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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1696  Friday, 10 September 2004

From:           William Davis <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Sep 2004 21:27:51 EDT
Subject: 15.1684 Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1684 Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet

Mr. Hinton, I want to thank you for your suggestions and I will be
certain to follow-up on them as soon as I can (hopefully the weekend
will afford an opportunity).  In the meantime, your last post triggered
a few thoughts about the presence of complex chiasmus in literary works,
and I thought I would add a couple notes to clarify the style of complex
chiasmus that I have been referring to in the earlier messages.  If you
don't mind, I'd like to use the example you gave of Beowulf to open up
the topic to the group at large, and share some thoughts with everyone
about the different styles of complex chiasmus.

"Complex chiasmus" is a rather general term, unfortunately, for the
process of presenting material in one order, and then revisiting that
material in a stepwise, reverse order in longer passages.  There are
many different styles and approaches to accomplish that arrangement, but
not all of them are identical (both in style and in specificity).  I
have been familiar with the idea that complex chiasmus is present in
Beowulf for a few years now (I blame my oldest sister.  She specializes
in Renaissance literature, and my brother-in-law in Medieval Latin, so
between the two of them I get a great deal of feedback on these ideas).
  In Beowulf, it has been suggested that the presence of complex
chiasmus occurs primarily in the ordering of events in the story; or
rather, the arrangement of themes and ideas, and how they play off each
other throughout the narrative.  But that style of complex chiasmus is
not the same as the one I hope to address in Shakespeare.

The difference between the style of complex chiasmus suggested in
Beowulf (a style which also occurs in biblical passages), and the
intricate style I am hoping to address (another style of biblical
chiasmus), is the style -- and this is a very important distinguishing
characteristic -- where every single phrase in a passage plays an
integral role in the overall form (i.e., where every line and/or
parallelism has a counterbalancing line or parallelism in the chiastic
system).  In a way, it is something of an intermediate form between the
small-scale rhetorical structures and the "macro" structures of chiastic
ordering (although this is a bit misleading, since the generalized forms
can also occur at that intermediate level as well; yet, they still do
not express phrase-by-phrase correspondence in the overall system).

The generalized forms of complex chiasmus, which do not build on the
framework of balanced phrases throughout a complex system, are actually
quite common.  To give a few examples, one of the editors of the Faerie
Queen (Langdon?  I'm going off memory here) suggested that the ordering
of the books in the Faerie Queen was arranged in a chiastic pattern; I
am also told that many of the sonata forms and early Renaissance
Madrigal forms (particularly those dealing with inversion) follow basic
and complex chiastic ordering; in "Torture of the Mind: Macbeth, Tragedy
and Chiasmus" Anthony Paul points out that the order of deaths in
Macbeth follows a chiastic pattern (he gives a great selection of the
small-scale forms, and addresses the overall chiastic ordering of where
the deaths occur in the plot, but unfortunately doesn't mention the
larger, intermediate forms that cover entire speeches in the play).
These types of complex chiasms are very common, and I'm not aware of any
time period in which they have fallen out of use.  Shakespeare uses
these generalized chiastic patterns as well, but he also uses the highly
specific variety that is far less common.  And those are the chiastic
systems I am addressing in my essays.

I realize that describing complex chiasmus in these terms might
potentially cause some confusion for those who are unfamiliar with the
forms, so I'm going to suggest a few books for those who are interested
in pursuing the topic:  "Chiasmus in Antiquity" edited by John Welch
(Research Press, 1981; this is a collection of essays on chiasmus by
biblical scholars); "The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the
Scriptures and Beyond" (1994) and "Scripture in Tradition" (2001) both
by John Breck (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press); finally "Chiasmus in the
New Testament: a Study in Formgeschichte" by Nils Lund (Chapel Hill, UNC
Press, 1942, 1992 reprint; Nils Lund is considered the modern pioneer in
the discovery and research of the most highly complex chiastic
structures in biblical passages).

Mr. Hinton, I am looking forward to reading the books you have
suggested, and I appreciate your consideration in letting me know about
them.  This has intrigued me a great deal, and I'm curious to see how
these forms were used in medieval literature.  Thank you for taking the
time to share this information.

All the best,
William Davis

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