“The little O”. Signifying Nothing in Shakespeare


Abstract – This chapter analyses some of the ways in which the crucial concept of Nothingness weaves its way throughout Shakespeare’s work, and those in which the various meanings of the word “nothing” are systematically investigated and set off against one another. The tragedies Hamlet and King Lear come in for especially close attention, although a number of other Shakespearean works are also considered. Particular emphasis is placed on the idea that something might arise out of nothing, and on the implications for Shakespeare’s writing of the new mathematics based on the symbol zero that had been introduced relatively recently into England. The opposition between Being and Nothingness – or more precisely between the different ways these can be conceived in relation to one another – is in a number of plays subject to processes of poetic negotiation as Shakespeare illustrates the various ways in which things can issue from nothing even as they inexorably return to nothing. “Nothing” becomes a profoundly paradoxical concept in Shakespeare’s drama, as it is shown to possess aspects that are potentially generative – though not necessarily in a positive sense – as well as destructive.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v27p285

Keywords: Shakespeare; Hamlet; King Lear; The Tempest


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