Editing Hamlet


There are three printed versions of Hamlet

- Q1 ("the Bad Quarto"), published in 1603.
- Q2 ("the Second Quarto"), published in 1604/5
- F1 ("the First Folio") published in 1623

In what ways do they differ, and why?

> Read Philip Edwards' introduction, p. 8 - 32 about the play's shape)

> Compare
Hamlet's monologue (III.3.74 ff) in these three versions


Why not have a look at the "original text", at Folio (What is a Folio?) and Quarto editions on the web?
The best sites are the following:

Hamlet, Folio 1623, facsimile ed. [http://dewey.library.upenn.edu/sceti/printedbooksNew/index.cfm?textID=hamlet_f1&PagePosition=1]
also as pdf-file at: [http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1142&Itemid=27] (Sept. 2008 )
Folio (1623), University of Virginia [http://etext.virginia.edu/shakespeare/folio/]
Quartos 1603, 1604 [http://www.columbia.edu/~fs10/hamlet.htm]
Hamlet: 1st and 2nd Quarto, Folio [http://web.uvic.ca/shakespeare/Annex/DraftTxt/Ham/index.html]
The Enfolded Hamlet (F1 and Q2 version, combined or single), Bernice W. Kliman [http://global-language.com/enfolded.html]
The Furness Shakespeare Library (Center for Electronic and Text Image). Several editions. [http://www.library.upenn.edu/etext/furness] (May 2001)


Which of these three texts is "correct"? One might, of course, just publish every version on its own (see the
article by Colin Burrow on the New Arden edition, at the end of this page).
But most readers would probably prefer just one version, the "original" Hamlet. They don't know that this "original" Hamlet does not exist. Some passages that we know so well can be found in Q1 or Q2 only, others only in F. Whatever version we read (or see performed) is an edited version, a conflation of these three first versions.
As an editor, one has to make choices in every line. In a critical edition the editor has to choose the version that will appear in the main text, and the other versions will then appear in small print (like footnotes) under the text. These decisions are not always easy.

Let us have a look at all the decisions Edwards had to make on the first page, the beginning of the first scene (p. 75), Act I, scene 1:


Act I, scene 1

The words "Act I, Scene 1" are already problematic: Did Shakespeare intend an act and scene division? In F there is "Actus Primus. Scoena Prima". But F was printed after Shakespeare's death. In Q1 and Q2 there is nothing. Philip Edwards, the editor of our edition, has decided to use an act and scene division: Our edition has "I.1." How would you have decided?

Who's there?

What are the first words spoken on stage? Our edition has:


BARNARDO: Who's there?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - . . - - - - - - - - - -

This is the version of F1. In Q2 Barnardo's first words are: "Whose there?". The editor's decision was easy in that case: There is only an orthographical difference between the two versions, and modern readers would regard Q2 as orthographically wrong. Unless, of course, "Whose" means: "to whom do you belong?". And what about Q1?

The same scene in Q1 is much shorter and starts differently:


Enter two Centinels.

1. STand: who is that?
2. Tis I.
1. O you come most carefully vpon your watch,
2. And if you meete Marcellus and Horatio,
The partners of my watch, bid them make haste.
1. I will: See who goes there.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - . . - - - - - - - - - -



Our edition has a stage direction in the middle of Francisco's line 14:


BARNARDO Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
FRANCISCO I think I hear them.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Enter HORATIO and MARCELLUS
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - . .- - - - . . - - - - . . - - - -Stand ho! Who is there?

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 "... make haste."
Why did Adams change that? Why did Edwards take over Adams' version? Would you have done that, too?

Stand ho!

Francisco's "Stand ho!" is the version from Q2. 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?
Stand ho! Who is there? (Edwards)
Stand! Who is there? (F)
Stand ho! Who's there? (Q)

Honest soldier

In line 16 Marcellus says "Oh farewell honest soldier" - The singular is also in F, but Q2 has "Oh farewell honest soldiers".


[From the Times Online (19 May 2002)]

'Will the real Hamlet please stand up?'
A new edition will offer three versions of the play.
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. He says: "To be, or not to be, ay, there's the point,/To die, to sleep, is that all? Ay, all:/ No, to sleep, to dream; ay, marry there it goes". And instead of dying with "The rest is silence", in one version he ends: "The rest is silence. O, o, o".

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. 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: the mad Ophelia does not simply enter in the First Quarto, she enters "playing on a lute, and her hair down, singing". 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. "The undiscovered country, from whose bourn (boundary) no traveller returns" becomes gibberish: "The undiscovered country, at whose sight/ The happy smile, and the accursèd damned." There are some scenes and characters in the First Quarto that are interestingly different from the other texts of the play, and which may indicate that Shakespeare (or someone) tinkered with the structure and the characters. 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. 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: "This is base and silly, not revenge." The words the printer had before him and misread were not "base and silly" but "hire and salary". Hamlet meant that sending Claudius to heaven would be a reward rather than a punishment for his murder of old Hamlet. "Base and silly" probably does not reflect what Shakespeare wrote. 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: he can make Hamlet fumble for his notebook, or muse on the words he has just said. 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.

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 into 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. And vice versa. 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: "To be or not to be, ay, there's the point", as that he wrote the works of Francis Bacon.

I would enjoy a three-text Hamlet that effectively said to its readers: "Here's a massively complex textual problem; see what you can make of it." But I'm an editor of Shakespeare, a don and a nerd.

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. 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.

Colin Burrow's edition of the Complete Sonnets and Poems of Shakespeare was published last month. He is a fellow of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge.


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September 08