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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0048  Thursday, 8 January 2004

[1]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Jan 2004 09:38:42 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0041 Hamlet

[2]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Jan 2004 10:26:04 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0041 Hamlet

[3]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Jan 2004 15:13:16 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0041 Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Jan 2004 09:38:42 EST
Subject: 15.0041 Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0041 Hamlet

Dear Friends,

John Reed's thoughtful and clever renovation of HAM 5.2.218-220 is that,
and wrong. The repetition of ought/ought typical of Hamlet's woldplay
and is the character point of the speech; Q2 is correct, but for the
typositor's eyeskip eliding the latter ought.

Hope this helps.

Steve

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Jan 2004 10:26:04 -0500
Subject: 15.0041 Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0041 Hamlet

John Reed's reading of the "What is't to leave betimes" passage in
Hamlet is plausible, along with many other readings of this complex
crux, but that is no good reason to promote and preserve his view in the
form of an emendation.  Jenkins's Long Note to the passage in his Arden
edition contains a good discussion of some of the principal efforts to
supply the meaning, but leaves the final answer entirely unresolved.

Moreover, even Jenkins fails to discuss a few possibilities that seem to
lurk behind the disparate Q2 and F texts.  The first is that "ought"
(now usually edited to "aught"= "nothing") in the 16 cent. also meant
"possessed of."  That could lead to a reading to the general effect that
since no one knows what he is destined to have (to leave behind?) when
his time is up, why worry about dying earlier rather than later.
(Jenkins cites earlier writers whose views are consistent with this.)

A second possibility lies in the fact that "what" may mean "why," giving
the sense of either  "for what reason" or "for what purpose."  This
conforms neatly with the thought of the special providence that shapes
one's ends and determines when we die, and again leads reasonably to the
conclusion that dying early or soon ('betimes") is something with which
it is futile to concern one's self.

A third possibility lies in the possibility that "what" looks forward to
the "time" of "betimes" and expresses the notion that, since no one
knows anything ("ought") of the divine scheme of things that determines
what time one is destined to die, it is therefore illegitimate,
prideful, and presumptuous to characterize the moment of death as
"early," no matter when it comes.  In this sense, too, Hamlet would here
be expressing the same mood of surrender to providence that colors the
rest of the passage.  The irrepressible emenders of uncertain passages
might here wish to change "what" to "what time" in the Folio version,
and thus reduce the number of unresolvable questions to two:" Is it "has
knowledge of what time he dies," or is it "possesses control over what
time he dies?"

The crux offers a protean assortment of possible solutions, some of
which do not even require emendation.  The language is ambiguous in its
meanings and in its grammar, and the two best versions of the text
itself are in conflict.  Every director, actor, and reader should be
allowed to consider the options as we have inherited them, free of the
egoism of editorial prejudgment but perhaps with Jenkins's discussion in
mind (and mine, too), and let each new performance develop one of the
many fleetingly suggested truths as best it can.

I'm also against overtime in football and hockey.   Things aren't always
resolved clearly and, mirabile dictu, life isn't TV.   There doesn't
always have to be a winner.

Tony Burton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Jan 2004 15:13:16 -0600
Subject: 15.0041 Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0041 Hamlet

Concerning John Reed's gloss of Hamlet's "fall of a sparrow" speech:

I don't think that "betimes" requires us to think that Hamlet is talking
about *when / at what moment* one dies, as opposed to *what happens
when*. In *Everyman*, for example, the title character is reminded
rather forcefully that he can take nothing worldly into the grave, not
even his virtues - nothing except his good deeds.

Thus the Folio - "the readinesse is all, since no man ha's ought of what
he leaues.  What is't to leaue betimes?" - would make the same point.
Since you keep nothing of this world in the next, what difference
whether you leave sooner or later? You're in the same condition either way.

For whatever reason, perhaps hard-to-read changes in the manuscript, or
perhaps mere incompetence, the Q2 typesetter tried to make sense of
something that puzzled him, garbled the first part, and modified the
meaning of the second by changing "has" to "knows" and moving it to
where it would make sense to him. The editors of the Folio, knowing how
the line actually worked, changed it back.

Having said so, I will further say that I have no emotional investment
in this interpretation, and that the F version remains notably obscure.
  The Arden tried to overcome this by adding some words (assuming they
were lost), but though this is a help to a modern reader, I think what
Shakespeare wrote (DON'T ask at what stage)is what the Folio gives us.

I remain committed (in all reverence to William of Occam) to the
simplest explanation, but it is altogether possible that a better, but
equally simple one will come along.

Cheers,
don

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