domingo, setembro 25, 2016

Enter the Ghost in his Nightgown: "Hamlet After Q1 - An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text" by Zachary Lesser

Published 2014.

“What appeared in Bunbury’s closet was a ghost in this sense, the trace of the forgotten or repressed memory of “Hamlet” before “Hamlet”, a sign that something was – is – missing from our understanding of the Shakespeare text. Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Q1 returns in such a questionable shape that we will speak to it.”

In “Hamlet After Q1 – An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text”

“Enter the Ghost in his nightgown”

In “Hamlet After Q1 – An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text”

Every Shakespearean worth his or her salt knows there’s no stage direction regarding the scene when the Ghost enters Gertrud’s closet (I’m talking about the Folio version). Despite Hamlet’s references to “the adulterous bed,” it’s simply not true that there was a bed onstage, as later became usual. A “closet” in Shakespeare’s time was not a bedroom. Indeed, Q1 never mentions the word “closet,” which is introduced in Q2 and repeated in the Folio. Lesser also approaches the differences between the “To be or Not to Be” versions. Previously I’d already read Q2 and the FF editions, but it’s the first I’ve read Q1 (see link below at the end of the post). Comparing them, I can find 'issues' in Q2 and FF that Q1 “solved”, such as Hamlet mentioning the murder of Hamlet, the father, to his mother, but their never discussing it again; in Q1 she clearly rebuffs being aware of it. Ah! I knew it! Also Horatio is the source of local awareness when the recent groundwork for war is discussed in Act 1, Scene 1 but he seems just arriving at court and ignorant in Act 1, Scene 2… Moreover Horatio observes Ophelia being nutty in Act 4, Scene 5 but seems not to have mentioned it to Hamlet when later they stumble upon her funeral. 

Regarding the “To or not to Be” soliloquy I’ll give here the 3 versions. Judge for yourself:

Q1: “To be, or not to be, I there's the point,
To Die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all:
No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes,
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting Judge,
From whence no passenger ever returned, […]”

FF: “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. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end […]”

Q1: “O, these are sins that are unpardonable. Why, say thy sins were blacker than is jet, Yet may contrition make them as white as snow. Ay, but still to persevere in a sin, It is an act ’gainst the universal power. Most wretched man, stoop, bend thee to thy prayer. Ask grace of heaven to keep thee from despair.”

FF: “Try what repentance can. What can it not? Yet what can it, when one can not repent? O wretched state! O bosom black as death! O limèd soul that, struggling to be free, art more engaged! Help, angels. Make assay. Bow, stubborn knees, and heart with strings of steel, be soft as sinews of the newborn babe.”

Q1, written in 1603, brings a whole dramatization centralised on the dramatic action concentrating both into prose and verse. In Q1, I was able to see the Shakespeare as an actor and theatre director, because the text is full of information about the universe of theatre, and Hamlet looks at the throne with a stronger desire to access the higher echelons of power. Some aspects of the play, as the seven deaths, are all interlaced in succession of the King, and they are the results of Shakespeare’s theatre acumen, and they are not incidental questions of a "real" kingly succession.

Q1 is the earliest on record, and is almost never performed, giving up its place to the more well-known FF-version. I, for one, never watched it on stage. Some differences abound, some are minor, some not so minor, and some are plainly amusing: “Why, what a dunghill idiot slave am I!” Some differences are huge, throwing away huge parts of text or adding scenes. Since I’m so familiar with the FF-version text of Hamlet, I was keenly aware of those shifts on Hamlet Q1’s text. Instead of the infinite variety of memorable lines bringing about memories of all those famous performers who’ve said those famous lines, I was able to pour all of my attention into what was on this Q1-version.

If I didn’t know that this play was called Hamlet and if I didn’t know it had also some lines from the FF-version, I’d swear this play should be called Ophelia. I’ve always felt bad for Ophelia, overshadowed by men and driven to lethal dementia, but the character usually just rings a distant pitiful note in Hamlet’s tragedy, finally pushing him over the edge. In the Q1-version, through her simplicity and physical commitment, I witnessed an Ophelia with a depth I’d never seen before. It encapsulates Ophelia’s dementia and fills it with hair-rising emotion. There’s nothing superfluous here, nothing extraneous, nothing forced when it comes to Ophelia. Even though Ophelia feels like a star in this version, and as if that weren’t enough, Shakespeare shows us a fine Horatio as well.  I’d love to see this play performed, just to see Corambis (Polonius in the FF-version), Ophelia and Laertes’ father, giving Hamlet an ingenious gallant flavour, solidifying the world of the play and delivering well-timed humor. This version of Hamlet also gives Hamlet’s mother Gertrude some extra juicy bits…What Olivier could have done with this version instead of having used the FF-version with all that Freudian mambo-jumbo…

NB: I’ve used the Shakespeare Quartos Archive (best used with Firefox) while reading Zachary Lesser’s book.

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