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.
Douglas Bruster teaches at the University of Texas, where he is Mody C. Boatright Regents Professor of American and English Literature and Distinguished Teaching Professor. His research focuses on Shakespeare and early modern drama in England.