The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1115  Monday, 14 May 2001

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 11 May 2001 16:59:13 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1094 Re: Time in Hamlet

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Saturday, 12 May 2001 03:58:54 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1105 Re: Time in Hamlet

From:           Clifford Stetner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 11 May 2001 16:59:13 -0400
Subject: 12.1094 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1094 Re: Time in Hamlet

I'm just trying to point out some of the problems with the question "how
old is Hamlet."  It is impossible to answer Steve Roth's question: "do
you think the four items were just missed or messed up by the Q1
reporter, or that they were added at some time after the creation of
Q1?" Not only for these four items but for every word in the texts.  If
we have three different versions, the "true" age must reside in an ideal
text that hovers in the Platonic world of ideal literary forms.  I might
perceive one ideal text as being consistent with all the textual
evidence while others may call it psychobabble.

I tend to assume that there's a good chance (though not certain) that
what remain cruxes after four hundred years of close reading do so
because the textual evidence supports no unambiguous conclusion.  To
theorize about a "true" reading in these cases is simply to make
assertions about our own sense of what the author would or would not be
writing about.  It will always remain impossible to say what of F1
represents Shakespeare's intention and what is editorial emendation of
texts in seven years since his death.  If the same author that gave
Hamlet sixteen years in an early performance gave him thirty in a later
rewriting, it's unlikely that he was unaware of the ambiguity.  If a
later editor inserted the grave digger's speech, he may have been.
There is no way to choose between these two possibilities.  Either would
account for the attention the question has attracted.

I base my reading on the sense that the texts themselves call Hamlet's
age into question, and the texts then confound a choice between younger
and older alternatives.  The graveyard scene is not simply a clue we
have discovered in seeking to answer a question that the play seems to
demand of us; it goes to some length to give us a mathematical formula.
Oh, here's the guy's skull I used to ride on his back when I was in my
Oedipal stage.  By the way, how long have you been here?  Sixteen here
thirty years man and boy.

Why do we even ask?  Isn't it because, even if we miss the implication
of the gravedigger's math the first time through, and didn't happen to
be present at Burbage's performance twenty years before the publication
of the folio, the news that Hamlet, the glass of fashion, the
temperamental and passionate lover of little Ophelia, is fat and scant
of breath comes as a shock and forces all of us back to look for clues
which we happily find, but which grow more ambiguous the further back we
look until it seems that Hamlet occupies two different ages

But mostly, what is the point of looking back past the first folio to
locate an imagined point in the transmission of the texts where the
"true" version must stand which presents an unambiguously aged
character?  Such a version never existed, or at least no longer exists,
in a series of evolving texts which were never frozen in their
development by the people most intimately involved in their production
and performance until the folio.

My tongue may brush my cheek a little, but I am dead serious about
Shakespeare as a remarkably gifted psychoanalyst.  He lived at the dawn
of empirical positivism, and he had an ideal laboratory to work in.  A
discourse relating an Oedipal conflict to an unconscious cohabitation of
two different ages is supported by the existing texts of the play.  The
texts call attention to the question of  Hamlet's age; the specificity
of the query and response as to the length of the gravedigger's service
followed by the reference to young Hamlet serves no other function.
While I can not disqualify the possibility that the ambiguity is purely
the product of incompetent piracy, I can neither disqualify the
possibility that the texts that we have were engineered to render
Hamlet's age ambiguous in the literal sense.  To do so can only be a
matter of prejudice based on the assumption that Shakespeare or his
editors could not have had insights into the human psyche that we
associate with a much later period.  As they would not be the first, be
they pre-Socratic philosophers or Leonardo da Vinci, who tried to
express ideas far beyond their age in the terms that their age afforded
them, I have no such prejudice.

The question then is not what is the true age of Hamlet, but which of
the possible readings supported by the texts can be safely disqualified,
and my psychobabble, as far as I can see, can not.  What I suspect is
that Hamlet from the lost version alluded to by Greene to the F1 version
is a single play undergoing a process of development across almost forty
years of performances.  At every performance, the dramatist may arrive
at new insights which he can pen into the next performance.  At some
point the question of the ambiguity of Hamlet's age occurred to him, and
he realized a greater value in its ambiguity than in erasing it.  Taken
together with the many other intimations of a psychoanalytic discourse
in the play, and given our knowledge of Freudian theory, the connotation
of such ambiguity seems to me a clear incorporation of the theme of
regression in Hamlet's character study.

I do not claim that this can be demonstrated to be the authentic reading
of Hamlet's age, and I suspect I have been intentionally prevented from
such a demonstration, but my reading must be disqualified to accept
Steve Roth's, and I don't either believe that such a disqualification
can be demonstrated on the basis of the existing evidence.


From:           Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 12 May 2001 03:58:54 -0400
Subject: 12.1105 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1105 Re: Time in Hamlet

Steve Roth comments on my speculation that

>>The two references to Hamlet's age in V.i
>>are not in Q1 and seem to have been added to assure the audience that
>>Burbage was not miscast.
>This is the position I came to as well, and that I argue in my Chapter
>One and Appendix A, with some qualifications. (I don't claim to be the
>first one to arrive at this surmise, though like many others I came to
>it independently.)

-- As did I --

>Problem is, this contradicts the currently accepted textual histories of
>the play. According to Dover Wilson, Wells/Taylor, Blakemore Evans,
>etc., both F1 and Q2 are ultimately based on a single, pre-Q1,
>auctorially authoritative source. By this theory, the four oddly
>obtrusive items that cast Hamlet as an adult are all missing from Q1 as
>a result of the reporter's error.

Another possibility is that the "error" was a deliberate deletion of
unnecessary information.  Gwynne Evans repeats the fairly common notion
that Q1 is "based most probably on a much shortened text prepared by
Shakespeare's company for provincial touring" (Riverside 2d Ed. p.
1234).  If so, and Burbage was replaced on tour with a younger actor,
the speeches could have been deliberately deleted to eliminate an
incorrect impression as to the character's age in the provinces.  I was
aware of the now generally accepted view that all substantive texts have
a common forebear in the foul papers, and I was less than precise when I
used the word "added"; it would have been more accurate to say
"included."  On the other hand, Evans also notes that "Recently, a few
critics ... have resurrected the long outmoded theory that Q1 represents
Shakespeare's first draft" (ibid.).

Steve Roth adds a post script to his comments:

>P. S. Your statement that "the character is precisely as old as the
>actor playing him appears to be" agrees completely with Dover Wilson:
>"Hamlet is an actor made up to represent a certain age, which they
>[audience members] accept without question." But this strikes me as a

Me too, and that is my point.

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