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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: May ::
"Hamlet without the prince"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0398  Friday, 5 May 2006

From: 		Al Magary <
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Date: 		Thursday, 04 May 2006 12:13:18 -0700
Subject: 	"Hamlet without the prince"

A poster commented about a production of Othello in German as "the 
essential drama without Shakespeare's poetry," and Terence Hawkes was 
brief:  "Something without Shakespeare's poetry is not Shakespeare." 
(SHK 17.0386)

This echoes the proverbial "Hamlet without the prince," which pops up in 
the latest Times Literary Supplement review 
(http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25348-2163552,00.html) of two 
magpie reference works, _Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable_ (1,523 
pp; 17th ed., 2005) and _The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable_ (805 
pp; 2nd ed., 2006).

In his blog May 2 
(http://timescolumns.typepad.com/stothard/2006/05/what_was_the_fi.html), 
TLS editor Peter Stothard mused on the origin of the phrase:

"What was the first 'Hamlet without the Prince'?

"Something to do with Byron, I thought.

"No, the answer lies with Dr Johnson, I was told.

"I would not have posed the question today if I hadn't been reading 
Michael Caines' dexterous comparison of two new 'dictionaries of phrase 
and fable' in the [May 3] issue of the TLS...

"The Oxford version of the dictionary (now in its second edition, edited 
by Elizabeth Knowles) cites an issue of the Morning Post from September 
1775.

"Its older rival, Brewer's (founded by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, 
1810-1897, and now edited by John Ayto), though strong on the origins of 
such names as Stonewall Jackson, is weaker on princeless Hamlets.

"We have to turn to Nigel Rees' _Phrases and Sayings_ (1995) to be told 
that Byron did indeed give the gist of the phrase, suggesting that his 
autobiographical essay would resemble the Tragedy of Hamlet, recited 
'with the part of Hamlet left out by particular desire'.

"The Morning Post source is apparently an anecdote about a theatrical 
manager who has to announce his Shakespeare performance for the night 
after his principal actor has run off with the inn-keeper's daughter.

"No mention of Dr Johnson anywhere."

Cheers,
Al Magary

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