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

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.118  Saturday, 17 March 2012

 

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

     Date:         March 16, 2012 7:22:55 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

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

     Date:         March 16, 2012 8:16:51 PM EDT

     Subject:     "the fat weed"

 

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

     Date:         Saturday, March 17, 2012

     Subject:     Fat

 

 

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

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

Date:         March 16, 2012 7:22:55 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Both Kittredge and Tucker Brooke (Yale) interpret “fat” as meaning “out of training.”  

 

I think I’m more inclined to go with Clarke.  I’m not necessarily interested in the idea of Hamlet being a whale, but I am interested in the idea of the appearance of the character changing over time and having that reflected by the actor on the stage, by cosmetics, etc.  I don’t think that this necessarily happens too often on the stage, or hasn’t really in at least anything I’ve seen.  I can’t say for sure how this would strengthen or weaken anything, I’m just interested in it.  This mainly stems from something a colleague of mine once said to me about Falstaff, how if he were directing the play, he might actually have Falstaff lose weight or become more haggard towards the end of the play so as to reflect the way he becomes diminished by Hal.  Therefore, as Hamlet is more of a thinker than a mover, as is illuminated by Clarke, here, I think it’d make sense to have Hamlet appear heavier, weighed down towards the end.  By the time he realizes that man is no more than a beast “if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed,” and has an opportunity to maybe, now that he’s mentally prepared, physically prepare himself for exacting his revenge he may still not have enough time to get fully fit for the action of the end of the play. Thus, he’d still appear a bit heavier than before/earlier on in the play. 

 

So, I’m not so much interested in the idea of Hamlet being an over-eater, as amusing as the thought may be.  I am more interested in the idea of, having been consumed in and by his thoughts, by “things rank and gross in nature,” how can this be visibly manifested (somewhat) in his appearance.  

 

The language of appetite echoes throughout the play, and so because he may be regarded as a virtue ethicist who theorizes on reason vs. appetite, the possibility exists that the internal conflict between reason and appetite may exhaust him to the point of caving and giving in to appetite.  But again, I’m not interested in food so much, or what food and drink may do/have done to him, so much as I am interested in what time may do to him and how a perhaps more realistic depiction of this could be made on the stage. 

 

Can anyone a) tell me of a production in which he/she has seen a character change/look different over time?  b) tell me how Dover Wilson interprets/explains “fat”?  Would that I had a copy of his Cambridge edition. 

 

Thanks,

mz

 

PS: I have seen a production of Caesar with a fat Cassius.  That’s just about as bad as it gets.

 

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

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

Date:         March 16, 2012 8:16:51 PM EDT

Subject:     "the fat weed"

 

I like Eric Johnson-DeBaufre’s guess on “fat” as maybe short for “fatigate”: 

 

>My own position is that “fat” is Shakespeare’s truncation of “fatigate,” 

>an adjective in regular use during the period and one especially 

>favored by Elyot in “The Boke named the Governour,” a work

>Shakespeare almost certainly knew.

 

But why go back to Elyot when we can go forward to Coriolanus?

 

                       . . . from face to foot 

He was a thing of blood, whose every motion 

Was timed with dying cries: alone he enter’d 

The mortal gate of the city, which he painted 

With shunless destiny; aidless came off, 

And with a sudden reinforcement struck 

Corioli like a planet: now all’s his: 

When, by and by, the din of war gan pierce 

His ready sense; then straight his doubled spirit 

Re-quicken’d what in flesh was fatigate, 

And to the battle came he; where he did 

Run reeking o’er the lives of men, as if 

'Twere a perpetual spoil: and till we call'd 

Both field and city ours, he never stood 

To ease his breast with panting.  [Cominius, Coriolanus, Act II, scene ii]

 

I wonder, did any other writer of the era use “fat” in a way that suggests “fatigate”?  For that matter, who else among Shakespeare’s contemporaries used this word, a worthy companion to the “inkhorn” terms coughed up by Marston/Crispinus in Jonson's Poetaster?

 

When Shakespeare has Gertrude say, “He’s fat, and scant of breath . . .”, it seems to me that he may be recollecting his previous uses of the word “fat” within this play—as when The Ghost of Hamlet Sr. says to his son:

 

                                    . . . I find thee apt; 

And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed 

That rots itself in ease on Lethe wharf, 

Wouldst thou not stir in this. [Act I, scene v.]

 

Hamlet’s dad seems to be calling up a debauched sort of youthful prince, dull of thought while swaying with the tide, with perhaps a touch of syphilis suggested in that “rots”.  This, of course, is what the father’s spirit warns his son not to be.  And why should this comparison come to mind?  Maybe because Hamlet Sr. had some valid fears that Junior’s default mode of being was, indeed, a “fat weed.”  

 

Put a ton of flesh around Hamlet’s bawdy wit and say hello—to Sir John Falstaff?

 

Marie Merkel

 

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

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

Date:         Saturday, March 17, 2012

Subject:     Fat

 

Once again, my curiosity was pricked. 

 

I looked at it in LEME: The Lexicon of Early Modern English, the OED, Lion (Literature Online), and the online version of Shakespeare’s Words: http://www.shakespeareswords.com/

 

In reverse order, I searched Lion in texts from 1585 to 1660 and found 764 hits in Poetry, 798 hits in Drama, and 182 hits in Prose. These were far too many to look at this time. 

 

I looked at the OED to confirm what I had found in LEME. In the OED fat appears as a noun, an adjective, and a verb. 

 

Fat as an adjective has the various meanings of With respect to bulk or condition

 

Fat as noun appears in three senses:

 

Fat (n1) has the meaning of A vessel; A vessel of large size for liquids; a tub, a dyer’s or brewer’s vat, a wine cask; A cask or barrel to contain dry things; and Used as a measure of capacity

 

Fat (n2) as The adj. used absol. The fat part of anything

 

Fat (n3) A presumptuous, conceited dandy; a fop

 

As a verb, fat has the meanings:

 

To anoint, ‘make fat’ (the head); to load (an altar) with fat; 

To bedaub with fat or grease; hence, transf. to cover thickly; 

To grow or become fat; 

To make fat, fatten; usually, to feed (animals) for use as food; 

In the manufacture of leather, to smear over with fat-liquor; to fatten for sale or slaughter; 

To enrich (the soil) with nutritious and stimulating elements; to fertilize. 

 

I began by searching LEME from 1585 to 1660 and got 461 hits for fat. With the exception of the occasional specialized uses of dyer’s vats, measure of capacity, and fops, most appeared to have one of these three meaning from Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabetical (1604): 1. corpulent: grosse of body, fat, or great; 2. grease: fat; 3. vnguent: an oyntment, or fat iuyce; and occasional uses in the sense of this definition from Henry Cockeram’s English Dictionary (1623): impingue: To make fat

 

As I was writing up these results, it occurred to me that I should consult David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words.

 

The phrase “fat weed” that Marie discusses above is not annotated. 

 

Consulting the Glossary, I found the following:

 

fat (adj) 

  1. hefty, substantial, full-bodied (1H4 2.1.68 [Gadshill to Chamberlain] If I hang, I'll make a fat pair of gallows)
  2. gross, heavy, dull (TN 5.1.107 [Olivia to Orsino, of his love-suit] It is as fat and fulsome to mine ear / As howling after music)
  3. fertile, rich, productive (2H4 4.4.54 [King Henry IV to Clarence] Most subject is the fattest soil to weeds)
  4. stuffy, fusty, close (1H4 2.4.1[Prince Hal to Poins] come out of that fat room)

fat (n)

  1. plenty, wealth, abundance (R3 5.3.259 [Richmond to his soldiers] Your country's fat shall pay your pains the hire)
  2. vat, wine cask, barrel (AC 2.7.13 [Boy singing, as if to Bacchus] In thy fats our cares be drowned)

fat (v) 

fatten, feed up, nourish (Ham 4.3.21 ([Hamlet to Claudius] We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots). Also, TC 2.2.48, Tit. 3.1.202, Tit. 4.2.177, and TNK 3.6.12. 

 

My cursory searching was not exhaustive or particularly meticulous, but I never found an entry that I could vaguely say used fat to mean sweating or fat to mean fatigued, weary, tired. Perhaps the answer to this crux lies in the 1,744 hits in Lion that I do not have a few days to explore.

 

The context of the meaning in the last scene of Hamlet seems to me to imply sweating or fatigued, yet I have not yet found a direct correspondence between these connotative senses and the word fat. Maybe it is simply a reference to the 32 year-old Burbage’s girth, or maybe it’s just a mystery.

 
 

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