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Hamlet (The Pelican Shakespeare) Paperback – March 29, 2016
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“Gorgeous new Shakespeare paperbacks.”
—Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings
About the Author
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in April, 1564, and his birth is traditionally celebrated on April 23. The facts of his life, known from surviving documents, are sparse. He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford.
A. R. Braunmuller is Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has written critical volumes on George Peele and George Chapman and has edited plays in both the Oxford (King John) and Cambridge (Macbeth) series of Shakespeare editions. He is also general editor of The New Cambridge Shakespeare.
Stephen Orgel is the Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of the Humanities at Stanford University and general editor of the Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture. His books include Imagining Shakespeare, The Authentic Shakespeare, Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare’s England and The Illusion of Power.
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The story: Ferdinand, king of Navarre, and three lords make a pact to get away from it all for three years, and devote themselves to quiet academic study and contemplation. At the same time, they vow not to admit any woman onto their premises. This cannot possibly last, and they weaken when the Princess of France arrives (with three of her ladies) to conduct official state business. The king and his three friends call on the Princess and her three ladies, one thing leads to another, and each of the gentlemen falls in love with one of the ladies. In Acts III and IV, things get complicated. Costard, the clown, told to deliver two letters, gets them mixed up. The letter from Armado (a courier), meant for the village hoyden Jaquenetta, is read to the Princess and her ladies. A love sonnet from Berowne meant for one of the ladies (Rosaline) is instead read to Jaquenetta. The schoolmaster tells her to show it to King Ferdinand. She does when, in succession, the young men have caught each other reciting love-rhymes. The most eloquent of the lords is Berowne. Rosaline’s description of him (Act II.1) could be Shakespeare’s self-portait: “A merrier man, // Within the limit of becoming mirth, // I never spent an hour’s talk withal.” In a lyrical outpouring, Berowne says love belongs to study, that women’s eyes are “the books, the arts, the academes, // That show, contain, and nourish all the world.”
In Act V, when all are happily coupled, word arrives that the princess’s father, the kind of France, has died. The gentlemen ask the ladies to marry them, but they, unwilling to consent, impose a penance of a year’s wait. Yes, a year for academic study and contemplation they so desired in Act I, but clearly do not want now. Oh, the irony. Before departing, in Act V.2 (comprising 900-plus lines), they listen in the twilight to the villagers’ songs of spring (“When daisies pied and violet blue”) and winter (“When icicles hang by the wall”)—the cuckoo and the owl. The play ends, without marriage, unhappily ever after, perhaps. A year is a long time. Who knows what will happen? I prefer the Pelican Shakespeare edition for its conciseness, the sparest of footnotes, and the insightful, to-the-point introductions. In this case, it’s Peter Holland of Birmingham University, England, who provides the smart intro. Five stars.