Acta Litteraria Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 12. (1970)

1970 / 3-4. szám - Hankiss Elemér: Shakespeare's Hamlet

Acta Litteraria Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, Tomus 12 (3—4), pp. 297—312 (1970) Shakespeare’s Hamlet The Tragedy in the Light of Communication Theory By Elemér Hankiss (Budapest) 1. The Problem Using a vogue-word, one could call Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and any other dramatic piece of art, a multichannel means of communication, as it emits aesthetic and non-aesthetic information through several channels. Through the visual, acoustic, and kinetic channels, — communication experts would say. But let us rather adopt a more differentiated, even if less scientific, sys­tem and say that a particular kind of information is transmitted through each of the following channels: 1. The heroes’ thoughts and emotions as expressed by their words, deeds, gestures; 2. The heroes’ characters; 3. The plot and the various dramatic situations; 4. The visual effects of the stage; 5. The linguistic devices of the text, and through some further channels to be specified later on. If all channels involved in the transmission can be traced, one will be en­titled to state that the sum of information flowing through these channels is equal to the whole message transmitted by the play, or putting it in tradi­tional terms: it is equal to the total effect the play has on the spectator. The total impact of a play like Shakespeare’s Hamlet is such a complex phenomenon that it can be hardly defined by the help of traditional methods; splitting it up into several bands or channels of information, on the contrary, may help us not only to describe it but to define it in quantitative terms, as ex­perts are already well on the road to measure the quantity of information trans­mitted through some of the above-mentioned channels. The bulk of work has been done in connection with the linguistic channel; dozens of methods have been designed to compute the informative value of various linguistic and poet­ic structures such as vocabulary, syntax, rhyme schemes, metre and so on1, — but some progress has also been made in assessing the quantity and inten­sity of the dramatic, visual and kinetic messages emitted by works of art2. In any case, the possibility of carrying out such measurements is given and difficulties still to be overcome are methodological rather than theoretical. Acta Litteraria Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 12, 1970