ENGL 339: Shakespeare
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University

Establishing a Text II: The Example of Hamlet

(Before reading this section, carefully review Problems With Shakespeare's Texts)

The 3,700 lines that we read as Hamlet today were probably never read as such by an Elizabethan (not even by Shakespeare himself).  The modern Hamlet combines materials from three sources:  two separate quarto editions, Q1 (1603, a fragmentary and unreliable quarto) and Q2 (1604, the fullest and best text of the play), as well as F1 (1623).   In Shakespeare's day, this "full text" would never have been performed.  By contrast, Kenneth Branagh's recent film version of the "complete" text runs about four hours, far too long for an Elizabethan audience, only a portion of whom were seated.  (The so-called "groundlings" paid a penny for the privilege of standing in the yard in front of the stage; see the diagram of an Elizabethan theater distributed as a handout.)  Shakespeare himself tells us what was a more standard Elizabethan performance time at line 12 of the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet, where he refers to "the two hours' traffic of our stage." 

Q1 is the oldest printed version of Hamlet.  It is a "bad" quarto, about half the length of Q2.  Only the lines of a minor character, Marcellus, are consistently accurate, while much of the rest of text is garbled, missing, or not backed up by passages in Q2 and F1.  It is therefore thought that Q1 was expanded (by memory and in some parts by sheer invention) from a partial script used by an actor who played Marcellus in an early version of the play. Q1 (only) includes a scene between Gertrude and Horatio that is not in modern critical editions (it may be a scene from the original Hamlet play that was Shakespeare's source).  However, Q1 does preserve some stage directions ("enter ghost in night gown"; "Hamlet jumps into the grave") not found in Q2Q1 is also used to correct Q2 when F1 and Q1 agree against Q2

Q2 is believed to derive from Shakespeare's "foul papers" -- i.e. his own working manuscript -- and is now regarded as the authoritative copy text.  It contains some 200 lines not found in F1 or in Q1Q2 may have been published with the authorization of Shakespeare's troupe, more or less in self defense, to counteract the faulty Q1 version of Hamlet (since the obviously flawed Q1 had been published as Shakespeare's work). 

F1 contains some ninety lines not found in either quarto, and it shows obvious connections with a theater prompt book (e.g. more extensive stage directions than Q1 and Q2).  This text may have been "contaminated" by continued use after Shakespeare's death (scenes or speeches added, deleted or changed when the play was performed between 1616 and 1623).  But most of the longer passages not found in F1 and F2 are believed to be authentic Shakespearean additions made between the time when he wrote the original play and his death in 1616.  Most modern editions are based upon Q2 with additional text and corrections from F1; modern texts therefore tend to be longer than either Q2 or F1

Click here for Problems With Shakespeare's Texts

Click here for Hamlet Study Questions

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