Finding Comfort in Repetition

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How many times do you need to reread Hamlet? Stephen Marche says he’s reread the play more than a hundred times. And all that reading has not been without effect. Marche says that by rereading Hamlet, its meaning has changed:

The main effect of reading Hamlet a 100 times was, counter-intuitively, that it lost its sense of cliche. “To be or not to be” is the Stairway to Heaven of theatre; it settles over the crowd like a slightly funky blanket knitted by a favorite aunt. Eventually, if you read Hamlet often enough, every soliloquy takes on that same familiarity. And so “To be or not to be” resumes its natural place in the play, as just another speech. Which renders its power and its beauty of a piece with the rest of the work.


Ian MacAllen is the Rumpus Deputy Editor and founder of English Kills Review an online literary magazine focused on books, authors, and New York City. His writing has appeared in Little Fiction, Vol 1 Brooklyn, Joyland Magazine, Chicago Review of Books, Fiction Advocate, and elsewhere. He holds a Master’s Degree in English from Rutgers University and lives in Brooklyn. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at IanMacAllen.com. More from this author →