The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0005  Tuesday, 2 January 2001

From:           Paul E. Doniger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 29 Dec 2000 19:36:19 -0800
Subject:        The Hamlet Quartos

Philip Tomposki writes, regarding _Hamlet_:

> It is interesting that the 'Bad' Quarto is considerably smaller the
> 'Good', about 2200 lines vs. 3800.  Since it is assumed that the 'Bad'
> Quarto came from the publicly performed version, memorized by a hired
> actor, this may be an indication of a work much shorter in performance
> that in written form.  Of course, it could also be a result of a faulty
> memory on the actors part, but it seems Elizabethan actors had quite
> prodigious memories.  Or it could be the printer simply cut what he saw
> as an overly lengthy play.  Perhaps one of our scholars on our list can
> provide a more informed judgement.


>It seems a reasonable assumption that Shakespeare originally wrote for the
> stage, and latter
> edited or revised his work for posterity.  While I believe he intended
> them to be performed in the playhouse, I don't think he would begrudge
> anyone from appreciating them in the comfort of their living room.

I would never argue against the last point; after all, who has the right
to speak for Shakespeare. I would, however, sugest that two points need
to be looked at more closely:

1. It doesn't seem too unreasonable to assume that the actor who may be
responsible for the 'Bad' Quarto was faulty in his memory. It is
entirely possible that this version of the play may have been the
so-called _Ur-Hamlet_ of several years earlier. The First ('Bad') Quarto
was published in 1603, at least two years after the Lord Chamberlain's
Men production of the later _Hamlet_ play (1601) and at least a decade
after the _Ur-Hamlet_ (if it ever existed, and whoever the real author
was). In addition, the actor who supposedly wrote it from memory played
very minor parts (if memory serves, I think it was Marcellus, Reynaldo,
and perhaps a third role), leaving him open to not knowing the lines of
the main characters all that well in the first place ("O what a
dung-hill idiot slave am I," is a classic example). It's also possible
that Shakespeare did considerable revision for the stage after this
unknown actor left his company.

2. Most scholars generally accept the notion that the Second Quarto was
published (1604) especially (and perhaps ONLY) to correct the errors of
the First ('Bad' and unauthorized) Quarto, most likely because it was
affecting revenues for The Lord Chamberlain's Men. It is even suggested
that this publication was an action which was reluctantly performed.

Is there any evidence from anywhere that suggests that Shakespeare
actually DID have any interest in seeing his plays published?  I know of
none, but would be curious (and surprised) to see it.

Paul E. Doniger

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