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

300Philosophy and Literature To Be and Not to Be: Negation and Metadrama in "Hamlet," by James L. Calderwood; xvi & 222 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983, $29.50. Calderwood explores many of the innumerable paradoxes in Hamlet. His approach is modern, especially in his discussions of metadrama, but he hopes also not to have "lost sight of the play as an illusion of life and mimetic presence" (p. xvi). Calderwood's metadramatic reading includes not only the play's theatricality, "but also its digressive structure, its self-consuming nature as a performance in time, its concrete universality, the creative negativity of its language, and its relations ... to its genre of revenge tragedy" (pp. xvi-xvii). The book has three main parts: the first is a self-contained interpretation ofthe play as well as a microcosm ofCalderwood's subsidiary issues; die second examines die via negativa of Hamlet's delay, and the third Hamlet as metadrama. The interpretation begins with Shakespeare's stinginess as name-giver. There are two Hamlets (four if you count old Hamlet living and dead and Hamlet the play — whose own ancestry includes the Ur-Hamlet) and two Fortinbrases. Calderwood argues that Hamlet's famous delay represents his refusal of metaphoric identity with his father. Shakespeare uses wordplay and madplay to differentiate Hamlet from old Hamlet, and Hamlet from other revenge tragedies. Only after Hamlet has confronted his own death aboard the pirate ship and in the graveyard can he announce "This is I / Hamlet, the Dane," combining die individual and die generic. Calderwood borrows from the Renaissance rhetorician Puttenham the term "tmetic," which refers to sentences that begin, then wander or digress, then conclude so as to include and thusjustify die first two parts. So the structure of Hamlet begins with die ghost's demand, wanders into Hamlet's delay, and concludes with the double killing of Claudius, first for Hamlet himselfand second genetically for his father. Calderwood's discussion of tmetic structure is illuminating, as is his discussion of die "interruptive modes" of language and dramaturgy which mirror diat structure. Part II, "The Range of Negation," contains discussions of Hamlet's via negativa which are also interesting and original. I am not convinced, however, that the second killing ofClaudius is generic: Hamlet is moved by the poisoning of Gertrude, his mind is still "tainted" (he calls Claudius "incestuous"), and he seems to act for himself. And I wish mat Calderwood had extended his considerations of linguistic sameness and difference further into tragic tiieory, particularly those of Nietzsche and of René Girard (Violence and the Sacred). Calderwood's explication of metadrama is finally unpersuasive. Mimesis of theatrical matters does not mean that Hamlet is about theatre any more than the banquet scene in Macbeth means diat the play is about food. "The Murder of Gonzago" is simply one more "maimed rite." Moreover, the discussions of metadrama distract from the centrality ofthe character Hamlet (character being determined, as Aristode said, by moral choices). Matthew Arnold said that the critic should "see the object clearly," implying an object to be seen. But Blake said we should look through the eye, not with it, that true seeing is imaginative vision. Calderwood is in the middle; he writes both about the object and the eye that sees it. He says diat Hamlet is etched on the metaphorical window of theatrical performance , which is our only means of viewing it (p. 196). But there is also that further win- Reviews301 dow of the critic's own eye, which sometimes — often in contemporary criticism — sees its own figures instead ofthe artist's. To Be andNot to Be is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Universityof Pittsburgh, JohnstownCharles H. Clifton Structuralism or Criticism? Thoughts on How We Read, by Geoffrey Strickland; viii & 209 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, $44.50 (cloth), $12.95 (paper). The meeting of French theoretical abstraction and Anglo-American common sense has produced much heat and little light, but above all scores of texts. Add another to the list: Geoffrey Strickland's assessment of the challenge of French structuralism (by which is meant semiology as conceived by Bardies in the mid '60s) to traditional literary criticism (whose representative here is F...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 300-301
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.