Vygotsky's Tragedy: Hamlet and the Psychology of Art

Zittoun, Tania and Stenner, Paul (2021). Vygotsky's Tragedy: Hamlet and the Psychology of Art. Review of General Psychology, 25(3) pp. 223–238.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/10892680211013293


Lev S. Vygotsky is one of the major figures of psychology; however his deep engagement with the arts is less known. This is surprising, given the fact that the arts, and especially Shakespeare’s Hamlet, are present throughout his career. In this paper, we argue, first, that Hamlet was a major symbolic resource for Vygotsky in times of liminal transitions, and second, that it is this very deep experience of having been transformed by means of Hamlet that grounds his psychology of art, which aims precisely to show how Hamlet works as a ‘technique of emotions’. Our demonstration is organised into three main movements. In part 1, we retrace the historical and cultural context in which Vygotsky grew up as a young man. We emphasise his experiences of liminality and transitions, due to transformations of the social world and his own life. In part 2 we examine Vygotsky’s proposition itself through a close analysis of his Psychology of art. Finally, in part 3, we further explicate the relation between art and life at play in Vygotsky’s approach and relate this to Vygotsky’s broader psychology.

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