Hamlet’s ‘Spendthrift Sigh’: Emotional Breathing On and Off the Stage

  • Naya TsentourouEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)


This chapter addresses how the body’s release of the breath troubles, in the context of theatrical representation, the boundaries between the internal and the external and between actors and audience. Drawing on Renaissance and modern theories of emotions to explore the affective resonance of sighing in Hamlet, the chapter examines what it means to waste one’s self in breath, or how breath consumes the body as much as it invigorates it. Hypocritical, instrumental, communicative, self-consuming and self-revealing, breathing in Hamlet has no fixed referent but shifts as often as the characters shift their position and perspective, constantly pointing to the impossibility of ordering Hamlet’s and the playgoers’ experience.


  1. Alexander of Aphrodisias. The Problems of Aristotle with Other Philosophers and Physicians. Edinburgh: Printed by Robert Waldgrave, 1595.Google Scholar
  2. Aristotle. On Respiration. Translated by W. S. Hett. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936.Google Scholar
  3. Berry, Cicely. Voice and the Actor. New York: Wiley, 1973.Google Scholar
  4. Bright, Timothy. A Treatise of Melancholie. London: Printed by Thomas Vautrollier, 1586.Google Scholar
  5. Coeffeteau, Nicolas. A Table of Humane Passions with Their Causes and Effects. London: Printed by Nicholas Okes, 1621.Google Scholar
  6. Collins, Stephen. ‘Review—Hamlet’. Live Theatre UK. 16 April 2016.
  7. Ferrand, Jacques. Erotomania or a Treatise Discoursing of the Essence, Causes, Symptomes, Prognosticks, and Cure of Love, or Erotique Melancholy. Oxford: Printed by L. Lichfield, 1640.Google Scholar
  8. Hamlet. Directed by Sarah Frankcom. Royal Exchange. Manchester. 2014. DVD.Google Scholar
  9. Hamlet. Directed by Simon Goodwin. RSC. Stratford-upon-Avon. 2016. DVD.Google Scholar
  10. Honigmann, E. A. J. ‘Re-enter the Stage Direction: Shakespeare and Some Contemporaries’. Shakespeare Survey 29 (1976): 117–126.Google Scholar
  11. Lindemann, Mary. Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Google Scholar
  12. Malone, Edmond. The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, Vol. III. London, 1821.Google Scholar
  13. Mazzio, Carla. ‘The History of Air: Hamlet and the Trouble with Instruments’. South Central Review 26 (2009): 153–196.Google Scholar
  14. Mulrooney, Jonathan. ‘Keats in the Company of Kean’. Studies in Romanticism 42 (2003): 238–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Oxford English Dictionary Online. June 2017. Oxford University Press.
  16. Plamper, Jan. ‘The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns’. History and Theory 49 (2010): 237–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Reddy, William. The Navigation of Feeling: Framework for the History of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.Google Scholar
  18. Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of Hamlet. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.Google Scholar
  19. Rosenwein, Barbara H. Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006.Google Scholar
  20. Rutter, Carol Chillington. Enter the Body: Women and Representation on Shakespeare’s Stage. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sale, Carolyn. ‘Eating Air, Feeling Smells: Hamlet’s Theory of Performance’. Renaissance Drama 35 (2006): 145–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Scheer, Monique. ‘Are Emotions a Kind of Practice (And Is That What Makes Them Have a History)? A Bourdieuian Approach to Understanding Emotion’. History and Theory 51 (2012): 193–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623. Edited by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor. London: Bloomsbury, 2006.Google Scholar
  24. Shakespeare, William. The Winter’s Tale. Edited by John Pitcher. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010.Google Scholar
  25. Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Edited by René Weis. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.Google Scholar
  26. The Winter’s Tale. Directed by Declan Donnellan. Cheek by Jowl. Barbican. London. April 19, 2017.Google Scholar
  27. Walsh, Marcus. Shakespeare, Milton and the Eighteenth-Century Literary Editing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  28. White, R. S. Keats as a Reader of Shakespeare. London: Athlone Press, 1987.Google Scholar
  29. Wright, Thomas. The Passions of the Minde in Generall. London: Printed by Valentine Simmes and Adam Islip, 1604.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Exeter UniversityExeterUK

Personalised recommendations