Elsinore Stands But Hamlet is In Ruins


1. A chapter of chapter headings.

2. If the rest of this book is a café au lait, then this chapter is the froth on top.

3. Sentry duty.

4. Recipe for the contents of a sandwich.

5. The first time Hamlet speaks more than one line.

6. Before and after the Ghost’s second appearance.

7. This too too sallied flesh.

8. Slippage.

9. Tampering, or "How old is young Hamlet?"

10. A puppet show.

11. Cruces and conjectures after the puppet show.

12. "She is so concline to my life and soule."

13. Case in point:

a. Unnoted relevancies noted, and other things.
b. Niggly ors, or "Punctuation, and spelling, again."

14. Talking during the dumbshow.

15. take Armes against a sea of troubles.

16 A comprehensive bibliographical appendix

17. Milton’s defence of this book.


"Captain or colonel, or knight-at-arms," potential or actual readers of this! — Scholars and teachers of Hamlet! — and all who contribute to productions of it, or aspire to, on stage or off; and you, viewers and reviewers of performances of it; and you who read Hamlet for pleasure; or have been forced, for better or worse, into a greater acquaintance with it in the name of education and culture; or would withhold exposure to it because you don’t believe in its relevancy; and you too, corsair readers who grapple with whole libraries and bookshops for something different to read; and you others, Nimrods driven by curiosity, who have come this far in pursuit of your gratification, sublimely indifferent to your obligations!:

I had seen too much. I had seen production after production of Hamlet drag its wounded length across the stage; and had felt little of the proverbial relief and hope that sufferers expect after the post-traumatic passage of time, littered as that vista was by Hamlet-dramas distorted and diminished by the ripping of strips and substantial chunks from the body of the text, ostensibly in deference to inappreciative audiences and the Procrustean dictates of bottom-line box office but actually and usually through a lack of directorial ability and/or acting ability, and necessitating the conjurations of hype to resurrect the mutilated into a semblance of the walking dead. I had seen these same productions achieve sparseness of meaning and that sparseness credited to Shakespeare, and I had seen that the length and shape of every scene in these productions was "out of proportion" as art teachers used to say of limbs in student drawings of figure models. And beginning to wake up, I saw that what I had seen was the reflection in a mirror turned by nightmare toward reality. Then the "cup that runneth over" ran over. And indignation, and the hope of doing away with so much torture, goaded me to compare the foundational first three editions of Hamlet to each other and to later editions, and to the performances themselves.

Till then I had believed, with the unquestioning faith of a dog in its owner, that everything possible must have already been said about a text so ridden and reared on that the sun and moon were obscured by the dust of the hobby-horses and by the turrets of the sometimes interesting but more often merely grandiose Elsinores of influential critics, each of whose castles was fringed by the hovels that made up the villages of the lesser critics who till the ground next to them under their protection. But on inspection, the altered foundations of Hamlet’s abode, i.e., the texts that editors, directors, actors, and critics had made up amongst themselves, and always built on so confidently, turned out to be faulty; and my subsequent search for documentation of these faults (by building inspectors), found precious little of it.

Out of all this, this book (and a Hamlet with shape and snap), accrued bit by bit; offering optimum timings for bits of the play, and detailing the suppression and distortion of meaning at certain points in traditional and non-traditional performances and in the texts of scholarly and unscholarly editors; and to delight its readers, it unwraps and displays these lost meanings as fully as it can.

From another angle, it is a digressive commentary on a few passages of Hamlet, and contains the closest analyses ever done of them (till now), and favours the 1604 Second Quarto edition ninety-nine times out of a hundred over all other editions, and is jargonless but not an easy read, and sometimes highly speculative, self-contradictory, controversial, convoluted, repetitious and parodial, and at least ninety percent original, and has a hydra-headed dragon of a third chapter for the reader to battle, fearsome still, even though some of the heads and limbs have been amputated and relocated to other chapters (a moment’s inattention while wrestling with its convolutions, and lo, the reader’s reason vanishes and may never return), and it gives new answers to old problems and to the new ones only brought into the light during the incubiture of this book, and uncovers long-hidden facets in some of the characters that make them different and funnier or sadder than could have been imagined from the preceding interpretations of them, and it is often chock-a-block with other things, such as: the connection between stage speaking and stage action, and the inadequacies in the editing of Hamlet, and the greater meaning that is the offspring of the sound and sense of words, and so on, not quite ad infinitum.

Parallels (not gone into in this book) to what I have targeted exist in the rest of the theatre, and in other fields too, and will exist, no doubt, in the future. Good luck if you go hunting them.

Which makes me think that rather than exhibiting without warning a punctuation subtler than usual (for loosening the soil in which I hope to plant what I have to say about punctuation later on), the table of contents, or rather discontents, which precedes this preface will seem to some to heap into its space an undispellable confusion of several sorts of punctuational inconsistencies. Whoever finds this unbearable should take the advice which heralds several pages of segregated and assorted punctuation marks at the end of the second edition of a nineteenthcentury autobiography whose first edition had been derided by reviewers for having no punctuation whatsoever. That advice was, "Pepper and salt it as you like." But the subsequent changing and shortening of these chapter headings eradicated nearly all their punctuational differences too, and has left them looking only carelessly printed or poorly proof-read, so that what they exemplified must now be found spread out more thinly and cropping out only here and there throughout the book. Of course, in the end this change doesn’t matter, as the table of contents or, more accurately, of chapter headings, like a many-fingered signpost with no names on it, is a way of not saying that what is really in this book is an adventure, and that, as in most adventures, there are difficulties and expectations to overcome, and, that done, the rewards of understanding and of virtue to put up with.

Luckily for me, Dr. Lois Potter, the editor of The Two Noble Kinsmen in the third Arden edition of Shakespeare, and an exemplar of scholarly generosity, offered several corrections of fact, (which I incorporated), in an oral review of an earlier version of the manuscript. In return, a very inadequate but well-meaning genie, I granted only one of her several wishes by removing the appendices that clutteredup the end of the manuscript. Chapter 4 contains the means to reconstitute them. To have granted the rest of her wishes for the book, all good in themselves, would have meant ignoring my inability to do them justice and would have doubled its length without adding much content, so I have retained the original wilfulness of my exploration and the resulting proportions of this book; and left its lacunae and discoveries, for others to flesh out and exploit. If you finish this book, remember, reader, how much longer it could have been, and that contrary to custom, I have been merciful to you.

Waxing prophetic, I suppose this book will live (if it does not die at birth) as long as all its theories are not adopted. When they are, for sooner or later everything gets its turn in the sun in this world of ours (since ’’all stand on change like a midsummer rose" as medieval but always coeval Lydgate says in one of his wonderful lines, one of the ten greatest poetic lines in Eng. Lit. (and not because of the idea in it, but because of the embodiment of the ramifications-of-the-idea in the sound of the line relative to the lines which precede it)), then the innovators who will try to embody my ideas will be fought over till their embodiments are badly copied and watered-down and widely accepted. Then these poor and diluted copies will be dismissed by the next lot of young "vandals" in the name of some ism, and this old, polonial, white-bearded book, along with the copies, consigned to old fogiedom. Till then, au revoir.


To those who only know 19th and 20th century editions (and the resulting performances) of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the play in its1604 Second Quarto version may seem as hard and distasteful as a green uncooked apple to someone expecting sweet apple sauce. But could it become an acquired taste eventually more satisfying and lasting than the "new and improved" sauce of any subsequent edition? And if we have any interest in Shakespeare, should we acquire it? And do the Second Quarto’s off-putting differences from current English accumulate enough meaning to merit preservation and cossetting and, finally, incorporation into performances? Will that need a new generation of directors and actors and editors? A glance down the beginning of this quarto, below, for its differences from any modernday counterpart and their possible significance, may catch your interest, but if it doesn’t, go to the end of the excerpt and read on. In the original, stage directions and people’s names are in italics.

Enter Barnardo, and Francisco, two Centinels.

Bar. Whose there?
Fran. Nay answere me. Stand and unfolde your selfe.
Bar. Long live the King,
Fran. Barnardo.
Bar. Hee.
Fran. You come most carefully vpon your houre,
Bar. Tis now strooke twelfe, get thee to bed Francisco,
Fran. For this reliefe much thanks, tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at hart.
Bar. Have you had quiet guard?
Fran. Not a mouse stirring.
Bar. Well, good night:
If you do meete Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivalls of my watch, bid them make hast.

Enter Horatio, and Marcellus.

Fran. I thinke I heare them, stand ho, who is there?
Hora. Friends to this ground.
Mar. And Leedgemen to the Dane,
Fran. Give you good night.
Mar. O, farwell honest souldiers, who hath relieu’d you?
Fran. Barnardo hath my place; give you good night.

Exit Fran.

Mar. Holla, Barnardo.
Bar. Say, what is Horatio there?
Hor A peece of him.
Bar. Welcome Horatio, welcome good Marcellus,
Hora. What, ha’s this thing appeard againe to night?
Bar. I haue seene nothing.
Mar. Horatio saies tis but our fantasie,
And will not let beliefe take holde of him,
Touching this dreaded sight twice seene of us,
Therefore I haue intreated him along,
With vs to watch the minuts of this night,
That if againe this apparision come,
He may approove our eyes and speake to it.
Hora. Tush, tush, twill not appeare.
Bar. Sit downe a while,
And let vs once againe assaile your eares,
That are so fortified against our story,
What we haue two nights seene.
Hora. Well, sit we downe,
And let us heare Barnardo speake of this.
Bar. Last night of all,
When yond same starre thats weastward from the pole,
Had made his course t’illume that part of heauen
Where now it burnes, Marcellus and my selfe
The bell then beating one.

Enter ghost.

Mar. Peace, breake thee of, looke where it comes againe.

A word now to the knowledgable. Because I want the readers of this to have the use of the same material I have used, I am sure those who already know the content of, for instance, my next sentence but one, will forgive me for bringing oil to the Persian Gulf, though I expect they will find that what is offered, over and above the oil, harder to swallow. But any new publication on Shakespeare offers an Aunt Sally to be shied at.

The text used here, from the Second Quarto, was published in 1604/5 and is nowadays generally acknowledged to be on the whole more accurate and meaningful and nearer to what Shakespeare wrote than the texts of the First Quarto of 1603 and the Folio of 1623, which are our only other authorities for the text, as scholars have shown. But since over time the number of scholars who hold to a view waxes and wanes like the phases of the moon, dramatical reasons which stand on their own, as apart and solitary as Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, will be proffered later on for preferring the Second Quarto to the Folio for this part of the play. As to the First Quarto, it hardly qualifies as an authority, but for the sake of completeness, and having other uses for it here, you will find a relevant part of it, along with its First Folio counterpart, in the next chapter.

I hope this book will make it obvious that the parts of the Second Quarto quoted in it are intrinsically more meaningful than their counterparts in the Folio and also more meaningful than any Second Quarto adherent has till now proclaimed, and that then it will clearly be seen that Hamlet is a better play than it has been thought to be by other than its detractors; and people, who would not think so now, will later wonder how anyone could have thought otherwise. But this entails very close reading of the play and of some of what is here said about it, so that only so much should be read at one time as will not cause mental indigestion and non-comprehension. And to show that the Second Quarto is better I’ve had to illustrate the meaning of the words of the play with accompanying actions. They round off the verbal meaning or give the words a special meaning or sometimes contain almost all the meaning. And because we have no tradition for stage action as some of the Japanese drama has, I have had to plump for one action rather than another out of the many that appear at first sight possible (not all are equally valid), and of course a director or actor may come up with something better than what I have produced. But at least I will avoid the sillinesses and emptying of meaning of that frequent sort of Shakespearean production where a suitor says Here I kneel before you and remains standing up with no ironical or comic intent.

Let’s begin with the first line of the Second Quarto Hamlet: Enter Barnardo, and Francisco, two Centinels. and immediately we must ask "what should they do, and when should they speak?" Traditionally, till the ghost arrives they do sentry-like things: they patrol, they show apprehension, they salute each other, they exchange civilities and show apprehension again. It’s a serious business, and it’s done in the name of the playwright to build the proper atmosphere for the arrival of the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and to show the fear generated by the uncertainty of an imminent attack, and there are those who heap-on more meaning still about how all this foreshadows other things in the play. And why not? even if this scene is seldom well performed because, as Gielgud wrote in 1937 in the book called John Gielgud’s Hamlet, to do it well requires mature and experienced actors who are not used for such small parts. But even when effective, it won’t do, because ... because ... O you, O accomplished reader, who have been given the accolade of your epithet for having come so far, you whose hunger for this knowledge has raised you in my estimation, and whose further companionship will be rewarded by the sight of an Arabian Nights’ transformation of a bit of a scene in a quotable play called Hamlet, both reason and road must now take us down Memory Lane to 1598 and 1599 in which years were published the First and Second Quartos respectively of Romeo and Juliet whose Prologue states that that play lasts two hours, and to 1623 when the Prologue to the Folio text of Henry the Eight, another play by Shakespeare, promises a length of two hours again; and now, O reader, let us go straight to the mathematical realm.

Henry the Eight and Romeo and Juliet take up about 27 pages each in the uniformly-printed Folio, and Hamlet about 30. Each full page has 132 lines, and each line ten syllables more or less. So a 2 hour and 10 minute performance of Hamlet, without a break, would average about 5 syllables per second. This is too fast for traditional acting and productions. Although some readers of this will find they can without any distortion say ten syllables of it in two seconds, to co-ordinate that with the necessities of the stage is another matter. (These days the pace of the occasional procession and fight is too slow and especially too prolonged). And since two years old can mean two years and ten months, maybe a two hour play can last two and three-quarter hours in actual performance, though I doubt it. But in this material world, two cannot be three (with the exception of alcoholic "happy hours"), though even an uncut three-hour Hamlet would be one of the fastest uncut Hamlets of this century, [faster than the uncut 3 hour and 35 minute one (not counting its interval), with which Bernard Shaw in 1926 castigated a John Barrymore version that was very long though cut], faster than the four hour uncut norm, and as fast (excluding the interval) as the one which that figuratively many-hatted man of the theatre, Dudley Knight, once saw at Haverford College long ago.

But what must one do to put on an uncut Hamlet in two hours and ten minutes, apart from getting material like a place to perform at, and good actors and a good director or, indeed, bad actors and a bad director?

If someone on stage is not already speaking, one’s words must start as soon as one makes an entrance so that time is not wasted moving about wordlessly, and necessary action must be done while talking unless the text indicates otherwise, and that unless will be dealt with later. The words must be said fast and naturally (so that Barnardo’s pronunciation of Horatio may sound like a two-syllable mathematical ratio with the aspirate as part of the ray); and will result in the unforced regularization into ten or eleven syllable lines of some seemingly longer lines up to now mislabeled irregular, or freer than others, and in speeches becoming more colloquial and less ’literary’, and in adjustments of portions of sound (and so of their meanings also) into those appropriate proportions which are the essence of poetry as of life in general. Perhaps this is why some of the characters’ names have an accordionlike ability to contract and expand. All this makes practical sense of Hamlet’s much-quoted but little-practiced speech to the visiting actors on how to speak in plays. (There’s more about this further on). And then, to save playing-time, there must be few pauses between phrases, and few between sentences, and seldom any between speakers: pauses being replaced by changes in physical and verbal expression, including volume, pitch, tone, and tune. This may keep the audience’s mind on its mental toes, even if it has been weakened by lengthy spells of inactivity in the overlong pauses after punchlines in TV sitcoms and stand-up comedy to give the slowest in the audience time to "get" a joke or at least get a second chance to laugh by enjoying the comedian’s body language during the pause. With exceptions, each line’s caesura, in the play, is not a pause but a change in the direction of the tune of the phrasing.

How does this affect Barnardo and Francisco?

They enter simultaneously from adjacent entrances. With their first visible step, each sees and at the same time recoils with fear from the other just far enough to take up defensive positions. Though this is funny, it is not to be played as comedy: they are brave men. Barnardo draws his weapon as he falls back while saying Whose there?, He then starts to reposition himself while Francisco (who knows that he is the sentry, and that Barnardo isn’t but has usurped his right of challenge by challenging him) indignantly says Nay answere me, jabbing his weapon at Bernardo on me, and adding Stand and unfolde your selfe. Stand should be said as if it meant Don’t move or Stay where you are, or Get up from your defensive crouching position.

Because it is bitterly cold (we hear that a few lines later), Barnardo’s clothing so completely covers him that he is visually unrecognizable; but though Francisco is also swathed into anonymity, Barnardo recognizes Francisco’s voice, and no longer wary, grasps the edge of his own hood and/or the edges of whatever he’s enveloped in, and to complete the effect he’s going for, says Long live in a disguised voice, and then much more loudly in his own voice, the King (as if he were Elvis Presley), as he flings off the hood or opens the front of his covering to become recognizable.

For the modern stage he has positioned himself to face Francisco and the audience as he does this. He can unfold himself in an additional way by saying each word in Long live the King to correspond to each stage in the unfolding of his limbs from the crouch he is in, throughout which his weapon is pointing at Francisco.

After Barnardo reveals himself, Francisco relaxes, saying Barnardo as one says I might have known it was you, and not any King, unless it be the king of jokers. There is also relief in his voice as he gasps out the B of Barnado. He has been holding his breath while trying to anticipate what the muffled-up figure would do. The comma after the word King, though it may be the misprint that all subsequent editions assert it is, is very appropriate, as the gasped B comes so close on King. (That comma could not be a compositor’s deliberate mistake but it could be an author’s natural one, in conformity with his intentions. The same can be said of Whose, whose position as the first spoken word makes it very likely to be an exact transcription (of the sound) from the manuscript, and deliberately not corrected by the very conscientious compositor: a view which, if I were swimming, would send mistaking critical hammerheads gliding towards me, for they prefer an always careless compositor. But now, in Milton’s words in Lycidas, my Oate proceeds. In acknowledgment of Francisco’s recognition of him, Barnardo lets go of his own outermost clothing, and exuberantly flings his arms out even more widely while announcing his Hee, meaning That’s right, it’s me. The doubled ee in Hee may mean that it’s stressed.

Now, the Folio version assumes that the dot, after the o of Barnardo. is a mistake and replaces it with a question mark. This nips the good-humoured and relaxing effect of Hee in the bud, destroys an essential link in a comic sequence, and imposes excessive doom and gloom and uncertainty, so that whoever is attracted to the comedic view aired here could easily think that by 1623, the year of the Folio’s publication and the seventh year after Shakespeare’s death, the acting tradition of Hamlet had already deteriorated, or was about to because of editorial revision.

This thought is supported by the integrity of a specific passage’s punctuation in Claudius’s first speech, (Act 1, scene 2, in the Hamlet Second Quarto, a passage which can rightly be accused of a sparsity of punctuation but not, so as to be believed by me, of committing mispunctuation. Editors have not only fabled and erred in rejecting its punctuation as obviously wronging the meaning of what it punctuates, but also in their understanding of the passage, and in their retouchings of both (and so herded its speakers along wrong paths). A look at their mispunctuation, and their explanations of the resultant meaning, when they had the wit to see the need for comment and the opportunity to do so, will make this clear. The Second Quarto goes

Now followes that you knowe Young Fortinbrasse,
Holding a weake supposall of our worth
Or thinking by our late deare brothers death
Our state to be disjoynt, and out of frame
Coleagued with this dreame of his advantage
He hath not failed to pestur vs with message
Importing the surrender of those lands
Lost by his father, with all bands of lawe
To our most valiant brother, so much for him:

The Folio Hamlet, the preference for which has misled so many, has the following punctuation, which can also stand for the minor variations on it by later editors:

Now followes, that you know young Fortinbras,
Holding a weake supposall of our worth;
Or thinking by our late deere Brothers death,
Our State to be disjoynt, and out of Frame,
Colleagued with the dreame of his Advantage;
He hath not fayl’d to pester vs with Message,
Importing the surrender of those Lands
Lost by his Father: with all Bonds of Law
To our most valiant Brother. So much for him.

One preliminary problem is to find the correct grammatical subject of Colleagued. Some have said Fortinbras; some supposall; and one, getting warmer but skirting by the grammar, has said the general idea contained in the second, third, and fourth lines. Who cares to — may ravel out why these aren’t exactly the solutions to this interwoven problem of grammar and meaning. The correct grammatical subject is the phrase out of frame, clearly connected to the predicative Coleagued in the Second Quarto version, and only identifiable as the subject in that. This forces me to introduce the subject of Jacobethan punctuation which I do not wish to enlarge on here, other than to say that the Jacobethans often used a punctuation mark to divide a group of words into its two most important subdivisions, and often leaving the subdivisions unpunctuated, or else punctuating them in the same way. This is exemplified in Francisco’s first line in the Second Quarto

Nay answere me. Stand and unfolde your selfe.

and in the Folio, which puts a colon after me. (Nowadays we would spell and punctuate: No, answer me. Stand, and unfold yourself.) Both the Folio and the Second Quarto adhere to this type of division, which needs a separate paper for a thorough delineation. The Folio’s division from Now to father has misled so many for centuries, whereas the Second Quarto’s main division of it, into two, occurs between disjoynt and its adjoining and, or at least allows one to think so, and enables Claudius, a master of long sentences, to make a beautifully natural complex sensible statement out of the whole section, bearing in mind that out of frame is a leapt-to consequence of disjoynt, and this dreame of his advantage substitutes for Holding a weake suposall of our worth, and that the or between thinking and holding is not an ultimatum that forces one to choose between them for ever but is non-exclusory like the or in the gardener who is always weeding or tendinq the garden in other ways. One understands this speech so much more easily when it is spoken with all this in mind than when it is, as it is here, of necessity, so laboriously explained. It also sounds better in the Second Quarto’s version than in the Folio’s. Catherine Fitzmaurice, that great teacher of actors who do or want to do Shakespeare, sometimes asks actors to ignore the punctuation of Shakespeare texts and work out their own based on the meaning (she is not alone in this but I mention her because her work, not in this field alone, should be better known). This is for all practical purposes a sine qua non as nearly all the texts an actor comes in contact with are edited, particularly with regard to punctuation, and so, often, misleading; though even the speaker of an ’unedited’ text can learn much from punctuating from scratch though the results may not coincide with mine. Am I in the wrong? Again? This is perhaps the place to mention Percy Simpson’s delightful florilegium of Elizabethan punctuation. So much for punctuation.

Now for an example of integrity in the Second Quarto that includes more than punctuation. It too occurs in Act 1, Scene 2, when Hamlet’s mother asks why, when all that lives must die, the death of his father seems so special to him, and he answers:

Seemes Maddam, nay it is, I know not seemes,
Tis not alone my incky cloake coold mother

I suppose the Folio editor misread the first line of this as I know not ’seems’ (instead of reading I know ’not seems’), and so could not make sense of the second line in which ’coold mother’ means ’could give birth to and nurture’, and which he then miscorrected into:

Seemes Madam? Nay, it is: I know not Seemes:
’Tis not alone my Inky Cloake (good Mother)

Which led to this, representative of modern times:

’Seemes’, madam? nay, it is; I know not ’seems’.
’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,

When we should have had, with modern punctuation:

’Seems’, madam? Nay, it is. I know ’not seems’.
’Tis ’not’, alone, my inky cloake could mother;

Paraphrased, the second line means, in part: It’s only ’what is’ that could produce my mourning cloak and create my melancholy. And since Shakespeare surely visualized enriching actions for his words, Hamlet’s mother may have affectionately, as mothers do, just adjusted a knot on Hamlet’s cloak whose black inky color is in keeping, or rather, punningly "in key," with the requirements of mourning. Besides, this second line retains the sound which the Folio version had impoverished. The rest of this speech of Hamlet’s has been so mangled by editors that it must be dealt with, but later, as the length of this excursus seems to have the extension of the Rift Valley across Africa.

"That strain I heard was of a higher mood":

"But now my Oate proceeds" to where we left Barnado saying: Hee, in confirmation that he was the Barnardo in question, which Francisco accepts, and follows up by stressing, in his turn,

the You of:

You come most carefully upon your houre,

The caesura comes after carefully, and not after come as I once heard it done for no good reason and to no good effect, the actor maintaining it didn’t matter either way, and that it was his choice anyway. But the right: You’ve really taken the trouble to be on the dot is not the same as the wrong: You’ve arrived exactly on the dot, (which Andre Gide also gets wrong in the same way in his version of Hamlet in French). Implying that neither coming most carefully and being exactly on time is like Barnardo, Francisco’s voice expresses his surprise not only on the first phrase but even more on the second.

How does Francisco know the time so exactly? Has a bell just struck the twelve strokes of midnight? It has, because to repudiate Francisco’s imputation that he has arrived earlier than usual with the assertion that he is on time and that it is Francisco that is remiss, Barnardo replies:

’Tis now strooke twelfe, get thee to bed Francisco,

But why does Barnardo say the first four words of that? Why not Tis twelfe or Twelfe’s now strooke? Why twelfe? Because, thinking the Ghost may soon arrive and wanting to be rid of Francisco before it comes, he wants to make light of his unwonted punctuality by pretending to listen to the chimes, and emphasizing at the twelfth chime that it’s time for him to take over.

How fast does that bell strike? Once per syllable is too fast: it would make Francisco start his You come most carefully upon your houre before he could know the time. But by having it strike after not quite every two syllables (with the last chime coinciding with the word twelve), and the first with the end of Barnardo’s word King, Barnardo, in doubt as to whether it is one o’clock, at which time the ghost of the King previously appeared, can give a quick wary look right and left to see if the Ghost is there while Francisco, not in the know, is relievedly saying Barnardo. And not seeing it but hearing the next chime, Barnardo says his Hee with relief, as well as with his natural exuberance, now tipped with artifice.

Barnardo says Tis now strooke twelfe as if counting the chimes, expressing suspense with now and with strooke, and exuberance with twelfe. And to hurry Francisco away and divert possible suspicion as to why, adds get thee to bed Francisco. Enamoured with the remembrance of his performance of his Hee, and to remind Francisco of it and repeat its success, Barnardo stresses the thee triumphantly.

But a question arises, and spreads out like a ripple in a pond. And it is: Why is Francisco named? His part in the play will soon be over. We don’t need to know his name. It makes the line longer. Barnardo could have said his say and left it out, putting in some Elizabethan phrase for pronto instead. Is it there so Bernardo can say to bed Francisco in a coaxing woman’s I have something for you voice, elongating the e of bed and the i of cis? He needs the length of the phrase to establish his joke, and the name to point it. Meanwhile Francisco has a satisfying swig from Barnardo’s bottle.

Traditionally, Francisco’s next words:

For this reliefe much thanks, tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at hart.

pause only after cold, making And I am sick at heart an afterthought limping some way behind, almost unattached, and just another unpleasantness like the cold; or both phrases are done as if having no relation to thanks; but an innovative pause after thanks supplies two following reasons for being thankful, and not just the "bitter" one. But alas, this is a mortal world, and that which has been perdurably established suddenly and unbelievably crumbles away, and so I would have cherubs cover their eyes at what comes next, for it may never have happened even in a Hamlet in (whisper the words), Sh! Sh! Shakespeare’s lifetime. For, once he has recognized Barnardo, Francisco has felt free to lower his guard somewhat, and so in the most natural way, so natural that it requires no comment from Barnardo, he has begun to pee, preferably into the abyss beyond the battlements, if there is one, and of course with his back to the audience as there are some effects that even good actors cannot be expected to produce, and nor should they if they could, for a play is only a reality that represents a reality, and is not the reality that is represented. So Francisco has begun to pee while beginning the line You come most carefully upon your houre, and the rest of the line, which is most of it, he says over his shoulder, and he muffles-up again during the much thanks of his next bit of speech, where the word relief refers naturally to his stint of duty and Barnardo’s alcohol. Only the audience will and should give relief an additional meaning.

But his ’tis bitter cold, with the stress on bitter, reflects not only his view of the weather but also the state of his recently exposed penis, as an appropriate movement of his buttocks can indicate. His And I am sick at hart stresses its am, and with a change in voice converts sick at hart into a modulated mockery of his imputedly love-struck condition already referred to by Barnardo, whose sense of humour it also pays a homage to, for Barnardo to notice. But Barnardo, though looking at himself in the mirror that Francisco has just become, does not see himself and does not catch on to the joke, and finds what Francisco is doing rather strange, so with the stress on quiet and only half-jokingly implying that something must have occurred during Francisco’s watch to make him act like that, asks him Have you had quiet guard? Francisco, now well into his new role of humorist, sticks out an arm, and dividing the phrase Not a mouse stirring into a triptych with a mouse at its center, makes his fingers scurry as he says stirring. In deciding to accept Francisco’s assurance that nothing has happened, Barnardo allays his own suspicion, which his own unease arouses in him, that Francisco may just possibly have had a supernatural experience just before Barnardo’s arrival. But still implying that Francisco is acting a little strangely, he refers back to his own to bed joke, and dismisses Francisco with a Well, good night: with a bawdy inflection on the good. The Folio’s unthinking regularization of good night to goodnight prevents this from even being thought of as possible (in the same way as your selfe in unfolde your selfe has been regularized by modern editors into Yourself, so nipping in the bud the possibility of the acting nuance of just show me who you are, and no funny business.

Barnardo continues:

If you doe meete Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivalls of my watch, bid them make hast.

Readers will be perhaps both surprised and pleased that I have nothing I wish to say about the first of these two lines. But of the word rivalls, and as to why Shakespeare chose and retained it when he could have used the not quite the same but more easily comprehensible partners which replaces it in the First Quarto, I say "ah," because in using rivalls Barnardo is carrying on his sexual joke, writhing his hips as he says it, splitting the word into writh and alls, and referring to Horatio and Marcellus as his equivalent to Barnardo’s female partner. Of course, this does not mean Barnardo is homosexual. By his lights, he is good-humouredly disparaging homosexuality, implying This is the best that I can do (and of course I won’t do it) and it’s no substitute for what you’re about to get. He’ll do anything for a laugh. Since all the lines that allow the possibility of conscious humour have been cut out of this section of the First Quarto, it has no reason to retain rivalls, and partners is the logical choice for a so-harshly-cut acting version; as is its upon your watch for the earlier Second Quarto phrase upon your hour whose supporting lines have also been cut out. The cutter must have been rather pleased with himself for not only cutting out all that stuff about the time, but for being able to insert information by substituting the one word watch for hour. This doesn’t mean I approve. But it does mean these changes were deliberate, and not due to the cutter’s faulty memory, as some have suggested. Going back to the Second Quarto version, couldn’t one entertain the idea (and be entertained by it in turn) that the phrase: The rivalls has the same relation to The arrivals as the play’s first word: Whose does to Who is?

Impatience stresses the e-less fast form of the word haste in the rivalls line.

The First Quarto and the Folio have no comma in the next stage direction:

Enter Horatio, and Marcellus.

What the comma indicates is that Marcellus is just behind Horatio, which is why Horatio is the first to answer Francisco’s challenge.

The ho in Francisco’s I thinke I heare them, stand ho, who is there? is only used to address someone a distance away, which is where Horatio and Marcellus should be. Though technically off-duty, Francisco, and not Barnardo, challenges Horatio and Marcellus because he is nearer them than Barnardo; and dramatically, a situation is coming up that requires Barnardo to be silent from now on. So Barnardo, doing his duty as sentry, is drawing away from Francisco when Francisco’s shouted whisper I thinke I heare them makes him stop to await the outcome. To give the impression that there is more space between the two than there actually is (Elizabethan stages were smaller than some of ours), the I heare them is louder than the I thinke because Barnardo has indicated he has difficulty hearing by putting his hand to his ear after thinke. Properly done, this exchange is funny and is a set-up for more fun.

A reprise. Francisco turns back to Horatio and Marcellus, stopping them with his still louder stand ho; and adds a who is there? that is full of suspicion as he peers and steps nearer them with an ostentatious caution which is meant to show them he is not to be fooled, or fooled with. When Horatio answers Friends to this ground, all Horatio says at first is Friends, but when Francisco follows this up with a fierce thrust of his weapon towards him, he sees it has been taken as referring to his relationship with Marcellus, and a trace of humour tinges his hastily added explanatory to this ground. And at Francisco’s immediately-following motion of his weapon towards Marcellus, to indicate it’s now his turn to answer, Marcellus answers And Leedgemen to the Dane, having to add the to the Dane when Francisco makes it clear with a further pedantic nudge of his weapon that just the word Leedgemen leaves it an open question who they are liegemen to. I think the capital L of Leedgemen enables us to assume this word may have been given great importance by Marcellus’ voice, as he must have mistakenly thought that it alone, on top of Horatio’s words, would have satisfied Francisco. Further away from them than Francisco, Barnardo does not hear or does not understand their replies,

Satisfied, Francisco says Give you as he turns away; and walking towards Barnardo, underlines his next two words, good, and night, with a couple of jocular backward jabs towards them with his weapon, to pleasantly remind them of his challenges, and their reactions. Marcellus, following Francisco more slowly and seeing the unrecognizably muffled-up Barnardo, takes him for a partner (of Francisco’s watch) who is waiting for Francisco so that they can leave together, and calls out; O, farwell honest souldiers, who hath reliev’d you? (The short far, not pronounced as far, means the vowel of well should be lengthened, which gives different acting possibilities than "farewell" would, and suggests the speaker is at a distance from the others). Francisco replies: Barnado hath my place; give you good night. The First quarto, having cut out the foundation for having the word souldier in the plural, very logically prints it in the singular. The editors of the Folio and all subsequent editions, not having seen how and why souldiers can and must be plural have singularized it, assuming that only Francisco was addressed and addressable. Indeed, to further justify the second ess of souldiers, pile the Ossa of Barnardo hath my place on top of the Pelion of souldiers: for if the question had been O, farwell honest Soldier, who hath reliev’d you? Francisco need only have said Barnardo, the hath my place would be otiose. But since, like all good writers, Shakespeare did not put in mere filling to complete a line but filled it out with further useful and necessary detail, hath my place shows Barnardo’s puzzlement at why souldiers was in the plural when he knows that he is the only one leaving, so he stresses the my of Barnardo hath my place, implying I don’t know what other soldiers you’re talking about (perhaps he was an ex-editor). And then like an exiting vaudeville actor who believes you can’t have too much of a good thing, he again says Give you good night, but in a higher and louder voice, extending and waving his armed arm along give you, and as if referring to a secret known only to them, repeats the jab on good and the jab on night of his previous Give you good night, a humorous shorthand economy that is like saying Joke number 7 to someone who knows the joke and its number. (This jabbing of course is interpreted as a sexual innuendo by Barnardo.)

By the time Francisco gets off stage, Marcellus and Horatio are near Barnardo who has his back to them, having watched Francisco go off. Marcellus assumes Barnardo is Francisco’s partner and not his relief, and that he has not yet left because he is adjusting his footwear. But when Marcellus tries to find Francisco’s replacement elsewhere by yelling Holla, Barnardo, startled, jumps up and round to face them, which makes his hood fall off, and lets Marcellus recognize him, call out Barnardo, and beckon to him.

Annoyed at being and appearing to be startled, Barnardo doesn’t budge. Instead, he asks Marcellus to speak, not shout, which is what Say means in his next line: Say, what is Horatio there? Marcellus beckons again. Still peeved and still requiring Marcellus to speak as a sign of giving in first, Barnardo adds what. (We would nowadays put a question mark after what.) Marcellus beckons again. Barnardo, weakening, asks is Horatio there? his tone implying that he, Barnardo, would approach if he were. Horatio, jocularly saying A peece of him, unmasks that piece of him that is his own face and shoulder and arm. Honour satisfied, not one to hold a grudge, in a good humour again, and wanting to make up for his previous obstinacy, Barnardo says Welcome Horatio, welcome good Marcellus, shaking Horatio’s hand during the first phrase, and embracing Marcellus (better known to him, and nearer in rank) during the second phrase, and pronouncing each word with such fervour that, pretending to think that Barnardo is so friendly to them because he needs reassurance from them after seeing the ghost again, Horatio says;

What, ha’s this thing appeard againe to night?

Nowadays, we might punctuate ’What? Has this thing appeared? Again? Tonight?

Taking him up on his joke and punning the I into Ay meaning Yes, Barnardo says I, then pauses, have seene nothing. He makes the slight pause after the I to give room for them to register their first reactions, before he goes on and stresses seene in a way that suggests something unseen may have been there. Or more probably, seene means seene and his eyebrows rise three times, once each at I (with a slight pause), at have seene (another slight pause), and at nothing. Perhaps he brings his brow closer to them in doing this, but he is clearly joking and not overbearing.

I have seene nothing is sandwiched-in by blocks of ten-syllable lines. Sandwiched short lines point to the presence of wordless actions which take up the time needed to lengthen the short line into a ten syllable line. So Horatio and Marcellus each have a total of five syllables’ worth of synchronic wordless time to divide, and go on reacting in, after I, after have seene, and after nothing.

But do bunches of short lines as close to each other as bananas on one stem, extrude additional wordless action? Obviously, the twenty syllables of the play’s first five spoken lines equal two ten-syllable lines, and don’t. But the four-line bunch depending from tis bitter cold may reward investigation, and the spoken six depending from to the Dane do need to be looked into. But the subject of "Wordless action" can be put off for now, (it needs a paper all to itself). The heavens are merciful!

And yet so much having been said about so little, the next speech, which consists of the comparative vastness of seven lines, may lead readers to expect a commentary resembling the Arabian roc whose outspread wings hid the vastness of the sky from sight. Not so. Its sense is plain. It divides into four parts which the actor, noting the grammar and punctuation, should preserve. They are: line 1, lines 2 and 3, lines 4 and 5, and lines 6 and 7. It is:

Horatio saies tis but our fantasie,
And will not let beliefe take holde of him,
Touching this dreaded sight twice seene of vs,
Therefore I haue intreated him along,
With vs to watch the minuts of this night,
That if againe this apparision come,
He may approoue our eyes and speake to it.

In this speech, without seeming to do so consciously, the actor can comment on metaphorical and unusual words, enrich their meanings, and make them more theatrical and not just metaphorical, as with the word rivalls and the word not, which were both more than mentioned earlier on. For example, let Marcellus already have a loaf of bread in one hand when he says take holde, and be slicing it before saying touching. Let him offer a slice before and after intreated him. Let him cut it into smaller bits before and while he says minute, and let Barnardo accept a piece before Marcellus says approoue. Will that work?

The next two lines:

Hora. Tush, tush, twill not appeare.
Bar. Sit downe a while,

contrast impatience with patience. Being equivalent to a ten-syllable line, these lines leave no time for additional wordless action. The actors don’t sit down yet, because Horatio is, in a way, still standing up for his opinion. What Barnardo says shows he has lost track of the time of the Ghost’s possible reappearance and it is only natural that we do too.

Barnardo continues:

And let us once againe assaile your eares,
That are so fortified against our story,
What we haue two nights seene.

At assaile and fortified perhaps Marcellus will rub his own ears against the cold and then appropriately fortify himself by eating the bread. But such things, if not done well, should not be done at all.

Two nights is stressed to give the meaning Two nights are no small potatoes, but the legato of the line should not be broken up (see smoothnesse in Hamlet’s speech to the actors). The awkward What we have two nights seene is not the completion of the compound sentence that starts Barnado’s speech, as editors would have it. It is the non-awkward beginning of a new explanatory sentence which does not get completed because Horatio, not wishing to hear a eulogy of a ghost he does not believe in, cuts in with his: Well, sit we downe. That short line joins Barnardo’s previous line to make ten syllables, so there’s no additional wordless action.

In that reluctant

Well, sit we downe,
And let vs heare Barnardo speake of this.

the Well is most probably a resigned There’s nothing else for it. And then Horatio points out something to sit on. His heare and speake are resigned and sceptical.— The above part of this paragraph, reminiscent of much low-yield commentary, are of little, it seems to me, interest in themselves. Then why leave them in? To bring out the value of the neighbouring comments by contrast, as a small person on a long hill shows the hill’s size in a landscape painting.

And now Barnardo says:

Last night of all,
When yond same starre thats weastward from the pole,
Had made his course t’illume that part of heaven
Where now it burnes, Marcellus and my selfe
The bell then beating one.

Barnardo begins Last night of all as he starts to sit down. Then he stops speaking. The spotlight is (metaphorically) on him, and he intends to make use of his opportunity, and he flicks a mote of dust from his seat after examining it critically from several angles, spreads himself out and makes himself comfortable, motions to see if the others are ready, and at their signal for him to proceed, says When yond ... Now it isn’t that he’s been inspired to make a two and a half line lyrical outburst, though I have heard it done so, touchingly, but out of character and, in a sense, out of the play. (For beautifully argued traditional views on the performance of the beginning, see the reference to Coleridge in the next chapter, as well as the anonymous 1847 commentator. Both base themselves on the Folio, and neither may have had the benefit of the Second Quarto.) No, Barnardo wants to get everything so absolutely right in his account of the Ghost, that he forgets it may soon appear. And here the Folio version is extraordinarily helpful in keeping a reader on the right track. Look at what it prints as his second line:

When yond same Starre that’s Westward from the Pole

The same words, but with that Folio innovation: the capitalization of words not usually capitalized (a subject central to my piece on the beginning of The Tempest). Why capitalize these particular words? Because each is an indicator of a change of some sort. Here they turn the line of the voice into three steps going down, the last two of the three being explanations, and the first explanation: that’s Westward limits the whereabouts of yond same Starre, and the second explanation: of the Pole narrows down the position of yond same Starre that’s Westward even further, helping Horatio find what Barnardo’s finger is pointing at. Had made its course and t’illume that part of Heaven and Where now it burnes, are a flight of three more explanatory steps. Heaven is pronounced almost like hen. Marcellus and myself is a two-step explanation, not one. The Folio’s capitalization of Bell in The Bell then beating one shows that line to be a two-step explanation too. Perhaps Barnardo puts his hand near his heart on one’. (Twelve strokes create suspense; one stroke, surprise.) Next comes the stage direction:

Enter Ghost.

and Marcello’s line:

Peace, breake thee of, looke where it comes againe.

But how can Barnardo break off when he’s already broken off, having apparently seen the Ghost?, the Folio editor must have asked this too, and solved the problem, logically and wrongly, by making the Ghost enter after Marcello asks Barnardo to break off (for a reason which could be embodied in stage business, such as having the bell strike one and having Barnardo be too engrossed in his narrative to hear it). But, in fact, what happens in the Second Quarto is that Barnardo breaks off at one because he sees Marcello, who has just seen the Ghost enter, put a warning finger to his lips to tell him to be quiet. Not having seen the Ghost, Barnardo opens his mouth to protest, and Marcello says Peace, meaning Shut up. Indignantly, Barnardo opens his mouth again, to ask why, and Marcello urgently says breake thee off. The Ghost is getting nearer. Finally Marcello, with suppressed anger at what appears to him Barnardo’s obstinate stupidity, takes Barnardo’s chin in one hand and points it at the Ghost, saying looke, and with the index finger of his other hand points at the oncoming Ghost with a conclusive where it comes. That where it comes is directed to Barnardo (who of course has looked in the wrong direction) and is separated by pitch from againe. which is addressed to Horatio. From here-on to the end of the scene, bits of humour flower here and there out of the action, and are only apparent to the audience, and not to the characters.

A fringe of assorted remnants, unrelated to each other, remains. If the names Francisco and Barnardo indicate they are foreign mercenaries, how does that modify their behaviour? Can what should be done, in this beginning bit of Hamlet, be done in 75 seconds, or even in 90 or 105 or 120? And do the commas that end some speeches, and that look as if left on the page to flaunt an attitude of So what, what’s a misprint or two? point only to speech after speech not completed because cut-off by the next speaker? And to restore some lines to Shakespeare, haven’t I been harsh to the editors of them, whose good points I have taken for granted and not even mentioned? And indeed even their unacceptable emendations and explanations pinpointed problem sites, and so I am indebted to them, and to my son Saul whose eagle-eyed mind fortunately looked this chapter over before anyone else saw it.

Return Alpheus. It may please you to know (if it is not already known to you) that these two words are from Milton’s Lycidas, O all-conquering reader, and it may please you even more that the next five words are: the dread voice is past.


Montaigne mentions an author whose books consisted almost entirely of quotations from other authors. Indeed, some readers of this book may think that the names of the authors of this book would be more accurately subscribed as Kozubei and Shakespeare (putting the subsidiary author last) if that didn’t raise, or more accurately, jerk-up Kozubei beyond his deserts. Kozubei, by the way, is the pseudonym of the even more unknown John Coatsby, and so should be pronounced as three English-sounding syllables: "cot," "soo" as in "forsook," and "bay," but with the "t" starting the "soo" (like the "ts" in the English word "coats") and with the stress on "Ko." It is not Japanese.

It should boost sales of this book in Austria and from Anatolia to Alaska, wherever this storied name is known.

Still, it would no doubt be a good thing if the thick slabs of chapters of Kozubeian prose were for once parted by the insertion of a chapter, different, varied, and pertinent, made up of other authors in other styles. But the thought came that, if printed in full, its cuckoo-like bulkiness in this wren’s nest of a volume and the drudgery involved in obtaining the necessary permissions and copyright costs would be prohibitive. The inside of this sandwich would contain:

1. A facsimile of the beginning of the First Quarto. If the inferiority of this text, in every point where it differs from the Second Quarto and Folio beginnings, is not apparent after they are closely compared, then the mind of the reader of the three didn’t mesh with them. Or else became a faulty cog-wheel preventing its discriminatory faculty from working properly.

2. A facsimile of the beginning of the Second Quarto.

3. A facsimile of the beginning of the Folio.

Even the comparison of a few of the same lines from each of these facsimiles is very worthwhile.

4. Hamlet’s speech about acting. Any edition of Hamlet will render up the bones of the ideas of the speech (though its dramatic resurrection can be best achieved by using the flesh and bones of the Second Quarto version of it). Although it is familiar in these days as a critique of acting in Shakespeare’s time, and though only the "tripping" part is of immediate relevance to my third chapter, all the sins of acting mentioned in it still happen every day and can be caught condensed into just one well-thought-of degenerate professional performance if you are lucky. It’s a checklist for those whom presentday theatrical degeneracy can amuse while hoping for something better to turn up.

5. The pertinent excerpt from an anonymous article in The Quarterly Review, (London, England) Vol. LXX1X, December 1846-March1847, pages 310-335, entitled "Recent editions of Shakespeare." Good old Furness reprinted this excerpt in his Variorum but, appropriately for his purposes, without its preceding paragraph. I would, however, retain that for its consolatory truth. The whole article deserves to be reprinted in one of those potluck collations devoted to critical appraisals of some aspect of Shakespeare.

6. Another very worthwhile traditional view of the beginning, by S. T. Coleridge. The collected works. Vol 5: part 2. Routledge and Kegan Paul, and Princeton university Press (Bollingen Series LXXV). 1987. Pertinent are pages 294-295 from his notes for his third lecture on Shakespeare delivered in 1819, and pages 138-141 from his notes for his sixth lecture on European literature (1818). Less accurate versions of these notes can be found more easily in other editions. As he did with Johnson, Shakespeare brought out the best in Coleridge.

7. An excerpt on the "sallied flesh" soliloquy, from "The Hamlet of Edwin Booth," edited by Charles H. Shattuck. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois, U.S.A. 1969. Pages 127-130. This is Charles W. Clarke’s wonderful summation of 8 performances by Edwin Booth as Hamlet, as seen through the medium of Shattuck’s editing and annotation. Edwin Booth’s dates: 1833-1893.

8. An excerpt on the "sallied flesh" soliloquy, from "Edwin Booth’s Performances," subtitled "The Mary Isabella Stone Commentaries," edited and annotated by Daniel J. Watermeier. U.M.I. Research Press, Ann Arbor/ London. An Imprint of University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48106, U.S.A. Pages 17-19.

I hope a widening knowledge of the Shattuck and Watermeier books will lead to an edition of Booth’s own notes on the plays. He works from the text. So far as I know, these two books constitute the fullest record, in print, of a great actor in the role of Hamlet.


In partial accord with the belief of the remarkable Gurdieff that we mortal humans have to be told something three times before our minds can take hold of it, a section of the third chapter of this book reappears in this chapter almost word for word, and apart from making it easier to present the rest of the argument of which it is a part, it gives a second airing, and a second chance to make headway, to the restoration of the younger Hamlet’s first two consecutive lines, a restoration which must seem at first a terrible dislocation of the familiar, as it did at first to me, and impossible to believe in despite the evidence, to anyone already familiar with the traditional version of it, and perhaps the more so the more familiar it seems.

In Scene 2 of Act 1, when Hamlet’s mother asks him why the death of his father seems so special to him since "all that lives must die," he answers:

Ham. Seemes Maddam, nay it is, I know not seemes,
Tis not alone my incky cloake coold mother
Nor customary suites of solembe blacke
Nor windie suspiration of forst breath
No, nor the fruitfull river in the eye,
Nor the dejected hauior of the visage
Together with all formes, moodes, chapes of grief
That can devote me truly, these indeede seeme
For they are actions that a man might play
But I have that within which passes showe
These but the trappings and the suites of woe.

King. Tis sweete and commendable in your nature Hamlet
To give these mourning duties to your father

Suppose the Folio editor misread the first line of this as "I know not seemes" instead of reading "I know not seemes," (which is another reason for believing the misreader of the detail of this bit of copy was a compositor and not someone who had acted in the play) and so he could not make sense of the second line, which he then miscorrected into:

Seemes Madam? nay, it is: I know not Seemes:
’Tis not alone my Inky Cloake (good Mother)

Which led to this, representative of modern editing:

"Seems," madam? nay, it is; I know not "seems."
’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,

when we should have had, with modern punctuation and spelling:

"Seems," madam? Nay, it is. I know "not seems."
’Tis "not," alone, my inky cloak could mother;

Paraphrased, the second line means, in part: "Only ’what is’ could create my black melancholy and cloak me in it." And since Shakespeare would have visualized enriching actions for his words, Hamlet’s mother may have affectionately, as mothers do, just adjusted a "knot" on Hamlet’s cloak whose black inky color is in keeping, or rather, punningly "in key," with the requirements of mourning.

Besides, this inky second line retains the sound whose impoverishment in the Folio version not only changes but reduces the meaning of the line. What is lost in the Folio but found in the Second Quarto is, for instance, the sound of the separated hammerblows of the first line’s "it is" and "not seems," becoming the non-stop one-twos of ’Tis "not" and "alone," hammering in the idea of the inadequacy of his mother’s mourning. Hamlet stresses "my" to point out the adequacy of his attitude and distinguish it from that implied inadequacy of his mother’s. This critique of his mother, that she has let him down, the younger Hamlet’s most important theme, and which is here first announced in almost his first words, becomes non-existent, at this point, in the Folio and its followers.

Of the lines in the Second Quarto, the next set seems to be:

Nor customary suites of solembe blacke
Nor windie suspiration of forst breath
No, nor the fruitfull riuer in the eye,
Nor the deiected hauior of the visage
Together with all formes, moodes, chapes of griefe
That can devote me truly,

And although alternative interpretations of them are, as always, possible, I prefer to think of these lines as complete in themselves. But this preference raises the problem of the word "that." Leave that out, and we have a very simple, understandable at once, and appropriate sentence. But that "that" is there, and I propose we treat it as an interjection whose punctuation was omitted (because interjections seem to have been seldom punctuated in those days), and which the actor uses to refer to an example of a chape of griefe: that knot and the adjustment of it by Hamlet’s mother which were brought into existence a little while ago, and which Hamlet now jabs a finger at or draws attention to by handling. A "chape" is a small exterior decoration and the word is perfectly appropriate where it appears in this sentence. Since we already have "formes" it is ridiculous for editors to change "chapes" into "shapes." The same thing goes for "devote me truely" meaning "truely make me believe in their genuineness." The Folio has "denote," and so do many subsequent editors, but what is gained? That point about superficialness, which they make with "denote," is not Shakespearean. Shaky (sic) makes the point quite clearly elsewhere in the speech, and he only repeats something when it is needed again, and no "again" is needed here.

The next grouping is (to my mind):

these indeede seeme,
For they are actions that a man might play

The final group is:

But I haue that within which passes showe
These but the trappings and the suites of woe.

The first of these last two groups needs only the comment that, in trying to find out what Shakespeare most probably wrote, one should resist the temptation to combine its last line with the first line of the final group as that results in one of those needless repetitions, and some unsatisfactory sound, such as I’ve already gone on about.

But the editing of these last two Hamlet lines, eek!

Oh ye editors who prefer "denote," you think to have your Will by endstopping the first of these lines, giving birth to a two-legged Frankensteinian monster of meaning and sound, an unnaturally stiff jingle or unLearlike jumbled-up jumbly, to contrast with what should have been a natural

But I have that within which passes — showe

These but the trappings and the suites of woe.

where "passes" means "occurs" or "surpasses," and does not mean "goes away," so that the two lines mean "Those things which are happening inside me show that these suites and suspirations, etc, are just the banal outer dressy dressing and pleasure-giving attenders and surroundings of "woe"; for "suites," punning on "sweets," does not mean "suits" here, for more "suits" are quite unneeded, especially here, and Shakespeare is our most frequent punner after the James Joyce of "Finnegans Wake" with perhaps Thomas Hood, in his poems, running third. Although the Oxford English Dictionary has no record of "suite" till much later in the 17th century, this does not mean it necessarily didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time and so wasn’t his to use. Why did its makers think he didn’t use it in this way?

The king who hasn’t been around for this speech of Hamlet’s, having veered away, let us suppose, after his earlier exchange with Hamlet, to swallow his first drinks of the day, for the play makes it obvious that he’s an alcoholic, now comes back to Hamlet and, catching his last words, mistakenly thinks he’s talking about the sweetnesses of sorrow, and so, wishing to show off a little under the impulse of drink, takes up and turns what he thinks are Hamlet’s words to his own purposes, (cleverly, he thinks) saying:

Tis sweet and commendable in your nature Hamlet,
To give these mourning duties to your father

Well, there are thirteen syllables in his first line, and since by my fiat (though I think it is really Shakespeare’s too) we are only allowed ten or eleven per line in Hamlet, the king must have swallowed some syllables, as those in drink often do, and so the "a" in "commendable" is elided, and "in your" becomes "nyour," nyet?

Later. Alternatively (how time mellows one), or additionally, whichever is appropriate, what if my inky cloake could mother starts a new sentence that ends with chapes of grief? so that the That in That can devote me truly, refers to my inky cloake and the these of these indeede seeme refers to the suites, suspiration, river, hauior, formes, moodes, and chapes?

And, not to be omitted, passing (in the last line of the Queen’s previous speech) should have been acted in such a way that Hamlet’s passes can refer to it ironically.


(You might want a drink with this chapter as it’s rather dry.)
This is where we left the text at the end of Chapter3.

                 Enter Ghost.
Mar. Peace, breake thee of, looke where it comes againe.
Bar. In the same figure like the King thats dead.
Mar.Thou art a scholler, speake to it Horatio.
Bar. Lookes a not like the King? marke it Horatio.
Hora. Most like, it horrowes me with feare and wonder.
Bar. It would be spoke to.
Mar. Speake to it Horatio.
Hora. What art thou that vsurpst this time of night,
Together with that faire and warlike forme,
In which the Maiestie of buried Denmarke
Did sometimes march, by heauen I charge thee speake.
Mar. It is offended.
Bar. See it staukes away.
Hora. Stay, speake, speake, I charge thee speake. Exit Ghost.
Mar. Tis gone and will not answere.
Bar. How now Horatio, you tremble and looke pale,
Is not this somthing more then phantasie?
What thinke you-ont?
Hora. Before my God I might not this belieue,
Without the sencible and true avouch
Of mine owne eies.
Mar. Is it not like the King?
Hora. As thou art to thy selfe.
Such was the very Armor he had on,
When he the ambitious Norway combated,
So frowned he once, when in an angry parle
He smot the sleaded pollax on the ice.
Tis strange.
Mar. Thus twice before, and iump at this dead houre,
With martiall stauke hath he gone by our watch.
Hora. In what particular thought, to worke I know not,
But in the grosse and scope of mine opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.

Food goes with drink. So is this book developing into a sort of Middle Eastern kabob in which a set, made of a gobbet of meat, and a vegetable or two, such as a slice of tomato or onion, reiterates itself (with an occasional variation) on a skewer? If so, picking up from Marcello’s:

Peace, breake thee off, looke where it comes againe.

at the end of the third chapter, hear Barnardo comment that the Ghost is:

In the same figure like the King thats dead.

If the reader is fond of mental angling, there’s food for thought in the following: Why did Barnardo say more than a simple: Like the King thats dead or Jump like the dead King? (I chose the word jump, not because it makes up a sentence that looks like an order issued by a bully, but because of a Shakespearean use in which jump means exactly the same in every particular), and why does like the King thats dead precede In the same figure which seems (but of course isn’t) an otiose repetition of the meaning of like the King thats dead? And why did he write the King thats dead instead of the dead King? Apart from the loss these changes would have made, in the effect of the rhythm in particular, and in the meaning of the sound in general (a loss which could perhaps be remedied by more fiddling around, but which would be an unnecessary pyrotechnical and pyromaniacal Neroism since I am not rewriting Shakespeare but only trying to justify his ways to man in its old-fashioned sense whose meaning includes all women), change would also destroy a typical Shakespearean three-step explanation in a line usually wrongly spoken as if it were a four-word statement followed by a five-word comparison. In the same figure is marvellingly and informatively gasped out, like the King is added to make it clear whose figure is being referred to, and thats dead is added to make it clear which King is meant. Shakespeare builds and refines a meaning by accurately fitting phrase upon phrase to give information and create character, and here these clarifications are provided to individualize the Ghost and establish it further, beyond its mere visual presence, for us, the audience, as well as to express the dogged and perhaps comic way of being accurate of a concerned-for-the-truth Barnardo. Only if we believe how real and horrifying the Ghost is to the three witnesses, will we sympathetically laugh at Horatio’s initial reluctance to speak to it despite the frequent and comic (because serious and understandable) urging of speech on him by the other two: brave cowards, (like some of us), who would rather have him mess with the Ghost than do so themselves. That’s why Marcellus’s excuse to Horatio for not speaking to the Ghost is phrased as Thou art a scholler in an attempt to put the onus on Horatio (and has nothing to do with the scholarly concerns of commentators who say that Marcellus and Barnardo expect scholarly Horatio to exorcize the Ghost in Latin. All he is expected to do by the other two is, as a scholar, know how to communicate with it, and do so.) By the way, Barnardo’s Lookes a not like the King? is not just another reference to an already mentioned resemblance (Shakespeare is not given to beating dead horses). It is more: it cues the actor playing the Ghost to use his eyes and face and head and neck, and look as if he is looking, (the sort of looking he is to do will be characteristic of the dead king).

The a in Lookes a not is pronounced, but not separately: Lookes a not is run together. It marke it Horatio doesn’t just mean look at it, Horatio (for he’s already looking at the Ghost) but take especial note of what it’s doing and what it looks like, Horatio. (Barnardo’s: It would be spoke to brings all this to a head by letting us infer, as readers, and see, as spectators, that the Ghost is now near them and looking at them inquiringly, or also peremptorily (but not discourteously) and regally gesturing to them to say their say).

Horatio’s grim Most like and it horrowes me with feare and wonder are not two coequal statements unrelated to each other despite being next to each other and applied to the Ghost, for it is because the Ghost is so like the dead king that Horatio is so hor-rare-rified: he shivers on horrowes me. Does the shiver die down on me, flare up again and die on with feare, and start again on and wonder?

The horrowes of the Second Quarto’s it horrowes me is spelt horrors in the First Quarto and harrowes in the Folio and harrows by modern editors and may, of course, be a misprint. But couldn’t Horatio, under stress, have telescoped horrors and harrowes into the one word: horrowes, as people often do with other words in other stressful circumstances? Why should Lewis Carroll have the monopoly of portmanteau words? Editors should at least credit Shakespeare with this possibility in those preferable editions which list textual variants and comment on them, even though these usually detrimentally ignore the majority of what are so tellingly, and poorly, called accidentals, such as spelling and punctuation. To make this eleven syllable line into a ten syllable one, the with in with feare and wonder could perhaps be shortened to w and annexed to feare, or perhaps the three syllables of and wonder can be Africanized into a two syllable nwonda, or yes, perhaps both phrases compress and co-exist. But such a reduction is not at once both clear and natural, and the fact is that the verse in this play is written in ten syllable lines and eleven syllable lines. The eleven syllable lines are never accented on both the first and last syllables in the same line. If they seem to be, or if a line has fewer than ten syllables or more than eleven, it means there’s a problem to be investigated. The eleven syllable line is a very natural and easy line in English. Such versification is not a Shakespearean innovation. See, for example, this sonnet by Spenser (published 1595):

The merry Cuckow, messenger of Spring,
His trumpet shrill hath thrise already sounded:
that warnes al louers wayt vpon their king,
who now is comming forth with girland crouned.
With noyse whereof the quyre of Byrds resounded
their anthemes sweet devized of loves prayse,
that all the woods theyr ecchoes back rebounded,
as if they knew the meaning of their layes.
But mongst them all, which did Loues honor rayse
no word was heard of her that most it ought,
but she his precept proudly disobayes,
and doth his ydle message set at nought.
Therefore O love, vnlesse she turne to thee
ere Cuckow end, let her a rebell be.

(To go on) with feare and and wonder are separated, and not twinned, because Horatio is being exact. With feare is annexed to It horrowes me, and and wonder is an afterthought that rounds out the truth for the sake of accuracy and completes Horatio’s answer, and shows his fear predominates over his wonder though the wonder, having deserved and obtained mention, is not to be ignored. The two short lines, Barnardo’s: It would be spoke to and Marcellus’s Speake to it Horatio total eleven syllables, and so there is no wordless action. It would be spoke to is said with a straightforward look at Horatio modulated into a meaningful glance at Marcellus — a glance which urges Marcellus to urge Horatio to speak, and which Marcellus perceptibly, silently and reassuringly answers, glance for glance, in the time it takes to bat an eyelid. Glance and answer go unnoticed by Horatio whose eyes have obsessively returned to the Ghost. So Marcellus’s: Speake to it Horatio is a follow-up on the spoke in Barnardo’s line and not the result of a totally independent initiative by Marcellus. That is why he says Speake to it, and does not say Question it as the First Quarto and the Folio have it (the Folio following the First Quarto here). Marcellus is afraid the Ghost will go away unspoken to, and so there’s a hint of exasperation in his voice. And perhaps the Ghost is also showing impatience and signs of imminent departure. So Horatio has no recourse but to speak.

This interpretation can be appealed: Question it can be justified as a refinement of It would be spoke to, but heard as sound, Speake to it is more forceful and has more comic potential and so is more appropriate on both counts.

Horatio’s first Second Quarto speech to the Ghost is:

What art thou that vsurpst this time of night,
Together with that faire and warlike forme,
In which the Maiestie of buried Denmarke
Did sometimes march, by heaven I charge thee speake.

Conforming to that reasonableness already shown to be his in chapter three, it is very reasonable of the First Quarto cutter, and does not indicate a faulty memory on his part, that having replaced this time of night with the state, and having cut out Together with that faire and warlike forme, that he would replace march with Walke, since Walke is the more appropriate action for the cut speech.

Once the Ghost has entered, Horatio is dumb-struck till this speech. The Ghost has made him lose all or some of his faith in scepticism, for the moment at least, and particularly his belief in the non-existence of ghosts. Perhaps his voice trembles at the beginning of this speech. What art thou is asked as if he really wants to know. He does want to. His tone is somewhat condemnatory. It suggests that there is an underhandedness on the Ghost’s part for appearing at night, and particularly so for its appearing at that time of night. faire and warlike are not co-equal. They are capitalized in the Folio. There is a suggestion that, whatever it really is, the Ghost’s real appearance, undisguised as the King, would be less faire, less beautiful, even downright ugly and generally unpleasant, were it to show itself as it really is.

The way he says warlike hints that an unwarranted threat (perhaps also unsubstantiable and therefore not to be taken seriously) is being made by the Ghost. Maiestie is pronounced as if the Ghost had no right to it, especially since the King is buried and done with. I don’t see why sometimes can’t also have its (no oxymoron intended) still current meaning as well as that offering of the annotators: formerly. Since it is not an exclamation, there is no pause after heauen, which is one-syllabled, as always.

After so many slurs, plus the implication, in What art thou and by heauen I charge thee, that there is something demoniacal about the Ghost, along with the implication of vsurpst that it has no right to take on the fair and warlike form of the King or any other form of his or even to materialize at all, and with perhaps even a peremptoriness in Horatio’s tone, it is no wonder that the Ghost is offended, unless ghosts, like the living, construe meanings that have not been meant, and take offence at what has not been said. But for this they are singularly unnoted. (Though perhaps it did expect to be asked what it wanted).

When does the Ghost first show it is offended by Horatio’s speech? The possibilities raised by this question provide a wonderful opportunity for whoever acts the Ghost. Does he show us the taking of offence building up bit by bit in the Ghost during the time of Horatio’s speech, or does he show only the culmination of it: is it an eruption, or a slow assumption? Is it sudden, or stepped or smoothly gradual? And does it show up early in the speech or later, or at the end? How does all this affect Horatio (does his voice suddenly quaver?), especially after the Ghost does not answer his question immediately? What does all this do to Horatio’s by heauen I charge thee speake? Is thee and thou used when addressing superiors, equals, strangers, friends? Whatever the answers, the Ghost does not start to move away till after Marcellus’s It is offended. Is there a hint of a trace of blame thrown on Horatio in that sentence, apart from surprise at its lifelike reaction, and fear of the consequences of that? As there is much more than a trace of blame in the See of See it staukes away of Barnardo, a sort of See what you’ve done addressed to Horatio — not only a call for confirmation from the other two, of what Barnardo is seeing. The Ghost’s stalking walk as it goes off also shows it remains offended for some time after being spoken to.

Now, reacting to the other two as well as to the Ghost’s behaviour, desperation sounds in Horatio’s voice as he says: Stay, speake, speake, I charge thee speake. This apparently seven syllable line really contains eleven syllables if one includes, as one should, the pause after Stay, and the pauses after each beseeching speake. The pause after the third and final speake carries over into Marcellus’s next line (and that’s why its Tis gone and will not answere is a few syllables short as all three wait for a response) or, as one of my far-distant childhood’s long-gone mathematics teachers used to say, referring to the carrying of a number from one totalled-up column into the next: Dot and carry one, a saying, in this time of computers, now probably as obsolete as the dodo is extinct. Despair begins to grow in Horatio’s final speake after he has seen the Ghost receding further and further away during and despite his adjurations, and that despair visibly continues growing increasingly faster during the syllable-long silence that follows, and after that too,- like the tail of a squirrel, even longer than its body, and bushing out the more the further from the body it gets.

So that like an uncomplaining Chinese coolie bent double and almost hidden by the weight of the things piled high on his back, the complaining and disgusted ’Tis gone of Marcellus bears the added meanings of Don’t waste your time, Horatio and It’s your fault that it’s gone, Horatio, which the glance, momentarily resting on Horatio, and tone of the actor of Marcellus will bear up if he is good enough as an actor. And the words: will not in his and will not answere mean primarily stubbornly refuses to and is only incidentally and unimportantly a prophecy, one that need not have been mentioned had it been the only point in question, and so each of its syllables has an equally strong stress, and it is neither an iamb nor a trochee.

The next speech is Barnardo’s triumphant:

How now Horatio, you tremble and looke pale,
Is not this somthing more then phantasie?
What thinke you-ont?

Barnardo can’t resist getting his own back in this way, on Horatio, for the doubt Horatio had poured on the duo’s report on the Ghost. Barnardo takes it personally. His feelings are also compounded with disappointment at the Ghost’s continued silence which he attributes at least in part to poor performance by Horatio. (By the way, Horatio’s trembling should be visible to the audience, an argument for performing on smaller stages with smaller auditoriums, which the play was originally written for. No wonder the belief took hold at one time that Hamlet was dilatory in taking his promised revenge for the death of his father, and that there was therefore something wrong with Hamlet, when what mostly delayed him was the growing amount of stage space he had constantly to traverse and the lengthened time it took to speak the play. To return now to where I was before I interrupted myself: if possible the actor should have become pale, for bring to mind Hamlet’s remark on the actor who wanned (wand), in his famed O what a rogue and pesant slave am I speech. Perhaps they used less make-up in those days, so one could sometimes see a complexion change colour, though this is possibly but not conclusively countered by the wanning supposedly occurring not on a stage but in an extemporary performance offstage, with the wanned one so near to his audience that details are more visible). In the next line,

             Is not this somthing more than phantasie?)

the ceasura comes before somthing, so that its line becomes a two stepper, and makes the word this function not as an adjective of the noun somthing, but as a pronoun for ghost. phantasie would nowadays be printed in quotation marks to show it is used both as a quotation and ironically. The resultant meaning of the line is: Doesn’t the Ghost exist? And doesn’t it exist in a prodigious way? And isn’t it remarkable? And isn’t it somewhat more than a product of the fantasy you dismissed it as, (a dismissal Marcellus reported in both our hearings, as I assume you remember)? And so the meaning of the line is not a mere Isn’t this a bit more than fantasy? Commentary on the third line: What thinke you-ont? depends on and must await the disposition of the next several lines. These are:

Hora. Before my God I might not this believe,
Without the sencible and true avouch
Of mine owne eies.
Mar. Is it not like the King?
Hora. As thou art to thy selfe,
Such was the very Armor he had on,
When he the ambitious Norway combated,
So frownd he once, when in an angry parle
He smot the sleaded pollax on the ice,
’Tis strange.

The problem presented by these lines, with the addition of the four previous lines, is whether our now old acquaintance, wordless action, occurs at all, in or at the end of these lines, and if it does, where? and in particular does it occur where the lines have fewer than ten syllables? There are no other problematic lines of this sort, after these, till after the second entrance of the Ghost, which is many, many lines away, so that the above bundle of lines can be dealt with in isolation, to move the play along as fast as we can without sacrificing any meaning.

For convenience’ sake, let’s start at the end, and if having no wordless action after ’Tis strange. doesn’t impair the meaning, we may assume that this bundle contains no short lines, contrary to appearances, and that to start with, ’Tis strange. belongs to the end of the line preceding it, even though the printing conventions of the time placed it after. This calls for more explanation, doesn’t it?

It can be explained if we re-arrange the lineation of the bundle, by means of a different and more modern convention, so that it looks like this:

Mar. Tis gone and will not answere.
Bar.                 How now
Horatio, you tremble and looke pale, is not
This somthing more than phantasie? What thinke
Hora. Before my God I might not this
Believe, without the sencible and true
Avouch of mine owne eies.
Mar.                 Is it not like
The King?
Hora.         As thou art to thy selfe. Such was
The very Armor he had on, when he
The ambitious Norway combated, so frowned
He once, when in an angry parle he smot
The sleaded pollax on the ice. Tis strange.

This requires a few comments. You may remember there is one syllable length of silence after the third speake, a silence that begins the line: Tis gone and will not answere, so that with the How now we have a regular ten syllable line. In the next line, the splitting-up, between the next two lines, of What thinke You-ont? only appears awkward if we do it in the wrong natural way as one easy flow of sound instead of the natural (and perhaps comic) monosyllabic staccato of someone struggling at each syllable with a simultaneous action sufficiently difficult to impede the flow of words at every word, as can happen in a struggle to adjust some recalcitrant clothing, or with some other series of movements. Depending on the movements, the first two words can be faster or slower than the other two, a contrast that can result in drama and comedy. This staccato way of saying this sentence, along with the unmarked split in the middle of it, also explains the unusually hyphenated you-ont? which is therefore probably not the misprint it has automatically been assumed to be by those imperfect beings, editors, erring editors. Perhaps some other satisfactory rearrangement of the lines, or of some of them, is possible, and then one would have to balance increase in meaning against loss of time.

It will be easy to discern which of these comments remain valid even if the rearranged lineation is wrong, which it is. You are about to hear another commentary (one on the original lineation) in which most of the described effects could not even be thought of if one had only the rearrangement to work from. It uses the same principle that led to the rearrangement. So much for principle as a guide in such things.

For our convenience, allow me to repeat the relevant section of the Second Quarto and to intersperse it with comments:

Hora. Stay, speake, speake, I charge thee speake. Exit Ghost.

Whatsa goin on here? Three, or four one-syllabled silences? Is this a ten or eleven syllable line? Silence should only occur at punctuation marks. Punctuation is important. Unless it is a compositor/editor’s mistake, it shows the author’s intentions. I charge thee speake is not equivalent to I charge thee, speake. These pauses are there to give the Ghost the chance to speak. Horatio’s voice reflects an urgency increasing after every pause. So does his body with every silence.

Mar. Tis gone and will not answere.

Another three or four silent syllables, but how much of this wordlessness occurs before Tis because the other two defer to Horatio and are awaiting further action from him? And what’s he up to? Stunned? Holding onto something? To something in himself? What are his eyes looking at? Are they seeing? His hands, where are they and what are they doing? Has his cloak opened to the cold, and hasn’t he noticed that?

Bar. How now Horatio, you tremble and look pale,
Is not this somthing more then phantasie?
What thinke you-ont?

To those to whom associations are meaningful: the lock of Milton’s hair, the tress of Keats — to know that at this spot Shakespeare spelt something without an e (unless the compositor slipped up), and that this may have put a little more stress on thing, and that then for than is a clue to his pronunciation — Wowee! And because fantasie is spelled with an eff in Marcellus’s earlier line: Horatio saies tis but our fantasie, does Marcellus waft a fanlike hand dismissively through the air at that time? And now are there six syllable lengths of silence after You-ont? and why does Horatio delay his answer? And isn’t Browne’s and Tiberius’s What songs the sirens sang? a question of a different mould from these?

Hora. Before my God I might not this belieue,
Without the sencible and true avouch
Of mine owne eies.

That last line can be pronounced as of my known eyes, giving the eyes a history of reliability which justifies the retention of an otherwise otiose owne. Wordless action doesn’t occur after eies. That’s because the adding on of the next line, Marcellus’s

Is it not like the King?

gives a total of ten syllables.

The solemnity of Horatio’s emphatic:

Before my God I might not this believe,
Without the sencible and true avouch
Of mine owne eies.

is, I am certain, not to be be pronounced at an even and unexpressive pace. On the contrary, it is preferable to pitch my as high as fore and God, so that these three syllables make a long straight line, with their vowels about equal in length, whereas I might not continues this horizontal line at the same pitch but at a greatly accelerated speed so that it lasts about as long as Before (or preferably the I might not continues at a slightly lower pitch so that the line rises in freedom again after it, as if the word this had been raised up as a proffering, before believe returns the line more or less to the level of its beginning). So that the clipped vowels of I might not enact the squashed together containment of what is not permitted to exist in Horatio, and the long vowels of Before my God duplicate or rather are part of Horatio’s opening up of himself to his God, he, Horatio, being closed-up at the start in the scarcely-existing first e of before. No bad poet can do this sort of sound. It can mimic any of the myriad qualities of existence and define them exactly when related to the mere but necessary suggestions and pointings-at of the denotations and connotations of the words themselves, which by themselves cannot do so. Onomatopoeia is a well-known but minute specialized department of these possible effects. And just to broadly fill in some of the effects of the sound at the beginning of these three lines, one can say Before my God so that each of its first three syllables is open at the end (having made the r into a vowel so fore is stretched out like a body prostrated in submission) so that God stands firm and distinct in contrast, enclosed in its hard consonants. To fully use the r, somewhat in the fashion of a Scot, in an alternative and different way of reading Before, gives a respectful, self-respecting, unprostrated confrontation with God, and so on, for on this micro-level of reading and speaking, coupled with tone, and gesture, much is possible and the speaker can come into his own, naturally. Not that an actor should emulate the sound of this line as given here, but rather the processes that produce it.

I want to continue to grasp this line, already held onto for so long, with the relentlessness of a badger. And though it and the next line and a half can be scanned as consisting of iambics only, in practice there are all sorts of feet in them, and in this first line only before and believe are iambic. And I mention this because some teachers of drama, and now their students, in the name of poetry, are piously and inappropriately and quite wrongly, like unadaptable robots, scanning this type of line as if it were only iambic, instead of also scanning it as the complex and more meaningful thing it is, which requires the application of intuition and some intelligent thought to be spoken with optimum effect.

And now we come to the comma in:

Before my God I might not this believe,
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine owne eies.

Paraphrasing the meaning resulting from this comma, we get: "Even if this were to happen when I was loyally in the royal presence of God, I would not be able to believe it was really happening without the additional confirmation of seeing it with my already-tested-and-found-to-be-reliable eyes, and not through the eyes of someone else."

By leaving out the comma after believe and inserting it after God, the Folio makes Before my God into mere swearing. The Second Quarto has the deeper and more affective meaning. The First Quarto’s insertion of a comma in both places, is disproportionately over-dramatic, and misses the Second Quarto’s meaning by a kilometer.

Mar. Is it not like the King?
Hora. As thou art to thy selfe.
Such was the very Armor he had on,
When he the ambitious Norway combated,
So frownd he once, when in an angry parle
He smot the sleaded pollax on the ice.
Tis strange.
Mar. Thus twice before, and iump at this dead houre,
With martiall stauke hath he gone by our watch.

Mean smote for smot, sledded and sledgehammered for sleaded, and ax-headed poles and Poles (nationality) for pollax. Accept puns, O scholars, as puns, instead of arguing for the acceptance of one meaning over another.

How does one distribute the four or five syllables of silence belonging to As thou art to thy selfe?

After the Is it not like the King of Marcellus, Horatio looks at him. Pause. Suspense. Is he going to say Yes or No? We don’t know. Ah, now he speaks:

As thou art to thy selfe.

Ah. But now all three are silent. Two or three beats. Barnardo and Marcellus are looking expectantly at him, waiting for him to continue. But Horatio has gone back to thinking about this likeness. He’s reviewing it. Yes, there can be no doubt about the likeness: Such was, etcetera.

Again, what is the distribution of the eight or nine syllables of silence tagged on to ’Tis strange? He falls into a very short brown study after ice, surfaces with: ’Tis strange and is reimmersed again.

After patiently waiting for his next pronouncement on the Ghost, Marcellus prompts him with:

Thus twice before, and iump at this dead hour,
With martial stauke hath he gone by our watch.

There’s our word jump, and stauke is, of course, stalk.

All this wordless action is the more effective because there was so little before it.

Hora. In what perticular thought, to worke I know not,
But in the grosse and scope of mine opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption for our state.

The first line has twelve syllables. It has the peculiar effect of making the sound of the to in to worke dip, like a mole at work, as compared to the rest of the line, with the exception of the u in the ular of particular which dips in the same way. Both dips are lost if the line is regularized into an eleven syllable line by eliding the u of particular. This double dip makes it seem as if to worke could fit into, nest into, particular thought and makes them into a unit that acts in tandem.

Paraphrased, the three lines mean something like: I don’t know exactly what to think about this, but in general, so far as I can tell, it looks like some unusual trouble’s going to break out involving Denmark. If this is what they mean, more or less, why bother with the original, since the translation is much easier to understand despite the elaborate hoo-ha of a double dip? More on that later.


This chapter is about the Second Quarto version of Hamlet"s first major soliloquy, and about the lead-in to it by the king. The quarto type was set by the reputedly worser of the two compositors whom scholars have apportioned to the type-setting of Hamlet. The king is talking to Hamlet in the presence of the queen and his council.

King. Why tis a louing and a faire reply,
Be as our selfe in Denmarke, Madam come,
This gentle and vnforc’d accord of Hamlet
Sits smiling to my hart, in grace whereof,
No iocond health that Denmarke drinkes to day,
But the great Cannon to the cloudes shall tell.
And the Kings rowse the heaven shall brute againe
Respeaking earthly thunder; come away.
            Exeunt all, but Hamlet.

Ham. O that this too too sallied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve it selfe into a dewe,
Or that the everlasting had not fixt
His cannon gainst selfe slaughter, O God, God,
How wary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seeme to me all the vses of this world?
Fie on’t, ah fie, tis an vnweeded garden
That growes to seede, things ranke and grose in nature,
Possesse it meerely that it should come thus
But two months dead, nay not so much, not two,
So excellent a King, that was to this
Hiperion to a satire, so loving to my mother,
That he might not beteeme the winds of heaven
Visite her face too roughly, heaven and earth
Must I remember, why she should hang on him
As if increase of appetite had growne
By what it fed on, and yet within a month,
Let me not thinke on’t; frailty thy name is woman
A little month or ere those shooes were old
With which she followed my poore fathers bodie
Like Niobe all teares, why she
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourn’d longer, married with my Vncle,
My fathers brother, but no more like my father
Then I to Hercules, within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most vnrighteous teares,
Had left the flushing in her gauled eyes
She married, o most wicked speede; to post
With such dexteritie to incestuous sheets,
It is not, nor it cannot come to good,
But breake my hart, for I must hold my tongue.

The customary and invariable treatment of this soliloquy of Hamlet’s as if it had absolutely no connection to any part of the speech that the king made immediately before it, except in the vaguest and most general way as part of Hamlet’s situation, has resulted in dramatic loss and skewed our view of the character of Hamlet. It makes him less than he really is. So universal has this separation been, that what could be perhaps the greatest dramatic tour de force for the actor, in any play and of any piece at auditions, has become a lesser piece than it should be, though still a great one.

Here goes (the lines come first and are followed by a description of some of their meanings, and of parts of the spin that an actor could put on the meanings to bring them out and comment on them):

O that this too too sallied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve it selfe into a dew,

The lack of a comma after the first "too," has misled editors into treating it as an intensive only, but that is "too" too much, unless it is allowed that its more important meaning of "also" refers to the crowd of people whose exit, just now, was a melting away.

Although "sullied" or "solid" could be meant by "sallied," and editors choose one of these two only, "sallied’ could mean "attacked" or "much-tried" (or "assailed," as suggested by Furnivall, that star in the great end-of-the-nineteenth-century constellation of editors and reprinters, whose massive editorial achievements, by making scarce early texts more available, dwarfed their editorial mistakes).

In these two lines, there are not three successive actions of melting and thawing and resolving, that some actors proffer like a string of equally spaced pearls, for that makes "thawing" an ineffective repetition of "melting." It is rather that "Thaw and resolve it selfe into a dewe" define what "melt" means to Hamlet. As for "sallied" as "assailed," Hamlet beats himself with his fist three times while speaking it as a rapid trisyllable. "a dewe" is a remarkable pun on "adieu," unnoticed till now, underlining Hamlet’s wish to really get away from those who have just exited. On "dewe," the fingers of the farewell gesture of his vertically raised hand scurry ironically up and down past each other like rapid running legs.

The next gestalt is:

Or that the euerlasting had not fixt
His cannon gainst seale slaughter,

Of course, this is not an anti-seal sentiment) and "seale" should be the "selfe" that editors substitute for it. But what they don’t point out is that Hamlet is referring to the king’s "Be as our selfe." To make this clear, when the king says "selfe" he could give Hamlet a clap on the shoulder at the same time, so that Hamlet can savagely parody him by clapping himself on the shoulder when saying "selfe slaughter," or else the king can underline that "selfe" with some other action that Hamlet’s mimicry will parody. And when editors change the spelling of ’cannon" to the "canon" it puns on, as they habitually do, this change obliterates a very useful visual similarity, for the context of Hamlet’s "cannon" really suggests that the "great Cannon," mentioned in the king’s speech, ought to be turned on the king’s self. So Hamlet is most probably not including himself in his savagely humorous "selfe slaughter," and the wish to "thaw and resolve into a dewe" is not a wish to commit suicide, and certainly nothing else in his soliloquy is. But he has an intense wish to be away from it all, and this wish is the more pressing because the king has expressly forbidden him to leave.


                     O God, God,
How wary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seeme to me all the vses of this world?

"O God, God" can be done in innumerable ways, but does the question mark at the end refer to the second "God"? — rather than to "how weary, etc" to which it is not appropriate, though the conventions of punctuation, even of today, put it there. Hamlet is not questioning the existence of God, but calling on God to witness the questionable and asking Him how He can put up with it.

Though the "weary" of the editors seems preferable to "wary," "wary" is not an impossible meaning; and by a gesture, "this world" could be limited to the court, and not extend to the planet, although this, along with the killing off of the belief in Hamlet’s propensity for suicide, will limit the weltsmertz that many want to indulge in through Hamlet himself.

Like the sound of someone’s tired steps on a row of stairs of different widths, the long vowels descend from the platform of "How" to the landing of "un," getting shorter the lower they get (try it in your mouth) and then the going gets much faster down the next flight of vowels, I mean the even shorter ones in "unprofitable," as if the profit were all squeezed out of it. Given this, how wrong "flat" in front of "stale" sounds, were one to try that position, in order to see why it is so right where it actually is. The vowels in "of this world" are short compared to those in "seeme to me all the uses," mirroring the niggardliness of that world compared to Hamlet and his point of view. Both "the uses of this world" and "and unprofitable" have six syllables and a stressed "u" in the second place, but the consonants in "the uses of this world" imprison the clipped vowels so that there is a final effect like crabs clambering over a stony shore, looking for sustenance that’s not there.

The next set of words should probably be just these:

Fie on’t, ah fie, tis an unweeded garden
That growes to seede, things rancke and grose in nature,
Possesse it meerely that it should come thus
But two months dead,

Perhaps the second "fie" is said in a tone of recognition and acceptance of shame, and of "thigh" as a sexual relative of shame, for this leads to the natural pronunciation of "an unweeded garden" as "a nun-weeded garden" in which "weeded" also has its other Elizabethan meaning of "clothed." So here we have a world that looks virtuous but is rank and gross. ’meerely’ refers to the clauses on each side of it and, along with its extended spelling, suggests it is stressed. As he says "thus," Hamlet imitates the exit of the king and queen smooching with each other at the end of the king"s speech.. The Folio’s emendation of what seemed an awkward unpunctuated "thus" to "to this:" is thus unnecessary, and done without regard to the possible action, or "doings" as my friend Eleanor Zee aptly calls it.

After "But two months dead" comes:

nay not so much, not two,

Perhaps Hamlet makes a knot in a kerchief as a pretended reminder of how long his father has been dead, punning on the first "not" and not on the second. "not two" contracts "But two months dead" into two syllables to accord with the contraction in time.

Next in line is:

So excellent a King, that was to this
Hyperion to a satire, so loving to my mother,
That he might not beteeme the winds of heaven
Visite her face too roughly, heaven and earth
Must I remember, why she should hang on him
As if increase of appetite had growne
By what it fed on, and yet within a month,
Let me not thinke on’t; frailty thy name is woman

The "this" refers, of course, to the current king and not to Hyperion. and perhaps so obvious and useless a statement as this is, to some, will nonetheless lay the groundwork necessary for a point to be made later on about the versification of the Hyperion line, and as a result, perhaps require fewer words there than these. Perhaps.

In an action pun on the "high" of "Hyperion," the sun-god, perhaps Hamlet for a moment spreads both soaring hands above his shoulders and then the hands swoop down through "to a" and freeze as he goes into the distorted crouch of a leering satyr on the word "satire."

Shakespeare must have recalled some of Golding’s translation of the Metamorphoses, as the concentration of classical references in this soliloquy and the peculiarly Goldingian word "beteeme" witness to. Shakespeare wrote to be understood immediately. So "beteeme" must have been an exception to this or have had a use additional to its little-used meaning, even in his time, of "permit," and a use beyond the "raised and dignified out of the ordinary" use that some editors have found in this word to reflect his father’s great regard for his wife. Perhaps he is punning on "beteam" meaning "to harness into a team," an idea that easily comes from the nearby word "Hyperion" who as the sun-god harnessed his horses every morning for his spin through the sky. And then what if ’of’ is a misprint for ’if’ so that he wouldn’t harness his team of winds if the weather was already too hard on her face. Or perhaps Aeolos, the god who commanded and harnessed the winds to do his bidding, or rough Boreas, the north wind, is lurking unseen nearby. By the way, the phrase,"let e’en," which nobody has suggested as yet, but which gives a straightforward and immediate meaning if "beteeme" is a misprint, which is doubtful, does not sound right. "Let" has the wrong vowel. The reasons for thinking so would be interesting to go into but aren’t appropriate here. So I set up my own skittles only to knock them down again. But they are parts of the exploration to ascertain the right way through this play.

"heauen and earth" is not just swearing. Hamlet is comparing his heavenlike father to his earthish mother, and also the "fall" and change of his idealized, heavenlike mother into a fallible idol of earth. "and earth" should be pronounced "an dearth" (but with no pause between the syllables). Someone might say, "So there’s a pun. So what? What good does it do? How does it help?" The melding of "earth" with "dearth" produces a withholding earth-mother and a resultingly deprived Hamlet, which means quite a bit more than mere "earth" does. As Hamlet’s face swings heavenward while saying "heaven" and swings back down saying "an dearth," the position of the pre-stress and stress in "an dearth" becomes the reverse of those in "heaven" so that the dactyl of "heaven" becomes the iamb of "an dearth," and the peardrop shape, of the sound of the word "heaven" plumped four-square on its "heave" and curving up-and-in toward heaven, becomes the returning teardrop of "an dearth," and so the meaning of the movement of the face is added to by the movement of the sound. Nor is it hogwash to say this, except to Gaderenes, and the cast-at with pearls. And contrary to what I wrote earlier on, it seems that "heaven" can be disyllabic sometimes. Though the dictates of the clock and of some of the verse may often make it contract into a syllable. Meanwhile we may have heard a roll of thunder and the loud sound of a cannon so that heaven and earth may refer back to Claudius’s preceding speech during which we may have already heard a thunderstorm brewing.

In this soliloquy, the "should" of "should hang" means "would."

Just as the wave of the queen’s affection for her first husband crests and then breaks, so does the sound of "and yet within a month" crest on "yet" and break into the fast trisyllable of "wi/thi/na" and sweep along, like a spent wave up a sandy beach, in the long syllable "month." Such mimicry in the sound of the words, of what the words" denote, is the equivalent of feelings giving body to ideas which often otherwise have no moorings and little validity, and exist like mere waverings of unstrung kites destined to crash soon or disappear into the air forever.

"and yet within a month" can also be said as a question that expresses Hamlet’s difficulty in accepting so big a change in hls mother in so short a time. Said that way, the sound of the phrase becomes different: "yet" and "month" become the crests of ongoing waves and we’re in a deeper sea of feeling. Either way, "Let me not think on’t" has its major stresses on the syllables "not/thin/ kon’t" in a counter-wave to damn up a sudden rising of hysteria. Weltering waves.

I don’t know that the pun "thine aim" on "thy name" adds much by converting "frailty" into an archer, but it should be remarked. Some nimble actor may be able to put it to good use.... But now I see that archer specializes.

And now we come to:

A little month or ere those shooes were old
With which she followed my poore fathers bodie
Like Niobe all teares, why she
O God, a beast that wants all discourse of reason
Would have mourn ’d longer, married with my Vncle,
My fathers brother, but no more like my father
Then I to Hercules,

The short fast syllables of "little" make the "month" pass swiftly by, give it a significance that makes it hardly worth counting.

Question. Why did Shakespeare make "followed" trisyllable? Wouldn’t it have been more natural and pleasantly shorter to have let it remain "follow’d," a mere two syllables?

Answer. Because Shakespeare always has a dramatic reason for doing something right with what may at first sight appear wrong, and the observant actor of Hamlet, knowing this, and noticing that "followed" is a trisyllable, will use it to walk three short mocking steps, one for each of its syllables, and then walk, to the line’s remaining syllables, as if Hamlet were caricaturing the walk of his mother in the funeral retinue. He continues to travesty her by pretending to cry when saying "Like Niobe all teares, why she," with two syllables of wordless crying to make up the verse. But the possible ways of addressing that line seem almost infinite. And yes, there may be a pun on "O be all teares," although this raises the questions of the Elizabethan pronunciation of "Niobe" and of how much distortion of sound is permissible in the making of a pun.

But after this walk, Hamlet drops all pretence. In a sudden outburst of passion, in his own voice, he cries out the next one and a half lines, with no pause between the end of the crying of the Niobe line, and the unweeping crying-out of "O God," just as the Second Quarto punctuation indicates.

The actions accompanying the sounds, sounds very fast in the fathers bodie line and broken up in the Niobe line, produce the most savage satire.

Why not the simpler "married my uncle" rather than the actual "married with my Vncle"? Because this gives him another prolongation of the chance to sneer, perhaps with the assumption of a falsetto for "married with," and a sickened voice for "my Vncle.

"My fathers brother" is an admission, not only a statement of fact.

Perhaps the "Her" of "Hercules" refers to his mother. Perhaps there is a more extended pun: "Her cool ease," which contrasts with Hamlet’s heated un-ease. "Her cool ease" is also the current king opposed and contrasted to his comparatively Herculean predecessor.

Finally, the finale:

                 within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most vnrighteous teares,
Had left the flushing in her gauled eyes
She married, O most wicked speed; to post
With such dexteritie to incestious sheets,
It is not, nor it cannot come to good,
But breake my hart, for I must hold my tongue.

"within a month" has a special effect if said in the same way that Hamlet said it before. Alternatively, it can be very effective as a question.

"the salt" is also "the assault," with the latter’s "e" elided. It could be used accordingly.

"Flushing" means reddened, brimming, overflowing, washingout, out-washings, residue.

The interesting spelling and disyllabization of "gauled" (another Goldingism) instead of the available and simpler monosyllable "galled" leads us to the pun: "gaw-led," meaning "controlled by gewgaws or by a person who is as worthless as a gew-gaw." And possibly to "gaul-led dyes," so we can even have the teares leave a residue of salt on the colours, associated with death, of her fashionably gallic mourning ensemble. More puns can be found. In such a scattershot of meanings, some will stick.

"married" is a hurrying trisyllable that corroborates the "most wicked speed" of the marriage.

                 O most wicked speede; to post
With such dexteritie to incestuous sheets,

also refers to the alacrity with which his mother, glad to consider the matter closed, left with Claudius after his "come away," whereas Claudius added the "away" because he thought her too slow.

"dexteritie" may have the second "e" elided, which shifts the accent to "dex," which, with the "tri/tie," mimics, in sound, deliberate manipulation and fast fiddling around.

"in cess," in