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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
Dating Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0771  Friday, 22 April 2005

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Apr 2005 08:43:59 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

[2]     From:   M Yawney <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Apr 2005 10:18:58 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

[3]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Apr 2005 00:27:46 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Apr 2005 19:43:59 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

[5]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Apr 2005 21:11:37 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Apr 2005 08:43:59 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.0753 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

Steve Sohmer writes, "Shakespeare filled his plays with scenes set on
specific days of the week, on solar and lunar holy days, even on the
solstice. Moreover, Shakespeare set certain of his plays in specific
years, e.g. the annus praesens of Romeo and Juliet is 1582, of Merchant
of Venice is 1596, and Othello is 1603...In 1598/9 a remarkable change
occurs in Shakespeare's technique. Into Henry V (set ca. AD 1412), his
last play written for performance at The Curtain, Shakespeare injects a
speech clearly referring to Essex's contemporary adventure in Ireland
(March 1599)...But what of Hamlet? ...To understand the time-scheme of
Hamlet...But there are also nagging anachronisms in Hamlet: cannon, for
one, another striking clock, the prince's Copernican verses to Ophelia.
Wittenberg became a place of learning only in 1507. And Hamlet, returned
from Wittenberg where the Julian calendar prevails to a Gregorian
Denmark ..Shakespeare's time-setting of Hamlet, therefore, seems to be
in flux between medieval and contemporary dates...."

My compliments to you.  Well done research: but your point is?

Well, my point would be that fiction writers-and that is what Will
Shakespeare was, in his works-write to an audience *specific* and his
can only be an audience of circa late 1500s-early 1600s.  I do not think
any of us can disagree with the relationship between dramatist and
audience.  All of this hullabaloo about Will Shakespeare interested in
Danish law of rights of princes and councils voting for future kings
pales in the face of the English audience of circa 1600!  They were not
expected to worry about whether or not there were clocks in ancient
Denmark.  Writers, directors, actors, all make mistakes in the heat of a
drama.  I remind you all to watch *Spartacus* once again and see an
actor in a trench checking his wristwatch as a jet-plane leaves a wisy
trail of smoky white over the battle scene.  Date that stuff!

When all this "dating Hamlet* fervor is done, let us not forget that an
English audience of 1600 was awe struck by Act One and a spirit of a
dead king raising the spectre [sorry about that!] of an evil brother who
murdered his good brother in such a premeditated way as to leave no
clues of murder.  This same English audience of 1600 would not have
cared two hoots about ancient Denmark, but have been more intrigued with
past and reigning kings and queens, and the *implications* of the tone
of Act One, and the behavior of the court and how they dealt with murder
of a royal throughout the rest of the play.  Hell, yes, there are still
royals in power round the globe and these stories play out to us, the
modern audience.  Never should we lose sight of the fact that *Hamlet*
is dated to England, 1600!

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           M Yawney <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Apr 2005 10:18:58 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.0753 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

Steve Sohmer writes:

"anachronism was a long-established playwright's tactic for referring
onstage events (in this case, in ancient Rome) to contemporary events in
England."

On what basis can this be said? This is an interesting theory, but is
there any basis for describing this tactic as "long-established?" Are
not anachronisms common in all historical drama, even when a
contemporary parallel is not intended?

This seems shaky to me, since I am not convinced that the example given
of the clock in Julius Caesar would be a clear anachronism. Most 21st
century audiences are not aware that there were no clocks in ancient
Rome, yet to claim that this was a deliberate signal to Shakespeare's
audience presumes that they would be better informed on the history of
time-keeping technology than modern people.

Also, on what basis can Mr. Sohmer claim that some plays are set in
specific years? It this another of those
cryptic-clues-within-the-play-that-conceal-information-there-is-no-reason-to-conceal
theories? Maybe I am just suspicious whenever I see someone assert an
iconoclastic position as if it were generally accepted without any
argument or evidence to back it up.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Apr 2005 00:27:46 +0100
Subject: 16.0753 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

Steve Sohmer wrote: "In Twelfth Night, a Christmas carol conveys that
the English Julian 12th of December was the actual date of Christmas."

Well, no - it wasn't.  Does that vitiate the entire argument?

John Briggs

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Apr 2005 19:43:59 -0400
Subject: 16.0753 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

 >By the time Shakespeare writes King John (1596) he's
 >sophisticated enough to refer to a solstice in
 >order to make a recondite political statement (regarding Magna Carta).

What is Steve Sohmer referring to here?  KJ is notorious for not making
any mention of Magna Carta.

 >In Othello, a group of Gregorian Venetians occupy an island
 >which keeps the Greek (and English) Julian calendar, and all manner of
 >time confusion occurs.

If this is supposed to reconcile the "double time" problem, it doesn't.
  In any case, it seems too abstruse for anyone to catch on to.

 > Amleth, if he lived at all, would have been a near
 >contemporary of Leir.

Huh?  At the time of the Israelite kings?  If the nearly universal
assumption that Saxo, Belleforest, et al. were writing about a
contemporary of Edward the Confessor is to be dashed, something more
than an ipse dixit is needed.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 21 Apr 2005 21:11:37 -0400
Subject: 16.0753 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

Steve Sohmer presented a very informative posting indicating how
conscious Shakespeare was about time and the periods in which he plays
were set. He shows that Hamlet has a variety of allusions to its period
setting, settings that range far into the past and into current events.
This surely was done for a reason.

The reason it seems to me is both to make the play credible to its
audience and to give it a timeless setting. This to me is further
confirmation that this play is a kind of parable of man based on the
Book of Ecclesiastes, which also is meant as a commentary on man, all
mankind, and this mankind's relation to life on earth at all times, as
suggested in lines like these from Ecclesiastes:

ECC 1:7  All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto
the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
ECC 1:8  All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is
not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
ECC 1:9  The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that
which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing
under the sun.

David Basch

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