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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: September ::
Hamlets: fat and lean
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2236  Thursday, 27 September 2001

[1]     From:   Harvey Roy Greenberg <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 25 Sep 2001 23:08:03 EDT
        Subj:   Lean, hungry was Re: SHK 12.2220 Re: Tyndale Bible and "fat"
Hamlet

[2]     From:   John Ramsay <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Sep 2001 12:22:54 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2220 Re: Tyndale Bible and "fat" Hamlet

[3]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Sep 2001 19:18:59 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2197 Re: Tyndale Bible and "fat" Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harvey Roy Greenberg <
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Date:           Tuesday, 25 Sep 2001 23:08:03 EDT
Subject: was Re: SHK 12.2220 Re: Tyndale Bible and "fat"
Comment:        Lean, hungry was Re: SHK 12.2220 Re: Tyndale Bible and "fat"
Hamlet

Anybody remember particularly thin Hamlets -- with a 'lean and hungry
look'?  Anyone care to take odds on whether there have been more fleshy
Hamlets than lean and hungry? Only ask in the spirit of fun, but having
seen more than my share, I believe fat, if not scant of breath, or at
least slightly porky, would predominate.

Thin Hamlets, or so did they seem I recall -- Fritz Weaver, and believe
it or not, William Hurt -- the latter I believe at the CSC rep many
years ago.  Weaver was extremely nervous as well as thin. I believe the
usually robust Ralph Fiennes looked particularly lean, hungry, and
nervous -- I remarked to my wife that his toes -- he went barefoot when
mad quite a bit -- looked long and lean.

Burton, on the other hand, looked burly if not obese; Nicole Williamson
quite beefy. I expect Gielgud would have had thinnish shanks. Again,
although I cannot cite more chapters and verse, I remember the lean ones
tended to be neurosthenic and overwrought. Perhaps their nervousness
made them appear leaner than in fact they were. Gent who played the Dane
at Stratford a few years back, was it Paul Rudd?? -- did a great deal of
hand wring with a tremulous voice, and seemed to us to be getting
thinner as the time went on.

Free associating -- does anyone remember Hamlets where there was much
actual eating in evidence. Branagh shows us a resurrected Yorick bearing
the lad on his back at, I believe, a feast although briefly. There are a
number of foodish references threaded throughout the play which are
quite intriguing -- king may pass through the guts of a fish etc. While
the king is drinking his draughts of Rhenish down, one thinks there was
a fair amount of feasting going on, joints of meat, sopped up gravey,
perhaps a few wooly dogs shambling about functioning as napery.

All this from NYC, where the restaurants have gotten very full in the
last few days, and much drinking and eating and smoking is going on,
poignantly reminding one of the citizens of Oran in THE PLAGUE.

Anyway, as Don Corleone said, I'm drinkin' more wine...

Harvey Roy Greenberg, MD

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ramsay <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Sep 2001 12:22:54 -0400
Subject: 12.2220 Re: Tyndale Bible and "fat" Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2220 Re: Tyndale Bible and "fat" Hamlet

> Let's not lose sight of how reliable a reporter Gertrude is. While the
> men are turning cartwheels, speculating, and plotting to discover what's
> bugging Hamlet ... it's Gertrude who succinctly says, "I doubt it is no
> other but the main -- / His father's death and our o'er-hasty marriage."
> You can't get blunter than that.
>
> So, if Gertie says Ham is fat and sweats, that's good enough for me.
>
> As to the painting of Burbage ... well, he wouldn't be the first
> performer to have his image retouched, nor the last.
>
> Steve

I'm certainly with Steve re Gertrude.

Always did sympathize with Gertrude : unknowing about the murder of her
previous husband by the present one, sharp enough to tell Polonius 'more
matter with less art', kind enough to say she hoped Ophelia had been
Hamlet's bride.

Torn throughout the play between her care for her son and her husband,
and brave enough and honest enough to make the decision between her
troubled son and smiling villain of a husband with her final breath.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Sep 2001 19:18:59 -0400
Subject: 12.2197 Re: Tyndale Bible and "fat" Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2197 Re: Tyndale Bible and "fat" Hamlet

I have believed for a long time that "fat" properly refers to Hamlet
being in a sweat, and directly explains and provides the plausibility
for both Gertrude's offer to wipe Hamlet's face, and also the king's
expectation that he will be thirsty for a drink of something early on.
In this connection, let's remember that the more highly conditioned an
athlete is, the sooner he breaks a sweat (look out for one of those
professional basketball players standing at the foul line only a few
minutes into a game, with sweat dripping off his face, once the season
starts), so Hamlet's "continual practice" prepares for the events at the
duel rather than contradicts them.  In Hebrew, the word for "fat" under
discussion on this thread ("shamen") can mean "stout" or "robust" when
applied to people, "fertile" when applied to land, and "nourishing" when
applied to food.  Tyndale's English quite rightly has about the same
broad range of potential meanings as the original, but doesn't do much
to resolve the crux in "Hamlet".

By the way, there is an Elizabethan agricultural reference I can't bring
to hand right now, that "fat" land should be prepared by first planting
it in hemp, with the seeming implication that hemp is a thirsty plant
that will absorb excess moisture; I dismiss the possibility of the words
meaning that some land is overly fertile, and should be impoverished
before planting with the desired crop.  Does anyone on the list know
whether ordinary hemp (perhaps recreational 20th c. marijuana has
similar needs) requires very wet soil?  If so, the reference may be the
clincher for the claim that "fat" can mean "moist" in Shakespearean
English, and the dubious tradition of a notably corpulent Burbage can be
put to rest.

Tony B

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