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"Give 0'er the play": Closure in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search ofan Author! NAOMI CONN LIEBLER Comparisons between the plays of Pirandello and Shakespeare seem, by now, rather the norm than the exception in critical examinations ofeither dramatist; more often than not, and for a variety of reasons, Hamlet provides the locus classicus. So it is that the papers which follow demonstrate several kinds of comparisons between Hamlet and two of Pirandello's plays. Three of the essays were first presented, in somewhat briefer versions, to the Pirandello Society at the Modem Language Association meeting in Houston, Texas, on December 29, 1980; Matthew N. Proser's paper was prompted by the discussion at that session. In the two essays presented immediately after this one, Maurice Charney and Jill Levenson, respectively, identify and carefully analyze several particular points of comparison between Hamlet and Pirandello 's Six Characters and between Hamlet and Henry IV; then Proser also examines Hamlet and Henry IV; and, finally, Terence Hawkes responds to the work of Charney and Levenson. The intention of the whole group might be to invite additional comparisons between the plays to be made by readers of these essays, thus continuing (in a manner not at all foreign to either Shakespeare or Pirandello) the process of completion in the mind of the "reader/audience." Indeed, Pirandello posited just such a process of completion as essential to the theater's special dynamism when he wrote that, "in the Theater a work of art is no longer the work of the writer (which, after all, can always be preserved in some other way), but an act oflife, realized on the stage from one moment to the next, with the cooperation ofan audience that must find satisfaction in it."2 That cooperation is absolutely necessary to the play's "act of life," for it is in the reception by an audience that the play reaches its final form. With this idea as context, then, this first essay may serve to introduce the rest by suggesting some general similarities in the ways both writers involve, and subsequently discomfit, their audiences in search of the final form of the play. Among other things, Shakespeare and Pirandello shared what may be an Shakespeare's Hamlet and Pirandello's Six Characters 315 obligatory concern for dramatists: the shaping of a play and its relation to the forms of life which the play works to reflect. When Hamlet rhapsodized about the "piece of work [that] is a man," he escorted us through a series of the most glorious formal images that have ever been conjured up in praise of ourselves: in the mind's eye, the audience sees itself, successively, "in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!" And then, sadly but quickly, Hamlet dissolves and reduces these exalted images - which, lacking an objective description, we complete (optimistically if not arrogantly) in our own minds - to the mere "quintessence of dust" that "delights not me ... " (ll.ii. 299-304). Shortly after he thus presents the fall of the well-made man, Hamlet turns his aesthetic attention to another piece of work, the well-made play.3 He welcomes the players, whose images (he tells us in 11. 426-437) delight him quite well, and apparently better than man does. The implications ofHamlet's choice are interesting, for in these lines he asks the player to repeat the speech in which he played Aeneas, recounting to Dido the scene of Priam's death; the multiplicity of fixed and fictive images builds to a far greater nobility in Hamlet's mind than ever actually exists in the real "quintessenceofdust." Nonetheless, despite his recognition that life hardly matches the idealizations of art, a little while later Hamlet instructs the players to "hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature, to show ... ," as we would say, realistically, "the very age and body of the time his form and pressure" (III.ii. 21-24)ยท Beneath Hamlet's command lies the comfortable and comforting AristotelianlElizabethan notion that plays should imitate significant human actions in such a way as to...


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pp. 314-322
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