- Paperback: 174 pages
- Publisher: Open House; 2 edition (October 22, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0970470215
- ISBN-13: 978-0970470218
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,916,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country, Second Edition 2nd Edition
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It is something of an eye opener for me to stumbled across a book like Steve Roth s Hamlet : The Undiscovered Country where he very literally maps the action of Hamlet to actual calendar days, in the process rebuilding many core beliefs about the play. I am not in the least kidding when I say that he discusses which of the action, for example, happens on a Monday. More so, *what* Monday and why that is important, why Shakespeare chose it.
I first stumbled across Steve s work on the Hamlet is 30 topic, which we ve discussed twice before. It is his position that the well known I have been sexton here, man and boy 30 years the primary evidence that Hamlet is 30 is actually a misinterpretation. He feels that the line actually reads I (the gravedigger) have been sixteen here (i.e., have been at this job 16 years)...
It is a bold position to take. The secondary bit of evidence, that Yorick who Hamlet played with as a child died 23 years ago, is harder to contradict. But Roth finds Q1 evidence that the line was originally 12 years, which would fall right in line.
As I said above, and as my regular readers probably know, this is not how I do it. There s a world of difference between just assuming that some time elapsed before the nunnery confrontation, and mapping that time out to a number of days, a time of year, everything. The flowers that Ophelia picked (if she didn t imagine them), were they in bloom at that time of year? The old king was supposedly sleeping in his orchard... how cold was it? There are folks that eat that stuff up. I m willing to bet that there s a handful of regular readers of my blog, in fact, who are all over it.
It s often hard to make the case, and Roth knows that. When he s got details he makes his case clear. When the case is a little weaker on fact, he s not afraid to say That sounds about right. In particular, Hamlet s time with the pirates is particularly tricky to nail down.
There are also times where I just don t plain understand what calendar we re supposed to be using. The anachronism of going back to Wittenberg is oft cited it wasn t there in Hamlet s time, but would have been in Shakespeare s time. Ok, fair enough. But much of Roth s calendar calculation is done against the 1601 calendar, when Hamlet would have been *performed*, not when it took place. Is that too much a convenience? Did Hamlet really write in jokes and references that would have been out of date a year later, much less 400?
Within all the calendar counting, though, there are still opportunities to learn new things (again, this is part of what I love). For instance, this book brings up the idea that Hamlet s harping on Gertrude not going to bed with Claudius is not because he s got some Oedipal issues, but because (if Hamlet is 16, mind you), Gertrude is clearly still young enough to bear a child by Claudius. A child that would be next in line to the throne, bumping Hamlet out of the picture. Maybe that s common knowledge, but I d never thought of it. And if Hamlet is 30, it s more far fetched.
Roth s book is small, barely 150 pages, and has it s fair share of tables taking up space. So it s a quick read. You don t have to buy the Hamlet is 16 premise to enjoy it either, though Roth certainly makes a good showing for his case. This book would be a fine addition to the collection of any Hamlet geeks out there.--Shakespearegeek Blog
The problem with much of the criticism that's been published in the past couple of centuries (at least from what I've seen) is that orthodoxy has led to stagnation and too often writers tie themselves in knots quoting from and disproving what has gone before instead of contributing something truly innovative on the subject. Plus it's usually impenetrable and oppressive to the point of becoming unreadable.
Which makes Steve Roth's Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country (of which the author was good enough to send me a copy) a rare pleasure because it's very readable and manages to illuminate at least two aspects of the play that hadn't occurred, at least to me, to the point that it makes me wonder if theatre has been doing the play a disservice for the past four hundred years. Roth's persuasive central thesis which for some reason isn't mentioned on the cover (making the book seem from the outside like just a general survey of the play) is that Hamlet is a teenager, just sixteen years old and that the time scheme of the play spans the six month period from September 1601 and February 1602.
The opening chapter regarding Hamlet's age is available at the book's promotional website along with a wealth of background evidential material. It seems only proper to let you read the chapter yourself and enjoy the eureka moment (assuming that, like me, you're not a textual scholar). Whilst it's true that "sexton" does refer to "officer charged with the maintenance of its buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard" [wiki] sixteen does seem like a better fit - and indeed Shakespeare always substituted words to create double meaning - his intention could have been to imply both.
If you assume that Hamlet is indeed just sixteen as the text of the First Folio suggests, as Roth goes on to demonstrate in the remainder of the book, all kinds of curious elements of the play begin to fall into place. Hamlet's somewhat petulant behaviour becomes perfectly natural when we realise that we're watching the story of a teenager on the edge of adulthood, that it's a good old fashioned coming of age tale, a tragic teen drama with the cast predominantly made up of youngsters playing Ophelia, Laertes, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
I love this. I also love that the gravedigger, far from the being the pensioner that turns up in most productions could in fact be "just" thirty years old, and Gertrude too, which as Roth notes means that she's still of child bearing age and able to produce an heir to the throne to cement Claudius's rights, simultaneously removing Hamlet from the accession (and explaining why he wasn't given the crown to begin with).
If this book gains the large audience it deserves, perhaps we'll sometime see a film, which, after the Ghost scene features the caption "Two Months Later. Tuesday 5th January 1602."--The Hamlet Weblog
A quite remarkable study of what Steve calls "the seminal text of the Humanist religion." --Joseph Mooney. Founding Artistic Director of theShakespeareProject LLC
About the Author
Steve Roth's Shakespeare scholarship includes papers presented at a variety of international conferences, and articles in Early Modern Literary Studies, Notes & Queries, and the Ben Jonson Journal, all available at princehamlet.com.
Steve took his BA in Literature, Theory and Criticism from Western Washington University, and received his MA from New York University under the Oscar Dystel Fellowship, endowed by Bantam Books. He s written, edited, and/or produced dozens of books, and has been a writer and editor for several magazines, including Publishers Weekly, Personal Publishing, Macworld, and Small Press. He s been involved with various publishing startups, and in 1991 he co-founded Thunder Lizard Productions, where he spent nine years as president and CEO. He lives in Seattle with his two daughters.
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...If Hamlet is sixteen or so, Horatio is also, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and maybe Laertes; you assert that Fortinbras is. So it’s all teens, then? Elsinore 90210? Seems literally incredible. Teenagers, yea, eleventh graders ... high school juniors. Not reliable. Judgment questionable. Foremost on a teen’s mind is not the law’s delay or the insolence of office, but whether that pimple on his nose will be gone in time for the hop, mash, mosh or whatever the kids are grooving to nowadays. Over the decades I have dealt with very many 16 year old boys; never once met one who was a man. Kings do not habitually (or safely) use schoolboys as emissaries, agents and envoys (John Q Adams, and Alexander, and other teen prodigies notwithstanding). There is much more to say, but words words words. (If Romeo was a teen it may support your argument, but Bandello, the apparent source, has him as 20 or 21.)
You cite Young Fortinbras, his unimproved mettle, his delicate tenderness, the (disputed) time of his father’s death, as corroborative proof of Hamlet’s most extreme youth. It’s not young Hal [Henry V] (age 16 in 1Henry IV) or Essex [sometime favorite of Eliz I] or Edward IV, it’s accomplished Hotspur [in Henry IV] who would be Fortinbras to Hamlet’s Hal. Is that clear? Hamlet is to Hal as Fortinbras is to Hotspur. (Hotspur in actually was some 20 years older than Hal.) Re F’s “unimproved mettle”, it’s not about youth, it’s the ‘heat’ and ‘fullness’ of war – get it? the mettle is hot? ( Ho ho, good one, Shakespeare! ... that young Fortinbras, always spoiling for a scrap, just like his father! Scrap mettle! Very unimproved of him.) “Delicate and tender” can refer to extreme youth only if Hamlet is willing to use the same term of himself, his mettle being “dull and muddy” but as young. Seems more likely that Hamlet is being ironic. Fortinbras, Strong-Arm, warlike, willful, is not tender and delicate, as Hamlet is not dull and muddy. ...
And so on.
This book is not the place. It's so easy to come up with interesting answers if you really don't know what you are talking about. Rather than pulling rank on the potential reader by traipsing out my credentials, let me just talk a bit about one of this book's most outrageous notion. "Hamlet is sixteen!" That's so clear because, of course, we shouldn't pay any attention to all those terrible bores who really know something about Shakespeare and how to produce a reliable text. Roth's assertion is based on a text that is simply not reliable, and reading the word "sexteene" as an age (instead of a spelling variant of "sexton") just doesn't fit into the context of the passage. If you don't believe me, just read the text of Q1. "To be or not to be, aye there's the point!" If you really wanted to know why that text is unreliable, I could convince you by discussing the subject of printing and proofreading in those days at great length. But, if you're even tempted to buy this book, you probably don't want to hear any of that. For brevity's sake, let's just look at the assertion itself. Would a sixteen-year-old be a student a Wittenberg? Would his mother be thinking about his marriage to Ophelia? I know you don't want to hear all the tiresome scholarship concerning college age or marriage age in the renaissance. But just think about it.