Hamlet Hamlet question


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Authors and Authority
Jade Moore Jade (last edited May 01, 2014 12:47AM ) Apr 30, 2014 03:06PM
At the moment I'm studying the issue of the amount of authority an author has over their work and the relationship between author and reader.

An example taken from Hamlet, is that the text was based off another story, the idea that Shakespeare took to create Hamlet from. Also that he didn't make the decision to publish the play; it was published by others after his death and the text itself is based on performances, which may have been different from what Shakespeare will have originally wrote, e.g if players got a line wrong, or missed a line, but it still got noted down for the text, then this means what is taken to be Shakespeare's text, isn't entirely his?

These are the kind of issues and ideas I'm focusing on, in particular being on the side of the author and what rights they have over their text. (not just Shakespeare and Hamlet specifically, but authors and texts in general).

I'd just be interested in any other views or ideas that anyone could contribute to this.

Also the effect that knowing an author has on the reading and the meaning of a text. What does a text mean? If anything? Does it mean what the author says it means (if they say anything at all) or does it mean exactly what you read...? Readers opinions and interpretation having an effect on the overall reception of a text, separate from the authors intentions? Where does the author disappear?

"The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author." - Roland Barthes.

Anyone have anything to offer on this discussion? It is to help me with a presentation that I am working on.



Interesting topic.
These particular questions are mostly raised within the post-modernist literary traditon and timeframe.

The blurring of boundaries between reality and fiction goes along with the same line of the thought as to what/who an author is and how much authority he/she possesses over their work.

The novel of J.M. Coetzee's Foe tackles this particular question.

Here is an extract from the book:

'My sweet Susan, as to who among us is a ghost and who not I have nothing to say: it is a question we can only stare at in silence, like a bird before a snake, hoping it will not swallow us.
'But if you cannot rid yourself of your doubts, I have something to say that may be of comfort. Let us confront our worst fear, which is that we have all of us been called into the world from a different order (which we have now forgotten) by a conjurer unknown to us, as you say I have conjured up your daughter and her companion (I have not). Then I ask nevertheless: Have we thereby lost our freedom? Are you, for one, any less mistress of your life? Do we of necessity become puppets in a story whose end is invisible to us, and towards which we are marched like condemned felons? You and I know, in our different ways, how rambling an occupation writing is; and conjuring is surely much the same. We sit staring out of the window, and a cloud shaped like a camel passes by, and before we know it our fantasy has whisked us away to the sands of Africa and our hero (who is no one but ourselves in disguise) is clashing scimitars with a Moorish brigand. A new cloud floats past in the form of a sailing-ship, and in a trice we are cast ashore all woebegone on a desert isle. Have we cause to believe that the lives it is given us to live proceed with any more design than these whimsical adventures?
'You will say, I know, that the heroes and heroines of adventure are simple folk incapable of such doubts as those you feel regarding your own life. But have you considered that your doubts may be part of the story you live, of no greater weight than any other adventure of yours? I put the question merely.
'In a life of writing books, I have often, believe me been lost in the maze of doubting. The trick I have learned is to plant a sign or marker in the ground where 1 stand, so that in my future wanderings I shall have something to return to, and not get worse lost than I am. Having planted it, I press on; the more often I come back to the mark (which is a sign to myself of my blindness and incapacity), the more certainly I know I am lost, yet the more I am heartened too, to have found my way back. 'Have you considered (and I will conclude here) that in your own wanderings you may, without knowing it, have left behind some such token for yourself; or, if you choose to believe you are not mistress of your life, that a token has been left behind on your behalf, which is the sign of blindness I have spoken of; and that, for lack of a better plan,. Your search for a way out of the maze - if you are indeed amazed or be mazed - might start from that point and return to it as many times as are needed till you discover yourself to be saved?'


Extract from Foe, by J.M. Coetzee


Mkfs (last edited Apr 30, 2014 04:11PM ) Apr 30, 2014 04:10PM   0 votes
That's a pretty interesting topic.

Shakespeare in particular is a good basis for the question of "ownership" of a text.

In King Lear, for example, he takes an old story (told by Spenser in The Faerie Queen and Phillip Sydney in Arcadia, among others) and changes many of the details to suit his purpose -- including the ending.

In Richard III, he conflates many historical events in order to improve the dramatic flow .

On top of the deviation from his source material, there is the question of "the authoritative publication". King Lear is a good example here as well, as it exists in two forms (Quarto and Folio) and "The History of King Lear" and "The Tragedy of King Lear". Most editions of the play use a conflated version.

In terms of his expectation of a reading audience, you can compare his drama with his sonnets. The sonnets were obviously for a reading audience, and were published while he was alive (1593 for Venus and Adonis, according to the Norton).

So yeah, there are a lot of directions you can go with this.


Both the reader and the author have access to dictionaries and grammars and life experience and whatever else might cause someone to believe a few letters can mean anything.


deleted member Dec 06, 2014 03:45AM   0 votes
The author reinvents themselves every day, the reader is a constant.


This feels a little uncanny. A novel I wrote that was published last year examines exactly this question of 'Author and Authority' as a major theme – and references Hamlet as a blueprint for the issue.

The author theme only murmurs along in the first half of the book, but emerges as the major theme towards the end. This is because I also wanted to explore wider questions of authority over what happens within a story. Who controls it? The author? God? Or, in an atheist, existentialist world, are the characters free? Or subjects of circumstance, of nature, nurture and the chaotic interplay of the two? Perhaps the reader controls the characters more even than the author?

Hamlet is particularly relevant to these questions because it is a play about someone who cannot act but must. (I find it ironic that an actor must act a man who must act, but cannot.) Hamlet knows he must face his uncle, but is in anguish about it. Who is making him? His father's ghost? Shakespeare? Fate? Circumstance? Or the reader who demands a satisfying narrative end to a tragedy?

If you're interested, my novel is called The Human Script and it's published by Red Button. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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Johnny Rich By the way, I reference Barthes too – but, of course.
Jul 11, 2014 02:15AM

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