Каминяр Дмитрий Генаддьевич: другие произведения.

Response to Maynard Mack's "The World of Hamlet"

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   Dmitri Kaminiar
   Prof. Warley

Response to Maynard Mack's "The world of Hamlet"

   "The World of Hamlet", the literary work of Maynard Mack is a very interesting work on Hamlet; in particular, it is a commentary on the play, and not a criticism, as one might expect. The author sets out with the goal to show his audience three attributes of the play and talk about them, and that is what he does. But before he begins to talk about these attributes, the author notifies his audience that:
   Great plays, [...] present us with something that can be called a world, a microcosm--a world like ours [...] but unlike our own in being perfectly, or almost perfectly, significant and coherent. In a play's world, each part implies the other parts, and each lives, each means, with the life and meaning of the rest.
   (The World of Hamlet, 234)
   This paragraph establishes that the author believes that there is little if at all to criticize in Hamlet, and so the author does not do that. Rather, this establishes the ambiguity (or paradox) of this literary work, for at the start, he described them as an imaginary environment in the first paragraph (234) and as almost real worlds in the second as shown. This ambiguousness penetrates the rest of "The World of Hamlet", and introduces us to his point of view that is double-sided and encompassing when it comes to Shakespeare: he has no problem that these plays are both imaginary and real in a certain meaning of the world, and neither should his audience.
   Therefore, if Maynard Mack treats Shakespeare's plays, including Hamlet as great literary works that are universes alternate to ours, where does he criticize them? He does not. Rather, he says that
   [...] I have singled out three of its attributes for comment. I know too well [...] that anyone who tries to throw light on one part of the play usually throws the rest into deeper shadow and that what I have to say leaves out many problems--to mention only one, the knotty problem of the text.
   (The World of Hamlet, 235-6)
   The attributes he talks about are the play's mysteriousness, the problem of reality, and what the author considers Hamlet's mortality. It is important that he treats each attribute as belonging to the play proper rather than to the play's components: he describes both the attributes and the other literary components of Hamlet (such as the play's imagery and terms) in a great detail, but as one reads "The world of Hamlet", one does not get the feeling of criticism - rather, this is a running commentary on the play as a literary piece.
   For example, the first attribute, mysteriousness:
   Doubtless there have been more of these controversies and explanations than the play requires; [...] And while the cause of this situation may be sought by saying that Shakespeare revised the play so often that eventually the motivations were smudged over [...] we have still as critics to deal with effects, not causes.
   (The World of Hamlet, 236)
   In Maynard Mack's opinion, everything about Hamlet - the protagonist's hesitation and madness, the role, function and character of the Ghost, the protagonist's interactions with other characters - is mysterious, one is never sure what will happen next in the play. The catch is that that the author may have given the attribute to the play because of his own approach to it: Hamlet is imaginary and real at the same time.
   The second attribute of the play - the problem of reality - augments the attribute of mysteriousness further: to the author, Hamlet is full of literal and metaphorical arrases behind which lurks a new layer of reality, one that Hamlet has to pierce to expose the truth (240-241). Again, that is the opinion of Maynard Mack, other readers of Hamlet may have different opinions.
   The third and final attribute, mortality, enables Maynard Mack to give Hamlet a morbid atmosphere as well. Of course, Hamlet has always enjoyed a morbid or gothic atmosphere, but that proves exactly Maynard Mack's earlier point: "The conception we have of Othello is a function of the characters who help define him" (234), and so is the case with Hamlet. Maynard Mack believes that the play's attributes, like the three he describes in the play, define Hamlet as we know it, and he sets out to prove that it is so - but he does not criticize the play, it is not his goal. On pages 235-6 he says that his goal in "The World of Hamlet" is to comment on the three of the play's attributes, and that is what he does. He comments on these attributes, he describes them and other elements of Hamlet in a great detail, but he never criticizes them as such; rather he almost appears to compliment them!
   "The World of Hamlet" of Maynard Mack is a comment on three of Hamlet's attributes - Maynard Mack does not criticize the play as a whole, he merely comments on its mysteriousness, shifting reality and mortality (as he perceives them to be). Since these attributes are found in the whole of the play, "The World of Hamlet" encompasses the whole of Hamlet, but Maynard Mack succeeds in commenting only on three of the play's attributes and nothing more.
   Mack, Maynard. "The world of Hamlet". The Yale Review XLI. Reprinted by permission of the author. The Yale University Press, 1952.
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