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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: December ::
Re: *Hamlet*: Dumb Show and Stage History
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0997.  Friday, 9 December 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Steve Schultz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Dec 94 17:40:49 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0992  Re: *Hamlet*: Stage History and Dumb Show
 
(2)     From:   Dom Saliani <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Dec 1994 22:20:27 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Hamlet: Stage History
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Schultz <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 Dec 94 17:40:49 EST
Subject: 5.0992  Re: *Hamlet*: Stage History and Dumb Show
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0992  Re: *Hamlet*: Stage History and Dumb Show
 
RE:  the Dumbshow in *Hamlet*
 
I don't think anyone has yet mentioned Granville Barker's solution to this
"problem."  He suggests that Claudius immediately recognizes the  accusation
implied by the Dumbshow, that Hamlet recognizes his recognition, and that
thereafter the scene is a test of whether the King has the strength of nerve to
hide his guilt from the rest of the Court while the murder is acted again.
 
I have always liked this solution because, theatrically, it makes the Dumbshow
a functioning part of the plot rather than just something to be gotten through.
So I tried to use it in a production I directed several years ago.  In practice
I thought it very difficult to get the audience to focus on the duel between
Hamlet and Claudius while something so interesting as *The Mousetrap* was
happening elsewhere onstage.
 
Unfortunately I couldn't check audience response during a performance because
I was playing one of the Players myself.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dom Saliani <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 Dec 1994 22:20:27 -0700 (MST)
Subject:        Hamlet: Stage History
 
< I believe Harold Jenkins in the Arden *Hamlet* attributes the Harvey quote
< to sometime between 1598 (or more likely mid-1599) and early 1601, not
< simply to 1598 as both John Mucci and Dom Saliani have stated.  And I
< don't think it's really "obvious" that Harvey is referring to a written text
< rather than a written performance
 
David Kathman has problems with the Harvey quote as being made in 1598 and I
would assume that he would agree that it was made sometime between 1599 and
1601. The fact remains that it was most likely made before 1603 and the
publication of QI.
 
Jenkins, by the way, appears to be in agreement with me concerning the
contention that Gabriel Harvey is referring to a printed work. He says on page
6 of his Arden Edition of *Hamlet* :
 
     A more serious objection, although the point is usually disregarded, is
     that nothing Harvey says suggests that he is concerned with *Hamlet*
     in performance. On the contrary he appears to refer to a work that
     could be read along with *Venus and Adonis* and *Lucrece*.
 
I don't agree with many of Jenkins observations, but perhaps he has hit upon
something here.
 
The more I think about it (please recognize that I could not possibly review
all the information that has led me to this conclusion in a SHAKSPER posting),
the more I am inclined to believe that *Hamlet* by 1603 was a fairly old play.
Perhaps the Ur-Hamlet is a phlogiston-like invention and the 1589 reference to
*Hamlet* was in fact a reference to an early Shakespeare version of the play.
In 1594, when the play was performed at Newington Butts and pulled in a meagre
take, this could be taken as evidence that the play had passed its vogue in the
city and the company was looking for new audiences. Granted, Q2 and F contain
many topical allusions to a later time but these could have been added later as
interpolations or even revisions. Yes there could even have been a manuscript
version circulating or even a hitherto undiscovered pre-1603 quarto edition of
the play. This would explain a lot.
 
What really got me thinking about this issue was an article written by David
Ward in the Fall 1992 issue of *Shakespeare Quarterly*. In this article Ward
argues that the order of writing of the three versions of *Hamlet* is F first,
then Q1 and then Q2. He bases his argument partly on the fact that Q2 would be
the version least offensive to James. Ward quotes at length, writings of James
that present views that are diametrically opposite to some of the ideas
presented in the F version of the play. And yet there is substantial evidence
that Q1, because it "preserves passages otherwise unique to F ... was compiled
by memory from a staged version."
 
This did not impress me as much as the references to the writings of James. On
the basis of what I ahve read of James, I don't see any way that *Hamlet* could
have been performed for James, firstly because of the parallels to James' life
and his disposition and secondly because many of the views expressed in the
play would certainly have found disfavor with James.
 
Please (re)read Ward's article if you are interested in this issue. I would
like to hear what people have to say about the order of the publications and
the extent to which James would "frown" upon the views expressed in the play.
 
Dom Saliani
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