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Mousetrap: Structure and meaning in Hamlet

Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 238
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This is a study ofHamletas literary myth, a figurative mode of art in which structure is basic; yet primal myth, myth in the larger, non-literary sense, becomes part of it too, because the substance ofHamletseems to be of this kind.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5624-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    P.J. ALDUS
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. PART ONE Tools

    • 1 Myth
      (pp. 5-20)

      Before literary myth can be considered as a specific form of fiction, ‘myth,’ a most loosely used word, needs precise definition. Along with ‘fiction’ and ‘hypothesis’ it has popularly been made synonymous with ‘untruth.’ Inaccuracy of this kind may be casual and innocuous; on the other hand, the accusation of lies led to Sidney’s defence of fiction as poetical truth and was no small part of persistent Puritan attack on the theatre.

      The problem seems to lie not in the distinction between truly literal comparisons (as, for example, England is like Denmark) and those which are figurative, a clear difference...

    • 2 Literary myth
      (pp. 21-34)

      The line of myth is directly relevant to three basic concepts in Plato about poetry. In theRepublic, imitationis art without truth. Lacking knowledge, the imitative poet is not able to penetrate the line; he can deal only in what he sees directly – appearances.¹Possession, as in theIon, represents a power from beyond the line that penetrates centripetally the world of actual phenomena, entering the poet, part of this world, so that he may become spokesman for truths beyond or hidden in the factual.Invention, Plato’s third concept, is basic in actual (i.e., written) true poetry, or...

  6. PART TWO Exhumation

    • 3 Tellers
      (pp. 37-51)

      The adequacy of any structural study of tragedy, Aristotle shows, depends on an accurate sense of the whole in total response; such response can come fully only at the end of the action. To begin a study ofHamlet, then, one may consider an asseveration and a plea by Hamlet at the end: ‘Things standing thus unknown’ (echoed a few moments later by Horatio), and ‘… tell my story.’ This is the clearest and most puzzling testimony of all thatHamletis a mystery – that of Hamlet himself and of Horatio – at precisely the point at which the...

    • 4 Killers
      (pp. 52-84)

      In its multiple killings the last scene ofHamletis most violent; yet, despite appearances, these killings are anything but merely Senecan. Three questions, not answerable until the end of this inquiry, then not fully, may give direction to thought. Who are killed? By what agencies do they die? When do they die? Only the last seems to have the suggestion of a firm, if metaphorical, answer. Fortinbras coming on the scene apostrophizes Death as to why

      thou so many princes at a shot

      So bloodily hast struck?

      The question somewhat identifies those who are just killed. But ‘at a...

    • 5 Players
      (pp. 85-121)

      Maynard Mack’s illuminating remarks on multiple but identical audiences should be enough to indicate the use of drama as an element of drama. Throughout, drama and various elements in and relevant to the theatre are means withinHamlet. And as Mack points out in his question, ‘Where … does the playing end?’ the outward view from the Mousetrap moves invisibly through an invisible wall between stage actors and the real audience watchingHamlet. The next inference seems inescapable: the circumferential wall of the Globe is just as much doubly penetrated with humanity all around it looking in and Hamlet at...

    • 6 Dream travellers
      (pp. 122-147)

      The fifth soliloquy (iii.i.56–90) is a quiet, contemplative chorus which appears to be the most largely detached view expressed by Hamlet anywhere. This detachment is made to appear even greater in that the soliloquy comes between Pyrrhus and ‘O what a rogue and peasant slave am I,’ and, on the other side, the attack on Ophelia. It stands like the eye of a typhoon. In this chorus four matters invite the closest attention: travellers, dreams, falconry once again, and finally the collocation of the last with the character and attested knowledge of Ophelia.

      In all of theHamletpuzzles...

    • 7 Mousetrap
      (pp. 148-175)

      Of what is usually identified as the Mousetrap – dumb show, prologue, and play – John Dover Wilson writes: ‘The play scene is the central point ofHamlet… the climax and crisis … Owing to its crucial character and its central position, [it] is the point at which all the threads of the plot may be expected to meet’ (138; 140). Yet there have been doubts as to the necessity for and the dramatic impact of the dumb show, and negative responses to the play as a rather dull, stilted version of the Ghost’s story; certainly the prologue has...

    • 8 Myths
      (pp. 176-201)

      The ‘House of Hamlet’ is as marked by doom as is the House of Kadmos. The peculiar power of both lies in some measure in circularity: each is the house of doomed man in its ever-recurring, ever-present past. InHamlethorrifying intensities come in part from inversion of perspectives in the cycle: that which is within, although we see it outwardly; the evil burden of the past in the present, both one; night, not day, although a malevolent light shines on its snared and trapped figures; doomsday, here and now, ghosts walking in judgment of men, the ‘sheeted dead’ squeaking...

    • 9 Rituals
      (pp. 202-208)

      Ritual, just as myth, needs definition and division if we are to realize fully the part it plays inHamlet. It may be defined in its full form as ceremony, usually traditional, or in part so, a symbolic action with symbolic language, marked by the use of physical symbols, seeking to convey significances and powers beyond ordinary comprehension, meanings intuitive rather than rationally or literally conceived, with almost total reliance on metaphor. It may be actionper se, mimed; it may combine action and words; it may use dance and/or music. It may use the suggestive powers of gesture and...

    • 10 Madnesses
      (pp. 209-220)

      Hamlet embodies an involved combination of many identities, but the awkward, sometimes cumbersome terminologies used here for them (e.g., King/Polonius/Hamlet) scarcely help gain response to mythic character and action. Thereductio ad absurdum, however accurate the term might be, would be a composite name stretching its length a third of a page.

      The usual alternative, each figure accepted by name as literal character in a literal story, is even worse. But it will have been noticed that there has been here a compromise, awkward terminologies giving way from time to time to the simple ‘literal’ names. Readers probably share the...

  7. PART THREE Inhumation

    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 221-224)

      Once again Hamlet, son of the Player King, has been exhumed, Ghost-doomed, surrounded in shadowy reality by a troop of lost spirits, drawn from a dream of angelic rest into the dread fires of daylight damnation. He could not so have been seen without the thought of profoundly inquiring spirits, long beforeHamlet, who pondered the powers of theOedipusand other myths stretching back to and beyond Homer. What has been attempted here is based on simple acceptance of the principle of organic context as the ancients found it in tragic myth, and proposed it for the seminal inventive...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 225-236)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)