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Futility As Tragedy: An Interpretation Of Hamlet

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Futility As Tragedy: An Interpretation Of Hamlet is a book length critical interpretation of Hamlet by Itzik Basman with roots in the New Criticism. It was published digitally by Lulu ( on April 7, 2004.

In it Basman argues that as autonomous creations manifest in a structure of language, works of literature are necessarily constituted by a progression of consciousness from unawareness or some awareness to new understanding. The metaphor "world" captures the coherence of that new understanding. Rene Wellek and Austin Warren, in their classic text Theory Of Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1956), argue that "world" is closely related to, or even equivalent with, a work's attitude toward life or to the tone implicit in the world. They argue that form ultimately organizes a work’s aesthetic matter into a totality, the coherence of which—what makes its world—constitutes its metaphysical qualities. Basman notes that Northrop Frye, in his own classic Anatomy Of Criticism (New York: Atheneum, 1969), makes the same assertion when he describes form as meaning holding the work together in a simultaneous structure.

Basman's argument is that the world of Hamlet must be critically attended to for the play to be understood, and, building on the insights of the New Critics, he argues that that attendance proceeds from an analysis of literature's properties such as language, metaphor, imagery, symbol, pattern and rhythm, which themselves resolve into character, dramatic action, paradox, tension and ultimately theme—form as meaning.

The argument of Futility As Tragedy runs along the following lines. The world of the play abounds in futility, itself deriving from the evil which some men spawn. Such evil predominates and drives out the good, itself marked by the human, by human bonds forming out of imaginative sympathy. Evil is manifest in the rapacity of the appetitive self, and where it exists in men it constitutes their fallenness, a secular notion in the play. Appetite makes the world in its own image, a place of roiling contention where might begets might and tooth and claw reign. Corruption--most generically captured in the imagery and metaphors of rottenness--invisibly infects social institutions at their base, spreads outwards and inverts them such that their appearance, social forms themselves, are gilded propriety covering their rot. And, so, power uses social forms to advance itself and to disguise itself, as appearances mask appetite. Social institutions as modes of inverted corruption reduce states to statelessness but wearing the cloth of state. Statelessness in Hamlet is a ground of the tragic.

Hamlet, himself of large and acute consciousness and overly sensitive and a relative innocent, is thrust into this world on learning from the Ghost of his father's murder at the hand of Claudius. The meaning of the world, moral impossibility itself, is concrete in the command from the Ghost that Hamlet kill Claudius in revenge: for revenge is bloodletting in the absence of due sovereignty. As Hamlet essays his task, his mind—he thinks, argues Basman, therefore he is—attempts to come to terms with revenge, but he cannot and his early struggles and inability to step to what he must do mark his own unwitting rebellion against his burden. His failed attempt is an essential constituent of the play's tragedy. Appetite for power prevails and Hamlet proves no match for the world. Lacking any possibility for moral action, he can only paint from a palette of extreme, unameliorating choices. He succumbs to them in his own step by step demise. On the interpretation argued for by Basman, Hamlet's tragedy is the inevitability of his fate, his necessary doom as he is vanquished by forces of evil, coincident with revenge, even while he see deeply into them.

At play's end, for Basman, what is left is a bleak landscape, empty of meaning, except for the meanings of might and power and appetite, which, though clothed in ceremony, propriety and even solemnity, ever assert themselves.

Futility As Tragedy has been critically reviewed by Brian Meredith in Issue 3, 2005 of Politics and Culture, in his essay In The Statedness Of Denmark ( And it has been critically reviewed by Justin Taylor in Volume 2, June 2005 issue of Kritikos in his essay Conceptions Of Class, The State, And The Supernatural In The Lands Of Nod, Denmark, And North America-On Itzik Basman’s Futility As Tragedy' (

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