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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Time in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1158  Friday, 18 May 2001

[1]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 May 2001 06:32:16 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.1137 Re: Time in Hamlet

[2]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 May 2001 10:22:17 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1128 Re: Time in Hamlet

From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 May 2001 06:32:16 -0400
Subject: Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        SHK 12.1137 Re: Time in Hamlet

'Who is Hamlet's REAL father?' has always been one of the crucial
Shakespearean questions. The dawning realisation that it's Claudius
gives the final gathering up of the bodies  -particularly when
Fortinbras's words are spoken properly- its most disturbing dimension.

Terence Hawkes

From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 May 2001 10:22:17 -0700
Subject: 12.1128 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1128 Re: Time in Hamlet

Dear Friends:

My apologies for being absent from this discussion for some days.
Exigencies. My groat's worth:

At 10:22 AM -0400 5/15/01, Sean Lawrence wrote:

>>The question then is not what is the true age of Hamlet, but which of
>>the possible readings supported by the texts can be safely disqualified,
>>and my psychobabble, as far as I can see, can not.
>Two points:
>1. Theories don't always have to be exclusive.  I'm not sure if a
>Freudian reading would be particularly destroyed by showing that all the
>hints towards Hamlet's age are consistent, nor would such a reading of
>the play as temporally consistent necessarily destroy a Freudian

Thanks, Sean, for stating that so well and saving me the anguish. <g>
Clifford, I'm not clear why you think that your reading "must be
disqualified to accept Steve Roth's," or that you have been
"intentionally prevented" from demonstrating that yours is the
"authentic reading." My response to your post (after seeking
clarification to be sure I understood correctly) was to say:

"If I've got it right, it's a wonderfully recursive view, quite in
keeping with this echo-chamber of plays."

And I thought to add later, after sending the post, "And it's also in
keeping with the play's role as a quite prescient harbinger of the
modern world view." I find the play to be remarkably proleptic in this
regard, including (in my opinion, and in that of several other critics
over the years) an amazingly well-formed presentation of modern
existential thought, and even notable aspects of the theater of the

If my reading is correct--that the 1601 Hamlet presented an
unequivocally youthful prince--it actually supports Clifford's
assertions (as I understand them), that the later editions actually draw
on the earlier to highlight Hamlet's psychological state. Again, a
wonderfully recursive view, especially from a New Criticism perspective.
(Though I don't find it to be contradicted by New Historicism
approaches, either.)

I hope that my final question wasn't taken as a challenge, but as the
honest inquiry I intended:

"Given all that, a textual question: do you think the four items were
just missed or messed up by the Q1 reporter, or that they were added at
some time after the creation of Q1?"

I agree wholeheartedly with Clifford in his response:

>Hamlet from the lost version alluded to by Greene to the F1 version is a single play undergoing a process of development across almost forty years of performances.

To me it seems obvious from the known textual history, and from the
multilayered density of the play, that Shakespeare returned to it
several/many times, adding, adjusting, and layering in material over
many years. I argue in my book that the play was something of a
"life-work" for Shakespeare. I discuss (building on Steve Sohmer's work)
how it incorporates multiple and significant calendar allusions to
Shakespeare's life, and argue that the single most important revision
occurred just after his father's death in September, 1601, just a month
after the fifth anniversary of Hamnet's death. This in perhaps the most
mortality laden of all plays, one that is larded throughout with fathers
and sons.

I believe this theory is both supported by and demonstrative of
(Clifford will like this, I think) the creative release that men feel
upon their father's deaths. So I find the play's dual "coming of age"
themes (Hamlet's and the modern world's) echoed in the coming of age
that men experience when their fathers are no longer looking over their
shoulders. This paragraph is perhaps psychobabble, but I find it

I also agree completely with Karen Peterson-Kranz and Ed Taft (and
disagree with Shahab yar Khan) in their view of Old Hamlet as a distant
father, off at the wars all the time. The upbringing of nobles in
Shakespeare's time supports this quite solidly. Other support as well
which I won't inflict on you here.

I also find Shahab's enthusiasm for Bloom's discussion somewhat
misplaced. First you have to put aside Bloom's obvious errors (that
Fortinbras is significantly younger than Hamlet [he is at most nine
month's Hamlet's junior], and that the action encompasses "a few weeks
at most." [the text makes clear it's about four months]). Even then,
Bloom's conclusion ("And yet none of this matters: he is always both the
youngest and the oldest personality in the drama") is for me vapid and

Back to textual history: thanks to Larry Weiss for his discussion and
clarification--deletion of matter from the original foul-paper source
(for whatever reason), rather than addition. Evans' is a quite
satisfying position, and serves to support my position, though somewhat

I would like to address Larry's response to my postscript, though:

>>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
>Me too, and that is my point.

If I understand this correctly, you're saying that an attempt to fix
Hamlet's age is essentially tautological? If that's correct, I would
like to disagree.

I'm delighted to accept the position that all this discussion is useless
tautology, especially if you accept Hamlet's "the rest is silence"
existentialism. (What's Hamlet to me, or me to Hamlet, but thinking make
it so?) Since we've all agreed to pretend that this stuff is actually
important, though, I think a careful analysis of Hamlet's age, and an
attempt to fix it, has value in illuminating the play. It served as the
springboard for a much deeper and richer understanding for me, and I
hope will do likewise for others as well.

Phew! Glad I got all that off my chest. I look forward to hearing
further thoughts.


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