The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.048 Tuesday, 3 February 2015
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: February 4, 2015 at 12:01:24 AM EST
Subject: Dozen or Sixteen Lines
Steve Roth began a Hamlet discussion:
> which lines in the Gonzago mousetrap play are
> the “dozen or sixteen” that Hamlet composed.
Steve’s comments are interesting and his solution may have some merit but the topic invites counter-argument at every step. He mentions:
> four and a half pages of small print on the subject
> in Furness’s Variorum Hamlet, (citing, among other
> sources, more than thirty pages of discussion in a single
> issue of the Transactions of the Shakespeare Society).
> Only two suggestions emerge from all that:
> 1. Lucianus’ six poisoning lines beginning
> “Thoughts black, hands apt...”
> 2. The twenty-eight-odd lines of ponderous philosophical
> musing by the player-king.
Volume I of The Transactions of the New Shakspere Society is available online. I wanted to see if any of my thoughts were anticipated in 1874; some were. The exchanges between Seeley and Malleson and other comments are interesting. Dr. Brinsley Nicholson observes that S&M
“appear to take it for granted that the sub-play is a real play and not Shakspere’s. [Its features] show that the play is the abridgement of an abridgment manufactured for the occasion. That it is Shakspere’s is also shown by every speech in it, and his art is distinctly manifested in the way in which in so little space he has contrived in Gonzago’s speech to open out Hamlet’s thoughts and character . . . . If the sub-play be stilted and artificial, it is so made on the principle that leads a painter to paint a picture within a picture rudely and artificially, namely, that his own presentment may appear more true and life-like.”
Notwithstanding the authorship question, I see nothing wrong in searching for Hamlet’s added lines or in ascribing to him a life before, during or after Hamlet itself. No other characterization in literature evokes such feelings, or drags in others to seem “real.” My objections in this case are that textual history is seldom taken into account and that “real” stops short of really “real.” For example: Hamlet, meeting the players, hatches a plan to ‘catch the conscience of the king’, in part by adding a dozen lines to a play. What stops a real Hamlet from adding another dozen? Stopping the flow wasn’t his strong suit. Malleson makes this point.
I think the task then expands to identify all of the lines more likely betraying Hamlet’s “plot” or special feelings than fitting the “original sub-play.” I think Steve finds some credible candidates but there may be others. Among the old searchers, Malleson observes that the parallel murders of King Hamlet and Duke Gonzago are “so exact as to make one suspect that Hamlet altered the manner of the murder to make it tally precisely with the . . . secret fact. If not, it is strange that so odd, if not impossible, a way of committing murder should have occurred in both plays.”
If this “out” were not allowed, as others note, playgoers (other than the ‘million’) would see the coincidence (both, both ears!) as bad drama: Who ever heard of non-metaphorical ear-poison? Yet the contrivance would get Claude’s attention if he thought he had committed the “perfect murder.” Innocent, he wouldn’t blink; guilty, he would probably suspect a set-up; which Hamlet goes out of his way to discount by basing the sub-play on a historical incident.
I’m inclined to agree with Furnivall and others that a particular new speech that Hamlet alludes to is represented by the interrupted lines of Lucianus. In “reality,” the sub-play may not have got as far as the rest of the addition, or to any of it. But even if that speech can’t be sorted out, whether other additions can be found is a good question.
The dumb show is non-Shakespearean bunk and Hamlet’s ‘poison’ double-speak is corrupt, in my opinion. The first is literary, the second theatrical elucidation. Claudius wasn’t boneheaded enough to miss these allusions to his crime; his response was to Lucianus’ praise of the deadly concoction. Whether the set direction rightly administers it aurally (a ‘Wet Willie’) is unlikely. Textual transmitters are not to be trusted; Housmen, they’re not. F does add a Shakespearian touch to the dumb show, however: ‘two or three mutes.’ Who else would think of that?
> Q1 . . . offers a seriously adumbrated, rearranged,
> and predictably somewhat mangled version.
More than somewhat, but Q1 is also instructive, as elsewhere. Remember, the text and its makers are much closer in time and circumstance to Shakespeare than we are. They can be dumb as hell while retaining a legitimacy we can’t approach.
> I’ve underlined the passages I think Hamlet added—fourteen
> lines, or sixteen if you include the last underlined couplet.
> . . .
> The play reads perfectly well absent these lines.
That’s what they all say, and it’s true; but not necessarily meaningful as evidence.
> The king’s “Tis deeply sworne” half-line makes no sense
> if the if the
Dittography is common in the in the computer age. Transmission error also abounded in the old days, in every way, sans wavy green lines.
> preceding speech isn’t there. (Ditto Hamlet’s “If she
> should break it now” and “shee’le keep her word.”)
Neither phrase makes sense to me. Q2’s ‘O but shee’le keepe her word.’ repeats Q1 exactly and Q2 adds only ‘it’ to Q1’s ‘If she should breake now.’ I suspect “correction” of Q2 from Q1 copy. ‘Dutchesse Baptista’ apparently does not keep her word anon (woman, frailty, etc.). Q2 is most important in textual matters, though an independent Ms. shared Q2 copy-duty for F’s printing.
> So if Hamlet added that speech he must have also
> added that half-line.
The problem here is that Steve has commandeered (underlined) all of Baptista’s phraseology, some of which is deeply sworn but not meaningful as lines added by Hamlet. ‘Tis deeply sworn’ isn’t an issue.
> The last underlined couplet may or may not be Hamlet’s
> addition. It works either way—fourteen or sixteen lines.
Thirteen and seventeen are prime numbers.
> The two (or three) additions are the very passages
> that Hamlet feels inclined to comment on.
> In the context of the play . . . the additions are wildly
> inflammatory. “None wed the second, but who kild the
> first”? “A second time I kill my husband dead”? The implicit
> accusation—that Gertrude killed the king—is *not* thickly
> veiled. (cf Hamlet’s line in the closet scene: “almost as bad,
> good mother/As kill a king and marry with his brother.”
> Gertrude: “As kill a king?”)
‘The instances that second marriage moue / Are base respects of thrift, but none of loue,’ is not inflammatory at all; why place the couplet between the other two? It’s better for Steve’s theory that it stands in the “original” MOG.
The other two couplets are zingers, however. Steve rightly ‘singles’ them out, but for the wrong reasons and not as one-liners. There’s no implication anywhere that Gertrard kild her husband.
‘In second husband let me be accurst, / None wed the second, but who kild the first.’ The usage giving the sub-play its dated feel is primarily inversion: “Steve a big mistake makes.” Taking that into account and accepting the self-willed curse as a curse, it seems to say, “If I remarry, let my second husband be the one who killed my first husband.” Brother, that’s wormwood; a dose of vermifuge to make Claudius feel wormy. As Gertrard is unsuspecting of murder the lines mean nothing to her. Q1 misremembers: ‘O speake no more, for then I am accurst,’ which makes no sense without the ‘let me be.’ The lady spoke for herself, not generally. Yet the curse held true for Hamlet’s mom, which could be grasped only by Hamlet, Horatio, and Claude.
‘A second time I kill my husband dead, / When second husband kisses me in bed.’ Inversion induces an idiomatic tautology into the meaning: “I killed him dead!” But the reference is to the metaphorical killing of the memory of the dead husband: “My husband would die if he wasn’t dead already.” Q1, for what it’s worth, remembers the line, ‘A second time I kill my Lord that’s dead,’ which supports the innocent reading. Hamlet’s accusation in the bedchamber scene, as far as it applies to his mother, is to recall to her the Duchess’s lines, which they have just heard. Gertrard’s is not exactly a waist of shame; she wasn’t the sharpest tack on the bulletin board.
> It’s certainly Hamlet’s intent to “catch the
> conscience of the king” with this play (it fails),
I don’t understand Steve’s insistence on this error. Horatio and Hamlet intently watched the king and they were convinced of his guilt. Claudius admits as much directly after, in “prayer.” Why deny the obvious? The sub-play necessarily kild the king in five minutes but Hamlet has a ways to go.
> But whether or not these proposed additions are
> Hamlet’s, the King/Queen interchange takes aim at
> one person and one person only: Gertrude.
Because Claudius is privy to his crime his interest in the whole dialogue would be greater than that of Hamlet’s mother, who has no reaction. “Gertrude only” can’t be right:
My fault is past, but oh what form of prayer
Can serue my turne, forgiue me my foule murther,
That cannot be since I am still possest
Of those effects for which I did the murther;
My Crowne, mine owne ambition, and my Queen; (Q2)
The earth doth still cry out vpon my fact,
Pay me the murder of a brother and a king,
And the adulterous fault I haue committed: (Q1)
King. O for two special reasons
. . .
Which may to you perhaps seem much vnsinnow’d,
But yet to mee tha r strong, the Queene his mother
Liues almost by his looks, and for my selfe,
My virtue or my plague, be it eyther which,
She is so concliue [conjunctive, F] to my life and soule,
That as the starre mooues not but in his sphere
I could not but by her . . . (Q2 4.7.9ff)
Theirs wasn’t the first mismatch made in heaven.
> No production that I’ve seen has depicted how thoroughly
> unpleasant this sixteen-year-old boy is in the mousetrap
> scene. He accuses his mother of murdering his father,
> and—nephew of the king—depicts the nephew of the king
> *murdering the king* (this murder was already in the play,
> needed no help from Hamlet except his “nephew” chorus)—all
> right in front of the king and queen. And that’s before even
> considering his snide shots at elderly Polonius, or his nasty
> attacks on Ophelia for jilting him because he’s no longer heir
> to the throne. (He’s now instead a dangerous hereditary rival
> to the king and his toady and chief supporter, her father.
> It’s only one irony that Laertes, not Hamlet, leads a rebellion
> to overthrow Claudius and take the crown.)
I’ve underlined elements of Steve’s own Hamlet narrative and some of his “added” conjectures. Brief let me . . . O, never mind: The argument that Hamlet was sixteen isn’t strong. By our rules we don’t know what was already in the play. Hamlet doesn’t accuse his mom of her husband’s murder (and neither does the guy who was done in, although the joke could be on Purgatory). The king was a duke, according to the chorus, printed speech headings aside. Polonius was elderly, but what of it? To be too busy is dangerous. Ophelia jilted Hamlet because her father ordered it, not because she wanted to be a queen. Hamlet threatened because, according to Claudius (the murderer), ‘there’s something in his soule / Ore which his melancholy sits on brood, / And I doe doubt, the hatch and the disclose / VVill be some danger.’ Against all this it seems enough to note that Claudius murdered Hamlet’s father and married his queen, which Hamlet learns from his dad’s spirit (returned from the dead to confirm religion on the one hand and to demand revenge on the other). How pleasant is that?
> We can certainly understand why Claudius is so furious,
> why he stops the play and calls for lights. It need have
> nothing to do with feelings of guilt. He’s pissed off.
> And with good reason.
Yes, it was past his prayer-time.
> One last note: Two of Hamlet’s interjections—“That’s
> wormwood” and “If she should break it now”—are
> printed in the right margin in Q2. . . . They’re the only
> speeches printed that way in the whole quarto. . . . I have
> no idea what to do with that (if anything), would welcome
> any thoughts.
As noted, I think these comments may be foul-proof additions from Q1, where Q2’s forme was corrected without disturbing type already set. Q1’s ‘O wormewood, wormewood!’ agrees with F’s ‘Wormwood, wormwood.’ As elsewhere, this may indicate that the Q1 and F texts are nearer to each other than they are to Q2. Q1 omits the couplet intervening between the unnerving “additions” that Steve points to and its wormwooding follows ‘kisses me in bed.’ F and Q2 are surely right to place it at the more damning couplet. But F was printed from Q2.
Printers tended to regularize or to reproduce good copy; when lineation is anomalous it may be caused by foul-proofing. The little evidence here is likely insignificant in any case.
> Could Shakespeare have penned certain lines as
> having come from Hamlet’s quill? Sure. Did he?
With those couple couplets I think Steve is right to think so.
Gerald E. Downs