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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Hamlet's Age
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.045  Tuesday 2 March 1999.

[1]     From:   David J. Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 Mar 1999 10:19:27 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0330 Re: Hamlet's Age

[2]     From:   Andy White <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Mar 1999 16:05:35 -0500
        Subj:   Hamlet's Age

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 Mar 1999 10:44:50 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0330 Re: Hamlet's Age

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 Mar 1999 23:52:41 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0330 Re: Hamlet's Age

[5]     From:   Hardy Cook <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Mar 1999 08:59:20 -0500
        Subj:   Hamlet's Age


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David J. Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Monday, 01 Mar 1999 10:19:27 -0600
Subject: 10.0330 Re: Hamlet's Age
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0330 Re: Hamlet's Age

Funny, I was about to pose the question myself after reading the play
again.  What struck me was the systematic insistence on not merely
Hamlet's youth in the first part of the play, but on his extreme youth.
So I began to wonder whether Hamlet and Ophelia might not be of a
similar age to Romeo and Juliet.  How would that change our view of the
play?  A Hamlet in his thirties would be similar to the poet of the
sonnets, "beated and chapped with tanned antiquity", hardly the "youth"
of the first half of the play.

The "Yorick" evidence is undeniable, but it is not clear what it means.
People have already suggested answers which variously take into account
a different treatment of time, or merely symbolising the passing of a
generation.  There is no doubt that Hamlet is a different kind of
character in the final stages of the play.  Is that necessarily
attributable to aging?  Perhaps there is not one Hamlet who matures
dramatically from one act to another, but two Hamlets?  (I seem to
recall Francis Barker suggesting this in strictly non-psychological
terms in _The Tremulous Private Body_.)  Perhaps, too, Hamlet has become
such a "big" part that it is now unthinkable to give it to an actor of
sixteen?

David Schalkwyk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andy White <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Mar 1999 16:05:35 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet's Age

That Hamlet is 30 in the gravedigger's scene is pretty much a given.
That the time of the play is compressed, but limited to a span of a few
months is also not too hard to find out:

Hamlet's "but two months dead; nay not so much", the night he meets the
ghost;

Ophelia's "twice two months" during the Play scene would indicate that
Hamlet has been in his 'antic disposition' for upwards of two months-so
at the time of the play-within-the-play, we are still only four months
from the death of King Hamlet.

As for Hamlet's return from the English expedition: this would have
happened fairly soon after his departure, since he's been intercepted by
pirates who proceed to bring him back to Elsinore.  The only question
mark would be: how long would it take Laertes to come back to Elsinore
from Paris?  I don't think it would take that long ...

Which is as much as to say that while Hamlet visibly matures from the
beginning of the play to the end, the maturity does not come simply
through the passage of time; it comes from within, from his final
reconciliation with the task he has to perform.  Killing an uncle so
that the bastard roasts in Hell, and possibly incurring the same fate
yourself, is no easy task; I'd cut Hamlet some slack on that score and
give him awhile to get used to it.

Andy White
Arlington, VA

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 01 Mar 1999 10:44:50 -0800
Subject: 10.0330 Re: Hamlet's Age
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0330 Re: Hamlet's Age

Jack Hettinger writes:

>About Hamlet's age, I would recommend Alistair Fowler's article "The
>Case Against Hamlet" in the Dec. 22, 1995 TLS. He argues that
>Shakespeare uses a "compressed narrative" in which Hamlet ages about ten
>years from the time he is sent away to England to his return. Fowler
>says that Shakespeare advances Hamlet in age and therefore psychic and
>social outlook.

Does anyone else find it slightly suspicious that an older man is trying
to associate wisdom and age?

In some plays, like Romeo and Juliet, the young are assumed to be, if
not quite innocent, at least less depraved than their seniors. The same
could be said of the first few acts of Hamlet.  Could Hamlet's discovery
of a moral imperative therefore actually mean that he gets younger while
he's off with the pirates?  The imagery of nakedness in his letter to
Claudius might imply birth, if we want it to.  Access to "a cherub"
might imply innocence.

Cheers,
Se

 

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