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 by text/discourse/culture."
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 cultures.
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 somewhere.
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 edition
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 references.
Please also refer to our Help section if you have any technical questions or send an E-Mail to Marco Fava.
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 (People).
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.
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 criteria: