Reading Hamlet Upside Down: The Shakespeare criticism of Natsume Sōseki

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In 1907 Natsume Sōseki resigned from Tokyo University, where he held a prestigious professorship in English literature. This decision to abandon his career as an Occidentalist scholar and instead write the novels that would make him the greatest author and poster-child of Meiji Japan was, this paper suggests, motivated in part by his frustrations with the English cult of Bardolatry. This paper illustrates that Sōseki's negative opinions of Shakespeare crystalized as a result of his contact with W. J. Craig and Lafcadio Hearn. In particular, Sōseki disputes Hearn's dubious claims that Shakespeare's literary genius is simultaneously universal and the result of inherited racial memory. To undercut this cant, Sōseki audaciously attempts to criticize Shakespeare from a "Japanese point of view". In doing so, he reveals how Shakespeare's work reflects a European weltanschauung, and that his rhetorically dense verse, larger-than-life protagonists, and supernatural flourishes grate against the contemporary vogue for naturalism in literature. By insisting that an author's reception is always historically and culturally determined, Sōseki anticipates key aspects of post-colonial theory. Standing Eurocentric hermeneutics on their head, he exposes Shakespeare's much-vaunted universality as a shibboleth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-403
Number of pages21
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013


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