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Sixta Quadorf (Universitt Basel)

Shakespeare, Mousetraps and Indirect Directions:


Quotations and Allusions as a Linguistic Phenomenon
"The play's the thing!", says Hamlet, and Polonius advises Reynaldo: "by indirection
find directions out". Both characters take recourse to indirect communicative strategies alluding or play-acting - to achieve their respective purposes. In terms of Demonstration
Theory (Clark/Geerig), play-acting is a "non-serious action" (Gofman), wherein certain
aspects of the original event are demonstrated to serve a new purpose. According to this
theory, this is exactly what we do when we quote.
The formally very heterogeneous linguistic phenomena of allusion and quotation as
indirect means of communication are the subject of my research. The HyperHamlet
database of quotations from and allusions to Hamlet, which is being developed at the
University of Basel in Switzerland, provides the empirical base. So far, the open-access
corpus comprises some 4,000 references from 1600 - 2008.1 To work with one single
base text which is echoed in many different guises in later texts of any sort 2 has a
methodological advantage: a) the required encyclopaedic knowledge for the recognition
of allusions and quotation, i.e. a thorough knowledge of the source text, is
straightforward, and b) the full variety of alluding practices in different genres by
different authors can be studied.3
I propose to discuss Shakespeare's play-within-the-play in Hamlet as an illustration
of how alluding and quoting may work as a joint activity in communication (Clark). My
analysis of data from the corpus suggests that later uses of Shakespeare as well as his
play exemplify the major strategies we use when making or understanding quotes and
allusions perceptively, if not exhaustively.
Hamlet stages a play that re-enacts the murder of his father, i.e. he has the murder
demonstrated, "quoted". He hopes that Claudius, his uncle and the alledged murderer,
will betray himself when he recognises the reference to his own "foul play". 4 The staged
murder, however, is no murder but means "something else" (Clark/Gerrig 1990:764).
This "something else" is caused amongst others by the different context - public vs.
secret setting, the changed situation at court, the changed relationship between Hamlet
and Claudius - and by the change of knowledge assumptions: the murder supposed to be
secret has become common ground. Meaning construction of recognised quotations or
allusions in a text follow similar interpretative steps - the quoted item is communicated
and has to be re-interpreted in accordance with its embedding context.
The situation for the other people at court is different and more comparable to the
situation in which average language users find themselves when they encounter
quotations or allusions. The fictional audience does not know that King Hamlet was
murdered, just as we might not know that a certain image or wording was created by
someone else. However, they hear Hamlet's comments on the proceedings on stage,
share some common knowledge regarding the situation at court, and can draw
analogies thanks to their faculties of abstraction and inference. In addition, the King
1

The database can be searched and browsed on www.hyperhamlet.unibas.ch. Given that it is still under
construction, only selected parameters are publicly accessible for queries.
2
As a matter of course, Hamlet allusions occur mostly in literary works, but to a considerable degree also
in non-fictional texts, in the fine arts and music.
3
Typical for allusion studies is research of alluding practices of single genres (e.g. Lennon 2004,
Tuomarla 2000) or single authors (e.g. Jahnson 1990, Wellmann 1995).
4
Hamlet. act 1, scene 2.

behaves in a particular, unusual way. As a result, the spectators in the play also
recognise that "something else" is meant. Moreover, the interactions between Hamlet,
Ophelia, the Kings and Guildenstern in act 3, scene 2 illustrate the dialogic nature of
meaning construction in indirect language use.
Examples from the database testify to the general empirical validity of this little
analysis based on a work of fiction. We can identify less familiar quotations or very
cryptic allusions. The communicative situation, i.e. the genre or text type in the case of
written communication, general background knowledge, metalinguistic comments,
structural or thematic analogies, and conspicous semantic or formal 'behaviour' of
keywords in the text serve as "access points" (Langacker) or "prompts" (Fauconnier)
beyond quotation marks and source indications.
References
Clark, Herbert H. and Richard J. Gerrig. "Quotations as Demonstrations". Language, Vol. 66, No. 4.
1990, pp. 764-805.
Clark, Herbert H. Using Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Fauconnier, Gilles. Mental spaces: Aspects of meaning construction in natural language. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
Jansohn, Christa. Zitat und Anspielung im Frhwerk von D.H. Lawrence. Studien zur englischen
Literatur. Mnster: Lit, 1990.
Langacker, Ronald. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987
Lennon, Paul. Allusions in the press: An applied linguistic study. Berlin, New York: Mouton de
Gruyter, 2004.
Pucci, Joseph. The Full-Knowing Reader. Allusion and the Power of the Reader in the Western Literary
Tradition. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998.
Tuomarla, Ulla. La citation mode d'emploi: Sur le fonctionnement discursif du discours rapporte direct.
Suomalaisen Tiedeakatemian toimituksiaSarj. Humaniora 308. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum
Fennica, 2000.
Wellmann, Imke. Das Zitat in Andr Gides Erzhlungen. Untersuchungen zu Technik und Funktion.
Aachen: Shaker, 1995.