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Chapter 5 - ‘Poor Yorick’: The Photograph as Memento Mori

from Part II - Iconography, Photography, and Hamlet

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2019

Sally Barnden
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

This chapter examines the long history of depictions of Hamlet with Yorick’s skull, acknowledging that this composition has a longer history than that of the play itself. Considering versions of the ‘Yorick still’ in relation to medieval and early modern memento mori art, I argue firstly that photography was a significant determining factor in this image’s rise to prominence and ubiquity. Secondly, I suggest that the uncanny qualities of the photograph, as they are discussed for instance by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida, allow photographs based on Hamlet to revive some of the spectral qualities of the memento mori. The chapter concludes with reflections on ‘playing dead’ in photographs of Hippolyte Bayard and Sarah Bernhardt.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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