Existential and religious motifs in L.S. Vygotsky’s essay on “Hamlet” (1916)



In this article existential and religious motifs in the works of young L.S. Vygotsky are considered. The specificity of the existential approach, characterized by blurring the limits of philosophy, science and art and the formation of a synthetic method of cognition of a human being, is emphasized. These features are found in the early works of Vygotsky. The analysis of his essay “The tragedy of Hamlet, prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare” (1916) is the focus of attention. The existential orientation distinguishes both the form and the content of Vygotsky’s work. The genre of the work is a combination of literary criticism and philosophical psychological research. In his essay Vygotsky touches on such existential topics as: the tragedy and loneliness of human existence, existential guilt as the guilt of birth, the issue of formation and self-fulfillment of a man, the relationship of knowledge and action, the dialectic of the external and the internal, the issue of the moduses of human existence — “sinful innocence”, ethical and religious existence, the issue of meaning of life. The parallel between Vygotsky’s existential views, developed in this essay, and the ideas of well-known representatives of the existential approach is drawn. From the existential issues of the play Vygotsky moves on to its inner meaning, which he defines as religious. The four main themes he reveals most fully: the issue of connection between the two worlds — the world of the dead and the world of the living, the issue of sin, punishment and redemption, the issue of darkness of divine Providence (meaning of life) and the issue of overcoming separateness and restoring the unity of the world. In the article the main provisions and principles of study of early Vygotsky and Vygotsky in the period of creation of cultural-historical theory are compared. A continuity between the ideas of Vygotsky’s early works and his latest project of dramatic psychology is observed.

General Information

Keywords: existential-religious motifs, dramatic psychology, formation of a man, knowledge and action, the external and the internal, meaning

Journal rubric: Vygotskology

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/chp.2018140214

For citation: Chesnokova M.G. Existential and religious motifs in L.S. Vygotsky’s essay on “Hamlet” (1916). Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2018. Vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 129–137. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2018140214. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


  1. Asmolov A.G. Neodeyatel’nostnaya paradigma v myshlenii XXI veka: deyatel’nost’ kak sushchestvovanie [Neoactivity paradigm in the XXI century thinking: activity as existence]. Mir psikhologii [World of psychology], 2003, no. 2(34), pp. 155—158.
  2. Bratus’ B.S. Logoterapiya kak iskusstvo byt’ [Logotherapy as an art of being]. Lengle A. Zhizn’, napolnennaya smyslom. Prikladnaya logoterapiya [A life filled with meaning. Applied logotherapy]. Moscow: Genezis, 2003, pp. 5—13.
  3. Vasilyuk F.E. «Vy ponimaete…» [“Do you understand…”]. Zhurnal prakticheskogo psikhologa [Journal of practical psychologist], 2003, no. 1—2, pp. 232—240.
  4. Vygotskii L.S. Polnoe sobr. soch.: v 16 t. T. 1. Dramaturgiya i teatr [Collected Works: in 16 v. Vol. 1. Dramaturgy and theater]. Moscow: Lev”, 2015. 752 p.
  5. Vygotskii L.S. Psikhologiya iskusstva [Psychology of art]. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1965. 382 p.
  6. Zavershneva E.Yu., R. van der Veer (eds.), Zapisnye knizhki L.S. Vygotskogo. Izbrannoe [Notebooks L.S. Vygotsky. My Favorites]. Moscow: Kanon +, 2017. 608 p.
  7. Ivanov V. MXAT Vtoroj v rabote nad “Gamletom”. Gamlet — Mixail Chexov [Elektronnyi resurs] [MAT the second in the work on “Hamlet”. Hamlet — Michael Chekhov]. URL: http://www.w-shakespeare.ru/library/shekspirovskie-chteniya-1985-13.html (Accessed 22.05.2018).
  8. K’erkegor S. Zaklyuchitel’noe nenauchnoe posleslovie k «Filosofskim krokham» [Concluding unscientific postscript to the philosophical fragments]. Moscow: Akademicheskii proekt, 2012. 607 p.
  9. K’erkegor S. Strakh i trepet [Fear and trembling]. Moscow: Kul’turnaya revolyutsiya, 2010. 488 p.
  10. Leont’ev D.A. Novye orientiry ponimaniya lichnosti v psikhologii: ot neobkhodimogo k vozmozhnomu [New reference points for understanding personality in psychology: from the necessary towards the possible]. Voprosy psikhologii [Psychology questions], 2011, no. 1, pp. 3—27.
  11. Leont’ev D.A. Teoriya lichnosti A.N.Leont’eva [Elektronnyi resurs] [A.N. Leontiev’s personality theory]. URL: http://www.psychology-online.net/articles/doc-961.html/2008/02 (Accessed 02.03.2018).
  12. Sobkin V.S. Kommentarii k neizvestnomu reportazhu L.S. Vygotskogo: vpechatleniya o Fevral’skoi revolyutsii [Commentary on an unknown report by L.S. Vygotsky: Impressions of the February Revolution]. Voprosy psikhologii [Psychology questions], 2016, no. 5, pp. 88—101.
  13. Sobkin V.S., Klimova T.A. Lev Vygotskii mezhdu dvukh revolyutsii: k voprosu o politicheskom samoopredelenii uchenogo [Lev Vygotsky between two revolutions: to the question of the political self-determination of the scientist]. Natsional’nyi psikhologicheskii zhurnal [National psychological magazine], 2016, no. 2(23), pp. 20—31. doi: 10.11621/npj.2016.0303
  14. Sobkin V.S., Klimova T.A. Lev Vygotskii o radosti i skorbi (kommentarii k stat’e «Mysli i nastroeniya») [Lev Vygotsky on joy and sorrow (comments on the article «Thoughts and moods»)]. Kul’turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya [Cultural and historical psychology], 2017. Vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 71—82. doi: 10.17759/chp.2017130309. (In Russ., abstr. in Engl.)
  15. Sobkin V.S., Klimova T.A. Neizvestnyi Vygotskii: ob opyte perevoda s drevneevreiskogo [Unknown Vygotsky: the experience of translation from the Hebrew]. Voprosy psikhologii [Psychology questions], 2016, no. 4, pp. 76—95.
  16. Sobkin V.S., Klimova T.A. «Traurnye stroki»: k voprosu o natsional’no-kul’turnom samoopredelenii L.S. Vygotskogo [“Funeral strings”: to the question of national-cultural selfdetermination L.S. Vygotsky]. Kul’turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya [Cultural and historical psychology], 2017. Vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 4—12. doi: 10.17759/chp.2017.130201. (In Russ., abstr. in Engl.)
  17. Subbotskii E.V. «Aleksei Nikolaevich… fakticheski byl ekzistentsialistom v sovetskoi psikhologii» [Aleksey Nikolaevich… actually was an existentialist in the Soviet psychology]. Zhurnal prakticheskogo psikhologa [Journal of practical psychologist], 2003, no. 1—2, pp. 181—198.
  18. Shapiro A.Z. Dukhovno-religioznye motivy zhizni i tvorchestva L.S. Vygotskogo [Spiritual and religious motives of life and creativity Vygotsky]. Moskovskii psikhoterapevticheskii zhurnal [Moscow psychotherapeutic magazine], 1996, no. 4, p. 147.

Information About the Authors

Milena G. Chesnokova, PhD in Psychology, Senior Researcher, Department of General Psychology, Moscow State University M.V. Lomonosov, Moscow, Russia, e-mail: milen-ches@bk.ru



Total: 1822
Previous month: 25
Current month: 11


Total: 815
Previous month: 1
Current month: 1