Hamlet's Fat

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.112  Friday, 15 March 2012

 

[1] From:        Bill Lloyd <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 14, 2012 3:16:28 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

[2] From:        Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 14, 2012 4:00:07 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat Hamlet

 

[3] From:        Michael Zito <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 15, 2012 9:17:05 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

[4] From:        Paul Barry <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 15, 2012 12:01:04 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

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

     Date:         Thursday, March 15, 2012

     Subject:     Commentary on “fat”; Reference to Burbage?

 

 

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

From:        Bill Lloyd <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 14, 2012 3:16:28 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Larry Weiss says, “Richard Burbage is said to have weighed 16 or 17 stn.”

 

Said by who? when? Although I’ve seen it variously reported on the Internet, and in one or two books, that Burbage was (variously) 14 or 16 or 17 stone, or 235 lbs, there is no contemporary warrant for this statement. I would be very surprised if it can be traced back farther than the 19th or 20th century, and suspect it’s only an urban legend extrapolated from Gertrude’s calling Hamlet fat.

 

Bill Lloyd

 

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

From:        Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 14, 2012 4:00:07 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat Hamlet

 

Anthony Burton: “confirm that Gertrude’s last ‘explanation’ is as false as all her others”

 

Love it. It supports my current view of Gertrude (much driven by your inheritance pieces in SNL) as perhaps the most consummate Machiavel of the lot—a view that is supported incontrovertibly by the seeming complete lack of evidence supporting that view. ;-) 

 

Looking forward to reading your chapter.

 

Larry Weiss: “Richard Burbage is said to have weighed 16 or 17 stn.”

 

I had hoped that I drove the necessary stake through this one’s heart some years go. (And I note now that you were watching at the time.) Quoting me from 2005, in turn quoting me from 2001:

>At risk of being “self-reflexive” (that odiously redundant but 

>distressingly widespread scholarly usage), I'll quote a snippet 

>from one my own posts from 14 Sep 2001:

>

>>Re: SHK 12.2177 Re: Tyndale Bible and “fat” Hamlet

>>

>>I’ve found this item to be quite curious. I’ve scoured Chambers,

>>Baldwin, Bowers, Schoenbaum, etc. etc. and can’t find any reference to

>>Burbage being fat. I’ve posted this query to this list a couple of

>>times, asking if there are other refs, but no replies.

>>

>>This “fat Burbage” tradition seems to be doubly apocryphal, because

>>there’s not even any apocrypha suggesting that Burbage was fat. 

>>Baldwin, among others, draws the conclusion from this line only. He 

>>may have been fat, of course, or there may be a reference I haven’t 

>>found.

>

>Nobody on this list has ever come up with the supposed contemporary 

>reference to Burbage’s weight. It’s a legend.

 

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

Date:         March 15, 2012 9:17:05 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Jenkins can do no wrong in my account.  I have, however, gone to the Variorum and in doing so, have found Furness offering the following very interesting commentaries, including one that tilts the scale, if you will, towards the remark under question as pertaining to Hamlet’s weight:  

 

Staunton: Does the Queen refer to Ham. or Laer.?

 

Clarke: We believe that this refers not to Burbadge, but to Ham. himself, who, as a sedentary student, a man of contemplative habits, one given to reflection rather than action, might naturally be supposed to be of somewhat plethoric constitution . . . . [he goes on to explain Hamlet’s exercise regimen] . . . the result of sedentary occupation and a too sedulous addiction to scholarly pursuits.

 

Wright: a ‘fine reading’ . . . of faint for ‘fat.’

 

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From:        Paul Barry <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 15, 2012 12:01:04 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

This is getting hilarious. Why would any decent fencer take a drink of wine in the middle of a match? Water, maybe, or a chocolate bar, but not wine, for God’s sake.

 

PAUL 

 

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

Date:         Thursday, March 15, 2012

Subject:     Commentary on “fat”; Reference to Burbage?

 

I became so interested in this thread that I went to Furness’s 1877 Variorum Hamlet, Jenkins’s 1982 Arden 2 Hamlet, and then to Thompson and Taylor’s 2006 Arden 3 Hamlet to study the notes on “fat.”  

 

In reverse order, Thompson and Taylor do not appear to stake out a position: 

 

This word has been much discussed by commentators who do not want it to mean ‘overweight’. Jenkins (LN) argues that, in conjunction with scant of breath, it must mean something like ‘out of condition’; Hibbard sees the line as ‘maternal solicitude’ which ‘becomes all the more evident if Hamlet is neither fat nor scant of breath’. (Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, editors. Hamlet. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2006. xxii + 613 pp.)

 

Jenkins discounts that the allusion is a reference to Burbage, arguing that “fat” implies sweating:

 

v. ii. 290. fat] The precise meaning of this word is difficult to establish. But few now see in it an allusion to the actor’s corpulence, any more than in the ‘thirty years’ since Hamlet’s birth (see V. i. 139-57 and LN) a reflection of Burbage’s age. Cf. WHH, p. 284 n. In association with ‘scant of breath’ fat must refer to Hamlet’s state at the moment rather than to a permanent characteristic, and the offer of the ‘napkin’ to wipe his face indicates what his state is. With ll. 291, 298 cf. 2H4 II.iv.207, where Doll says to Falstaff when he has beaten Pistol downstairs, ‘how thou sweat’st! Come, let me wipe thy face!’ The equation of fat with ‘sweating’ is strongly supported by Tilley with evidence for the notion that sweat was produced by the melting of fat (JEGP, xxiv, 315-19), and Shakespearean instances include Hamlet III.iv.92. But no certain and authenticated parallel has been given for fat as an epithet for the condition, rather than the cause, of sweating. A passage cited from Richard Johnson’s Seven Champions of Christendom describes a giant with sweat running into his eyes, who was ‘so extreme fat, he grew blind’ (1608, p. 52); but it is far from clear that fat here describes the giant’s sweating without attributing it to his bulk. It seems likely, however, that an ancient usage was preserved by the farmer’s wife in Wisconsin in 1923 who is reported to have greeted perspiring visitors with ‘How fat you all are!’ (TLS, 1927, p. 375).

 

The alternative interpretation, out of condition, would make fat denote not so much the accompaniment as the cause of being out of breath. Sisson (NR, ii.229) cites a Chancery case of 1578 in which a nag ‘but new taken up from grass’ and so not ready for hard work, was said to be ‘fat and foggy’; and a 19th-century survival of this sense occurs in the Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith, who describes troops as ‘fat and in bad wind’ after a long time on board ship (i. 199). It is not fatal to this interpretation that it does not square with the ‘continual practice’ of l. 207.

Less plausible than either of these is Hotson’s assumption that fat means full (Spectator, 1952, p. 701): supposing that Hamlet has but just dined, he would draw a parallel with his father, killed in his resting-time when ‘full of bread’ (III.iii.80).  (Jenkins Harold, editor. Hamlet. London and New York: Methuen, 1982. xviii + 574 pp.)

 

Furness refers to Collier to establish that Burbage indeed played Hamlet maintaining that the line refers to Burbage’s being fat. Clarke argues, on the other hand, that “fat” refers to the sedentary Hamlet not to the actor Burbage. Wright learned of Wyeth’s reading of faint for ‘fat’ in a letter from Ingleby. Plehwe conjectures that “fat” is used for hot. 

 

fat] Roberts, the player, in his Answer to Pope, 1729, stated that John Lowin acted Henry VIII and Hamlet; it is also known on the authority of Wright, in his Historia Histrionica, 1699, that Lowin acted Falstaff. Hence Steevens conjectured that, if the man who was corpulent enough to act Falstaff and Henry VIII should also appear as Hamlet, this observation was put by Sh. into ‘the mouth of her majesty to apologize for the want of such elegance of person as an audience might expect to meet with in the representative of the youthful Prince of Denmark, whom Oph. speaks of as the “glass of fashion and the mould of form,”’ Malone : Wright and Downes, the prompter, concur in saying that Taylor was the performer of Hamlet. Roberts alone has asserted (and apparently without authority) that Lowin acted this part. But, in truth, I am convinced it was neither Taylor nor Lowin, but probably Burbadge. Taylor apparently was not of the company till late, perhaps after 1615, and Lowin not till after 1603. Collier, in his Memoirs of the Principal Actors in the Plays of Sh., Sh. Soc. Publications, 1846, p. 51, shows conclusively that Burbadge was the original Hamlet, and cites in proof the Elegy upon him, copied from a MS in the possession of Heber, containing an enumeration of the various parts in which Burbadge was distinguished. Shakespeare’s words are there used in reference to the fatness of the actor: ‘No more young Hamlet, though but scant of breath, shall cry “Revenge!” for his dear father’s death.’ Staunton: Does the Queen refer to Ham. or Laer. ? Clarke: We believe that this refers not to Burbadge, but to Ham. himself, who, as a sedentary student, a man of contemplative habits, one given rather to reflection than to action, might naturally be supposed to be of somewhat plethoric constitution. This accords well with his not daring to ‘drink’ while he is heated with the fencing bout; with his being of a ‘complexion’ that makes him feel the weather sultry and hot;’ with his custom of walking ‘four hours together in the lobby;’ with his having a special ‘breathing time of the day;’ and with his telling Hor. that he has ‘been in continual practice’ of fencing,—as though he took set exercise for the purpose of counteracting his constitutional tendency to that full habit of body which is apt to be the result of sedentary occupation and a too sedulous addiction to scholarly pursuits. W. Aldis Wright (N. & Qu., 9 March, 1867, p. 202) states that, in 1864, he received a letter from Dr Ingleby, communicating a ‘fine reading’ proposed by ‘Mr H. Wyeth, of Winchester,’ of faint for ‘fat.’ Plehwe (Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark, Hamburg, 1862, p. 214) refers to IV, vii, 158, and conjectures that the same word is here used: hot.  (Horace Howard Furness, editor. Hamlet. Philadelphia and London: J. P. Lippincott and Co. 6th edition. Vol. 3.1, 1877. xv + 473 pp.)

 

So what can we conclude from these commentaries. Well, I do not find the matter conclusively settled: whether fat refers to Hamlet or Burbage; whether fat means corpulent or sweating. The sense seems to imply sweating. 

 

Interestingly, however, it appears from Furness that we may have a contemporary reference to Burbage’s being fat in the citation from Collier’s 1846 Memoirs of the Principal Actors in the Plays of Shakespeare Elegy “copied from a MS in the possession of Heber, containing an enumeration of the various parts in which Burbadge was distinguished. Shakespeare’s words are there used in reference to the fatness of the actor: ‘No more young Hamlet, though but scant of breath, shall cry “Revenge!” for his dear father’s death.’” The Elegy for Burbage in Heber’s manuscript would appear to be contemporary with Burbage’s death, suggesting he was a “large” man. I guess the next question would be has anyone ever seen this manuscript?

 

Hardy Cook 

Shakespearean Originals King Lear

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.111  Friday, 15 March 2012

 

From:        Steve Urkowitz <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 14, 2012 8:51:40 PM EDT

Subject:     Re:  Gerald Downs on the LEARs

 

I guess I do have a dog in that fight.  Gerald Downs seems to like the possibilities of other Lear texts out behind or prior to the Q1 version.  Thought indeed is free.  It’s fun to imagine the actors sitting around trying to recall their parts while someone wrote it all down.  Or maybe some shorthand scribe scribbled in the theater and then met with the magically script-bereft acting company so they could all whip up a temporary script.  (But what service it might provide, without a proper seal attesting to its authorization is hard to figure.  But, hey, Go-o-o-o Free Thought!)  Or maybe those great memorizing Spaniards came over to pirate an English(!) script to pick up a little spare change in Protestant England.    

 

My sense of the real costs, though, of all this free thought is that we have to avert our eyes from the theatrical craftsmanship that becomes visible when we look at the alternative texts unvarnished by the fairy tale Pirates and the rapacious Printers.  Let me suggest to our buddies here in SHAKSPER-land that you look at my book, say for instance the chapter about the textual variants in LEAR 3.1.  I may have been much younger back in 1980 when my Shakespeare's Revision of King Lear came out, but, hey, those two texts offer a grand set of lessons on how a craftsman can shape dialogue and action to make it work and then economically reshape the same moment to make it work differently, better, sharper, more poignantly, more caught up with the issues of loyalty and kindness and trust in an imagined storm in a collapsing kingdom.  

 

Without being too grumpy about it, I still think that the “revision hypothesis” leaves us with one tougher, smarter, and more interesting William Shakespeare, and the various memorial reconstruction and piracy and shortened text theories leave us with a sense of Shakespeare as a naif who couldn’t hang onto or protect or even re-think what he produced, or who along with his fellow actors chose to field on stage diminished versions of his long plays (pace Alfred Hart, Stephen Orgel, Andrew Gurr, and Lukas Erne).  Gerald Downs says his ideas depend on “the historical condition of reproduction from memory (rather than from an unbroken line of transcriptions).”   Right on!  But “the historical condition” has the same tangible thingness as the historical condition of the Unicorn, or the Green Knight, or the undeniable overarching ever-presence of the Great Chain of Being.   Just because something is believed in doesn’t mean that it actually happened.  

 

I wrote a book about the Lear texts that still reads pretty well.  I’m still at work on Shakespeare’s Revision of Everything Else, and to date no memorial reconstructor has ever shown me how like a crab those later printed versions walked backwards in time to become the progenitors of their earlier printed off-spring (on-spring?) which have all those embarrassing aspects of early drafts. (Nor, if Shakespeare was REALLY interested in the long literary texts rather than those performed shorties, why he didn’t manage to get so many of them into print until all those years after he was stone dead.  Ah, those mysterious artists. )  

 

Floating around the Internet is a wonderful essay by Stephen Leacock called “Saloonio.”  Rather than snarl through many of the o-so-grim bibliographic essays that litter the multi-textual playground, track down “Saloonio” and have a good laugh about the urgencies of textual scholarship.

 

Tell me if you like it. But I’ll likely not try to engage in more polemic with the MR folks.  It’s those of us who can laugh with Leacock’s “Saloonio” who I like to talk with.  Laughter matters. 

 

As ever,

Steve Urquartowitz

 

[Editor’s Note: I took Steve’s suggestion and looked up “Saloonio.” Stephen Leacock in 1920 published a collection of his pieces in Literary Lapses, which can be downloaded or read at the Internet Archive and Google Books. “Saloonio” can also be read at a number of sites.

 

 

http://www.archive.org/details/literarylapses00leaciala

http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924007374873

http://books.google.com/books?id=1NoOAAAAYAAJ&oe=UTF-8

http://www.online-literature.com/stephen-leacock/literary-lapses/38/

 

I have scanned "Saloonio" into a pdf file that readers may download from here: pdf  Saloonio

 

--Hardy]

 

Visualizing Shakespearean Plots as Interactive Networks

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.110  Friday, 15 March 2012

 

From:        Jonathan Hope <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 15, 2012 11:47:34 AM EDT

Subject:     Visualizing Shakespearean Plots as Interactive Networks

 

People might find this interesting:

 

http://abasu.net/blog/shakespeare-plot-networks/

 

Interactive network visualisations of each play showing which characters interact with others. You can colour characters for gender (which gives you a depressingly clear picture of how gender-imbalanced the plays are) or social rank. 

 

The most useful feature is the slider, which removes minor characters and interactions, allowing you to explore the major interactions and see them emerge.

 

I’ve used them with my students already, and they provoked much good comment (not least about the problems of classifying social rank).

 

Those who prefer paper will find something similar (but not interactive) at the back of David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words (pp. 514-91).

 

Best

Jonathan Hope

Strathclyde University 

Glasgow 

 

[Editor’s Note: The materials that Jonathan refers to in David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words is also available at the Shakespeare’s Words web site in the “Circles” area: http://www.shakespeareswords.com/Circles --Hardy] 

 

Hamlet’s Abrupt Reversal at III.4.125-130

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.109  Wednesday, 14 March 2012

 

[1] From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 13, 2012 8:22:12 PM EDT

     Subject:     Hamlet’s Reversal

 

[2] From:        John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 14, 2012 7:08:33 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Reversal

 

 

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

From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 13, 2012 8:22:12 PM EDT

Subject:     Hamlet’s Reversal

 

Emendation may resolve Hamlet’s contradictory remarks noted by Andrew Wilson. Hamlet seems otherwise consistent, despite events. The reversal is the Ghost’s:

 

  Ghost. Doe not forget, this visitation

Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose,

But looke, amazement on thy mother sits,

O step between her, and her fighting soule

 

His appearance meant to egg Hamlet on to a revenge that could falter on the killing of Polonius. But the Ghost’s emotions were overcome by his Queen’s distress, which caused him both to ask Hamlet to comfort her and to threaten Hamlet's resolve (from pity for an odd couple—the dead father and living mother). As for whetting the purpose,

 

His forme and cause conioynd, preaching to stones

Would make them capable . . .

 

On turning to the Queen, the King wimps out,

 

                                . . . doe not looke vpon *her,*

Least with this pittious action you conuert

My stearne effects . . .

 

Whereat the Ghost leaves and Hamlet resumes berating his Mom. It is better perhaps to look for consistency in this play than contradiction and I think one should not overlook the possibility that minor corruption may confuse matters here and elsewhere.

 

Two points: take him for all in all, the Ghost is just a ghost, not a god; and however this is handled, by anyone (Shakespeare, Whoopi, etc.), there must be fictional contradictions. One of my formative moments as a kid was a TV statement: “I choose to believe in ghosts.” Right!! but I didn’t give up on TV until a critic came back from vacation to say it was all crap. He ought to know, I thought.

 

Gerald E. Downs

 

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

From:        John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 14, 2012 7:08:33 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Reversal

 

Steve Roth wrote:

 

>If the similarity that I espy between Caesar’s time with the 

>pirates (Plutarch Lives, Caesar, 2.1-3) and Hamlet’s is safe,

 

The similarity is easily explained: Shakespeare wrote “Julius Caesar” the year before he wrote “Hamlet”—it was probably the immediately preceding play.

 

John Briggs

 

Hamlet's Fat

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.108  Wednesday, 14 March 2012

 

[1] From:        Anthony Burton <This email 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 email 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 email 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 email 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 email 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 email 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 email 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 email 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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