Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: June ::
Re: Q1 Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1076  Monday, 28 June 1999.

[1]     From:   David Kathman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jun 1999 00:04:01 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1067 Re: Q1 Hamlet

[2]     From:   H. R. Greenberg <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jun 1999 20:26:46 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1067 Re: Q1 Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Sunday, 27 Jun 1999 00:04:01 -0600
Subject: 10.1067 Re: Q1 Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1067 Re: Q1 Hamlet

Bruce Young wrote:

>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.

You should definitely read Laurie Maguire's *Shakespearean Suspect
Texts*, one of the most sensible books I've ever read on "bad quartos"
and memorial reconstruction.  One of the things Maguire does in this
book is look at how memory affects the transmission of texts, using
cases where memory is definitely involved.  These include Elizabethan
commonplace books containing excerpts from then-unpublished plays (which
much have written down from performances), folk ballads which were
transmitted orally but written down on more than one occasion (so that
the texts can be compared to each other), and, interestingly, the BBC
Shakespeare videos, which were filmed "live" and thus record any
deviations the actors made from the script.  Based on this evidence,
Maguire abstracts out features which typify the effect of memory on
texts, and systematically goes through the various Elizabethan texts
suspected of being memorial reconstructions, to see how prevalent these
features are.  (She also examines the suspect texts for various features
which aren't supported by evidence, but which have been asserted to be
features of memorial reconstructions.)

In most cases she finds little or no reason to believe that the texts in
question are memorial reconstructions.  In four cases (*The Famous
Victories of Henry the Fifth* (1598), The Massacre at Paris (c.1594),
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602), and The Taming of a Shrew (1594)) she
finds that "a strong case can be made for memorial reconstruction",
though she notes that there is "a remarkable divergence of features"
even within this group, and that none of these texts is certainly
memorial.

For three more texts, she concludes that a case, albeit not a very
strong one, can be made for memorial reconstruction; this second group
includes Q1 Hamlet (along with A Knack to Know a Knave and Q Pericles).
Her "Stylistic Summary" of Q1 Hamlet is as follows:  "Pedestrian.
Speeches make good (if blunt) general sense, but often suffer from
grammatical non sequiturs (particularly when antecedents seem missing)
and jumbled line order (e.g. DIv, 32-3; D4v, 8-9, 29-32; FIv, 23-5; H3r,
15-18).  Stylistically uneven text suggests the presence of two hands,
and the second hand seems to have a moral agenda (e.g. G2r, 1; G3r,
24-5;
I2r, 32-3; I3v, 5)."  Her general conclusion on this text is "Possibly
MR [memorial reconstruction], but if so, a very good one."

>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.

Agreed.  But that doesn't necessarily mean this is a memorial
reconstruction-couldn't the pedestrian quality have come from an
inferior writer (e.g. Kyd) or possibly a very young or very hurried
Shakespeare, and couldn't the passages have been revised by the mature
Shakespeare into the versions we're all familiar with?

>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.

Point well taken.  A similar emendation would be to add "are", which
would affect the meter, but as we've seen, Shakespeare's meter isn't
always regular.  The more general point is that many of the passages
that don't make sense at first glance could be the result of relatively
minor changes or omissions made in the process of transmitting the text
from the author's hand, thorough possible theatrical adapters and
scribes, through workers in the printing house.  Many of Shakespeare's
texts contain such cruxes (one of the most famous being the Hostess'
"and a Table of green fields" in Henry V), but they're hidden from
modern readers by editors.

>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.

Another possibility for the locus of the confusion is another writer
whose work Shakespeare revised.  And as for Shakespeare being confused,
remember the possibility that this represents a very early work of
Shakespeare's, before he developed his craft; it's not necessary to
believe that he wrote the Q1 soliloquy and the Q2/F1 one in close
succession.

>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.

I agree that the verse in Q1 Hamlet is one of the oddities of this text,
though not as much of an oddity as some people would like to make it.
There are all kinds of possible explanations for the elasticity, ranging
from the presence of an inferior non-Shakespearean hand, to the presence
of very early Shakespeare's hand, to a deliberate attempt (perhaps
rethought later) to show Hamlet's disordered mental state.  (These
possibilities are not exhaustive.)

>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.

Are you referring to 1599-1601 when you say "the period he supposedly
wrote this"?  I would also find it hard to accept Shakespeare writing
much of Q1 Hamlet during that period, but who says he wrote it then, if
in fact he is the author?  As I said in my previous post, I would have
to classify Q1 Hamlet as a very early play if it's by Shakespeare.  Once
you allow the possibility of revision, it's not necessary to think of
Shakespeare writing each play in one specific moment in time.

>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.

Most of us would like to think that Shakespeare wrote the compelling,
coherent versions of his famous lines on his first try.  But he was also
a human being, and I scarcely think it's possible that all of his great
lines came flowing out of his pen wholly formed.  As a professional
writer myself, I know all too well how much time and effort it can take
to get something right, and I also know the feeling of seeing something
one has written years earlier and slapping one's forehead with the
exclamation, "Oh, why didn't I say it this way?"  I doubt that
Shakespeare, even with his undeniable genius, was immune from these
things, and I think it's probable that at least some of the variant
texts that have come down to us represent his revisions of his own
earlier work.

Dave Kathman

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           H. R. Greenberg <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Sunday, 27 Jun 1999 20:26:46 EDT
Subject: 10.1067 Re: Q1 Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1067 Re: Q1 Hamlet

Re: the theory about Q1 and the imaginary auditor speaking and recalling
to an equally imaginary Other-I think this is a wonderful idea  but may
I make so bold as to suggest that the same effect  (or defect pace
Polonious) might be achieved as a result of a silent "inner" dialogue
between the Rememberer and  himself.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.