In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Dramatists at (Meta) Play:Shakespeare's Hamlet, II, ii, II. 410-591 and Pirandello's Henry IV
  • Jill L. Levenson (bio)
Jill L. Levenson

Jill L. Levenson, Associate Professor of English at Trinity College, University of Toronto, is Editor of Modern Drama. She has published editorial and bibliographical research on English Renaissance drama, and critical articles about Shakespeare's plays and their backgrounds as well as about contemporary drama. At present she is on a two-year leave from teaching, subsidized by the SSHRC and the NEH, to prepare the first volume of a source supplement for the Harbage/Schoenbaum Annals of English Drama: 975-1700.


1. Quotations from Hamlet in this paper are taken from Willard Farnham's edition in the Pelican Shakespeare, gen. ed. Alfred Harbage (Baltimore, 1969); quotations from Henry IV, trans. Edward Storer, come from Eric Bentley's edition, Naked Masks: Five Plays by Luigi Pirandello (New York, 1952).

2. Jackson I. Cope, "The Rediscovery of Anti-Form in Renaissance Drama," Comparative Drama 1 (1967), 158; cf. Robert Brustein, The Theatre of Revolt: An Approach to the Modern Drama (Boston, 1964), p. 316.

3. Cope, 158.

4. This is Anne Righter's phrase: Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (London, 1962).

5. "[S]hortly after the turn of the century,... the theatre and even the idea of imitation inexplicably went dark for Shakespeare, and the actor, all his splendour gone, became a symbol of disorder, of futility and pride"; with the last plays, the romances, "... Shakespeare turns the world itself into a theatre, blurring the distinctions between art and life. He restores the dignity of the play metaphor and, at the same time, destroys it" (Righter, pp. 155-156, 192).

6. This fluctuating disposition may have resulted, at least in part, from what Dante Della Terza calls "... Pirandello's artistic ideology and his aspiration toward a synchronic interchange of all his literary experiences" ("On Pirandello's Humorism," in Veins of Humor, ed. Harry Levin [Cambridge, Mass., 1972], p. 33).

7. My references to Renaissance faculty psychology are based on knowledge of primary sources. However, the commonplaces are conveniently set out in "The Physiology and Psychology of the Renaissance," Chapter I of Lawrence Babb's The Elizabethan Malady: A Study of Melancholia in English Literature from 1580 to 1642 (East Lansing, Mich., 1951).

8. The following discussion of memory relies primarily upon The Art of Memory (Harmondsworth, Eng., 1969).

9. Aristotle, De memoria et reminiscentia, trans. W. S. Hett (1935), quoted in Yates, p. 48.

10. Harry Levin, The Question of "Hamlet" (New York, 1959), p. 149.

11. Cf. Yates's description, p. 78: "Remarkably beautiful or hideous, dressed in crowns and purple garments, deformed or disfigured with blood or mud, smeared with red paint, comic or ridiculous, they stroll mysteriously, like players, out of antiquity into the scholastic treatise on memory as a part of Prudence."

12. Yates, p. 46.

13. Levin, p. 156.


... Fie upon't, foh! About, my brains.Hum —I have heard that guilty creatures sitting at a playHave by the very cunning of the sceneBeen struck so to the soul that presentlyThey have proclaimed their malefactions.For murther, though it have no tongue, will speakWith most miraculous organ. I'll have these playersPlay something like the murther of my fatherBefore mine uncle. I'll observe his looks.I'll tent him to the quick. If' a do blench,I know my course. The spirit that I have seenMay be a devil, and the devil hath powerT'assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhapsOut of my weakness and my melancholy,As he is very potent with such spirits,Abuses me to damn me. I'll have groundsMore relative than this. The play's the thingWherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.

(11. 573-591)

15. Righter, p. 83.

16. Ibid., p. 86.

17. Anne Paolucci, Pirandello's Theater: The Recovery of the Modern Stage for Dramatic Art (Carbondale, Ill., 1974), p. 94.

18. Robert J. Nelson, Play within a Play: The Dramatist's Conception of His Art: Shakespeare to Anouilh (New Haven, 1958), p. 31.

19. Ibid...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 330-337
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.