To be or not to be: the question never asked in Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day”

“We’ve already found one correlation no one could have thought of who wasn’t looking for a connection.”

A.S.Byatt Possession


Hamlet is probably Shakespeare´s most popular play and has exhaustively been studied over the centuries, being subject to an infinite range of interpretations. In very general terms, it deals with the issue of revenge and Hamlet’s hesitance to proceed with it. However, it is a much more complex work, as a great variety of side motifs enriches its dramatic purpose. Some of these are: metatheatricality; liminality; the problem of the division between the natural body and the body politic as related to the moral corruption of the State; sexual issues such as lust, fidelity, virginity, and adultery; the discordance between reality and appearance; and the nature of man and his duality: Beast and God, a topic which links with the Renaissance concept of man in the light of the writings of Montaigne and Pico de la Mirandola.

The Remains of the Day might seem falling wide off the mark from all these issues. Nevertheless, the aim of this paper is to show how Ishiguro has situated Stevens, his complex and fascinating main character, faced to a situation closely related to Hamlet’s, though a more intimate and ultimately desperate one. This situation is the aftermath of all possible action. For, what if Hamlet had finally not done anything, had chosen “not to be” and merely let things stand? What if he had preferred the deep and dreamless sleep? Would it indeed have been, as he suspected, dreamless after all? How much of himself would he have had to annihilate and thoroughly suffocate in order not to have any dreams? As Harold Bloom says “Si Hamlet hubiera permanecido pasivo después de la visita del Espectro, entonces Polonio, Ofelia, Laertes, Rosencratz, Guildenstern, Claudio, Gertrud y el propio Hamlet no hubieran muerto de muerte violenta. Todo en la obra depende de la respuesta de Hamlet al Espectro”. Another very different spectre from the past turns up in Stevens’ life to draw a response. Miss Kenton. And Stevens is spurred into undertaking a journey.

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