Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Hamlet: The Texts Of 1603 And 1623 (The Arden Shakespeare). Edited by Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson.

As part of a more inclusive approach introduced in the third series of The Arden Shakespeare is this fine publication of the first quarto (Q1) and first folio (F1) of Hamlet to accompany their more formal version which relies on the second (Q2). The folio hasn’t entirely been out of circulation, but this Q1 is a valuable addition, a rare occasion to read a carefully edited version of the actual text rather than the discussion of it. The cover acknowledges its unusual nature with a negative version of the image that appears on the 1604 text.

Though initially thought to be an early first draft, Q1 is now generally believed to be the misremembering of earlier production of the play by the actor who played Marcellus also doubling some of the other smaller roles. It’s most accurate in and around their appearances (perhaps because as was the practice then that the players would only be given the sections they were in) but elsewhere strays from the other versions considerably, generally toward the climax which is most heavily truncated.

In the play’s most famous speech becomes “To Be Or Not To Be, - ay, there’s the point” and is spoken definitively to Ofelia (as she is here) at the opening of the nunnery scene rather than as a soliloquy and appears very early in Act II. The three scenes covering Hamlet’s period abroad are replaced with a short extra covert moment between Horatio and Gertrude covering much the same ground and the text is almost half as long as Q2. Polonius and Reynaldo even find themselves given their character names from the earlier Ur-Hamlet – Corambis and Montano.

Given its adjunctive nature, with the exception of a brief discussion of the philosophical choices that underpin this edition, such textual analysis is developed in footnotes and left to the main edition. Instead, the introduction by editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor offers an extensive and fascinating production history of Q1 from some early eighteenth century attempts through to recent rehearsed readings at the RSC and Globe and beyond, describing the challenges involved in presenting this unfamiliar text.

How is it, my lord?

As Thompson and Taylor authoritatively demonstrate, Q1 is no longer dismissed out of hand. A Red Shift production at the turn of this century chose to emphasise these differences by showing Claudius “rehearsing” those speeches which were most jumbled emphasising those passages with the most clarity. Actors and directors are relishishing the chance to look at the play from a different perspective, turning the textual deficiencies to their advantage.

Hamlet: The Texts Of 1603 And 1623 (The Arden Shakespeare) edited by Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson is published by Methuen Drama. £12.99 paperback. ISBN: 9781904271802.

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