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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1707  Monday, 13 September 2004

From:           William L. Davis <
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Date:           Sunday, 12 Sep 2004 21:37:53 EDT
Subject: 15.1696 Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1696 Legitimizing the Q1 Hamlet

Even though the New York City public library is a major landmark and
tourist attraction, I decided to brave a visit this past Saturday (the
anniversary of September 11th) to see if I could find the books Norman
Hinton suggested regarding complex chiasmus in medieval literature.
Sure enough, they were there (which isn't always the case with that
library, unfortunately), and I wanted to follow-up with some of the
things I found.

To begin, as I expected, a large number of the complex chiastic
structures Dr. Howlett described belonged to the more generalized style
of chiasmus that deals with the overall arrangement of sections, themes
and ideas in a passage or work.  That, in and of itself, was not a
surprise; however, after continuing the review of his research, I also
found that Dr. Howlett had identified a large number of medieval writers
who had, in fact, written in the complex style where phrase-by-phrase,
even word-by-word, correspondence and balance existed throughout
extended passages.  And that was a surprise.  In fact, many of the
generalized forms displayed a far greater complexity than I had ever
expected to see.  I simply did not anticipate those styles of complex
chiasmus at all, and I want to publicly thank Mr. Hinton for letting me
know about Dr. Howlett's books.  (In fact, the whole situation is a bit
ironic.  Years ago, when my sister and brother-in-law were telling me
about chiasmus in Beowulf, my brother-in-law in particular made
reference to Dr. Howlett's work.  At the time, however, he couldn't
quite remember the author's name, and thought it was "Howell."  I
searched in vain to find his material, but obviously never found it, and
eventually stopped looking.  But, better late than never.)

So, while I do stand here a little embarrassed by having missed Dr.
Howlett's scholarship (and feeling a bit guilty for having perpetuated
an outmoded assumption), I can't help but be really happy about the
find.  The reason being is that Dr. Howlett's work potentially answers a
lot of questions about Shakespeare's use of complex chiasmus, and why
Shakespeare consistently uses the forms in ways that mimic the ancient
complex systems in very advanced ways (not in structural shape alone,
but the placement of central themes, the placement of the forms in
relation to the context of overall passages, the specific biblical
variations he uses, and even the ability to manipulate the forms by
arranging and rearranging the structures).  So, even though in the past
I figured Shakespeare was a genius and therefore could have discovered
all the principles of composition and manipulation of complex chiastic
structures on his own, I couldn't help but stop and wonder how he really
managed to do it.  If he did figure it out on his own, he essentially
would have had to discover a lost discipline, observe it well enough and
early enough that he could start composing passages with the skill of a
master from his earliest plays, and further expand on that knowledge by
teaching himself how to manipulate the structures in a process of
arranging and rearranging complex systems.  No small order for a country
boy from Stratford - unless, of course, he was made aware of the complex
chiastic tradition that had been alive for a number of centuries prior
to his day.  That's something a gifted Stratford boy could accomplish,
given the right company.  And that leads to a couple more questions:
who taught it to him?  And where did he get this knowledge?  I have a
few ideas, but for now I better leave that line of thought for another
topic, and take this all back to how the variant texts of Hamlet tie
into this.

The presence of a longstanding tradition of composing passages in
complex chiastic structures (stretching back roughly 1,000 years prior
to Shakespeare, given the examples Dr. Howlett provides) gives strong
confirmation that Shakespeare was, at some level, in some way, tied into
that tradition.  It certainly makes more sense than supposing he arrived
at such an advanced knowledge out of a vacuum.  Such a rich history and
tradition would easily provide answers, in part or full, as to how
Shakespeare had such an advanced knowledge of the structures and the
principles associated with the complex forms.  Specifically, the
structural revisions (or corruptions, depending on what the reader
prefers) between the Q1 and Q2/F1 Hamlet variants follow a systematic
movement of advanced and highly specific manipulations.  The structural
alterations, without exception, follow the bedrock of the underlying
complex chiastic structure, paying strict attention to the balance and
symmetry between parallel phrases throughout the system.  Whether one
chooses to believe Shakespeare revised Hamlet, or someone corrupted
Hamlet, the movements are deliberate, intentional and highly specific.
And that level of advanced knowledge could easily be explained by a
connection to an older tradition.

So, while I stand here with a little pie in my face for espousing an
outdated assumption, I have to confess, when all is said and done, that
the pie tastes pretty darn good.

William L. Davis

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