “air[s]” of the play and in performance, as well as the polar playhouse’s physical materials, helps to magnify, I suggest, the globe’s vanishing ice and snow and the peoples (particularly Indigenous communities) most impacted by it.

The event will be held in Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive. As usual, social hour will be from 5-6, dinner 6-7, and the talk 7-8:30. The cost for dinner, payable by check only, is $30.  When you RSVP please indicate whether or not you plan to come to dinner; please give 10 days advance notice.