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Nabokov Studies, 1 (1994), 179-94. SUSAN ELIZABETH SWEENEY (Worcester, MA, U.S.A.) SINISTRAL DETAILS: NABOKOV, WILSON, AND HAMLET IN BEND SINISTER· It may be asked if it is really worth an author's while to devise and distribute these delicate markers whose very nature requires that they be not too conspicuous. Vladimir Nabokov, Introduction to Bend Sinister In 1944 Nabokov told an editor at Doubleday that his new novel—a dark metafictional farce set in an imaginary police state—had required "a considerable amount of critical and original research in ... Shakespearean lore (mainly Hamlet)."1 Nabokov alludes to Shakespeare throughout his oeuvre, and especially in his English novels; and he alludes to Hamlet more than to any other play. Yet readers have been unable to explain why Shakespeare and Hamlet are so essential to the design of Bend Sinister, in particular. As D. Barton Johnson wryly remarks, "the most critical issue raised by the Shakespeare/Hamlet subtext is its raison d'etre ."2 The crux of the problem is the novel's seventh chapter—in which the hero, Adam Krug, and his intellectual sidekick, Ember, indulge in an extravaganza of allusions to the Bard, parodies of Shakespearean criticism , and travesties of Hamlet. Some critics, unable to find consistent parallels between the play and the novel, have decided that this chapter is merely an amusing but unnecessary digression;3 others, who believe that it is "more than a joke and more than just an opportunity for * I am grateful to Charles Nicol and D. Barton Johnson for their comments on this essay; and to Holy Cross College, for a Summer Faculty Fellowship and a Research and Publication Grant which facilitated my archival research. 1. Vladimir Nabokov, Selected Letters 1940-1977, ed. Dmitri Nabokov and Matthew ). Bruccoli (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), p. 48. 2. D. Barton Johnson, Worlds in Regression: Some Novels of Vladimir Nabokov (Ann Arbor, Ml: Ardis, 1985), p. 202. 3. See, for example, Frank Kermode, Review of Bend Sinister, Encounter (June 1960), pp. 81-86; and Douglas Fowler, Reading Nabokov (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1974). 180 Nabokov Studies Nabokov to make some obscure allusions," still cannot resolve its relation to Bend Sinister as a whole.4 But if chapter 7 is "a joke," even if only in part, then we should consider for whom that joke was intended. A likely candidate is Edmund Wilson—Nabokov's correspondent, collaborator, and confidant at the time that he was writing Bend Sinister.5 Evidence suggests that Nabokov composed this fantasia of learned wit, pastiche, and Shakespearean scholarship not only for the sake of his novel, but also for the edification and delight of his friend.6 4. L. L. Lee, "Bend Sinister: Nabokov's Political Dream," Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, 8, No. 2 (1967), 193-203, 199. See also Michael Seidel, "Nabokov on Joyce, Shakespeare, Telemachus, and Hamlet," lames loyce Quarterly, 20 (1983), 358-59; Beverly Gray Bienstock, "Film Imagery in Bend Sinister," in Nabokov's Fifth Arc: Nabokov and Others on His Life's Work, ed. J. L Rivers and Charles Nicol (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1984), pp. 125-38; Michael H. Begnal, " Bend Sinister : Joyce, Shakespeare, Nabokov," Modern Language Studies, 15, No. 4 (1985), 22-27; Johnson, Worlds in Regression; Lois Feuer, "The Unnatural Mirror: Bend Sinister and Hamlet," Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 30, No. 1 (1988), 3-12; Samuel Schuman, "Something Rotten in the State: Hamlet and Bend Sinister," Russian Literature Triquarterly, No. 24 (1991), pp. 197-212; and Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 93-106. To Lee, chapter 7's playful meditation on Hamlet is both a "digression" and "a functional, but an absolutely necessary, part of the novel" (p. 198): it proclaims the value of literature; provides psychological relief for Krug and Ember, and comic relief for the reader; and enhances the novel's political satire (p. 200). Bienstock remarks that chapter 7 traces Hamlet s translation into both another language and another medium, narrative cinema (pp. 134-35); Seidel and Begnal each compare Nabokov's treatment of Hamlet to Joyce's in Ulysses; and Johnson speculates that whereas Nabokov's...