The hypertext edition of Hamlet offered here is rather unusual: It does
not try to reconstruct the best possible, authoritative text (what people
used to call the "original"). It does not try to reconstruct
the way it was first used. It does not try to explain what the text really
means, i.e. what it may have meant to its author or to those who first
encountered it in the theatre. It does not try, in other words, to remove
accretions that may have settled on the play over the centuries.
It does not do anything of the kind, indeed, it questions the general
status of such endeavours. Instead, it tries to reconstruct the cultural
history of the play, of which "the dream of the master text",
in Stephen Greenblatt's apt phrase, has become part.
A cultural history of the play has to take into account the history of
its text, of performance practices on stage and in reading, produced by
what one may call, metaphorically, the cultural and political climate.
Narratives, scenes, figures, phrases and ideas from the play entered the
discourse of the moment, enhanced the play's cultural status as a classic,
and in turn were fed back into the understanding of the play.
This process is documented in a variety of references. Three of these
are better studied than others, namely the history of editions, of theatrical
performance and of critical reception. Beyond these relatively specialised
areas of cultural practice we have little, even though references to Hamlet
in literature, in the visual arts, in political discourse, and, more recently,
in advertising and merchandising can tell us a great deal about the status
and the understanding of the play, but also about other cultural phenomena
of at specific cultural moment. To give just two examples: What notion
of Yorick forms the basis of Sterne's use of the reference in Tristram
Shandy, and how has it, in turn, affected the understanding of the play?
How could Hamlet's to be or not to be ('Sein oder nicht Sein') become
one of the favourite phrases of the Nazi elite? Intertextuality, which
still tends to be interested in origins, also works in the opposite direction.
Moreover, using hypertext, we emphasise the shift of attention "from
the triad constituted by author/work/tradition to another constituted
Findings may not only show that different periods have different favourites,
but also that the same text may be used in different ways in different
Obviously, this kind of study is not only of interest with a specific
Shakespeare play, but with all cultural phenomena. But one has to start
Ideally, one may think of a huge relational database. More modestly, restricting
oneself to linguistic phenomena, one may think of this in terms of a huge
dictionary of quotation which does not only tell us where phrases come
from (as all these dictionaries do), but rather where they have gone.
Such a database is becoming increasingly easy to build, as more and more
texts become available electronically.
Alternatively, and still more modestly, we may think of the edition of
one of the unchallenged classics of Western culture, an edition that,
following the sequence of the text, shows how narratives, scenes, figures,
phrases and ideas from it have been used in the course of history.
This is still a huge project, and what we are offering here is its beginning.
See below, under An invitation to contribute.
How to use this
The edition can be used in different ways, and as it is being developed,
we hope new ones will also become available.
The screen is divided into an upper and a lower half. The upper half gives
the references, the lower half the passage from the text of Hamlet to
which it is related, and a link to the reference. Alternatively, this
web site provides other options to display the Hamlet text and/or the
Please also refer to our Help
section if you have any technical questions or send an E-Mail to Marco
The links to the references are grouped according to the following criteria:
References to scenes, figures, and passages are indicated by links at
the respective locations. This makes it possible to see the general popularity
of certain passages in the play.
Links are arranged chronologically. This makes it possible to gauge the
cultural history of certain moments and phrases at a certain time.
References made by specific authors are indicated by the name of the author
in the link. The list of references on the top half of the page is ordered
alphabetically according to authors. This makes it possible to see to
which passages an author refers.
The links have been keyed according to the type of source from which they
have been taken, e.g., literature, the arts, advertising, etc. The keys
are listed under "Categories".
It is probably unnecessary to draw attention to the fact that an edition
of this kind can never be complete, and that the temptation of using statistical
analysis has to be resisted, for at least two reasons: (a) the references
are of different types and different status, (b) the edition can only
be as complete as its contributors have made it.
The text used
The choice of text for the edition has been one of the most difficult
problems. Ideally, all the variants and emendations that affect the meaning
and the status of the play should have been recorded and interpreted,
without-and this is crucial-privileging one version over the others, as
this would bring back the "dream of the master text". It may
well be that in the future it will become possible, with the help of hypertext,
to present texts beside each other. But not yet in the case of Shakespeare.
As the first interest of this edition is to show how the play is present
in culture, such textual work is not of immediate urgency, especially
as much preparatory work has already been done in the apparatus of critical
editions like the Variorum Edition.
Which text should then be used? Certainly not one that suggests any claim
to privileged status, and has revisionist aspirations (as do The Oxford
Shakespeare, and, to a lesser extent, The Norton Shakespeare). We have
therefore decided, for the time being, to use a text that is widely available
on the internet, the Moby Shakespeare (http://the-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare/hamlet/index.html
[1 March, 2003]), and, to repeat, we have done so, not because this seems
to be the best text available, but because, for the purposes of this project,
it seems to be the least bad (and has the additional advantage of not
being covered by copyright)
One of the practical disadvantages of this text seems to be that it does
not offer any line numbering. But again, line-numbering would suggest
that this text has privileged status. And then, the great advantage of
making this an electronic edition is that passages can be located with
the help of search functions.
The Hamlet edition made available in March 2003 is based on work done
in a seminar course at Basel university during the winter semester 2002/2003.
Members of the course collected references and prepared them for inclusion
Marco Fava and Philipp Hottinger processed the material for presentation
on the internet. Thanks to them all for a good beginning.
We would also like to thank Markus Marti for giving our project a home
on his Shakespeare web site "Shakespeare in Europe" (Shine).
An invitation to contribute
The project is open-ended, and we hope that people who take an interest
in it, will contribute additional material.
You may want to be among them. If this is the case, do
write to us. Please use the submission form we have prepared; this
will make it easier for us to include your contribution in the edition.
Prof. Balz Engler
Department of English
University of Basel
The first contributions to
this edition have come from the participants in a seminar at Basel University.
They were asked to collect references to Hamlet according to the following
- As a starting point, 'data'
from canonical literary texts were collected. The contributors were
asked to browse through the notes and indexes of scholarly editions.
They first selected canonical authors from English literature, as the
work proceeded also others (e.g., from German literature). Cf. AUTHORS.
- With many authors no suitable
editions are available. Either the notes and indexes did not serve our
needs, or a recent edition was simply not at hand. In these cases the
contributors made use of electronic resources. The internet database
'Literature Online' (http://lion.chadwyck.co.uk/all/search [March-April
2003]) turned out to be very helpful. Several contributors also made
searches on generally available search engines.
- Contributors searched fictional
texts, but also letters and essays by 'their' authors.
- Shakespeare criticism was
explicitly excluded. In the context of the edition it is of less interest
than other texts; moreover, it is easily accessible in bibliographies.
- In order to decide what
to look for and what to consider as a 'find', a set of categories was
developed. These include quotations and allusions; references to an
element of plot, to a particular scene, to a stage figure, to the whole
play, as well as references to a particular Hamlet performance (fictional
or real), reference to a dramatic or psychological situation similar
to Hamlet and (where searches brought these up in the context of Hamlet),
references to the works of Shakespeare, or to Shakespeare the man.