Hamlet: The First Conspiracy Theorist

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, spiritual forebear of Scully and Mulder.

In a previous post, I criticized Amiri Baraka for espousing conspiracy theories. In all fairness to Baraka, I should point out that he belongs to a long literary tradition of conspiracy theorists. The late Norman Mailer, for example, often dabbled in conspiracy theories, including, bizarrely, ones about the death of Marilyn Monroe. Mark Twain, who was fairly sensible most of the time, bought into the silly “Shakespeare didn’t write his plays” idea. Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers is about conspiracies in the court of Louis XIII, with Cardinal Richelieu as the seventeenth century equivalent of the C.I.A.

The first conspiracy theorist, however, was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. He believed that his uncle had murdered his father and usurped his throne. How did did he know this? His father’s ghost told him so. I don’t think that kind of “evidence” would stand up in a court of law. What other proof did he have? He staged a play about a man who murders his brother, and afterwards his uncle seemed agitated. That seems pretty thin to me.

The irony of Shakespeare’s play is that Hamlet’s attempts to root out the truth are not only futile but also tragic, resulting in the deaths of several innocent people, including Hamlet himself. One may possibly draw a moral from this.

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