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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1676  Wednesday, 8 September 2004

From:           William Davis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Sep 2004 22:28:40 EDT
Subject: 15.1664 Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1664 Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet

Normon Hinton writes:  <<I don't know who believes this had 'fallen out
of use', but I can point you to a number of studies of this kind of
chiasmus in medieval literature. (And art as well)>>

Because the study of complex chiasmus crosses several disciplines, I
would not be surprised to find that the biblical researchers do not have
a monopoly on knowing whether or not it existed, or didn't exist, in
medieval writings.  So, despite what I have read and been told, I am
still fully open to the idea that these complex biblical forms could
have been used as patterns in medieval writing.  I would be very
interested to follow-up on the sources you suggested, so that I can see
how they are similar and/or different from the biblical structures.
Among biblical scholars, however, they seem fairly convinced that the
highly complex forms found in Hebrew writing did not exist in European
literature.  In the book "Chiasmus in Antiquity," the editor, John
Welch, has an article entitled "Chiasmus in Ancient Greek and Latin
Literatures" where he essentially says as much (and he is not the only
scholar to reflect these sentiments).  He refers to this idea both
directly and indirectly in the opening of his essay, saying things such
as, "numerous Western scholars have exhaustively studied secular Greek
literary texts since the thirteenth century, and Latin, since it was
spoken in Rome.  The use of literary devices in Hebrew literature, on
the other hand, has only been given relatively sparse scholarly
treatment in the West for something over two hundred years, and the
study of figures of speech in most other ancient languages, dialects and
literatures can still be said to be somewhat in a state of infancy.  In
addition, since the occurrence of chiasmus in the Classical European
texts is often a relatively simple phenomenon, it has usually been an
easy thing for commentators to detect, natural to comment upon, and
relatively inconsequential and uncontroversial once observed."  Later,
commenting on the decline in the complexity of chiastic structures from
the earliest Greek and Latin texts, he says, "although, as this essay
will show, the complexity of chiasmus diminishes markedly in the later
Greek and Latin writers (setting the style for most Western writing ever
since), it is still important to observe and appreciate the extent
chiasmus was used by them..."  Despite statements such as these,
however, I want to reiterate that I am still open to the possibility of
large-scale, complex chiastic systems appearing in medieval (or even
Renaissance) literature.  After all, Shakespeare made widespread use of
the forms throughout all his works and, based on what I have read of the
biblical scholars, they still haven't commented on it.

John Kennedy writes: <<It seems to me that any attempt to account for
the Q1 Hamlet -- and let us take the "To be" speech in particular to
account for -- must take
into consideration its frequent complete breakdowns of meter and syntax,
which are far beyond the wildest license Shakespeare ever allows himself
in any text generally acknowledged as "good".  I am completely open to
the possibility that Q1 represents in some way a Shakespearean ur-text
(to be distinguished from the hypothetical ur-Hamlet of the
oyster-wife), but am firmly of the opinion that there is more to it --
if not memorial reconstruction or plagiarism by stenography, then
perhaps stolen foul papers?>>

I believe you raise a good point about the "frequent complete breakdowns
of meter and syntax" that this speech contains in the Q1 text.  My essay
does not address that specific issue (not directly, at least), and I
hesitate to offer possible theories at this point - particularly when I
haven't formed an opinion about it yet.  I would, however, like to
suggest something to keep in mind regarding emendations within complex
chiastic structures.  Whenever a complex chiasm has undergone
rearrangement (phrases excised from one location, then reinserted into
balanced positions elsewhere in the form), both the meter and syntax of
the overall form are inevitably interrupted.  This happens because old
phrases are broken down, new ones are constructed, and these
rearrangements create new verse lines in the final form that are often
composed by two phrases that were originally on opposite sides of the
complex system from each other.  When that task of rearrangement is
further complicated with the need to fit the newly formed text inside
the metrical constraints of verse, the results would understandably
contain a series of irregularities in the length of each verse line, and
problems with the basic grammar and syntax of the individual sentences.
  This challenge can immediately be seen in the Q1 revised examples of
the essay.  If you have had a chance to read the paper, I'd invite you
to go back and read through the Q1 revised speech in the rough form (the
version that has not been "smoothed out" to cover up the irregularities
and syntactical problems), and notice how it can be a rough ride.  So
what could this mean for the Q1 text, particularly if we consider the
possibility that it might be an earlier version of Hamlet that predated
the Q2/F1 variants?  In addition to the scenarios you suggested, I
believe a number of other possibilities could achieve a plausible
explanation for those challenges; however, in context of complex
chiasmus there is one scenario I would like to add that could create
such a situation:  it could mean that the Q1 speech was not the "first
version" of this speech, and that the text had already undergone at
least on revision prior to the passage found in the 1603 publication.
For now, however, this is merely conjecture on my part, and I haven't
drawn any conclusions as to why the Q1 text appears in the rough shape
that it does.  Since my focus in the essay was on the stepwise
progression of structural manipulations occurring between the Q1 and
Q2/F1 texts, I only marginally addressed that issue in the paper.

Best regards to both,
William Davis

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