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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: June ::
Re: Q1 Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1067  Friday, 25 June 1999.

[1]     From:   Peter S. Donaldson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jun 1999 12:52:44 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1050 Re: Q1 Hamlet

[2]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jun 1999 13:24:09 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1054 Re: Q1 Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter S. Donaldson <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jun 1999 12:52:44 +0100
Subject: 10.1050 Re: Q1 Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1050 Re: Q1 Hamlet

"Aye, Mary, there it goes...."

I regret my delay in sending this post, as it might possibly have saved
much ingenuity.  My own theory (unless it is not mine, having been
borrowed from or anticipated by others) might be called the "piracy /
shorthand / intrusive gloss theory" of Q1's "To be..." speech.

On this view, the actor who played Hamlet and the actor who played
Fortinbras sat down to recall the play, and a literal-minded court
reporter wrote down everything-including the first actor's asides and
hesitations and the second actor's reactions, thus capturing the
forward-moving energy of the exchange, but sadly mixing text with
comment on the process of recovering it.

"To be .... or not to be...... "  "AY, THERE'S THE POINT!"
"To Die, to sleepe...... (is that all?)" "AY.  ALL!"
"(No...) To sleepe...to dreame....." "I, MARRY, THERE IT GOES!"

But I must confess that whenever I read Urkowitz I doubt even my own
elegant and persuasive reconstruction of the events. I experience a
puzzlement of the will and tend to waver.  ("Impudent and bed-rid?")

Pete Donaldson

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jun 1999 13:24:09 +0000
Subject: 10.1054 Re: Q1 Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1054 Re: Q1 Hamlet

I hope to get sometime to all the articles and books recommended on Q1
Hamlet.  (Thanks to Steve Urkowitz and others for your
recommendations.)  But for now I'm trying to digest the various postings
on the subject. Knowing as little as I do, I can imagine that the
peculiarities of Q1 could result either from memorial reconstruction or
from the quick writing of an early draft (maybe not intended as a
finished script for performance).  I think it's conceivable Shakespeare
might have had a hand in writing such an early draft.  Nevertheless,
many passages, with their occasional striking line (often among the few
regular ones), seem to me more the result of an effort to remember
someone else's fine verse than of Shakespeare's very stumbling effort to
write some himself.

I still have questions on some specifics in the passages I offered for
examination.  In the "To be or not to be soliloquy," though parallels
can be found elsewhere in Shakespeare to "ay, there's the point" and "ay
marry, there it goes," here-in the context of a soliloquy on death-they
strike me as flat and weak, almost as line fillers.  Similarly, in the
last line-"Ay, that. O, this conscience makes cowards of us all"-"Ay,
that" strikes me as a weak bit of padding.

I had also noticed the grammatical incoherence in the passage, which
Dave Kathman proposes to solve by substituting "we're" for "we" in line
4.  That works fairly well-except that "we're" occurs nowhere else in
Shakespeare's works.  Though I suppose "we are" was sometimes pronounced
as "we're," Shakespeare doesn't seem to have been in the habit of
writing the words as a contraction.

There are a couple of other odd things in the soliloquy.  Rather than
struggling with a fear of death, this version refers twice to the "hope"
of death.  But in each case the shift of gears between hope or joy and
some kind of bewilderment or terror is jarring.  In the following lines-

        The undiscovered country at whose sight
        The happy smile and the accursed damned --
        But for this, the joyful hope of this,--

Hamlet seems to be saying that, since we know some will be happy and
others damned in the afterlife, it is only the "joyful hope" that we'll
be among the happy ("But for this") that persuades us to " bear the
scorns and flattery of the world."  This reading seems to be confirmed
by the later lines,  " Who would this endure, / But for a hope of
something after death."  But then Hamlet goes on to say that this "hope
of something" (something happy?) after death "puzzles the brain and doth
confound the sense."  Puzzles the brain with what?  Hope?  Ecstasy?  The
lines that follow suggest a different cause of puzzlement and a view of
death that contradicts the "hopeful" one of earlier lines: "Which makes
us rather bear the evils we have / Than fly to others [i.e., other
evils, which we would encounter by flying from this life to the
afterlife] that we know not of."

To me, the thinking in the soliloquy seems hopelessly confused-a
confusion to be explained either by Hamlet's mental state, by
Shakespeare's confusion as he dashed off a draft, or by a
reconstructor's confusion.  I have no way of knowing which of the three
is confused, but I'd think Shakespeare would have to have been pretty
careless to dash off something that confused, even quickly.

Dave Kathman has defended the elastic blank verse in the other passage I
quoted.  I'm almost persuaded, but still offer a few quibbles.  Yes,
Shakespeare occasionally has a short line in the midst of fairly regular
blank verse, and these short lines are often very effective.  In the
passage I quoted, however, if we count as short only those with 8
syllables or fewer, there would have to be 6 short lines out of 18 (or 8
out of 20 if we account for the 14 syllable lines by breaking each into
2 lines), and 5 of these would come in two clumps (3 in one clump, 2 in
the other).  Short lines quickly lose their effectiveness when there are
so many and when they come one after another.  I can't think of a
parallel case elsewhere in Shakespeare of so many short lines in the
midst of what appears otherwise to be blank verse.

Another solution, for the first clump of short lines-

        Who knowes, saue the immortall powres, (7-8)
        And shall I kill him now,  (6)
        When he is purging of his soule? (8)--

would be to combine them into two more or less regular lines.  But I
haven't figured out a way to do it that really seems legitimate (what's
the best way to break up the middle line? how are 11 stresses to be
divided between the two "regular" lines?), or characteristic of
Shakespeare's style in the period he supposedly wrote this.

It is true that the F1 Hecuba soliloquy is somewhat irregular, but not,
I think, as irregular as the Q1 passage.  An occasional short line
appears in the F1 passage, but nothing like the series of short lines in
Q1.  Otherwise, every line is between 9 and 13 syllables.  I suspect
that, even without emendation, many of the 11-13 syllable lines could be
scanned pretty regularly.  In fact, I believe some have fewer syllables
than indicated in Dave's analysis.  For example, if (as I've been told)
"spirit," "heaven," and "devil" could be pronounced as one-syllable
words and if some weak syllables can be elided, then we might get the
following results:

        Remoreselesse, Treach'rous, Letch'rous, kindles villaine!  (11)

        Prompted to my Reuenge by Heau'n, and Hell,  (10)

        I know my course.  The Sp'rit that I haue seene  (10)
        May be the Diu'll, and the Diu'l hath power [or pow'r] (9-10)

        As he is very potent with such Sp'rits,  (10)

That leaves us with one short line, 21 lines of 9-11 syllables
(including 15 with 10), and  three long lines (12-13 syllables-maybe
only 12 syllables at most if we do some more eliding: "I've heard that
guilty Creatures" and "With most myrac'lous Organ").  Compare that with
the six short lines, nine more or less regular ones, and three long ones
(12-14 syllables) in the Q1 passage.  By the way, in my numbering of
syllables in the Q1 passage I already accounted for elisions, so I think
the comparison is fair.

The Q1 passage also has some of the woodenness that keeps cropping up in
Q1 but that is usually uncharacteristic of Shakespeare.  I am thinking
especially of the line "No King on earth is safe, if God's his foe" vs.
the more familiar, "Words without thoughts never to heaven go."  But I
suppose Shakespeare could have written the Q1 version of the line and
then felt the same dissatisfaction many of us feel with it and rewritten
it (also changing "My words fly up, my sins remain below" to "My words
fly up, my thoughts remain below").  I'd like to think, though, that the
couplet started essentially in the compelling, coherent version we have
now.

Bruce Young
 

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