Why would a thousand readers yield a thousand versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in their understandings? This question touches upon a core issue in modern literary theory: Is a text an enclosed space of unity, harmony, and at most a balance of opposites, which allows only for nuanced and coherent exegeses, or an open space of different views, voices, values, attitudes, and ideologies, which invites different and conflicting interpretations? Formalism and structuralism believe that a literary work is an autotelic, free-standing, self-contained enclosure of self-sufficient meanings. Contrary to this conviction, post-structuralist theorists have argued that a literary text is essentially an open entity. In the heated debates over post-structuralist textual interpretation, however, only a few theorists are directly involved in the discussion of literary openness. Moreover, their debates and discussions did not come to any conclusion. If we reflect on the inner logic and mechanism of literary openness in terms of psychology, semiology, hermeneutics and the textual production of meaning and other issues, we may find answers to the question of why a thousand readers will produce a thousand versions of Hamlet.


text, textuality, hermeneutics, textual openness, open poetics, reading theory

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