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The three versions of the play hamlet

Our edition has a stage direction in the middle of Francisco's line 14: If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus, The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste. This is where another editor, Joseph Quincy Adams, has put this stage direction in his edition of 1929.

In Q2 and F this stage direction comes a little bit earlier, just before Francisco speaks, after Barnardo's words ". Why did Edwards take over Adams' version?

Would you have done that, too?

  • All the First Folio's idiosyncrasies of layout and spelling, even its obvious errors, have been scrupulously left intact, but the text suddenly becomes as easily legible as the script of any modern play;
  • This repetition, which is only in the folio, is great for an actor;
  • The next two words, "Who is" are taken from F, the Q2 version has "Who's";
  • It contains yet a third version of Hamlet and is shorter than the Second Quarto;
  • I suspect most people just won't want to read a three-text play.

In F Francisco just says "Stand! Why did Edwards choose the Q2 version here? The next two words, "Who is" are taken from F, the Q2 version has "Who's". Why did Edwards use F here?

Internet Shakespeare Editions

This is a road to Shakespeare madness, says Colin Burrow The forthcoming Arden edition of Hamlet - the most authoritative text - will apparently contain not one but three versions of the play. This has ruffled feathers in the academic world, and has been the subject of a long article in The New Yorker. Is it the end of Shakespeare as we know him, or the start of a radically new vision of the play? Is it all just academic madness? And why do we need to print three versions of Hamlet?

Well, everybody knows Hamlet says "To be or not to be, that is the question", and "To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub".

Except in one version of the play he doesn't say either of these things. And instead of dying with "The rest is silence", in one version he ends: The reason for these discrepancies is because three texts of Hamlet were printed in the early 17th century.

They're all different and Shakespeare did not oversee a final printed version. Nobody knows for sure how the three Hamlets relate to one another and every editor of the play has a different view of how they relate to what Shakespeare wrote. Some think he revised the play.

Others think he wrote a single masterpiece that the printed versions all mutilate in different ways. The First Quarto a quarto is a smallish book made up of sheets folded into four was printed in 1603. It contains the "ay, marry there it goes" line.

  1. It's not simply Shakespeare, though. And instead of dying with "The rest is silence", in one version he ends.
  2. But the First Quarto basically shows us how Hamlet sounded to actors who waited backstage.
  3. A folio is made by folding sheets of paper in half; this was the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays.
  4. When this Hamlet sees Claudius praying and decides not to kill him because doing so would send him to heaven, he says. This version of Hamlet is unparalleled for its thoroughness and adherence to sound historical linguistics.
  5. The second big problem is that while the First Quarto is some kind of record of a performance of Hamlet, its howlers don't warrant giving it the same status as the other texts. It's far too long to have been performed in its entirety, but gives us most of the Hamlet we know.

It is generally known as a "bad" quarto, because it was probably reconstructed from memory by an actor who had played Marcellus one of the guards in the first scene. He has an actor's eye for the detail of early productions: Such details may well tell us how these moments were staged in the Elizabethan theatre.

But usually poor old Marcellus or whoever just can't catch more than the vague gist of the play when he is offstage. Moments when Hamlet is alone and thinking aloud come out sounding as though people have been playing Chinese whispers with Shakespeare.

It's not quite "blessed are the cheese-makers", but it's getting on that way. But the First Quarto basically shows us how Hamlet sounded to actors who waited backstage. A year after this, another Hamlet appeared, which was twice as long as the First Quarto.

  • Now the most extensively annotated version of Hamlet to date makes the play completely accessible to readers in the twenty-first century;
  • The First Quarto a quarto is a smallish book made up of sheets folded into four was printed in 1603;
  • When this Hamlet sees Claudius praying and decides not to kill him because doing so would send him to heaven, he says;
  • The folio Hamlet is a quirkier character than the quarto Hamlets.

The Second Quarto probably derived from Shakespeare's "foul papers", or his rough drafts of the play. It's far too long to have been performed in its entirety, but gives us most of the Hamlet we know.

It's not simply Shakespeare, though.

The compositor the printer who set the type clearly found the manuscript a pig to read. When this Hamlet sees Claudius praying and decides not to kill him because doing so would send him to heaven, he says: Hamlet meant that sending Claudius to heaven would be a reward rather than a punishment for his murder of old Hamlet. But despite these problems the Second Quarto is probably closest to Shakespeare's earliest and longest version.

Then in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, the First Folio appeared. A folio is made by folding sheets of paper in half; this was the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. It contains yet a third version of Hamlet and is shorter than the Second Quarto. The folio version of the play may have been cut down for performance and it may well be that Shakespeare himself revised the text.

The folio Hamlet is a quirkier character than the quarto Hamlets. He habitually echoes phrases and seems to reflect on his words.

The folio Hamlet reaches for his "tables" or notebook to record the villainy of Claudius with "my tables, my tables". This repetition, which is only in the folio, is great for an actor: There are several moments when the folio Hamlet seems to be taking on a life of his own, and is becoming a more abstracted, reflective character.

And consequently many people now believe this version reflects at least some of Shakespeare's later thoughts, which developed as he saw the play performed. This leaves us with a bit of a mess, since it suggests that the most famous play in the world is three slightly different things. It may be that Shakespeare was almost as indecisive about the text as Hamlet is about revenge.

Most famous play in the English language

So what is the answer? Most of us should read a text that is made up by conflating all three versions into something which might correspond to some ideal mega-version of the play. The only trouble with this version of Hamlet - which is found in most collected editions of Shakespeare is that it doesn't correspond to anything Shakespeare can be proved to have written, since it pulls together passages from several printed versions.

Editors have been saying for a while that the three versions are distinct, and it doesn't make any sense to conflate them. The Oxford and Cambridge editions sensibly put the bits of Hamlet that appear only in the Second Quarto the three versions of the play hamlet appendices or square brackets, so readers can enjoy them while also being aware that they come from a different version of the play.

The forthcoming Arden Hamlet promises to be the first major edition to split the play into its three versions. But there are real problems with this, the most basic of which is that none of the surviving texts is a reliable record of even one phrase in Hamlet.

Editors of the Second Quarto text have to emend its wording when it doesn't make sense "base and silly" and the best way to do this is to look at what the folio says.

This means that either you print a text that records cock-ups by a compositor who couldn't read a manuscript very well, or else you conflate the texts.

You can't entirely separate the texts without printing a lot of words that aren't Shakespeare's. The second big problem is that while the First Quarto is some kind of record of a performance of Hamlet, its howlers don't warrant giving it the same status as the other texts.

It's about as likely that Shakespeare wrote: I would enjoy a three-text Hamlet that effectively said to its readers: I suspect most people just won't want to read a three-text play.

They probably would prefer a text they could read in an evening rather than study for a lifetime. So the three-text Hamlet won't be the end of Shakespeare as we know him, nor does it promise a brave new world.

  • This version of Hamlet is unparalleled for its thoroughness and adherence to sound historical linguistics;
  • While Shakespeare's immortal plays have endured, the English language has changed - which is why today's students often find William Shakespeare 's idiom difficult to comprehend;
  • The next two words, "Who is" are taken from F, the Q2 version has "Who's";
  • In F Francisco just says "Stand!
  • Hamlet Most famous play in the English language The playwright Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is without question the most famous play in the English language.

But there is a real danger that it will mark the point at which high-level academic theorising about the text of Shakespeare will produce a version of the play that is out of touch with the needs of a wider public and which only academics will want to read.

That would be a sad day.