Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0913. Friday, 11 November 1994.
Date: Thursday, 10 Nov 1994 08:34:14 -0700 (MST)
Subject: Hamlet: Stage History
In my efforts to research the stage history of *Hamlet* I have had difficulty
reconciling the claim on the title page of Q1 that "it was latelie Acted by the
Lord Chamberleyne his servants." To my knowledge there is no documentation
anywhere that would substantiate this.
The claim on the title page of Q2 is equally frustrating in that there would
appear to be evidence to the contrary that the play *Hamlet* hath been diuerse
times acted by his Highnesse seruants in the Cittie of London; as also in the
two Vniuersities of Cambridge and Oxford, and elsewhere." It is my
understanding that in 1593 the Royal Privy Council passed an act which
prohibited any kind of play to be "sett forthe either in the university or in
any place within the compasse of five miles" thereof. This prohibition was not
lifted till well after Shakespeare's death.
I did find a reference in Henslowe that on June 11, 1594, *Hamlet* was
performed at Newington Butts and that the box office receipts totalled but a
few shillings. This does not sound like the kind of reception that a great
tragedy by Shakespeare would receive.
According to O.J. Cambell's *Reader's Encyclopedia of Shakespeare* the
"earliest recorded but improbable performance is that given on board the H.M.S.
Dragon at Sierra Leone on September 5, 1606."
I had always believed that the play would have been a popular one during the
Elizabethan period. It appears that it was not. I am inclined to agree with
Lillian Winstanley that the play contains too many topical allusions to events
and details in James' life. If such is the case why was Shakespeare never taken
to task for this as Jonson and the other prominent playwrights were for far
more innocuous material in their plays?
I would appreciate any elucidating input regarding the stage history of the
play in the period before 1603.
Sir Winston Churchill High School