The first or ‘bad’ quarto of Hamlet is the subject of much debate. Is it an early version of the play as some scholars suggest? Or is it corrupted memorial reconstruction, a product of ‘fast writing’ transcription, or just a pirated version of the play rushed into print? In this article I posit that the first quarto is indeed a valid text that deserves to be recognised for its unique, unfussy, playable brilliance. That the text provides clues (if one knows how to look), that elucidate answers to many of the questions that productions must contend with. I believe it to be a time-capsule version of sorts that is a product of what the actors truly performed, rather than a celebration of the poet’s aspirationally complex verse.
Player Tested, Shakespeare Approved
Hamlet as a Material Object
This article challenges A.W. Pollard’s foundational distinction between good and bad quartos, which confuses ethical and bibliographical categories. Some quartos are badly inked, or printed on poor-quality paper. But Q1 Hamlet is a professional, well-made commodity. Zachary Lesser has conjectured that Q1 sold poorly, and has claimed that the similarity of the title pages of Q1 and Q2 supports that hypothesis. But both title pages are typical of Ling’s books, and their similarities are no more remarkable than those in Ling’s different quartos of Michael Drayton’s poems. Q1 Hamlet apparently sold more quickly than Q2. Using D.W. Winnicott’s theories about the ‘good enough mother’ and ‘transitional objects’, we can identify Q1 as a ‘good enough quarto’.
Q1 Hamlet (1603) routinely sets prose speeches so that they appear to be blank verse. This article argues that such was an attempt to confer prestige upon the text, particularly in the wake of the saturation of Shakespeare books on the literary marketplace around 1600 – a phenomenon that saw his prose works achieve less favour than those in pentameter. The publishers of Q1 Merry Wives (1602) and Q1 Hamlet may have hedged their bets on these Shakespeare texts by amplifying their verse, long the gold standard of the Shakespearean brand. Like The True Tragedie of Richard III (published 1594) and The Famous Victories of Henry V (entered 1594), which presented their opening pages to readers as iambic pentameter, Q1 Hamlet seems to have beautified its dialogue for readers in the early modern book marketplace.
Why Q1 Hamlet Matters
This introduction situates the special double issue ‘Canonizing Q1 Hamlet’ in the context of the early publication history of Shakespeare’s tragedy and the recent critical and editorial interest in the first edition. The first edition of Hamlet – often called ‘Q1’, shorthand for ‘first quarto’ – was published in 1603, in what we might regard as the early modern equivalent of a cheap paperback. Q1 Hamlet is becoming increasingly canonical not because there is universal agreement about what it is or what it means, but because more and more Shakespearians agree that it is worth arguing about. If we read or perform it, rather than simply dismissing it (as was done for most of the twentieth century), Q1 makes us think: about performance, book history, Shakespeare’s relationships with his contemporaries, and the shape of his whole career.
John V. Nance
Of the fifteen verbal links Wiggins associates with Q1 Hamlet in his catalogue of British Drama, the inclusion of Dido, Queen of Carthage is potentially the most problematic in terms of establishing a 1588–1589 date for the play. This article re-examines the editorial and critical history of the most commonly cited overlap between these two plays – the entirety of ‘Aeneas’s tale to Dido’ – and it provides new evidence that challenges their continued association.