Hamlet: An Historical and Comparative Study

By Elmer Edgar Stoll | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE CHANGES IN QUARTO 2 AND THE REASON FOR THEM

So far we have been viewing the version of Quarto 2 and the Folio mainly in relation to the old Hamlet, as we learn of this last through other sources. What now of Quarto 2 and the Folio, in relation to Quarto 1? It matters not greatly, in this connection, how much of Quarto 1 is Kyd or how much Shakespeare, for it is the changes that reveal the dramatist's purpose. Quarto 1, to be sure, being incomplete and mutilated, is only a surreptitious and second-hand report of Shakespeare's first version. Not much can be made, therefore, of the absence or omission in Quarto 1-- particularly in the more abbreviated latter half of it--of what we find in Quarto 2 and the Folio. It is otherwise with omissions and positive modifications, in Quarto 2 and the Folio, of the material to be found in Quarto 1. These, on the whole, make for a more compact, a more vividly interesting play. Such was the dramatist's intention, no doubt, though in the process he has not made it a more coherent and consistent play. For the student, as we shall see, if not for the playgoer, an element of confusion and obscurity is produced as a result of shifting and omitting scenes and of toning down Kyd's crudities. All this affects character; but the improving and subtilizing of the characterization of the hero was not, I think, the chief thought of the dramatist. That result he secured mainly by transmuting the dross of Kyd's bombast into the gold of Hamlet's lines. Neither there, however, nor in the matters of structure and incident, which we are considering, are there changes which, so far as I can discover, were necessarily prompted by an intent to indicate a weakness in the hero. Some of them, on the contrary, lend him greater dignity and a nobler pathos. Yet the dramatist's chief thought was not of that but (as it should be) of the play as a whole.


1

The most remarkable change is the shifting of the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from Act II into Act III,--to a point after Hamlet has resolved on the play to catch the conscience of the King. Critics who have not laid this at the door of the reporter,1 have, so far as I am aware, drawn the inference that here is pragmatic proof of Shakespeare's intention to show Hamlet's utter inability to keep to the issue in hand. It puts the official seal and sanction upon the Coleridgean criticism. He meditates on killing oneself2--God save the mark!--when hot on the trail of the man he is to kill! And that establishes them in their belief that Hamlet's

____________________
1
For this unjustifiable position see above, p. 2, note 3, and below, p. 36, note 13.
2
Not himself, of course; it is the subject of suicide in general. See below, p. 36.

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