This page's purpose is to answer those questions not addressed elsewhere in the context of website. Thus, if you don't find the answer to your particular question here, the reason may be that it is the subject of one of the more specialised pages. As such, you'll find:
If you have a question neither covered by any of the above-mentioned pages nor on this "frequently asked questions" page, I may also be able to provide an answer by email. However, as I currently have only limited time for correspondence, please do have a look whether your concern is already addressed elsewhere: you'd be doing neither yourself nor the website's other visitors a favour if you wrote to me regardless. Also, do remember that I am neither a scholar nor in any way, shape or form involved with the world of the theatre (or the cinema), or with any of the organisations dedicated to maintaing Shakespeare's legacy. Thus, what you find here, and what you will get by writing to me, are merely the views of just another fan of Shakespeare, and of "Hamlet" in particular. That said, I'll do my best to help where I can, and I'll add answers to additional questions to this page if they come up with particular frequency in email correspondence.
Not necessarily – however, given that we don't even know with absolute certainty which text, if any (including the two sources considered most reliable, i.e., the 1623 "First Folio" and the 1604 Second Quarto) had Shakespeare's own final seal of approval, I'd hesitate to recommend any text espousing either version to the total exclusion of the other. Given that, on the other hand, the play's two principal textual versions significantly differ in a number of scenes, though – and nowhere more so than with regard to Hamlet's musings immediately before encountering his father's Ghost in Act I, Scene 4 and his vows of "bloody thoughts" after his semi-encounter with Fortinbras (Act IV, Scene 4) – I'm also a bit weary of the many versions still floating around (particularly online) which simply conflate both texts, without any clear indication as to the sources used.
The best editions, to my mind, are those that allow the reader a comparison of the two principal versions, choosing either that of the 1623 "First Folio" or that of the 1604 Second Quarto as their primary text and supplementing or annotating that text in such a way as to allow the reader a direct comparison with the differing passages in the respective other version. All of the editions cited on this website's "Further Reading" page follow this basic approach and thus avoid the pitfalls of indiscriminate conflation. Doubtlessly the most luxury is afforded to owners of the Arden Shakespeare books (currently in their third edition), which give readers the option of owning both principal source texts of "Hamlet," with a lavishly annotated modernised edition of the Second Quarto text serving as the primary version, while the "First Folio" text is contained in an accompanying volume, which in turn throws in the text of the 1603 First Quarto as an added bonus. The downside of the Arden edition is its price – even if you opt fort the affordable paperback version of the principal (Second Quarto) text, you still have to shell out rougly the same amount of money as for some "Complete Works of Shakespeare" compilations in order to get all three texts, all of which are now also available online. (For sources, again see this website's "Further Reading" page.)
An excellent print edition based on the 1623 "First Folio," which appends the major text passages not contained therein but only in the Second Quarto, is that contained in The Oxford Shakespeare – The Complete Works, gen. eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1986/2005); this is also the version used, inter alia, in Sir Kenneth Branagh's 1996 movie. (Professor Wells, for those unfamiliar with his name and work, is Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and has written exhaustively on every aspect of the Bard's life, work, and legacy; he also served as Principal Adviser to the National Portrait Gallery's recent "Searching for Shakespeare" exhibition.) – An equally excellent edition following the reverse method, i.e., based on the 1604 Second Quarto with clearly marked inserts and annotations scrupulously rendering every single one of the 1623 "First Folio"'s textual divergences (and, in fact, also the divergences contained in a number of subsequent editions) is that published by the leading American institution devoted to Shakespearean scholarship: The Folger Shakespeare Library – Hamlet, eds. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (Washington Square Press, New York, NY, USA, 2003).
On this website, I have tried to find a middle ground between the "Oxford Shakespeare" and Folger Library approaches, choosing a modernised version of the 1623 "First Folio" text as my basis, but allowing for direct inserts of the most significant passages from the 1604 Second Quarto; particularly in (but not limited to) the two passages from Act I, Scene 4 and Act IV, Scene 4 mentioned above. The respective beginnings and ends of those inserts are marked by double asterisks (**). Moreover, all of the text passages in question are directly contrasted with excerpts from the original "First Folio" text, as rendered in the so-called Chatsworth Edition, a facsimile of which is available as a free download from the Liberty Fund's Online Library of Liberty. Stage directions reproduced on this website are likewise exclusively those contained in the "First Folio" or, in clearly marked individual instances, in the 1604 Second Quarto. – A unique online version allowing a direct comparison of both principal texts, incidentally, is that contained on the Enfolded Hamlet website.
Fortinbras the Elder had brought a war (presumably of conquest) on Denmark, which the two Kings eventually agreed to resolve in single combat; the winner of which, in turn, was not only to stay alive and save the lives of all of his men, but also to make substantial territorial gains at the expense of his vanquished opponent. King Hamlet won and killed the Norwegian; a fact that didn't go down well with the latter's hotspur of a son, any more than Denmark's territorial enrichment did. This, then, is what – despite the "seal'd compact" ratifying the events – Fortinbras Junior has set out to rectify "by strong hand and terms compulsatory" at the beginning of the play, until his uncle ("Old Norway," who for the time being governs in his slain brother's stead) diverts his nephew's warlike attentions to Poland.
For two interrelated reasons: first of all, as we learn from the Ghost himself in his exchange with Hamlet in Act I, Scene 5, he is doom'd for a certain term to walk the night and for the day confin'd to fast in fires – in other words, at the break of day (which is announced by the crowing of the cock), it's time for him to return to Purgatory and to sulph'rous and tormenting flames [to] render up [him]self. Secondly, and on a more symbolic level, the Ghost in his nightly, "undead" existence is an omen of all things unnatural and unholy, whereas the cockerel – the harbinger of daylight – is, as Horatio and Marcellus tell us in Act I, Scene 1, not only a messenger of rebirth and hope in general but also of the birth of Christ: hope and holiness personified. Thus it is, too, that during the Christmas season the cock is believed to crow all night long, while evil things must hie to [their] confine: no spirit dare stir abroad, the nights are wholesome, then no planets strike, no fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm. Therefore, the fact that Horatio and the Sentinels decide to seek out Prince Hamlet, whose name is mentioned for the first time at this very moment, immediately after having heard the crowing of the cock – and moreover, the fact that they do so while they already perceive the dawn, in russet mantle clad, [walking] o'er the dew of [an] eastward hill (east being yet another symbol of daybreak, of course) – tells us quite clearly that Hamlet, too, is such a figure of hope; he is the one person in a position to drive out the darkness of evil currently engulfing the country. Thus, too, the ending of this first, foundation-laying act's very first scene foreshadows the ending of this same act's very last scene, where Hamlet himself famously concludes: "The time is out of joint. O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right!"
[On a side note, this passage is also instructive on just how sparingly Shakespeare handled express stage directions (and consequently, on the reasons why I have chosen to reproduce only those stage directions actually included in the "First Folio" and Second Quarto texts): The latter text – believed to represent the older version of the play – still expressly sets forth the exact moment of the cock's crowing. By the time we get to the former text, we only learn of that fact by way of the characters' dialogue; unconcerned with the creation of an exact, lasting record of his plays, Shakespeare had obviously concluded that it would be perfectly sufficient if he gave his directions orally to the cast member providing the requisite sound effect from somewhere off stage.]
The era's prevalent doctrine did not distinguish between blood relationships and those existing "only" in law; siblings by marriage were, in principle, prohibited from marrying the same way that blood siblings were. Any and all marriages between (former) in-laws required a special canonical dispensation, and although such dispensations were not infrequently granted, their terms could later cause confusion if they contained the slightest ambiguity. Thus, the papal dispensation granted to Henry VIII of England and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, who had briefly been married to Henry's predeceased elder brother Arthur, was vague both in its terms and its foundation because it was unclear whether Catherine's and Arthur's marriage had ever been consummated (only if it had been, a dispensation would have been required): a circumstance which all sides tried to use in their respective favour over twenty years later in the fierce battle over King Henry's and Queen Catherine's divorce and the King's attempt to secure a second marriage to Anne Boleyn. – From Hamlet's and his father's reference to Gertrude's and Claudius's marriage as "incestuous," as well as from the extremely short period of time between that marriage and the former King's death ("a little month") we must infer that no such dispensation was ever sought in their case at all – and even if it had been sought, the proceedings would have taken decidedly more than a single month to be completed.
Ostensibly, Polonius is sending Reynaldo to Paris to provide Laertes with cash. But before he hands over the money, Reynaldo is to inquire about Laertes's behaviour, by seeking out his acquaintances and claiming a slight association with Polonius's son that stems from some sort of shady and less-than-honourable (but not too shady and dishonourable) business, such as gambling, drinking, a fist fight or a visit to a brothel.
Like Hamlet's lecture on acting (Act III, Scene 2), it's a reference to Shakespeare's own experience. Since women were not allowed to appear on stage and all female parts were played by prepubescent boys, with the growing popularity of London's theatres so, too, grew the demand for child actors (to the point that there were even stories of boys being abducted and forced into membership with a given theatre company). Some such companies, which consisted exclusively of boys, would perform typically – though not exclusively – in "private," indoor playhouses like the Blackfriars Theatre belonging to the Lord Chamberlain's Men, as opposed to public, outdoor stages like the Globe and virtually all of its competitors. The Lord Chamberlain's Men did not run a "boys only" outfit themselves, but for a number of reasons (financial and political pressure being chief among those) they were forced to lease their indoors theatre to just such a group; a fact which, if the "eyases" story in "Hamlet" is anything to go by, did not sit well with the Bard. He may also have been rankled by the fact that the transformation of the Blackfriars playhouse into a public theatre (as had been their initial plan after the 1597 loss of their first theatre) would have given the Lord Chamberlain's Men's own productions a stage within the administrative bounds of the City of London; whereas Southwark, popular though it was just because of its increasingly large collection of taverns and playhouses, nevertheless remained a suburb. Even in the late 16th century, however, the Puritan influence in London's city government was already too dominant to allow such an unwholesome place as a public theatre inside the city gates (while interestingly, comparatively little seems to have been done to prevent boys from being pressed into acting troupes in the first place, or assist parents in obtaining their release). Thus, notwithstanding the Lord Chamberlain's Men's regular appearances at court, recognition on the part of the city remained as unattainable for them as for their less distinguished peers, whereas the undesirable "little eyases" were allowed to continue to cry out on the top of question and berattle the common stages unimpededly ("common" meaning "public" stages in this instance).
According to the Old Testament (Judges, 10:6 – 12:7), Jephthah was a judge who led Israel into battle against the powerful Ammonites – after having vowed to sacrifice to Jahweh the first thing meeting him on his return home as a token of gratitude if his army would bring home a victory. Alas, that "thing" turned out to be nobody but Jephthah's beloved only daughter, who had come out to greet and congratulate her triumphant father after having received the news of his army's victory. Interpretations of the biblical passage differ over the question whether Jephthah did, in effect, go through with his oath and subordinate his own happiness and his daughter's life to the will of God, or whether the girl's life was ultimately spared (although even then, she would still have been banished to the mountains, and to a fate of perpetual virginity). In any event, Hamlet's allusion to the story indicates that he does see Ophelia as a potential victim – though chiefly of her father's machinations, not of his (the Prince's) own actions.
Along with Herod, to whom Hamlet also makes reference in that same passage, he was one of the most frequently used stock characters known for their constant ranting and bellowing. See also the Prince's lecture on acting.
See the "Scenes and Soliloquies" pages devoted to that subject: Part 1 and Part 2.
Copyright 2002 – 2009: Ulrike Böhm, all rights reserved.