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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: August ::
Hamlet's Age
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0754  Thursday, 31 August 2006

From: 		Mark Alexander <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 29 Aug 2006 08:22:50 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 	Hamlet's Age

Is there a consensus on Hamlet's age or is it still an unsolved mystery? 
  I know if you do the math correctly, during the Gravedigger's scene 
they set his age at 30.  I have read some criticism that Shakespeare 
made a "mathematical mistake" with this scene because he seems much 
younger in most of the play.

Harold Bloom said in a lecture that Hamlet ages in the play.  He starts 
out around 19 and ends up 30 years old.  Of course, that would require 
the entire play to take place over an 11 year period.  Is it possible?

My "feel" of the play tells me that Hamlet is in his late teens or early 
20s.  I would say a precocious 20 year old. However, that is my feel by 
today's standards.  I don't know what society or human maturity was like 
400 years ago, but I'm guessing it wasn't that radically different.  I 
come to this age conclusion from these simple observations:

1) Hamlet has recently returned from school.  (How many 30 year old men 
were still in school during this time? Most doctors finish in their late 
20s by today's standards)

2) Even though very aware and intelligent, he behaves like very young man.

In conclusion, I'd like to say I've seen many Hamlets, and the best 
acting was Derek Jacobi.  However, he was 42 in the version I saw. 
Patrick Stewart played Claudius and was 40 at the time! Good acting but 
would have preferred Jacobi as Hamlet when he was 20 rather than 42.

Any consensus on Hamlet's age?

Mark Alexander

[Editor's Note: I post this with serious reservations. The first is that 
the topic has been discussed at length in the past on SHAKSPER; these 
past discussion can be found in the archives. The second is that the 
question both is and is not answerable. The gravedigger clearly 
indicates that Hamlet is 30, but has Shakespeare compressed time 
radically as he did in Othello, making the Hamlet character somehow much 
younger when the events of the play begin? The issue of how old actors 
have been when they played Hamlet is a separate question altogether. 
Then, of course, there is also the issue that Hamlet is a character in a 
play, not a living person; therefore, Hamlet's age is equal to the 
number of children Lady Macbeth had. (42 wasn't it?) -HMC]

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