Paul Griffiths's let me tell you, Hamlet, and the Intertextual Mode of Literary Adaptation


Hannibal Hamlin


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Paul Griffths's let me tell you (2008) is a novel written in the first person, in the voice of Ophelia, using only those words assigned to her in Shakespeare's Hamlet. This formal conceit qualifies the work as Oulipian, as most reviewers have noted, though Griffiths has no specific connection with "OuLiPo" (Ouvroir de litérature potentielle), the group founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais to promote bravura experiments in constricting literary forms.1 Among the most famous works produced by the group are Georges Perec's A Void (La disparation), a 300-page novel that does not use the letter e, and Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities (Le città invisibili), a collection of descriptions of fifty-five cities in eleven thematic categories that follows a complex mathematical pattern. Although Queneau described the group sardonically as "rats who construct the labyrinth from which they plan to escape," its founding principle is no different than that of any artist who chooses to work in a fixed or constraining form. It is the challenge of creating within constraints that stimulates the imagination (the rat) and, perhaps, results in an enhanced work of art (the escape). Poets writing sestinas or numerological poems, and composers fashioning music based on the golden ratio or the ragas of Indian classical music, have for centuries been Oulipians avant la lettre.

1. "OuLiPiens: Rats qui ont à construire le labyrinth don't ils se proposent de sortir." Cited in Jacques Bens, Oulipo 1960-1963 (Paris: Bourgois, 1980), 43.

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