All for Nothing

From Short Circuits

All for Nothing

Hamlet's Negativity

By Andrew Cutrofello

Hamlet as performed by philosophers, with supporting roles played by Kant, Nietzsche, and others.

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Hamlet as performed by philosophers, with supporting roles played by Kant, Nietzsche, and others.

A specter is haunting philosophy—the specter of Hamlet. Why is this? Wherefore? What should we do?

Entering from stage left: the philosopher's Hamlet. The philosopher's Hamlet is a conceptual character, played by philosophers rather than actors. He performs not in the theater but within the space of philosophical positions. In All for Nothing, Andrew Cutrofello critically examines the performance history of this unique role.

The philosopher's Hamlet personifies negativity. In Shakespeare's play, Hamlet's speech and action are characteristically negative; he is the melancholy Dane. Most would agree that he has nothing to be cheerful about. Philosophers have taken Hamlet to embody specific forms of negativity that first came into view in modernity. What the figure of the Sophist represented for Plato, Hamlet has represented for modern philosophers. Cutrofello analyzes five aspects of Hamlet's negativity: his melancholy, negative faith, nihilism, tarrying (which Cutrofello distinguishes from “delaying”), and nonexistence. Along the way, we meet Hamlet in the texts of Kant, Coleridge, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Russell, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Benjamin, Arendt, Schmitt, Lacan, Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, Badiou, Žižek, and other philosophers. Whirling across a kingdom of infinite space, the philosopher's Hamlet is nothing if not thought-provoking.


$24.00 T ISBN: 9780262526340 240 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • In short, Cutrofello has crafted a thoughtful, provocative book about both Shakespeare and modern philosophy—one which in many ways takes its bearings both from the play's opening line ('Who's there?') and from the prince's final words ('the rest is silence'). Historians of modern philosophy and lovers of Shakespeare's work in general will find much in this book to ponder profitably.

    The Review of Metaphysics

  • This book is a spectacular intellectual performance. Andrew Cutrofello, Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago (and author of Continental Philosophy), takes the reader on a joyride through the twists and turns of Hamlet's negativities; his melancholy; his negative faith, his nihilism; his tarrying; and his non-existence.

    Consciousness, Literature and the Arts


  • In this fascinating and challenging study, Andrew Cutrofello asks what can happen if we compare ways in which great philosophers like Descartes, Kant, Hume, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Russell, Heidegger, Arendt, Benjamin, and Derrida 'perform' Hamlet, in much the same way that stage historians study how Garrick, Kean, Bernhard, Olivier, Gielgud, and Branagh have performed the play's title character in the theater. The result is an absorbing study of philosophical thought brought to bear upon the many forms that Hamlet's negativity and hesitation have taken in critical interpretation.

    David Bevington

    Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities, University of Chicago; author of Murder Most Foul: Hamlet Through the Ages

  • All the world of philosophy is Shakespeare's stage, Andrew Cutrofello argues in All for Nothing. But when the curtain goes up, the phantom haunting this theory theater is not Marx. Instead, Cutrofello's is the most compelling conjuration yet for the return of Hegel to Shakespeare Studies. For Hegel's uncannily negative capability to 'do' nothing here becomes the spooky cue for the 'fine revolution' of our own postmodern 'readiness,' as the entire event of Western thinking is interpreted as an encounter with the zero of Shakespeare's 'Wooden O.' All for Nothing is an arrestingly naughty book, one that will give us pause, as much about German history as Hamlet, for a very long time.

    Richard Wilson

    Sir Peter Hall Professor of Shakespeare Studies, Kingston University; author of Shakespeare in French Theory: King of Shadows

  • No other play than Hamlet presents us with such a kaleidoscopic array of negativity: from nihilism, failure, and melancholy, to disenchantment, doubt, and illusion. Andrew Cutrofello's All for Nothing is a compelling and erudite survey of the thinkers who have productively wrestled with the negative faith of the Danish prince.

    Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster

    authors of Stay, Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine