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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: September ::
Hamlet's Age
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0760  Friday, 1 September 2006

[Editor's Note: When I sent out the initial message in this thread 
yesterday, I expressed my misgivings about this subject. Several of the 
following posts have confirmed some of my reservations. In the future, 
please remember that my goal is to post only submissions that I deem of 
interest to the academic Shakespeare community. This means that I will 
not accept messages based upon hidden, coded information and that when a 
submission makes an assertion, it must be supported with the evidence 
from the text. I am letting these submissions go today, but in the 
future I will simply ignore ones that I judge to be inappropriate. -HMC]


[1] 	From: 	Aaron Azlant <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 13:46:05 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

[2] 	From: 	Bob Lapides <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 13:58:13 EDT
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

[3] 	From: 	William Godshalk <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 16:16:54 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

[4] 	From: 	Jeffrey Jordan <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 17:02:01 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

[5] 	From: 	Connie Geller <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 21:11:20 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Aaron Azlant <
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Date: 		Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 13:46:05 -0400
Subject: 17.0754 Hamlet's Age
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

For what it's worth, I think that, after /Julius Caesar/, Shakespeare 
generally plays fast and loose with his characters' identities. In / 
Hamlet/, the Fortinbras that we meet at the end of the play is very 
different from the one that is described to us in the play's second 
scene. In /Lear/, Gloucester's identity shifts from a deliberately cruel 
man to a doddering old rake to a perfect victim. Shylock is both victim 
and victimizer, depending on the scene in /Merchant of Venice/. And so 
on. Hamlet's variable age seems to be of a piece with this pattern.

--Aaron

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bob Lapides <
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Date: 		Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 13:58:13 EDT
Subject: 17.0754 Hamlet's Age
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

We can also view the age the gravedigger gives to Hamlet as simply a 
mistake by Shakespeare, in which case it might be useful to consider 
what induced him to make this mistake.

Bob Lapides

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		William Godshalk <
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Date: 		Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 16:16:54 -0400
Subject: 17.0754 Hamlet's Age
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

Norman Holland quips that Hamlet is a perpetual graduate student of the 
kind that used to be seen in Harvard Square. Hamlet may only recently 
have finished the second volume of his thesis on Lutheran theology.

Bill

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jeffrey Jordan <
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Date: 		Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 17:02:01 -0500
Subject: 17.0754 Hamlet's Age
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

Replying to Mark Alexander.

The exact dialogue, where the Clown (Gravedigger) implies Hamlet to be 
30, is important.  Notice that Hamlet immediately follows with a "lie" 
remark.

Modern spelling:

~~~~~
Gravedigger: Why, here in Denmark! I have been sexton here, man
     and boy, thirty years.
Hamlet: How long will a man lie in the earth ere he rot?
~~~~~

In Q2, the Gravedigger is only called "Clown."  That's his name at 
entry, and his speech prefix throughout.  I believe that's significant, 
since a clown is intended to be somebody to laugh at.

The exact spelling of "sexton" in the Folio is unusual, and notable. 
It's spelled "sixeteene."  That obviously suggests 16.  The Elizabethans 
were generous with e's in writing, and if the extra e's are removed from 
the Folio word, it becomes exactly "sixteen."  The Q2 spelling is 
sexten, which itself suggests 6 and 10.

The Clown earlier asserted that he became sexton on the day Hamlet was 
born.  Then, when the Clown says it was 30 years ago, implying Hamlet to 
be 30, Hamlet speaks a "lie" rejoinder.

Hamlet's line is a joke.  It goes back to their "lie" wordplay at the 
beginning of their conversation.  Hamlet is asking the Gravedigger, 'how 
long are YOU going to keep "lying in the earth" until YOU rot?'   With 
his question, Hamlet is accusing the Gravedigger of being a "rotten 
liar."  The Gravedigger is diverted by the apparent "shop talk" of his 
profession, and he misses Hamlet's lie joke at his expense.

So in the exact dialogue, the Gravedigger's "thirty years" is followed 
by Hamlet saying "lie."  That cannot be ignored, and especially not 
after their "lie" banter at the beginning.

If the Gravedigger is mistaken - "lying" - how is he mistaken?  I 
believe the exact spelling used in the Folio is intended as a hint, 
suggesting 16.  It means that in relation to Hamlet's age, the 
Gravedigger is confused between the length of time he's been sexton, and 
the title, itself.

Hamlet's age isn't the length of time the Gravedigger has been sexton, 
rather, the Gravedigger's title is Hamlet's age.   "Sixeteene."  The 
Gravedigger got mixed up between his title, and the length of time he's 
had the title.  That's how it appears, from the flow of the dialogue, 
and the exact spellings used in the original printings.

The humor of the Clown is then in him trying to tell Hamlet to his face 
how old he is, without even recognizing Hamlet, and being greatly wrong 
about it, off by 14 years.  Based on the exact dialogue and spellings, I 
think Hamlet is 16.

On the notion of "Shakespeare made a mistake," whether the notion  pops 
up here or anywhere, I think anybody who has that thought cross  his 
mind would be well off to count to 100, and then go look in the  mirror, 
and then seriously ask himself who's really making the  mistake. 
Shakespeare was a genius.  Persons who think "Shakespeare made a 
mistake" are usually not.  It's an almost certain bet that Shakespeare 
was right according to what he intended, but that additional effort is 
now needed for interpretation.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Connie Geller <
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Date: 		Thursday, 31 Aug 2006 21:11:20 -0400
Subject: 17.0754 Hamlet's Age
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

Hamlet is clearly in his late teens or early twenties. Nothing the 
gravediggers say can be credited. They are clowns, so why would anyone 
use their chronology to counter the many age markers in the rest of the 
play?

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