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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Time in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1105  Friday, 11 May 2001

From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 May 2001 10:20:18 -0700
Subject: 12.1094 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1094 Re: Time in Hamlet

At 10:58 AM -0400 5/10/01, Larry Weiss wrote:

>The two references to Hamlet's age in V.i
>are not in Q1 and seem to have been added to assure the audience that
>Burbage was not miscast.

This is the position I came to as well, and that I argue in my Chapter
One and Appendix A, with some qualifications. (I don't claim to be the
first one to arrive at this surmise, though like many others I came to
it independently.)

Problem is, this contradicts the currently accepted textual histories of
the play. According to Dover Wilson, Wells/Taylor, Blakemore Evans,
etc., both F1 and Q2 are ultimately based on a single, pre-Q1,
auctorially authoritative source. By this theory, the four oddly
obtrusive items that cast Hamlet as an adult are all missing from Q1 as
a result of the reporter's error.

But all the major editors/critics (and many minors) since the 1870s have
noted the marked discrepancy between these F1/Q2 items and the
impression of youth given everywhere else, in all editions. (See
<>.)  Given that somewhat
jarring discordance, the timing of publication for Q1, Q2, and F1, and
the impression of multiple revisions that's so notable in the play's
textual history, it's hard not to think that material was added/changed
after Q1 was reported, and that those changes are reflected in Q2 and

It's scary to question such authorities. But to quote Wells/Taylor,
assaulting Edwards: "Why should an editor wish to propose an
intrinsically implausible hypothesis for which there is no evidence?
Because it allows the editor to isolate the author's own creative
processes in a single manuscript, and to isolate the debasement of those
intentions in other manuscripts which with the author had no

I don't say that "there is no evidence" for the currently accepted
textual history. Far from it. But it fails to explain many particulars.
I certainly sympathize: Editors have no choice but to give a single
reading in their texts, and this in a play where alternate
readings/meanings form a great deal of the text's power and beauty.

This need to give a single reading leads editors to propose a (fairly)
simple textual history--a single source, with a couple of variants
forking off, and some questionable "contamination" between them--from
which they can discern more "authoritative" readings. In particular, the
current beliefs shy sharply away from the possibility of multiple,
parallel revisions by the author, later collated in different ways, at
different times, by the author and/or other(s).

I'm not in a position to argue for that theory. I haven't done the due
diligence to support it. But I wanted to point out that the "rewrite for
Burbage" idea, attractive as it is to me, you, and others, is
contradicted by current wisdom.


P. S. Your statement that "the character is precisely as old as the
actor playing him appears to be" agrees completely with Dover Wilson:
"Hamlet is an actor made up to represent a certain age, which they
[audience members] accept without question." But this strikes me as a

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