Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0319. Thursday, 25 April 1996.
Date: Thursday, 25 Apr 1996 10:02:19 -0400
Subject: LOOSE ENDS
Hamlet's unexplained escape from his appointed doom in England remains a
conspicuous disappointment in Q1, not adequately accounted for by YS Bains
in LOOSE ENDS (on the SHAKSPER fileserver).
Bains' assertions might gain some strength if he could produce a parallel
example, in Shakespeare or anyone else, where the hero, sent to his demise,
returns unharmed promising an explanation he never delivers. "Being 'set
ashore'," Bains insists, "is as satisfactory a device as any other," but
are we satisfied? When the protagonist is scheduled to die offstage and
doesn't, naturally we want to know why not. Not to tell us is hardly
consistent with the narrative habits of Shakespeare, ordinarily a very
As for "Hamlet would have related these circumstances, but he never got the
chance," this argument suffers badly when in Q2 the very same extenuating
contingencies (Ophelia's funeral and the duel with Laertes) fail to stop
Hamlet from telling the whole story.
Since the details of the escape were available in Shakespeare's sources,
why would he leave them out of even an early version of his play? Bains'
answer -- that the deaths of Hamlet and his mother are made richer in pathos
if Gertrude dies not knowing how her son evaded villany in England -- besides
resting on dubious pathos-logic, misses the point: it's not Gertrude who
needs the explanation, it's us.
But this is in fact a side issue. Bains is defending the narrative
integrity of Q1, but that doesn't refute the memorial hypothesis, which
assumes actors reconstructed scripts *in order to act them*: general
dramatic viability in such a text should not surprise us. The real evidence
for memory decay is more closely textual: word substitutions and
paraphrases with enfeeblement and sometimes loss of sense, homonym
confusions, right words in wrong places, and one or two roles remembered
better than others. Examples of these in Q1 are considered in persuasive
detail by Harold Jenkins in his introduction (Arden 18-36). Bains' fight
should not be with Hibbard but with Jenkins and the works cited by him,
principally Duthrie's "The 'Bad' Quarto of Hamlet".