This article asks why Theodor W. Adorno never wrote anything substantial about William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, given its importance to German culture and to philosophical traditions in which Adorno worked rigorously. It addresses how Adorno tacitly adopted a Hamlet interpretation from the work of Walter Benjamin to qualify and shape the evaluative comparison of Bertolt Brecht's and Samuel Beckett's dramatic modernism. The article argues that Adorno never develops a proper reading of Hamlet because his treatment of it would have exposed a fundamental contradiction in his aesthetics. Adorno wants to regard Hamlet as a threshold and often refers in passing to Hamlet as the “first” or “original” individual, but such a treatment reintroduces a literary history into an aesthetic incapable of reconciling such a history to its own denunciation of all philosophies of history. The article tests whether Simon Jarvis's critique of Adorno's concept of the modern can explain the difficulty that Adorno seems to encounter in Hamlet, and explores the possibility that Hamlet occupies a basically mythical place in Adorno's thought.

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