The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0754 Thursday, 31 August 2006
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?
[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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