Hamlet's Castle is both a theoretical and a practical examination of the interactions that take place in a literary classroom. The book traces the source of literature's power to the relationship between its illusional quality and its abstract meaning and relates these elements to the process by which a group, typically an academic class, forms a judgment about a literary work. In focusing on the importance of the exchange of ideas by readers, Gordon Mills reveals a new way of looking at literature as well as a different concept of the social function of the literary classroom and the possible application of this model to other human activities.
The three fundamental elements that constitute Mills's schema are the relationship between a reader and the illusional quality of literature, the relationship between a reader and the meaning of a text, and the concept of social experience within the environment of a text. The roles of illusion and meaning in a text are explored in detail and are associated with areas outside literature, including science and jurisprudence. There is an examination of the way in which decisions are forced by peers upon one another during discussion of a literary work-an exchange of opinion which is commonly a source of pleasure and insight, sought for its own sake. In the course of his study, Mills shows that the act of apprehending a literary structure resembles that of apprehending a social structure. From this relationship, he derives the social function of the literary classroom.
In combining a theoretical analysis with the practical objective of determining what value can be found in the study of literature by groups of people, Mills has produced a critical study of great significance. Hamlet's Castle will change concepts about the purpose of teaching literature, affect the way in which literature is taught, and become involved in the continuing discussion of the relationship of literary studies to other disciplines.