Hamlet, having provided what many consider the ultimate vehicle for some of the greatest acting of any era, has been given a rebirth of sorts by editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor. This newly released Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623 puts the final pieces of the "puzzle of Hamlet" into place by publishing a companion volume to Arden's Hamlet (released last year), containing updated versions of both the First Quarto and First Folio editions of the play. This wonderful ternion gives the serious students of Hamlet everything they need to delve deeply into the Dane.
While the Arden Hamlet is based on the Second Quarto, this edition contains both the First Quarto of 1603 (widely considered to be a "bad quarto" possibly recreated from an actor's memory) and the First Folio of 1623 (likely prepared from foul papers and drawing upon the Second Quarto). The current compilation helps the reader gain a fuller perspective on the complexities and evolution of the story, especially when compared to the Second Quarto. Taking into consideration there are five Quartos and the First Folio to choose from, many scholars and theatre professionals concur the earlier Second Quarto is the most error-free version and likely the closest to what Shakespeare intended. To demonstrate the differences, Hamlet's famous speech in the Second Quarto reads:
To be, or not to be; that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them.
When comparing this to the same soliloquy in the First Quarto, presumed to have been written a year earlier, we read:
To be, or not to be; ay, there's the point.
To die, to sleep: is that all? Ay, all.
No, to sleep, to dream; ay marry, there it goes.
This is only the beginning of the differences in the three versions. Editors Thompson and Taylor have taken a conservative approach to editorial license. When there is any doubt in the interpretation (like in Hamlet's monologue in 3.3 they retain "foul" where it's commonly updated to "sole"), they primarily choose to retain the original version, however incorrect current scholarship states. It's widely believed that both the First Quarto and First Folio have strong merits for being considered viable texts, so Arden presents their readers with a literary smorgasbord by publishing all three in their current canon revamp. Scholars and aficionados alike can examine all three texts, cherry-picking from the best of the best, and comparing/contrasting the various differences.
For those wanting to read the text without dominating annotations, this book will be an obtrusive read. But if you're the kind of reader who regularly refers to the textual notes and commentary, having them occupy the lower 25%-60% of each page will make a thorough exploration of the text much easier. Since the editors opt for this approach instead of having both versions side-by-side for comparison (yet another case that this is a companion volume to the existing Arden Hamlet), fans of Bertram & Kliman's Three-Text Hamlet won't have the benefit of getting a line by line comparison. Thompson and Taylor feel there are just too many differences in the texts to make a side-by-side approach worthwhile, not to mention the First Quarto is shorter by about 1000 words.
The textual annotations are extensive and worth the price of the book alone. None of the material is duplicated from the Hamlet: Arden Third Series, so this is all new commentary from two of the brightest minds in the world of Shakespeare. The editors have also added line indentation to preserve shared verse lines (also an important criteria for the PlayShakespeare.com texts) as well as a production history of the rarely performed First Quarto. Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623 is bound in sturdy and compact paperback and in hardback form, and delivers the quality you've come to expect from Arden. So if you're looking to find what's rotten in Denmark, this play is truly the thing.
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