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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Hamlet and the Passage of Time
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0279  Tuesday, 6 February 2001

From:           Peter T. Hadorn <
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Date:           Monday, 05 Feb 2001 10:19:06 -0600
Subject:        Hamlet and the Passage of Time

I have a question regarding the passage of time in "Hamlet" that someone
might be able to help me with:  How much time has passed between Acts 1
and 2?  A related question, how long has Hamlet's father been dead?

In 1.2.137, Hamlet says of his father: "But two months dead--nay, not so
much, not two. . . ."  Soon it will become "within a month" as Hamlet
telescopes time.  Which is correct?  I've always assumed the first time,
and then, as Hamlet gets more passionate about remembering his dead
father, the passage of time becomes/seems less to him (reminds me of the
Player King's advice to PQ).  [But now, as I think about it, it could be
that as Hamlet is thinking about it, he realizes that his father has
been dead less than a month, but that it SEEMED longer to him at first.
Yikes!].  So, in other words, Hamlet Sr. has been dead two months [or
one month] in Act 1.

Then in Act 3.2.124ff, there is this exchange:

Ham.:  For look you how cheerfully my mother looks and my father died
within's two hours.
Oph.: Nay, 'tis twice two months, my lord.

This suggests that Hamlet Sr. has been dead four months and that the
break between Acts 1 and 2 is two months [or three months].

But almost immediately, Hamlet cuts the time in half when he says: "O
heavens, die two months ago and not forgotten yet!"

So now I'm confused [and I'm sure I've confused the readers of this
message].  Is this another unsolvable "Hamlet" mystery?

I have consulted the Norton Shakespeare, the Riverside, the Arden (1982
ed) and the Bedford.  Only the Arden comments on the passage of time.
Checking the variants among Q1, Q2, and F I find no help to this puzzle.

Any ideas out there?  Thank you.

Peter Hadorn
English, University of Wisconsin-Platteville

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