2001

Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0296  Wednesday, 7 February 2001

[1]     From:   Kit Gordon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 13:51:53 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[2]     From:   Philip Tomposki <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 14:45:21 EST
        Subj:   RE: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[3]     From:   Peter Groves <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Feb 2001 12:24:15 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[4]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 19:47:19 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[5]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Feb 2001 07:58:17 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[6]     From:   Edward Pixley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 07 Feb 2001 11:16:42 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kit Gordon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 13:51:53 -0500
Subject: 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time

My reading of it is that King Hamlet has been dead for two months at the
beginning of the play, that Gertrude married Claudius about a month
later (that's what the "within a month" speech refers to, I think,
rather than the death), and that two months pass from Hamlet's encounter
with the ghost to the play-within-a-play. But this is all "theatrical"
time, which means it can be fudged at will.

Chris Gordon

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 14:45:21 EST
Subject:        RE: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

Part of the confusion lies in the fact that several events have
occurred, the King's death, his funeral, the marriage of Claudius and
Gertrude and Claudius's coronation.  If I'm reading the speech right,
the elder Hamlet has died within two months and the marriage took place
less than a month after.  The marriage would naturally take place after
the funeral, which is confirmed by the following exchange:

    Horatio:    My lord, I came to see your father's funeral.

    Hamlet: I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow-student;
            I think it was to see my mother's wedding.

    Horatio:    Indeed, my lord, it follow'd hard upon.

    (Act I, sc. ii, 182-85)

Where the coronation fits in I'm not sure.  Presumably, Claudius would
want it as soon as possible to forestall any challenge by Hamlet to the
throne, but I don't know how long it would take to plan a coronation in
the event of the sudden death of a king.  The ceremony for James I was
held off for about a year because of the plague in London.  I would
assume he held power in the interim.  Someone more knowledgeable on that
topic can perhaps provide a better answer.  In any case, Laertes and
Hamlet would have to wait for a suitable period after these events to
seek permission to return to their respective Universities.

As to the exchange in Act III, I would trust Ophelia's "twice two
months" rather than Hamlets two.  Some time would have to pass for
Hamlet to display his 'antic disposition', for Rosencranz & Guidenstern
to be sent for and arrive at Elsinor, and for the players to rehearse
and stage their play.  Hamlet may be exaggerating how little time has
passed, either intentionally or unconsciously.  On the other hand,
neither has a calendar in front of them at the time, so we could,
perhaps, split the difference.

Philip Tomposki

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 7 Feb 2001 12:24:15 +1100
Subject: 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time

Peter T. Hadorn writes <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? >

As we know, Shakespeare isn't always consistent in these matters (he was
writing for auditors, not readers) but we don't need to exaggerate the
inconsistencies. In soliloquy Hamlet recognises that his father is "But
two months dead: nay, not so much, not two", meaning that the play opens
between four and eight weeks after Hamlet senior's death; "within a
month . . . she . . .married with my uncle" means that the wedding took
place earlier, less than four weeks after the death. No great
contradiction here. By 3.2 it is two months later, or "twice two months"
since the death according to Ophelia; Hamlet's "die two months ago, and
not forgotten yet?" is obviously rhetorical exaggeration, like the
earlier "my father died within these two hours", not serious chronology.

Peter Groves

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 19:47:19 -0800
Subject: Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time

The passage of time is a difficult problem in much of Shakespeare, and
_Hamlet_ is certainly enigmatic. The "Within a month" line from 1.2
suggests only that Gertrude married Claudius within one month of her
husband's death, not the passage of time between his death and Act 1. I
don't see much difficulty accepting two months in Act 1 and then four
months in Act 3. So much happens in between that we can suspend our
disbelief about the passage of tim rather easily. The Reynaldo scene at
the beginning of Act 2, for example, suggests at least enough time has
passed for Polonius to arrange for someone to spy on his son who is
already in France. Dover Wilson suggests that the interval was two
months (based on Ophelia's line in 3.2).

What's more difficult is Hamlet's age -- an issue that has never been
resolved satisfactorily.

Paul E. Doniger

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 7 Feb 2001 07:58:17 -0500
Subject: 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time

I had this discussion with my class just yesterday. I suggested to them,
and now to you, that the question to ask is not "how much time has
passed?" but "why are there conflicting references to time passing in
the text?" AC Bradley has an entire note devoted to how long Hamlet's
father has been dead, but it doesn't answer any of the questions about
Hamlet's behavior (although he does suggest that the "two months" refers
to the death of his father and the "within a month" the marriage of his
mother, which neatly saves Hamlet from early inconsistency).

I think the references to time in 1.2 are meant to tell the viewer to
how "o'rehasty" this marriage really is, and Horatio's "Indeed my lord,
it followed hard upon" as well as Gertrude's comment later make clear
that Hamlet is not completely out in left field. But Ophelia's reference
to "twice two months" and Hamlet's refusal to accept that time have, I
think, different reasons. Ophelia's offhand comment is a way for
especially alert viewers (and now, obviously, readers) to realize that
some time has passed since the end of Act I. After all, there has to be
time for Ophelia to repulse Hamlet's letters, for him to act strange and
for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be both sent for and to arrive. This
cannot happen overnight, which is what amount of time appears to pass
between 1.5 and 2.1. On the stage these questions don't often come up,
but it was kind of Shakespeare to mention it.

Hamlet's response is much more important than the exact amount of time
that passes. His refusal to give up on the "two months" shows how
fixated he is on the events of Act 1, and perhaps a touch of real
insanity in that he seems unaware of time passing (although his first
words to the Ghost suggest otherwise).

Since this isn't a novel, or a crime scene, the actual passage of time
matters a great deal less than the confusion the varying reports of time
cause. It is one more place where the play seems to have been created,
or passed down, in a deliberately ambiguous manner.

Annalisa Castaldo

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 07 Feb 2001 11:16:42 -0500
Subject: 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0279 Hamlet and the Passage of Time

Peter Hadorn asks how much time has passed between Acts I and II of
Hamlet.  I've always thought that, dramatically speaking, that passage
of time was very cleverly manipulated by the playwright.

From the point of view of the audience, Act I has ended with images of a
Hamlet powerfully motivated by revenge ("that I with wings as swift as
meditation . . . may sweep to my revenge"; "Now to my word;/It is,
adieu, adieu, remember me./ I have sworn't.").  Hamlet seems filled with
urgency, and, though he suggests putting on an antic disposition and
gets his friends to swear secrecy, even these distractions have a sense
of urgency.

At the beginning of Act II, we are given no time frame, but gradually
become aware of a considerable passage of time.  1) Polonius is sending
Reynaldo to Paris to spy on Laertes (suggesting that he has been there
for a while); 2) Ophelia reports that Hamlet has been acting very
strangely (presumably as a result of the favors she has returned to
him); 3) the ambassadors have gone to Norway and have returned with
their report; 4) as a result of Hamlet's strange behavior, Claudius has
sent to Wittenberg for his school friends, and they have already
arrived.  In short, everybody else has been busily traveling all over
northern Europe, while, so far as we can tell, Hamlet's "swift wings"
have got him no further than the "lobby," where everyone is worrying
about his strange behavior.

When Hamlet finally does appear on stage, one-third of the way through
the act, he is hardly the picture of urgency.  He is reading, gulling
Polonius with word games, matching wits with R & G, and waxing
philosophical.  The most positive actions he displays in the act are to
get R & G to confess that they were sent for, to perform a theatrical
speech, and to commission a court performance by the Players.  I can't
help thinking that an audience who doesn't already know the play must be
sitting there wondering what on earth happened to Hamlet's urgency for
revenge.  Why hasn't he done something?

Then finally, when he is alone on stage, he reveals to us that this same
question is exactly what is on his mind.  Why has he not done it?  "What
a rogue and peasant slave" soliloquy is his attempt to answer that
question.  His immediate answer is that he must be a coward.  But he
rejects that and decides that it must be because he doesn't trust the
ghost.  Thus, "The Mousetrap" should put him back on track, and, of
course, it will.

This manipulation of time seems to me designed to arouse anticipation in
the audience.  By being made to wonder how much time has passed, an
audience is more likely to be alert to the signs and to notice and
wonder about the disparity in the actions of the different characters in
relation to time.  The more we notice the action of others, the more we
are likely to become curious about Hamlet's lack of action.

But -- "To be or not to be. That is the question."  -- can be read as
his third attempt to answer why he has not done it.  For Hamlet must
always dig one level deeper to "sound" his own mystery, and he realizes
that he really can't carry out the revenge because he is afraid to die
-- afraid to commit to any action that he cannot follow through to its
final consequence. This, of course, will be resolved in his developing
an existential (rather than a consequential) view of action by the end
of the play.

Ed Pixley

Re: Identifying Extracts

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0295  Wednesday, 7 February 2001

From:           R. Lamb <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 21:02:09 -0000
Subject: 12.0268 Help Identifying Extracts?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0268 Help Identifying Extracts?

>I'm trying to identify the following passages recorded in a Jacobean
>commonplace book. They occur among extracts from plays; this particular
>page starts with four lines from John Marston's *What You Will* (printed
>1607), then come these lines, followed by lines from John Webster's *The
>White Devil* (printed 1612), which continue on the back of the page.
>Any ideas or pointers would be greatly appreciated.  I've expanded
>abbreviations to improve readability.

>Venery it seems is a dainty dish, for many near Lim (?)
>Licking therat till they burn thair Lipps.

I have no suggestions to make about the source of this extract, but I
wondered if the last two words might be "ne'er lin" - "never stop"?

R. Lamb

Re: Russian Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0293  Wednesday, 7 February 2001

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 06 Feb 2001 10:29:27 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 12.0277 Re: Russian Hamlet

[2]     From:   Nick Jones <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 06 Feb 2001 14:21:08 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0277 Re: Russian Hamlet

[3]     From:   David Wilson-Okamura <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 07 Feb 2001 09:31:50 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Russian Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 06 Feb 2001 10:29:27 -0800
Subject: Re: Russian Hamlet
Comment:        SHK 12.0277 Re: Russian Hamlet

Andy White and I both like Kozintsev's film version of *Hamlet,* but we
interpret one thing differently.

>Agreed, it is one of the most stunning film interpretations of
>Shakespeare I've ever seen, and to think it was done under Brezhnev's
>nose still amazes me -- how could he show the 'worker's paradise' for
>the hell it really was, and get away with it?

Was Brezhnev Premiere in 1964?

My take is that we are not seeing the *worker's paradise* of the Soviet
Union, but conditions in Denmark under a corrupt monarchy.  I should
think the authorities would like that.

Actually, I don't remember major emphasis on the workers in *Hamlet.*
Where that really came through for me was Kozintsev's other
Shakespearean film, *King Lear.*  In this case, I take the peasants to
be English, not Soviet.

Best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nick Jones <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 06 Feb 2001 14:21:08 -0500
Subject: 12.0277 Re: Russian Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0277 Re: Russian Hamlet

I forgot to add about the Russian Hamlet that I rented it in 16mm.
format a couple of years ago from Corinth Films (800-221-4720).

Among many wonderful moments in the film is Hamlet's "O that this too
too sullied flesh...", which he delivers in voice-over while walking in
a lobby of courtiers, nodding to some, ignoring others.  The political
and social dynamics of hypocritical ritual frame his bitter silent
reflections powerfully.  I wish I understood Russian to know what
Pasternak has done with the language.

Nick Jones

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wilson-Okamura <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 07 Feb 2001 09:31:50 -0600
Subject:        Re: Russian Hamlet

>Last summer I bought Kozintsev's 'Hamlet' on video (for $10, I believe)
>from a Russian distributor nambed RBC.  Only problem is, there are no
>English subtitles!  Still, the images and sounds are great.

The URL, for those (like me) who don't read Russian, is

        http://www.rbcmp3.com/store/product.asp?dept%5Fid=3004&sku=7403

As of this morning, the price was still $10 (with free shipping in the
US).

Incidentally, if you're buying videos, give http://www.mysimon.com a
try.  It didn't find this one, but it find the best _price_ on a number
of other films.

Re: Macbeth on Film or TV

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0294  Wednesday, 7 February 2001

From:           Stuart Manger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 18:26:39 +0000
Subject: Re: Macbeth on Film or TV
Comment:        SHK 12.0272 Re: Macbeth on Film or TV

Over Christmas in UK, Channel 4 showed the stunning new Antony Sher /
Harriet Walters 'Macbeth'. I hope it comes out on video. Does anyone
share my admiration for this fearsomely intelligent and gripping
production? For me, close to the best TV Shakespeare I have ever seen.

Stuart Manger

Re: "Leaking" Plays

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0292  Wednesday, 7 February 2001

[1]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 19:30:12 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 12.0278 Re: "Leaking" Plays

[2]     From:   David Kathman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Feb 2001 00:16:16 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0267 Re: "Leaking" Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 6 Feb 2001 19:30:12 -0800
Subject: Re: "Leaking" Plays
Comment:        SHK 12.0278 Re: "Leaking" Plays

Whoever published the Second Quarto (probably under the leadership of
The Lord Chamberlain's Men), isn't it more likely that his/their purpose
was to prevent rival companies from usurping the play's revenues. Once a
play was published (in these days of no copyright laws or performance
rights), it was available for anyone to produce and sell admissions to.
At least, by publishing a "corrected" version, the company could recoup
some of its revenues through sales of the corrected copy. I doubt very
much that it had to do with Shakespeare trying to protect his own
posterity as a writer.  Sometimes a great artist can also be a good
business person.

Paul E. Doniger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 7 Feb 2001 00:16:16 -0600
Subject: 12.0267 Re: "Leaking" Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0267 Re: "Leaking" Plays

Don Bloom wrote:

>This whole business of the early quartos seems to have gotten lost in a
>labyrinth of inadequate information, leading to soothsaying not
>criticism.  If a reasonable degree of historical fact about the
>publishing of plays cannot be established, then any argument based on
>cultural history is irrelevant.

I agree.  That's one of the reasons I like Laurie Maguire's
*Shakespearean Suspect Texts* -- she actually surveys the available
historical evidence, hewing to that as closely as possible and trying to
avoid the rampant speculation that so often marks the study of these
texts.  She considers evidence about what people said about these texts
at the time, what kinds of mistakes people have historically made when
they have tried to memorially reconstruct texts, what kinds of changes
authors have historically made when revising their own texts, and
various other kinds of interrelated evidence, which she then applies
systematically to each of the texts which has been labeled a "bad
quarto" at one time or another.  Whether or not one agrees with her
conclusions, I recommend this book to all with an interest in these
questions.

For similar reasons, I also highly recommend Peter Blayney's chapter on
"The Publication of Playbooks" in *A New History of Early English Drama*
(1997).  This chapter uses a lot of cold, hard facts to throw serious
doubt on some of the central tenets of the "pirated memorial
reconstruction" scenario first popularized by Pollard in the early 20th
century.  And it also has the best discussion I've seen of how the
London book trade actually worked in Shakespeare's time, a subject which
is often misunderstood.  In the same volume, Eric Rasmussen's chapter on
"The Revision of Scripts" and Paul Werstine's on "Plays in Manuscript"
are also very relevant to this discussion, and well worth reading.

>If we go back to the texts we find that we probably ought not to
>generalize too much. Some are quite satisfactory Elizabethan plays,
>though arguably inferior to the later versions. Some are pretty badly
>butchered, with a good deal of very inferior material mixed in with the
>same or roughly equal texts as the later versions. For this latter
>group, the "pirated-memorial-reconstruction" theory works out most
>logically.

I'm not so sure.  In many cases we've become so familiar with the
edited, standard version of a play that we instinctively label any
variance from that version as "wrong" or "out of order" or
"nonsensical".  But the variant version often (usually?) makes good
sense on its own terms, especially when it has been edited like the
"good" version to smooth out the errors that are endemic to virtually
every Elizabethan play quarto.  The recent success of many companies in
staging Q1 *Hamlet* comes to mind.  Now, I'm not saying that Q1 *Hamlet*
is necessarily as aesthetically pleasing as the Q2 or F1 versions even
with all these precautions, but I don't see why the bulk of the
differences, at least, couldn't be due to authorial revision.  I'm not
positively asserting that they *are* the result of authorial revision --
just that it's a possibility that deserves to be explored more often
than it has been.  A lot of people react to a text like Q1 *Hamlet* --
or even Q1 *Romeo and Juliet* -- with a kind of visceral revulsion that
I actually find fascinating.  They always trot out the Q1 version of
Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy -- always with original spelling
and punctuation, of course, to make it even more foreign to a modern
reader -- but that speech actually makes pretty good sense with a few
emendations.  Sure, it's not as complex or poetic as the Q2/F1 version,
but why couldn't that be because it's Shakespeare's first draft?

And by the way, we definitely need to keep distinct the concepts
"pirated" and "memorial reconstruction", because they're quite
independent despite being often conflated.  A "pirated" text would not
have had to be textually corrupt (for example, if an outsider stole a
copy of the script and sold it to a stationer), and a "memorial
reconstruction" would not have had to be pirated (for example, if the
company as a whole memorially reconstructed a play in the absence of the
physical script, as some people have suggested for such texts as Q1
*Richard III*).

>Now then, if you wish to attack the PMR theory and offer a substitute,
>you need show how your theory explains the available data (that is, the
>first/bad quarto as compared to the second quarto and first folio) more
>completely than PMR. Arguing from other quartos, like arguing from hazy
>and disputed history, gets nowhere.

I'm not sure what this last sentence is supposed to mean, but Steve
Urkowitz and others have made what I consider to be pretty good
arguments for treating the "bad quartos" as much more coherent and
sensible than they're often accused of being.  I think a combination of
authorial revision and some degree of corruption by intermediaries
(printers, copyists, etc.) is at least as plausible a scenario as
memorial reconstruction, at least for most of these texts.

>(For my money, the fact that a good second quarto always seems to appear
>after a first, inferior quarto is going to take a lot of explaining. But
>I'm open to reasonable argument.)

Why does it need a lot of explaining?  How about this scenario: a
company plays one version of a play for a while.  Then the author
revises it substantially, presumably making it better, whereupon the
company sells the earlier script to a stationer for printing.  The
earlier version is then on bookstalls as a sort of promotion for the
new, better version being acted in the playhouse.  Eventually the
company stops playing the revised version, and maybe sells that to the
stationers too.

Such a scenario may be hard to comprehend for those who are imbued in
traditional ideas about the printing of plays in Shakespeare's time, but
I would urge such people to read Blayney's chapter cited above if they
haven't already done so.  He throws some cold water on the traditional
idea that the acting companies were always fighting against stationers
desperate to print their plays, and makes an interesting case that plays
were printed primarily as a form of promotion for an acting company's
current repertory.

Dave Kathman
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Search

Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.