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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
Dating Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0780  Sunday, 24 April 2005

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Apr 2005 11:23:34 -0400
        Subj:   Dating Hamlet

[2]     From:   Michael B. Luskin <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Apr 2005 11:47:28 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0771 Dating Hamlet

[3]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Apr 2005 13:03:37 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0771 Dating Hamlet

[4]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Saturday, 23 Apr 2005 12:50:50 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0771 Dating Hamlet

[5]     From:   Colin Cox <
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        Date:   Sunday, 24 Apr 2005 09:57:27 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Apr 2005 11:23:34 -0400
Subject:        Dating Hamlet

M. Yawney asks, "Are not anachronisms common in all historical drama,
even when a contemporary parallel is not intended?"

Yes, but. . .  In the English mystery play tradition, anachronisms were
often consciously used to emphasize parallels between Biblical history
and the present time of the audience. Thus, in _The Second Shepherds'
Play_, for example, dozens of anachronisms underscore the universality
of conditions, past and present, under which the poor and shepherds'
suffer. Shakespeare might have (probably did) see some of the mystery
plays performed in his youth.

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael B. Luskin <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Apr 2005 11:47:28 EDT
Subject: 16.0771 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0771 Dating Hamlet

I feel that Bill Arnold's argument is excellent.

More: If we look at the history behind the Henry VI plays, we see that
Shakespeare compressed time, stretched time, altered event sequences,
and so forth, for the sake of dramatic impact.  In Henry IV, there is a
sense that Hotspur is a contemporary of Hal, or so it has always seemed
to me.  In fact, the historical Hotspur was twenty years older than Hal.

Consistency is not the first thing on Shakespeare's mind, and the most
glaring example of this is found in the to be or not to be speech, I
think it is Act III, scene 2, in which Hamlet talks of the "undiscovered
country from whose bourn no traveler returns..."  The WHOLE play exists
because Hamlet's father DID in fact return from it!

Facts produce a framework for Shakespeare to work within, as he pleases.
  The plays are more important than the inconsistencies, and I doubt, if
someone had pointed out inconsistencies to Shakespeare, that he would
have bothered to do much about them.  How many children does Lady
Macbeth have?  The seacoast of Bohemia?

As for as Basch's post, it seems to me he is right for the wrong reason.
  Hamlet is indeed "timeless," not in the sense of eternal, but in the
sense of outside time.

Or so I think, anyway...

Michael B. Luskin

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Apr 2005 13:03:37 EDT
Subject: 16.0771 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0771 Dating Hamlet

Dear Friends,

Briefly to reply to queries raised by my time-piece:

Bill Arnold seems to have missed my point that it is the calendar of
Hamlet's nativity driving the drama.

Regarding the dramatic tradition of anachronism, Mike Yawney might
consider The Second Shepherd's Play's (ca. 1470). Though ostensibly set
on the night of Christ's birth, the text contains a prominent reference
to the contemporary enclosures controversy (lines 14-18).

John Briggs will remember that Tudor astrologers and mathematicians knew
the Julian calendar in force in Shakespeare's England was 12.86 days
behind the sun in 1602. Therefore, 12 December was actually 25 December
(12+13=25). The Gregorian calendar reform (10 days) did not correct the
calendar to the time of Christ but to the radix of the Council of Nicaea
(AD 325).

Larry Weiss is correct; it has long been thought remarkable that
Shakespeare's King John contains no mention of Magna Carta. But perhaps
Larry will look again at KJ 3.1.75-95 and consider why Shakespeare set
his scene on the Solstice and wrote a bitter (calendrical) lament for
Constance. The Solstice was Shakespeare's invention; the wedding of
Blanche and Louis was on 23 May 1200. But Magna Carta was signed on the
Summer Solstice in 1215. And Constance's lament is Shakespeare's rewrite
of Holinshed's version (2.186) of King John's bitter lament after his
nobles forced him to sign MC.

Finally, I have written off-list to David Basch to express the view that
Ecc 1:7-9 is not the subtext of Hamlet, but Gen 6:1-2 and 4-7 is more
pertinent.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
  Steve Sohmer

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Saturday, 23 Apr 2005 12:50:50 +0100
Subject: 16.0771 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0771 Dating Hamlet

David Basch claims that Hamlet is a "kind of parable of man based on the
Book of Ecclesiastes", and offers three verses to back up this claim ....

 >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.

This is all rather weak.  There are far more obvious biblical references
in Hamlet.  Take Genesis 4, 9-11  ...

"Then the Lord said unto Kain, Where is Habel thy brother? Who answered,
I cannot tell. Am I my brothers keeper? Again he said, What hast thou
done? the voice of thy brothers blood cryeth unto me from the earth. Now
therefore thou art cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to
receive thy brothers blood from thine hand".

Compare this to Claudius' lines ...

O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon it,
A brother's murder.

and ....

What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow?

David Basch should have a look at the book of Job.  He will find
Hamlet's "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" ...

"The archer cannot make him flee: ye stones of the sling are turned into
stubble unto him"  (41, 28).  "For the arrows of the Almighty are in me,
the venom whereof doeth drink up my spirit, and the terrors of God fight
against me".  (Job 6, 4)

He will find a "consummation devoutly to be wished" ...

"Oh that I might have my desire, and that God would grant me the thing
that I long for! That is, that God would destroy me: that he would let
his hand go, and cut me off. Then should I yet have comfort, (though I
burn with sorrow, let him not spare) because I have not denied the words
of the Holy one".  (Job 6, 8-10)

.. "to die, to sleep" ...

"But man is sick, and dyeth, and man perisheth, and where is he?  As the
waters pass from the sea, and as the flood decayeth and dryeth up, so
man sleepeth and riseth not: for he shall not wake again, nor be raised
from his sleep till the heaven be no more".  (Job 14, 10-12)

In Job we also find "the oppressor's wrong"  ...

"The prisoners rest together, and hear not the voice of the oppressor"
(Job 3, 18)

.. and the "undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns" ...

"As the cloud vanisheth and goeth away, so he that goeth down to the
grave, shall come up no more. He shall return no more to his house,
neither shall his place know him any more".  (Job 7, 9-10)   "Before I
go and shall not return, even to the land of darkness and shadow of
death"  (Job 10, 21) "For the years accounted come, and I shall go the
way, whence I shall not return".  (Job 16, 22)

All quotations are taken from the Geneva Bible (1587), the version WS
and his contemporaries knew best.  I've modernised the spelling.

Peter Bridgman

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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Date:           Sunday, 24 Apr 2005 09:57:27 -0700
Subject: 16.0753 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0753 Dating Hamlet

  "Colin Cox errs when he alleges that "Shakespeare makes no bones about
time or setting." Shakespeare filled his plays with scenes set on
specific days of the week, on solar and lunar holy days, even on the
solstice."

I think Steve Sohmer errs in my meaning. I make no bones about your
claims for days of the week or time and setting, my inference is that
William is not a lad to fret over the rules of the unities; much to the
consternation of Ben Jonson.

Colin Cox

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