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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0267  Friday, 30 January 2004

From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Jan 2004 22:21:25 -0800
Subject:        Hamlet

This message is intended to be in response to the thread Hamlet, started
on Jan. 7.

  Compositors.

Occasionally I delve into the Variorum editions because I am curious
about a certain point; not that it always helps, since there are many
readings where there continues to be no clear answer (like this one).
And it sometimes seems that the more commentary, the less consensus --
usually, actually.  Of course cases, good cases, can be made for
anything, but regarding the compositors I can't help thinking they are
sometimes given credit for being more literal-minded than they were.  I
doubt they were mechanically scanning their text letter by letter or
word by word; more likely they were reading chunks of passage, and then
trying to remember it moments or minutes later when setting their
precious type.  Were that so they might misremember passages and
introduce weird (from a scanning perspective) results, results which
might resemble what happens in people with dyslexia.  This passage right
here might be one of those passages.  If so we might expect errors
beyond what could be accounted for by legibility: words left out, words
added, words out of order, words changed into something else somehow
similar.  We might, for instance, have a shift in pronoun, from "when"
to "what" -- by the F compositor (B or whoever he was).

  The whole context of this passage is enclosed by the issue of time.  A
bit higher up Horatio, remarking on the fate of Rosencrantz an
Guildenstern, says, "It must shortly be known to him from England/What
is the issue of the business there."  To which Hamlet responds, "It will
be short.  The interim is mine."  Then Osric, of all people, underscores
this with the phrase, "And it would come to immediate trial of your
lordship would vouchsafe the answer."  Hamlet isn't the only one
thinking things are coming to a conclusion.  But Hamlet agrees to the
trial.  Then the Lord enters and double-checks, "He sends to know if
your pleasure hold to play with Laertes or that you will take longer
time."  Hamlet answers: "If his fitness speaks, mine is ready./ Now or
whensoever, provided I be so able as now."  Then the Lord, referring to
the King and Queen, indicates the trial is imminent, and Hamlet agrees
again.  Then, Hamlet confesses to misgivings -- perhaps it is his
prophetic soul -- and Horatio is impressed with this and argues against
the combat.  Hamlet comes up with a counter-argument, where he seems
very precise ("It if be now, 'tis not to come," etc.): I wouldn't be
surprised if he is using techniques from Classical logic, and the
general sense of it concerns timing.  Then, "The readiness is all."
Then he seems to be concluding his argument, which is the disputed
passage.  I think he is acknowledging Horatio's misgivings, but he
doesn't care: this is it, this is, how did they put it in The Seven
Samurai?  "The Decisive Battle."  He accepts the possibility he might
lose, or at least die, but he'd rather get it over with.  He is
balancing his own sense of the significance of the moment against his
own and Horatio's doubt and fear.  If Horatio were heeded, at best it
prolongs the uncertainty, and might be the cause of losing the
opportunity.  Hamlet might be thinking something like, "I might die in
this encounter, but... you're going to die sooner or later, and whenever
it happens it will probably be both unexpected and unwelcome."  Thus,
"Since no man knows aught of when he leaves, what is't to leave
betimes?"  Betimes: any old time, sometime soon, very now.  Horatio
starts to protest again, characteristically too weakly, and Hamlet
silences him with, "Let be."

  Shaheen (Biblical References in Shakespeare's Plays) compares the F
reading to 1 Timothy 6.  The reading I have in mind might echo John 7.6;
maybe.

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