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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: August ::
Old Fat Hamlet?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1326  Wednesday, 17 August 2005

From:           Bill Lloyd <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Aug 2005 10:40:12 EDT
Subject:        Old Fat Hamlet?

The recently published *Shakespeare Miscellany* by David Crystal and Ben
Crystal is an interesting compilation of tidbits (some fun, some
scholarly, often both) of things Shakespearean. However, I am perplexed
by the list "A handful of earlier Hamlets" on p. 11.

For one thing, they list William D'avenant, saying he "revived Hamlet at
the Restoration, though heavily cut".  Of course D'avenant didn't act
the part of Hamlet but only "produced" it, as I suppose the next entry
-- "Thomas Betterton, a member of D'avenant's company, played Hamlet for
over forty years"-- implies. But since all the other names in the list
are actual actors of Hamlet, D'avenant sits oddly here, especially since
the list omits the second Hamlet, Joseph Taylor, who succeeded Richard
Burbage in the part and played it in the 1620s-1640s.

But the really mystifying entry is that for Burbage himself: "Richard
Burbage (1568-1619). First ever Hamlet (at 235 pounds and thirty-seven
years old)"

This would seem to place the premiere of Hamlet in 1605. This is at
least a couple years off as the first quarto of Shakespeare's Hamlet was
published in 1603. Its composition is usually dated to 1600-01, and
arguments have been made dating it as early as 1599. And 235 pounds??
It's true that Gertrude refers to Hamlet as "fat and scant of breath"
[5.2.240, Oxford ed.], though commentators warn against taking this too
literally. But where did the actual weight come from? Recently
discovered unpublished archives? Burbage's trainer? Or perhaps he was
paid 235 pounds to play the part?

Bill Lloyd

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