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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: September ::
Hamlet's Age
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0767  Tuesday, 5 September 2006

[1] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Sunday, 03 Sep 2006 20:11:04 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

[2] 	From: 	John W. Kennedy <
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	Date: 	Friday, 01 Sep 2006 19:17:06 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0760 Hamlet's Age


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John W. Kennedy <
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Date: 		Friday, 01 Sep 2006 19:17:06 -0400
Subject: 17.0760 Hamlet's Age
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0760 Hamlet's Age

Hardy M. Cook wrote:

 > 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]

While I acknowledge the problem, and mostly agree that this sort of 
question serves merely to decrease the signal-to-noise ratio in 
SHAKSPER, the question of Hamlet's age /is/ a question that must be 
faced in production. In this, it is unlike the question of Lady Mac's 
children, which, on the one hand, cannot be addressed in production, 
and, on the other, has a perfectly sound, albeit extratextual, academic 
answer (Mackers was her second husband).

[Editor's Note: Okay, and I acknowledged this in my Note in the first 
post. Further, I would not have a problem were the issue stated as such. 
-HMC]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Sunday, 03 Sep 2006 20:11:04 +0000
Subject: 17.0754 Hamlet's Age
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0754 Hamlet's Age

Mark Alexander asks:

 >Is there a consensus on Hamlet's age or is it still an unsolved mystery?

In the play's hall of mirrors, one clue to the span of Gertrude's first 
marriage and Hamlet's age may be the Player King's account (III:2):

    "Full thirty times hath Phoebus' cart gone round/
     Neptune's salt wash and Tellus' orbed ground,/
     And thirty dozen moons with borrowed sheen/
     About the world have times twelve thirties been/
     Since love our hearts and Hymen did our hands/
     Unite commutual in most sacred bands."

Steve Sohmer interprets Phoebus' "thirty times" as thirty solar days, 
not years; and the "thirty dozen moons" as an additional 360 synodal 
months. He concludes therefrom (amid other calculations) that Hamlet was 
born a "bastard eigne" before King Hamlet and the Queen were marrried. 
Any child Gertrude would bear Claudius could therefore easily displace 
the Prince as heir.

In other plays of the period, where similar phrasing was used, I believe 
thirty years was intended, as in Greene's ALPHONSUS KING OF ARRAGON:

    "Thrise ten times Phoebus with his golden beames/
      Hath compassed the circle of the skie,/
      Thrise ten times Ceres hath her workemen hir'd
      And fild her barnes with frutefull crops of Corne,/
      Since first in Priesthood I did lead my life."

The Player King's thirty-year marriage is of course consistent with the 
gravemaker's unmistakable
thirty-year career since Hamlet's birth, confirmed by Yorick's 23-year 
old skull (How interesting that Othello's initiation into the world of 
war, and Hamlet's loss of his beloved Yorick both occur at age 
seven--any significance here?).

Age thirty was deemed even in classical times the culmination of youth. 
The period of the "adulescens" extended from sixteen to thirty, after 
which the body began its inexorable decline. Jesus, like Hamlet born to 
set the time right, was baptized, crucified, and resurrected in his 
early thirties. The play hints throughout that the final slaughter in 
Act V may adumbrate Dooms-day, when the resurrected and those still 
living would stand for Final Judgment.

Debates raged, however, over the nature of this Resurrection. The Church 
Fathers rejected as heresy the belief in the Pythagorean transmigration 
or serial reincarnation of souls on earth without the Final Heavenly 
Judgment by Father and Son. Paul's conception of the ascending 
"spiritual body" bit the dust along with it.

Orthodox doctrine came to insist on the distinct individual corporeality 
of the Final Resurrection. The corpse of every innocent and purged soul, 
no matter how far dissolved or dispersed its elements, would be restored 
to its perfect healthy state, its unique identity intact though freshly 
clothed without blemish, no matter the illnesses and traumas accumulated 
during life. (Even the Ethiop would be "cured" of his black color!) 
Judgment Day scenarios in medieval iconography are replete with fish 
(Nature's promiscuous cannibals) vomiting forth their devoured human 
body parts for individual reintegration. The corporeal dust of Alexander 
and Caesar would be reassembled from their respective bungholes and wall 
patches into Resurrection bodies for Final Judgment. The body, if need 
be, would be "re-membered" to return fully equipped with all limbs and 
organs, their functions no longer needed. Jerome, the arch-masculinist, 
insisted that the genital members were restored as well to differentiate 
men from women in Heaven. The play's Ghost may be using the Prince to 
bring Doomsday nearer to re-member himself as well. Whether the wicked 
and unpurged would return with their bodies perfected for Judgment was 
kept off-limits to speculation, but return they would.

The saints were also a special case. Their spiritual bodies or blessed 
souls would rise immediately upon death to rest in lasting peace and 
repose, awaiting the full glory at the End of Days. Their otherwise 
perfect Resurrection bodies might retain their scars suffered for the 
Faith as badges of honour. They would shine like "glowworms" in the 
dark. Even their earthly remains was deemed noble spirit-imbued flesh 
and therefore less corruptible to time and worms. Ordinary mortals left 
to rot in unconsecrated ground unprotected by these Gracious saintly 
remains would risk demonic assumption of their corpses to wander the night.

At the other end, women being composed (like mater Gertrude) of colder 
more decadent matter were far more easily corruptible both in life and 
after death. Cyprian warns women not to powder themseves, lest God fail 
to recognize their unpowdered Resurrection bodies. After all, there was 
to be no marriage in Heaven. Sound familiar?

But how old would the Resurrection body be? No matter the age at death, 
the body would return at the perfect age of thirty, yet retaining the 
distinct identity of its host.

In sum, regardless of Hamlet's age during life, at death the King's Son 
would rise and shine--a perfect thirty!

Joe Egert

P.S.: For further details, check out Caroline Bynum's THE RESURRECTION 
OF THE BODY...(1995).

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