'A Little Touch Of Harry' Levin In the Afternoon
Declaring that "the field of Shakesperian nomenclature is wide open, and affords an inviting pasture to browse in," Harry Levin '33, Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature, yesterday afternoon meandered through several hundred puns and allusions he finds in the names of the Bard's characters.
"Nothing is ever at random in art," he said. "The persona begins with the name." And while he warned that "Wilson Knight is perhaps over-ingenious" in his derivations, he said that Arnold, who objected to Ruskin's remarks on Ophelia's name, "has no light to throw on Shakespeare and very little sweetness."
Tracing the use of suggestive names from the morality plays to Mrs. Maleprop, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Christopher Newman, Levin pointed out that Shakespeare's Mistress Quickly ("quick lie") is part of a living tradition. He admitted, however, that "with he increase of realism and the decline of allegory, there is a tendency to leave the meaning a bit latent."
Levin outlined the various uses of names in Shakespeare besides that of suggesting character: "conflict is acted out in name-calling, and status is signified by name dropping. There must be two Dromios in Comedy of Errors." The question who "the Dane" in Hamlet refers to, he said, is crucial to the whole play.