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Home :: Archive :: 2012 :: March ::
Hamlet's Fat

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.108  Wednesday, 14 March 2012

 

[1] From:        Anthony Burton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 13, 2012 7:07:02 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat Hamlet

 

[2] From:        Michael Zito < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 13, 2012 9:20:50 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

[3] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 14, 2012 12:00:46 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

[4] From:        Nicholas Oulton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 14, 2012 5:06:23 AM EDT

     Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Anthony Burton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 13, 2012 7:07:02 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat Hamlet

 

[Editor’s Note: In 1999, there was a thread on “Fat Hamlet.”  In the December posts that concluded the thread, Louis Marder maintained that “fat” meant “sweating,” while Alan Dessen called attention to “The Impediment of Adipose—A Celebrated Case,” The Popular Science Monthly, 17 (May to October, 1880): 60-71. In it, the author E. Vale Blake argues that Hamlet is “impeded at every step by a superfluity of adipose” (71). 

 

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9067-q-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9074-re-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9083-re-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9089-re-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/156-december/9459-re-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/156-december/9464-re-fat-hamlet

 

Searching the Archive can be great fun. –Hardy]

 

 

Many thanks to Hardy for making relevant posts on this subject conveniently available.

 

The matter of Hamlet’s “fat” raises two questions, not simply how to interpret “fat”.  The second question is whether or not to believe Gertrude.  As to the first, I have to go along with Louis Marder’s explanation of “sweaty,” as the one which conforms best to the on stage action, in which Gertrude specifically offers her handkerchief for Hamlet to wipe his face.  If he were merely and visibly overweight, the word would have little purpose and nothing to do with her gesture. 

 

As to the second, I have come to believe that the answer is “no,” and my argument for that conclusion can be found in the chapter “The Lady Vanishes” published in Acts of Criticism (Paul Nelson and June Schlueter, eds.) Fairleigh Dickinson U. Press (2005).  My central point, briefly, is that Gertrude’s character is consistently expressed in a specific choreography involving situation, movement and words. First, she is confronted by circumstances threatening imminent discord, social or physical; second, she intervenes physically between the parties in conflict; third, she makes a conciliatory but false statement of the facts so as negate the discord by falsely re-defining the situation as harmonious and consistent with honor on all sides, rather than its intolerable opposite.

 

Hamlet’s (apparently discourteous) act of refusing the goblet offered by Claudius is one of several indications which suggest to me that his exertions with Laertes had not left him in need of any sort of break, and confirm that Gertrude’s last “explanation” is as false as all her others.  In fact, they prepare the audience to listen to her with the critical skepticism required of “the wiser sort.”  But my reading leaves enough room for flexibility in staging to accommodate Hamlets both stout and slender, and dueling styles either violently athletic or gracefully genteel. 

 

Cheers to all, in hopes of seeing many at the SAA in Boston,

 

Tony Burton

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Michael Zito < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 13, 2012 9:20:50 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Thanks, Hardy, for directing me to these archives.  Fun reading, indeed!

 

mz

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 14, 2012 12:00:46 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Richard Burbage is said to have weighed 16 or 17 stn.  Having Gertrude say that Hamlet is “fat” may well have been Shakespeare’s way of anticipating criticism that Burbage was miscast.  This also could explain why Shakespeare seems to have gone out of his way in V.i to fix Hamlet’s age at 30:  In 1600 Burbage was 32.  A character is precisely as old and as large as the actor who plays him appears to be, especially on a playhouse stage lit by natural light.

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Nicholas Oulton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 14, 2012 5:06:23 AM EDT

Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Most readers have felt that “fat” ought to mean “sweating” here. The problem is that no-one has been able to find a convincing parallel to the use of the word in this sense. But Harold Jenkins in his Arden edition of Hamlet (page 568) reports that a Minnesota farmer’s wife used the word in just this sense in 1923 (he cites the TLS, 1927, page 375 as his source). Does anyone know if more recent research into American dialects confirms this usage? 

 

Nicholas Oulton

Centre for Economic Performance

London School of Economics & Political Science

 
 

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