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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0041  Wednesday, 7 January 2004

From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Tuesday, 6 Jan 2004 21:57:16 -0800
Subject:        Hamlet


For my first trick I should like to propose an emendation to the text of
Hamlet.  The offending sentence occurs in Act 5, Scene 2, lines 218-220
(of the Arden edition).
Since no
man, of aught he leaves, knows aught, what is't to
leave betimes?  Let be.

The context is as follows in certain early editions:

Q1 (1603)
Hamlet: Beleeue me Horatio, my hart is on the sodaine
Very sore all here about.

Horatio: My lord, forbeare the challenge then.
Hamlet: No Horatio, not I, if danger be now,
Why then it is not to come, theres a predestinate prouidence
in the fall of a sparrow: heere comes the King.

Q2 (1604)
Hamlet: I doe not thinke so, since he went into France, I haue bene
in continuall practise, I shall winne at the ods; thou would'st not
thinke how ill all's heere about my hart, but it is no matter.

Horatio: Nay good my Lord.
Hamlet: It is but foolery, but it is such a kinde of gamgiuing, as
would perhapes trouble a woman.

Horatio: If your minde dislike any thing, obay it.  I will forstal their
repaire hether, and say you are not fit.

Hamlet: Not a whit, we defie augury, there is speciall prouidence in
the fall of a Sparrowe, if it be, tis not to come, if it be not to come,
it will be now, if it be not now, yet it well come, the readines is all,
since no man of ought he leaves, knowes what ist to leaue betimes,
let be.

F (1623)
Hamlet: I doe not thinke so, since he went into France,
I haue beene in continuall practice; I shall winne at the
oddes: but thou wouldest not thinke how all heere a-
bout my heart: but it is no matter.

Horatio: Nay, good my Lord.
Hamlet: It is but foolery; but it is such a kinde of
gain-giuing as would perhaps trouble a woman.

Horatio: If your minde dislike anything, obey. I will fore-
stall their repaire hither, and say you are not fit.

Hamlet: Not a whit, we defie Augury; there's a speciall
Prouidence in the fall of a sparrow.  If it be now, 'tis not
to come: if it beenot to come, it will bee now : if it
be not now; yet it will come; the readinesse is all, since no
man ha's ought of what he leaues.  What is't to leaue be-
times?

An authoritative modern version is the Arden.

Arden (1982)
Hamlet: I do not think so.  Since he went into France, I have
been in continual practice.  I shall win at the odds.
Thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my
heart; but it is no matter.

Horatio: Nay, good my lord.

Hamlet:  It is but foolery, but it is such a kind of gaingiving
as would perhaps trouble a woman.

Horatio: If your mind dislike anything, obey it.  I will forestall
their repair hither and say you are not fit.

Hamlet:  Not a whit.  We defy augury.  There is a special provi-
dence in the fall of a sparrow.  If it be now, 'tis not to
come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not
now, yet it will come.  The readiness is all.  Since no
man, of aught he leaves, knows aught, what is't to
leave betimes?  Let be.

Intermediate Phase

In the Arden reading, there are added words, since the editor of that
edition thought the word knows required an object, which he supplied
(the second aught). Changing one of these aughts might yield a more
intelligible passage.  Thus:

Since no
man, of when he leaves, knows aught, what is't to
leave betimes?  Let be.

Proposed original reading:

Since no man knows ought of when he leaves, what is't to leaue betimes?
  Let be.

If this were the original reading, it could have been corrupted to the
Q2 reading by certain changes:

since no man of ought he leaves, knowes what ist to leaue betimes,
let be.

Verb shifted, "when" left out, "ought" shifted ("ought" substituted for
"when").

If this were the original reading, it could have been corrupted to the F
reading by even simpler changes:

since no
man ha's ought of what he leaues.  What is't to leaue be-
times?

"knows" changed to "ha's."  "when" changed to "what."  "Let be" left out.

These kinds of errors might be the sort that could be expected in lapses
of short term memory (in the compositors).

The Arden editor, Harold Jenkins, in his discussion of this passage
pointed out it has been much discussed over the years, and that Johnson
was the first to conflate the Q2 and F texts, substituting knows for
ha's.  He believed this change dubious, however.  He also brought up an
emendation by Dover Wilson (disagreeing with it), and quoting the
paraphrase: 'Since no one can tell...what is the right moment to die,
why trouble about it?'  Although Dover Wilson's emendation is different
than mine, I believe this paraphrase to be very close to the meaning of
the passage.  The reading proposed here is smoother, and more direct
than the others.

In addition, the final part of the speech, 'Let be.' appears to be
Hamlet's summation of his position against Horatio's objection to the duel.

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