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Hamlet's Fat

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.120  Monday, 19 March 2012

 

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

     Date:         March 17, 2012 6:26:13 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

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

     Date:         March 18, 2012 12:40:30 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

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

     Date:         March 18, 2012 10:28:29 AM EDT

     Subject:     Fat

 

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

     Date:         March 18, 2012 1:25:02 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

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

     Date:         March 19, 2012 2:07:21 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: Fat

 

 

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

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

Date:         March 17, 2012 6:26:13 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Good to refer to the OED, but there are some other relevant senses of the adjective not mentioned so far. Several moisture-related senses were in use at the time. I’d draw attention to sense II.4b ‘juicy’, 5  ‘sticky’, 7a  ‘turbid’, 7c moisture-filled. It’s not a huge semantic jump from here to ‘sweaty’, even though the OED doesn’t record that actual sense.

 

David Crystal

 

[Editor’s Note: Agreed, and I stand corrected here and below. In fact, I am delighted to be corrected and to witness the perceptive and insightful erudition of those who have contributed to this thread. Perhaps a drawback of literarily having access to so many terrific research tools at one’s fingertips is the inclination to submit in haste. I live less than ten miles away from the Folger Shakespeare Library, yet at home I now have access to so much more than I could have imagined ten years ago. And, if I had been forced to go to a research library with all the additional costs in time and money, I would like to imagine that I would have subsequently felt compelled to be more thorough than I was. In fact, I spent less than two hours at my desk preparing my submission, whereas I believe if I had gone to the Folger with the intention of researching the word “fat” in much the same way as I did at home that I would have easily spent four times that amount, including the transportation to and from the Library itself. Thank you all. –Hardy] 

 

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

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

Date:         March 18, 2012 12:40:30 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

>Can anyone a) tell me of a production in which he/she has 

>seen a character change/look different over time?  

 

Jane Howell’s production of the first tetralogy for the BBC/Time Life series had Margaret age from a young girl to an old hag; but of course that is absolutely necessary and I have also seen it done with somewhat less success in other productions of those plays.  Peter Benson’s Henry VI also aged nicely.

 

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

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

Date:         March 18, 2012 10:28:29 AM EDT

Subject:     Fat

 

Perhaps a better question for us to ask ourselves is not what Gertrude meant, but what Shakespeare meant.  Fat is, of course, a kind of meat, and meat is often mentioned in Hamlet.

 

Ophelia’s grave is larded with flowers (sweets to the sweet) and in the throne room Fortinbras asks Death (present but given no speaking lines) what feast is making in his eternal cell that he took so many princes with one shot.

 

At the midpoint of the play, in Hamlet’s confrontation with Claudius, Hamlet traces the food chain for Claudius’s sake, to show him how “a king may go a-progress through the guts of a beggar,” and reveals that Polonius is “not where he eats, but where he is eaten.”

 

King Hamlet died full of bread, and his funeral-baked meats did coldly furnish forth his widow’s marriage banquet, and Hamlet, in admiring a play he remembered the First Actor playing in, said “it had no salads in it,” which Jenkins glosses as “no morsels.”  But of course the literal meaning is the reverse of this:  a play with no salads is more arguably all-meat.

 

When Hamlet discusses the play, at some level of indirection he’s probably discussing the play Hamlet, which is to say, he’s discussing himself.  It has become a major topic of conversation whether the Prince of Denmark is mad, and “mad” in Danish means “meat.”  So the question is whether or not Hamlet is meat, and by the end of the play, he is.

 

(An argument taken from my unpublished book Hypnotized by Hamlet, which looks at the play with the language tools of a hypnotist.  A book that’s likely to stay unpublished quite a while!-)

 

Conrad.

 

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

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

Date:         March 18, 2012 1:25:02 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Re: “Fat” Hamlet: 

 

It seems to me that the question is which Hamlet are we to believe, the one who tells R&G that he has “forgone all custom of exercises,” or the one who tells Horatio that “Since [Laertes] went into France, I have been in continual practice.” For the last four acts, Hamlet has been putting up a front of disabling depression—not a difficult role to play, since he is in fact depressed—while also preparing himself to get past the Switzers and avenge his father’s murder, should Claudius’s guilt become clear. After the death of Polonius, he has an obvious incentive to double down on his fencing practice. He was lying to R&G and telling the truth to Horatio. Gertrude’s “fat and scant of breath” remark can be seen as an implied stage direction, informing the company that Hamlet is still playing his double game. Hamlet’s words during the swordplay are full of confidence (“you do but dally”), and the action shows that his confidence is well placed. He’s not the least bit “fat” in any of the senses that have been advanced so far in the discussion. Anyway, the fight progresses, Hamlet’s competitive instincts take over, and it’s obvious that his practice has paid off. Claudius (“I do not think’t”) seems to agree.

 

Alan Pierpoint

 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         March 19, 2012 2:07:21 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: Fat

 

Hi all you fatties,

 

Over and above Hardy’s helpful research into LEME and the early usage of “fat,” there’s still a good deal more to say.  My source of meaning is the usage found in various herbals of the time, where I noticed some time ago that hemp (presumably the rope-making kind) was best grown in “fat” soil.  There, the word “fat” is generally taken to mean “rich,” one of the secondary meanings in Hardy’s list. 

 

However, I just ran across my copy of Gerard’s Herbal, (1636) which suggests a different family of meanings; the following entries all indicate that “fat” was regularly used in a gardening context as a synonym for moistness, or else soil that was rich because it was associated with moistness or juiciness.  And we all know how regularly Shakespeare turned to gardening for his similes.

 

Daffodills:  “It hath long fat and thick leaves, full of a slimie juice; among which riseth up a bare thicke stalke, hollow within and full of juice.”

 

Tulips:  “. . .hath fat thicke and grosse leaves . . .In the midst of those leaves riseth up a naked fat stalke . . .”

 

Meadow saffron:  “. . .do grow in England in great aboundance in fat and fertile meadows, , ,(listing locations) . . . in Kingstrop medow neere unto a water mil . . .”

 

Star of Bethlehem:  “. . .hath many narrow leaves, thicke, fat, full of juice, and of a very greene coloour.”

 

Onions:    The Onion requireth a fat ground well digged and dunged . . .”

 

White lillies:   “ . . .six small leaves thicke and fat.”

 

Persian lily:    “having one great bulb firm or solid, full of juice . . .[from which rises] a fat thicke and straight stem”  

 

Lettuce:   Lettuce delighteth to grow . . .in a mannured, fat, moist, and dunged ground.”

 

Coleworts:   “do love a soile which is fat.”

 

Love apples:  “bringeth forth very long round stalkes or branches, fat and full of juice . . .”

 

Flax:  “It prospereth best in a fat and fruitfull soile, in oikst and not dry places: for it requireth . . .a very fat ground, and somewhat moist” and, Englishing Vergil’s Georgics

 

Flax and Otes sowne consume

The moisture of a fertile field:

The same worketh Poppy, whose

Juyce a deadly sleep doth yield."

 

There are many more entries describing “fat” leaves, but it is unclear whether thickness or moisture is the primary association; it appears that one is assumed to involve the other.  In either case, the usage suggests Hamlet to be in a moist or sweaty condition requiring a motherly wipe from Gertrude’s handkerchief.  If the word also suited a chubby Richard Burbage playing Hamlet, that would constitute a witty but transient source of amusement for the earliest audiences, but hardly something to retain through Q2, F1 and later editions if its appropriateness related only to him.  

 

After all that, I need to towel off,

Tony B

 
 

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