Professor Grant Williams has recently coedited—and contributed an essay to—a collection of essays in the series “Palgrave Shakespeare Studies.” The Shakespearean Death Arts: Hamlet Among the Tombs (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022) is the first book to view Shakespeare’s plays from the prospect of the premodern death arts. These arts refer to the various disciplines, practices, and habits with which Renaissance society addressed all matters relating to the grave. They include not only the ars moriendi, the art of dying implemented by both Catholics and Protestants, but also the plurality of cultural expressions of memento mori (“remember that you must die”), funeral rituals, commemorative activities, and rhetorical techniques and strategies fundamental to the performance of the work of dying, death, and the dead.
The volume is divided into two sections: first, critically nuanced examinations of Shakespeare’s corpus and then, second, of Hamlet exclusively as the ultimate proving ground of the death arts in practice. This book revitalizes discussion around key and enduring themes of mortality by reframing Shakespeare’s plays within a newly conceptualized historical category that posits a cultural divide—at once epistemological and phenomenological—between premodernity and the Enlightenment.