The Date of Hamlet's Composition
The date of composition of Hamlet remains uncertain because all the available evidence may be variously interpreted. The nearest approach we can make to knowledge is to limit the varieties of ignorance. Granted this caveat, we may conclude that a date between late 1599 and early 1601 has emerged as the consensus among modern scholars, with a minority view that argues for earlier composition of an original version.
Our material concerning the date of publication begins with the Stationers’ Register entry on 26 July 1602, the date universally accepted as a terminus ad quem for the date of composition. A reference to Sh.’s Ham. in a MS note by Gabriel Harvey in his edition of Speght’s Workes of Chaucer that also mentions the Earl of Essex in the present tense has proved the most generally accepted evidence for bringing the terminus ad quem forward to February 1601, the date of Essex’s execution. Deciding on a terminus a quo has, however, proved far more contentious. Many scholars accept that Ham. contains allusions to Sh.’s Julius Caesar, and infer a terminus a quo of the autumn of 1599 (when a performance of Julius Caesar is recorded by Thomas Platter). Some critics add that the omission of Ham. from a list of Sh.’s plays in Francis Meres’s Palladis Tamia provides further evidence that Sh.’s Ham. was not in existence in 1598, the date of Meres’s work. A passage in 2.2 (1376-80) which speaks of an “inhibition” on the players has been commonly taken as a topical reference to statutes of 1600 or 1601. A reference which follows shortly after in F to “an ayrie of Children, little Yases” (1386-7) has been universally taken, since Theobald’s 1733 edition, as a topical glance at the Children of the Chapel, and has provided many commentators with additional evidence pointing to 1601, when the War of the Theatres was at its height. The absence of the “little Yases” passage in Q2 has, however, proved a complicating factor which has led to speculation on the original dates of the three texts, Q1, Q2, and F1, and thus their order.
The picture is further complicated by three earlier references. Thomas Nashe’s prefatory epistle to Greene’s Menaphon (1589), Philip Henslowe’s Diary (1594) and Thomas Lodge’s Wits Miserie (1596) all indicate the existence of a play on the subject of Hamlet. Gabriel Harvey’s manuscript note is the first reference to link the name of Sh. to such a play. Much critical dispute has centred on the authorship of what has become known as the Ur-Hamlet: do Nashe, Henslowe and Lodge refer to an early version of Sh.’s play or to a play on the same subject by another dramatist? The larger party adheres to the theory that another author is intended (Kyd is the favourite candidate on the grounds of a perceived pun in the Nashe epistle); while a smaller party, beginning with Farmer, argues for Shakespeare as the author of an early version which he subsequently revised.
The following essay examines, arguments from external references, arranged chronologicaly; arguments from the dating of other plays by Sh. and contemporary dramatists; and arguments from internal references.
1. Stationers’ Register and the Date of Publication
On 26 July 1602 James Roberts entered in the Stationers’ Register “A booke called the Revenge of Hamlett Prince Denmarke as yt was latelie Acted by the Lord Chamberleyne his servantes” (ARBER 3: 212). MALONE (1778, p. 13) and STEEVENS (v1778, 10: 169) were the first, respectively, to note and quote the entry. Although Malone at first confirmed 1604, the date of the earliest surviving quarto, as the date of first printing, he subsequently (ed. 1790, 1:1:308) accepted the Stationers’ Register entry as indicating the year of publication, adding—following FARMER (1767, pp. 85-6n) and CAPELL (ed. 1767-8, 1: 12-13n)—that the phrase “Newly imprinted and enlarged” on the title-page of Q2 indicated the existence of “a former less perfect copy.” Sir Henry Bunbury’s discovery of Q1 in 1823 provided the earliest extant text (dated 1603) and an obvious candidate for that less perfect copy. From Farmer onwards, commentators have generally accepted that, because of the existence of allusions to earlier performances of a Hamlet, the date of publication could offer only a terminus ad quem for the date of composition. However, DYCE (ed. 1857, 1:clxxxv) interpreted “latelie Acted” in the Stationers’ Register entry as indicating that the play “was first produced not long before July 26th, 1602.” His false inference that “latelie” means “first” has been avoided by most previous and subsequent writers.
2. Early allusions
(i) Nashe (1589)
FARMER (1767, pp. 85-6n) was the first to notice what has been accepted as the earliest allusion to a play on Hamlet. The principal issue for commentators has been the authorship of this lost play, which has become known as the Ur-Hamlet. Thomas Nashe’s epistle “To the gentlemen Students of both Universities” prefixed to Greene’s Menaphon, entered in the Stationers’ Register on 23 August 1589, derides “whole Hamlets":
It is a common practise now a dayes amongst a sort of shifting companions, that runne through euery Art and thriue by none, to leaue the trade of Nouerint, whereto they were borne, and busie themselues with the indeuours of Art, that could scarcely Latinize their neck verse if they should haue neede; yet English Seneca read by Candle-light yeelds many good sentences, as Blood is a begger, and so forth; and if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning, hee will affoord you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls of Tragicall speeches. But O griefe! Tempus edax rerum, whats that will last alwayes? The Sea exhaled by droppes will in continuance bee drie, and Seneca, let blood line by line and page by page, at length must needes die to our Stage; which makes his famished followers to imitate the Kidde in Æsop, who, enamoured with the Foxes newfangles, forsooke all hopes of life to leape into a newe occupation; and these men, renouncing all possibilities of credite or estimation, to intermeddle with Italian Translations: Wherein how poorely they haue plodded, (as those that are neither prouenzall men, nor are able to distinguish of Articles,) let all indifferent Gentlemen that haue trauelled in that tongue discerne by their two-pennie Pamphlets. (McKERROW, ed. 1905, 3:315-6)
Arguments for Shakespeare as author of Ur-Hamlet
FARMER observes that “I cannot determine exactly when this Epistle was first published; but, I fancy, it will carry the original Hamlet somewhat further back than we have hitherto done: and it may be observed, that the oldest Copy now extant [i.e. Q2] is said to be ‘Enlarged to almost as much againe as it was.’” BROWN (1838, pp. 12, 254-5) follows Farmer in taking Sh. to be the author of the early version of Hamlet to which Nashe alludes, and assigns to it a date of 1589. KNIGHT (ed. 1838-43, 5:92) agrees with Brown, concluding that “all the collateral evidence upon which it is inferred that an earlier play of Hamlet than Shakspere’s did exist, may . . . be taken to prove that Shakspere’s original sketch of Hamlet was in repute at an earlier period than is commonly assigned as its date.” FLEAY (1876, p. 41) declares that the lost play was by Shakespeare and Marlowe. HONIGMANN (1954, pp. 299-300) revives the idea that Sh. may have been the author of the Ur-Hamlet on the grounds that both Nashe’s lines and Greene’s celebrated attack on the non-university “vpstart Crow” in Groats-Worth of Witte (1592) are aimed at new dramatists. Although Nashe’s epistle by itself says nothing about authorship, the two passages taken together do indicate a common target. Honigmann argues that non-university writers “with sufficient reputation to call forth jealousy were very few in number,” and, since Sh. was named (“Shake-scene”) by Greene as the leader of the enemy in 1592, it is likely that “the same man was being attacked on both occasions, and that that man (Shakespeare) wrote the Hamlet of 1589.” SAMS (1988, pp. 20-1; 1991, pp. 60-3), arguing against the memorial reconstruction theory of Q1 and for the belief that Sh. revised his texts, also sees no reason why Nashe should not be alluding to a play by the young Sh.
Arguments for Kyd as author of Ur-Hamlet
However, the more common view is that the earlier Ham. was not Sh.’s, but probably Thomas Kyd’s. MALONE (1778, p. 15) at first simply questions Farmer’s assumption that Nashe’s reference is to Sh., claiming that Sh. was not bred to the law (“the trade of Nouerint” is that of a scrivener, from the opening phrase of writs, noverint universi [let all men know]) and was not indebted to translations of Seneca. In his revised version of the essay on the order of composition of the plays, Malone (ed. 1790, 1:1:305-6; see also 9: 183n1) first proposes Kyd as the author. He cites Nashe and comments that the early Ham. “was not Shakspeare’s drama, but an elder performance, on which, with the aid of the old prose History of Hamlet, his tragedy was formed. The great number of pieces which we know he formed on the performances of preceding writers, renders it highly probable that some others also of his dramas were constructed on plays that are now lost. Perhaps the original Hamlet was written by Thomas Kyd; who was the authour of one play (and probably of more)  to which no name is affixed.” Malone observes that The Spanish Tragedy has, like Ham., a play within a play, and repeats his mistaken view that Shakespeare is not elsewhere indebted to Seneca. Changing his mind, FLEAY (1886, pp. 100-1; 1891, 2:124) took up Malone’s suggestion that the author of the lost play was Kyd. By 1906, STOLL could observe (p. 292) that “surely there is now no one left to doubt” that the old Hamlet was by Kyd, an opinion he reasserted in 1937 (p. 32). The view remained popular in the 20th c., although, while some advocates were firm (e.g. GRAY, 1928, pp. 254-5), others expressed degrees of caution, such as PARROTT & CRAIG (ed. 1938, p.9), who see “good reason, although no definite proof . . . that Thomas Kyd was the author of the Ur-Hamlet,” BOWERS (1940, p. 85), who defines Kyd’s authorship as a “belief,” and BARTON (intro. to SPENCER, ed. 1980, p. 15), who has it as “quite possibly the work of Thomas Kyd.”
Some of those who argue for Kyd have drawn attention to the possibility of a pun in Nashe’s phrase, “the Kidde in Æsop,” a pun that has proved the most convincing of the grounds for reading a specific reference to Kyd in the passage. (Another argument is that since Kyd translated the Italian of Tasso as The Householders Philosophie, he might be a translator of Æsop; he was, however, not the only translator from Italian at the time.) FLEAY (1886, pp. 100-1), who was followed by SARRAZIN (1892, p. 100) and several other critics, made a point of the pun. KOEPPEL (1893, pp. 130-1) first noted that, although there is no Æsopic fable resembling the story as given by Nashe, a fable of a kid appears in “May” of Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender. ØSTERBERG (1942, p. 391) concludes that, since the story is actually an inappropriate one to apply to the Senecan imitators, “the only possible explanation of the deliberate choice and distortion of this fable of the Kid is that Nashe needed the fable in order to make a sneering reference to the man Kyd.” For Østerberg, Nashe’s mention of Kyd and the old Hamlet drama in the same context makes it certain that Kyd was the author. WILSON (ed. 1934, pp xvi-xix) agrees with Østerberg, as does JENKINS (ed. 1982, pp. 83-84), who comments that, although Nashe is referring to a group of writers, the point of the joke suggests Kyd as the specific author; and that Nashe’s biographical details, such as the reference to being born to the trade of scrivener, form a strong cumulative case for Kyd . SAMS (1988, pp. 20-1) turns the arguments full circle by perceiving two plays on words in Nashe’s text: Hamlets / handfuls and Kidde / Kyd. The allusions are separated by fifty words, and so, Sams argues, refer to different writers, the two notable non-university playwrights of the period—Kyd and the author of Ham., i.e. Sh.
Arguments against Shakespeare or Kyd as author of Ur-Hamlet
The proposition that the early Ham. is by neither Sh. nor Kyd was first made in the 19th c. DYCE (ed. 1857, 1:clxxxv) sees the reference as being to “an earlier tragedy on the same subject, which no longer exists, and which perhaps (like many other old dramas) never reached the press.” STAUNTON (ed. 1860, 3:328) agrees, rejecting the possibility of Shakespeare’s authorship on the grounds that he was at the time too young “to have earned the distinction of being satirized by Nash as having ‘run through every art.’ ” Although Staunton mistakenly puts Sh. at 23 in 1589, the same point might be made if Sh. were 25 then, as now believed. The case for Kyd as the object of Nashe’s satire is specifically rejected by JACK (1905, pp. 729-48), principally on the grounds that Nashe’s use of plurals makes reference to one man unlikely and that Nashe’s attack on “famished followers” indicates translators of Seneca, not original dramatists. CUNLIFFE (1906, p. 199) replies to Jack, arguing that Nashe is attacking dramatists who have borrowed from Seneca, and concluding that “Nash had a dramatist or dramatists in mind” and that “Nash knew of a Hamlet drama.” But Cunliffe does not specify Kyd as the subject of Nashe’s attack. HATCHER (1906, pp. 177-80) also replies to Jack, arguing that Kyd is one of the group of dramatists in Nashe’s mind, but that caution is still necessary in taking the allusion by itself as proof of Kyd’s authorship of an Ur-Hamlet. Nashe’s editor, McKERROW (1907, 4:449-51), while agreeing that Nashe was referring to a Hamlet play, also sees “no reason for supposing either Kyd or The Spanish Tragedy to be referred to.” CHAMBERS (1930, 1:412) accepts that Kyd was one of the group of dramatists being attacked, but finds that the allusions “do not, in view of Nashe’s plurals, necessarily carry the inference that he wrote the Hamlet.” KITTREDGE (ed. 1939, p. ix) observes that Nashe does not even hint at Kyd’s authorship, and concludes that we can go no further than to state that Nashe is referring to a play of Senecan type. DUTHIE (1941, pp. 55-76), who provides the fullest account of the arguments and counter-arguments about Nashe’s meaning, agrees with Hatcher and Chambers that a group of dramatists, not a single writer, is the object of Nashe’s attack, but accepts Østerberg’s argument as probably proving that Kyd is personally alluded to in the pun. However, Duthie does not find any necessary connection between the mention of “Hamlets” and the allusion to Kyd. “The most we can say,” he concludes, “is that a Hamlet was written by a member of the group of authors under Nashe’s fire, and that Kyd was probably a member of this group” (p. 76). Nashe’s plurals also cause HONIGMANN (1954, p. 299) to reject Østerberg’s identification of Kyd as the author of the Ur-Hamlet. For Hongimann, Østerberg proves that, like Kyd, the author was one of the “shifting companions” lacking a university education, but not that “he and Kyd were one person.” EDWARDS (ed. 1985, p. 3) asserts that, although Kyd is glanced at by Nashe, there is no proof that the old Ham. was by him: “we may say that Kyd or one of his fellow-dramatists wrote an early version of Hamlet, that Kyd capitalized on its success in The Spanish Tragedy, which borrowed many of its features, and that Shakespeare, writing a new version of Hamlet which seems very attentive to Kyd’s handling of revenge, is influenced by the two similar earlier plays.” HIBBARD (ed. 1987, pp. 12-13) is also sceptical about the attribution to Kyd, and simply sees the Ur-Hamlet as a popular revenge play subsequently transformed by Sh.
The next point of reference is an entry in Philip Henslowe’s Diary, where he records a single performance of a Hamlet:
¶9 of June 1594 Rd at hamlet viijs
This is the sixth entry after a heading which runs:
In the name of god Amen begininge at newing
ton my Lord Admeralle men & my Lorde chamberlen
men As ffolowethe 1594
(FOAKES & RICKERT, 1961, p. 21)
Critical debate has centred on the issue of which play this entry refers to, commentators tending to make their decision in line with their judgment of the authorship of the play alluded to by Nashe. To accept the possibility that Henslowe refers to Shakesepeare’s Ham. entails putting the date of the first version back to at least summer 1594, possibly earlier if the absence of “ne” is taken to indicate that the play was not being given its first performance at that date.
MALONE was the first commentator to cite Henslowe’s diary, its discovery at Dulwich College coming just in time for him to include excerpts in “Emendations and Additions” to An Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the English Stage in his 1790 edition. For Malone (ed. 1790, 1:2:294), this entry was “full confirmation” of the prior existence of the non-Shakespearean Ham. satirized by Nashe : “It cannot be supposed that our poet’s play should have been performed but once in the time of this account, and that Mr. Henslowe should have drawn from such a piece but the sum of eight shillings, when his share in several other plays came to three and sometimes four pounds. It is clear that not one of our author’s plays was played at Newington Buts [sic]; if one had been performed, we should certainly have found more. The old Hamlet had been on the stage before 1589.” That Henslowe does not mark the Hamlet “ne,” which until recently has been generally read as standing for “new” and marking a new, revised or relicensed play (COLLIER [1845, p. xvii]; GREG [1908, 2:148]) provides support for the idea that Henslowe is recording a performance of an old Ham. CHAMBERS (1923, 2: 141) suggested that “ne” might stand for “n[ew] e[nterlude],” supported by FOAKES & RICKERT (1961, pp. xxx-xxxi) and CARSON (1988, p. 68). FRAZER (1991), however, proposes that “ne” is simply another way to indicate a performance at Newington. COLLIER (1845, p. 35), the first editor of Henslowe’s Diary, agrees with Malone that “this was the old Hamlet, and not Shakespeare’s play,” and Malone’s view that the Henslowe reference is to be linked to the Nashe allusion is accepted by most later critics (whether or not they identify the author as Kyd), including DYCE (ed. 1857, 1: clxxxv), HERFORD (ed. 1899, 8: 120), FLEAY (1890, p. 97), BOAS (1901, p. liii), LEE (1915, p. 358), GRAY (1928, p. 255), CHAMBERS (1930, 1: 411-12), KITTREDGE (ed. 1939, p. ix), WILSON (ed. 1934, p. xix), DUTHIE (1941, p. 76), EDWARDS (ed. 1985, pp. 2-3), HIBBARD (ed. 1987, p. 13).
Voices for the entry’s being Shakespeare’s play begin with that of KNIGHT (ed. 1838-43, 5:93), who argues that Sh.’s company only used Newington Butts for a short period prior to the opening of the Globe and thus might well have put on just one performance of Ham. Knight finds no reason for attributing Henslowe’s entry to any play other than Sh.’s. STAUNTON (ed. 1860, 3:328), despite attributing the Nashe (as well as the Lodge, see below) reference to an earlier play, agrees that there is “no cause to conclude that the first sketch of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” as published in 1603, was not the piece to which Henslowe refers in the entry connected with the performance at Newington Butts.” BOAS (1923, pp. 25-6) connects the Henslowe entry with Q1’s title-page reference to the play’s having been performed at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford. Whereas there is no evidence that the Lord Chamberlain’s men travelled in 1601, Lord Strange’s men were in Cambridge in 1591-2 and the Lord Chamberlain’s men in 1594-5, and Lord Strange’s men (accompanied by Edward Alleyn of the Lord Admiral’s company) were in Oxford in 1593. Thus it seems possible, argues Boas, that the Ham., not then a new play, which was performed at Newington in 1594 had been previously played at Oxford and elsewhere in 1593. This points to its having been an early Shn version (his revision of Kyd’s Senecan play mentioned by Nashe) dating from 1592-4 and preserved in Q1. SAMS (1988, p. 21) sees it as the “manifest inference” that Shakespeare, when joining the Lord Chamberlain’s company, brought his early plays with him, so that this Ham. is both the Ur-Hamlet and by Shakespeare. However, Sams represents a minority opinion, and does not take into account the apparent fact that companies rather than playwrights owned plays.
(iii) Lodge (1596)
A third early reference comes from Thomas Lodge, who seems to quote from the play in his Wits Miserie (1596, p. 56), alluding to the pale “Visard of ye ghost which cried so miserably at ye Theator like an oister wife, Hamlet, reuenge.”
It was again FARMER (1767, pp. 75-6) who first noted this reference, and saw it as proving an early date for Ham. CAPELL (ed. 1767, 1:13n) also refers to Lodge’s book as showing that Ham. was extant at least nine years before Q2. On the basis of the Lodge quotation, MALONE (1778, p. 13), in his essay on the order of composition of Shakespeare’s plays, refers to 1596 as the probable date of composition of what he surmises to have been “but a rude sketch” of Q2. However, in his revised version of this essay, Malone (ed. 1790, 1: 1:309) alters his view in line with his conclusions about the Nashe allusion: “If the allusion was to our authour’s tragedy, this passage will ascertain its appearance in or before 1596; but Lodge may [ed. 1821, 2:373: “must"] have had the elder play in his contemplation.” Malone’s discovery of Henslowe’s entry has the effect of strengthening his confidence to the extent that he asserts (ed. 1790, 1: 2:294) that the old Ham. is “without doubt” the play to which Lodge alludes. Malone’s alteration of “may” to “must” in 1821 confirms his belief that Nashe, Henslowe and Lodge are all referring to an earlier, non-Shn version of Ham.
Most later critics accept that Lodge was quoting from the same, non-Shn, play satirized by Nashe: DYCE (ed. 1857, 1: clxxxv), STAUNTON (ed. 1860, p. 328), FLEAY (1876, p. 41), HERFORD (ed. 1899, 8: 120), BOAS (1901, p.liii; although he later [1923, p. 26] took the reference to be to Sh.’s first version, as recorded in Henslowe), LEE (1915, p. 358), GRAY (1928, p. 255), CHAMBERS (1930, 1: 411-12), KITTREDGE (ed 1939, p. ix), JENKINS (ed.1982, pp. 82-8), EDWARDS (ed.1985, pp. 2-3) and HIBBARD (ed. 1987, p. 13) are among those agreeing with Malone.
WILSON (ed. 1934, pp. xix-xx) adds that the reference to The Theatre, owned by James Burbage, indicates that the old play belonged to the Chamberlain’s Men, not the Admiral’s Men. DUTHIE (1941, pp. 76-7), argues that the reference cannot be to a Shn play, since the phrase “Hamlet, revenge” is again quoted derisively in Satiromastix. Satiromastix, however, was performed by Sh.’s own company who would not be likely to ridicule a play by Sh. [See below, Satiromastix] That the two words quoted by Lodge do not appear in Q1 is taken by WELLS & TAYLOR (1987, p. 398) as evidence that the Ur-Hamlet is not preserved in that version.
So Lodge’s allusion does not materially add to the evidence, except to provide further proof that a Ham. play was performed by 1596. For most critics, the reference is, like Nashe’s, not to a play by Sh. A belief that it is to a Sh. play simply confirms any inference drawn from the Nashe passage, that a Ham. play in some version existed in 1589, or from the Henslowe entry, that it existed in 1594.
(iv):Gabriel Harvey (1598?)
The first unmistakable reference to Sh.’s Ham. occurs in a manuscript note made by Gabriel Harvey in his copy of Speght’s 1598 edition of Chaucer’s Workes, fol. 394v (British Library MS Add. 42518). Again, however, this reference does not clearly point to an early date:
Heywoods prouerbs, with His, & Sir Thomas Mores Epigrams, may serue for sufficient supplies of manie of theis deuises. And now translated Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, & Bartas himself deserue curious comparison with Chaucer, Lidgate, & owre best Inglish, auncient & moderne. Amongst which, the Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, & the Faerie Queene ar now freshest in request: & Astrophil, & Amyntas ar none of the idlest pastimes of sum fine humanists. The Earle of Essex much commendes Albions England: and not unworthily for diuerse notable pageants, before, & in the Chronicle. Sum Inglish, & other Histories nowhere more sensibly described, or more inwardly discouered. The Lord Mountioy makes the like account of Daniels peece of the Chronicle, touching the Vsurpation of Henrie of Bullingbrooke. which in deede is a fine, sententious, & politique peece of Poetrie: as proffitable, as pleasurable. The younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeares Venus, & Adonis: but his Lucrece, & his tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, haue it in them, to please the wiser sort. Or such poets: or better: or none.
Vilia miretur vulgus: mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castaliae plena ministret aquae: quoth Sir Edward Dier, betwene iest, & earnest. Whose written deuises farr excell most of the sonets, and cantos in print. His Amaryllis, & Sir Walter Raleighs Cynthia, how fine & sweet inuentions? Excellent matter of emulation for Spencer, Constable, France, Watson, Daniel, Warner, Chapman, Siluester, Shakespeare, & the rest of owr florishing metricians. I looke for much, aswell in verse, as in prose, from mie two Oxford frends, Doctor Gager, & M. Hackluit: both rarely furnished for the purpose: & I haue a phansie to Owens new Epigrams, as pithie as elegant, as plesant as sharp, & sumtime as weightie as breife: & amongst so manie gentle, noble, & royall spirits meethinkes I see sum heroical thing in the clowdes: mie soueraine hope. Axiophilus shall forgett himself, or will remember to leaue sum memorials behinde him: & to make an vse of so manie rhapsodies, cantos, hymnes, odes, epigrams, sonets, & discourses, as at idle howers, or at flowing fitts he hath compiled. God knowes what is good for the world, & fitting for this age.
(MOORE SMITH [1913, pp. 232-3])
The problem lies in affixing a date to Harvey’s note. The volume was known to STEEVENS (ed.1773, 10:145): “I have seen a copy of Speght’s edition of Chaucer, which formerly belonged to Dr. Gabriel Harvey (the antagonist of Nash) who, in his own hand-writing, has set down the play, as a performance with which he was well acquainted, in the year 1598.” The inference drawn by Steevens is accepted by MALONE (ed. 1790, 1:1:309 : “We know . . . from the testimony of Dr. Gabriel Harvey, that Shakespeare’s Hamlet had been exhibited before 1598.” Harvey wrote both his name and “1598” on the volume’s title-page and after “Finis,” on which grounds GRIERSON (1917, p. 221) sees 1598 as the likely date for Harvey’s note. BOAS (1923, pp. 256-60) and SAMS (1988, p. 25) agree.
But MALONE (ed. 1821, 2:369-70) revised his view on seeing the volume: “I was induced to suppose that Hamlet must have been written prior to 1598, from the loose manner in which Mr. Steevens has mentioned a manuscript note by Gabriel Harvey in a copy, which had belonged to him, of Speght’s edition of Chaucer, in which, we are told, he has set down Hamlet as a performance with which he was well acquainted in the year 1598. See vol. vii. p. 168. But I have been favoured by the Bishop of Dromore [Dr. Percy], the possessor of the book referred to, with an inspection of it; and, on an attentive examination, I have found reason to believe, that the note in question may have been written in the latter end of the year 1600. Harvey doubtless purchased this volume in 1598, having, both at the beginning and end of it, written his name. But it by no means follows that all the intermediate remarks which are scattered throughout were put down at the same time. He speaks of translated Tasso in one passage; and the first edition of Fairfax, which is doubtless alluded to, appeared in 1600.” SINGER (ed. 1856, 9:136), however, suggested that the Tasso referred to need not have been the Fairfax translation, but Richard Carew’s version of the first five cantos of Gerusalemme Liberata, published in 1594, a possibility also mentioned by MOORE SMITH (1913, p. x), BOAS (1923, p. 258n) and DUTHIE (1941, p. 80). Singer therefore places the date of the first composition of Ham. “at least as early as 1597.”
Most modern critics, like Malone, argue that all the marginalia do not necessarily date from 1598, as Harvey wrote annotations “in the course of various years” (LEE, 1915, p. 360n). KIRSCHBAUM (1937, pp. 170-1) cites examples to prove that, although Harvey signed and dated books as soon as he bought them, he wrote at least some notes later.
Scholars have also sought to date Harvey’s note by its references to other works. The relevant references are to Spenser, Owen, “Axiophilus,” the King of Scotland, Lord Mountjoy and Essex. All in all, the Essex reference has proved the most convincing, indicating for Harvey’s note a terminus a quo of 1598 and a terminus ad quem of February 1601, and, consequently, a terminus ad quem of February 1601 for Ham.
As MALONE points out in his first letter to Bishop Percy of 1803, Spenser died 16 January 1599, so that Harvey, a close friend, would not thereafter have referred to him as “florishing,” if this means “alive and flourishing.” But in his second letter to Percy of 1803, MALONE noted that Thomas Watson, who had died in 1592, is also named among the “florishing metricians.” He therefore proposed that the word means not “those now alive,” but “those now held in esteem.” Hence January 1599 cannot be taken as a terminus ante quem for Harvey’s reference to Ham. Some critics (e.g. MOORE SMITH [1913, p. x], BOAS [1923, p. 258] and LAWRENCE [1928, p.99]) accept Malone’s later interpretation of the word, but GRIERSON (1917, p. 221) seeks to sustain the meaning “alive” by simply dismissing the “accidental inclusion of Watson’s name in a hastily set down list.” HONIGMANN (1956, p. 25), quoting as a parallel p. 159 of the Marginalia ("Poësie, a liuelie picture: and a more florishing purtrature, then the gallentest Springe of the yeare"), proposes that “florishing” is a stylistic term meaning “florid, highly embellished” (OED 5, citing another usage in Harvey). This stylistic reading confirms that the reference to Spenser cannot establish a terminus ante quem for Harvey’s note.
Harvey’s reference to “Owens new Epigrams,” which were not published until 1606, was taken by LEE (1915, p. 360n) as indicating that the note must have been written much later than 1598. But, as GRIERSON (1917, p. 220) and BOAS (1923, p. 257) point out, poems often circulated freely before being published, and so “it is possible that Harvey saw some of them in manuscript” (JENKINS, ed 1982, pp. 4-5). Indeed, one of Owen’s epigrams (addressed to Lord Burleigh) is dated 1596 (MOORE SMITH [1913, p. 309]. Thus Lee’s late dating for the note has not been accepted.
MOORE SMITH (1913, p 306) identifies “Axiophilus,” who “will remember to leaue sum memorials behinde him,” as Harvey himself. Harvey wrote a letter to Sir Robert Cecil on 8 May 1598 (MOORE SMITH [1913, pp. 72-74]), requesting Cecil’s help in obtaining the Mastership of Trinity Hall. This letter mentions Harvey’s intention to publish some “cantos,” and “discourses” in verse and prose. Because these terms recur in the list of Axiophilus’s intended memorials, GRIERSON (1917, p. 221) links the letter to the note in Speght, thus suggesting a date of 1598 for both. However, KIRSCHBAUM (1937, pp. 171-2) refutes any connection between the letter to Cecil and the Axiophilus note on the grounds that the tone of the two passages is different and that (as MOORE SMITH says, p. 25) Harvey was thinking seriously of publication as early as 1579. Since 1598 cannot be taken as the only time when Harvey was meditating publication, no link between the letter and the note can be proved. DUTHIE (1941, pp. 82-3) is also sceptical, since, having failed to fulfill the promise in 1579 or in the Cecil letter, Harvey may have repeated his intention some years later.
(d) the King of Scotland
Another long manuscript note written by Harvey (MOORE SMITH [1913, p. 231]; fol. 393v in BM MS), celebrating Cecil, the volume’s dedicatee, as “the new patron of Chawcer,” mentions both Essex and “the King of Scotland, the soueraine of the diuine art.” GRIERSON (1917, p. 221) proposes that the two notes, despite being two pages apart, should be linked, so indicating that both were written before 1603, when James succeeded Elizabeth. BOAS (1923, p. 259) agrees that the tone of the two notes suggests that they were written at about the same time, and argues that the praise of Cecil as patron of Chaucer would have been appropriate only soon after the 1598 publication. But KIRSCHBAUM (1937, p. 174) contends that Cecil could be thus celebrated a good many years after the publication of the volume dedicated to him, and adds that, even if a date prior to 1603 could be established for both notes, 1598 would not become the certain date. CHAMBERS (1930, 2:197) sees linking Harvey’s 393v note with the Ham. reference as “pressing the evidence rather hard, especially as the two notes repeat each other in places” and so are likely to have been written at different times. DUTHIE (1941, p. 83) also doubts that the two notes are contemporary.
(e) Lord Mountjoy
Harvey’s 394v note refers to Lord Mountjoy, who was made Earl of Devonshire on 21 July 1603. GRIERSON (1917, p. 221) believes that “Elizabethan writers are particular about titles,” so that Harvey would have employed Mountjoy’s new territorial designation if he had been writing after 1603. Grierson’s view has been generally accepted, e.g. by BOAS (1923, p. 259), CHAMBERS (1930, 2: 197), WALLEY (1933, p. 400), JENKINS (ed. 1982, p. 4), and WELLS & TAYLOR (1987, p. 122). HONIGMANN (1956, p.26) sees the references to the King of Scotland and Lord Mountjoy as together making 1603 a safe upper limit. However, KIRSCHBAUM (1937, p. 174) claims that Elizabethans were not always specific in their use of titles. GRAY (1932, p. 58) also disagrees with Grierson, on the grounds that in a private memorandum Harvey would have been likely to have given the name “by which he was accustomed to think of this man.” Critics’ views of Elizabethan rules on nomenclature are thus at variance; but even the strict interpretation can do no more than confirm an allusion one year after the entry of Ham. in the Stationers’ Register.
The argument that Harvey’s 394v note must have been written before the execution of the Earl of Essex on 25 February 1601 rests on Harvey’s use of the present tense in his remark that “The Earle of Essex much commendes Albions England.” The view that the present tense dates the play is shared by a majority of commentators, e.g. MOORE SMITH (1913, p. xi), BOAS (1923, pp. 258-9), LAWRENCE (1926), CHAMBERS (1930, 1:423 and 2:19), WILSON (ed. 1934, p. xxii), HIBBARD (ed. 1987, p. 4) and WELLS & TAYLOR (1987, p. 122). For some critics, however, the present tense should not be interpreted literally: LEE (1915, p. 360n) declares that Harvey “uses the present tense in the historic fashion,” WALLEY (1933, p. 402) calls it “the habitual present tense of academic comment,” and KITTREDGE (ed. 1939, p. viii) warns against “forcing the present tense rather hard.” But GRIERSON (1917, p. 221) disagrees with Lee, stating that “There is no parallel to such a use of a man dead within a few years and that in so dramatic a manner.” KIRSCHBAUM (1937, pp. 172-4), in reply, argues that Harvey did quote the dead in the present tense, but HONIGMANN (1956, pp.25-6) shows that his example (a reference to Thomas Digges, who died in 1595) is not proof since it could equally well refer to the 1561 Chaucer as to the Speght edition. Honigmann argues that, since Harvey is concerned with up-to-date opinion, none of the commendations would be from a dead man, and so Ham. must have been in existence before February 1601.
Some other attempts have been made to circumvent the apparent implications of the present tense. JENKINS (ed. 1982, p.4) dismisses as a “desperate guess” CHAMBERS’s (1944, p. 68) suggestions that ‘commendes’ is a scribal error for ‘commended’ or that “Harvey had access to some letter or other writing by Essex . . . which has not come down to us.” GRAY (1932, p. 57) argues for a date of 1605 for Harvey’s note, taking the reference to be to the third Earl of Essex, son of the executed second earl. Because the third earl was only fourteen or fifteen in 1605, HONIGMANN (1956, p.33) believes that he would not be cited as a literary authority; but Gray’s argument is that Albion’s England would appeal to a youth.
DUTHIE (1941, p. 84) adds that, if a Shn Ham. was extant in early 1601, it could not have been the final version, since the “little eyases” passage and the allusion to the defence of Ostend [see below] cannot be dated before the latter part of 1601: “Harvey’s note makes it possible for us to believe that there may have been a stage in the text-history of Hamlet which could be described as a Shakespearian first draft.”
(v) Francis Meres (1598): the missing allusion
As first noted by CAPELL (ed. 1767, 1:7-8), Francis Meres’s list in Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury does not mention Ham.:
As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy among the Latines: so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for Comedy, witnes his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Loue labors lost, his Loue labours wonne, his Midsummers night dreame, & his Merchant of Venice: for Tragedy his Richard the 2. Richard the 3. Henry the 4. King Iohn, Titus Andronicus and his Romeo and Iuliet. (CHAMBERS [1930, 2:194])
Palladis Tamia was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 7 September 1598 (CHAMBERS [1930, 2:193-5]), and the consensus among the modern editors, up to WELLS & TAYLOR (1987, p. 398), is that Meres’s omission is proof of a date for Ham. after 1598. But, since the evidence is negative, some critics do not see much significance in Meres’s omission. Some critics, such as HALLIWELL (1848, p. 189) and DUTHIE (1941, p. 83n) contend that the list was not meant to be complete. DOWDEN (1877, p. 34) notes that Meres balances six comedies and six tragedies, and so may have been concerned with symmetry rather than completeness. However, CHAMBERS (1930, 1:244) sees Meres’s list as “so long as to suggest that it includes all [plays] that were known to him, and that it was only a happy accident that he was able, by treating the histories as tragedies, to balance six of these against six comedies.”
Whatever the particular arguments raised against taking the Meres omission as definitive, a general logical point is surely sufficient: omission is not proof of non-existence.
3. Ham. and contemporary drama
Several other plays, by Sh. and by contemporaries, have been used as points of reference for dating Ham. The problems involved are the dates of the other plays and the order of precedence.
(i) Julius Caesar
It is often argued that Ham. twice alludes to Sh.’s JC, in Horatio’s account of the portents before the death of Caesar (Q2 only: 124+6-124+13) and the exchange between Hamlet and Polonius about the latter’s acting of the part of Caesar (1953-60). In the second instance, the actors playing Hamlet and Polonius (probably Burbage and Heminges) may have played Brutus and Caesar respectively (BALDWIN [1927, pp. 228-9]). JC, not mentioned by Meres, was seen by Thomas Platter on 21 September 1599 (CHAMBERS [1923, 2:364-5; 1930, 2:322 gives the original German]). On these grounds, HONIGMANN (1956, pp. 29-30), JENKINS (ed. 1982, p. 1), EDWARDS (ed. 1985, p. 5), HIBBARD (ed. 1987, pp. 4-5), and WELLS & TAYLOR (1987, p. 122) all take the autumn of 1599 as the terminus a quo for Ham. This argument does, however, rely upon what can only be an assumption, that Ham. echoes JC rather than other sources of Caesar’s story, such as Plutarch.
(ii) The Merry Wives of Windsor
KIRSCHBAUM (1937, p. 175), JENKINS (ed. 1982, p.1) and WELLS & TAYLOR (1987, p. 122) have argued that the bad quarto (Q1) of MWW takes the line, “What is the reason that you use me thus?” (TLN 1188), from Ham. (3488). MWW was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 18 January 1602 (ARBER, 3:199), so the inference is that Ham. must have been in the repertory before that date. However, similarity does not prove borrowing in the case of such a common construction (cf. Err. 548; 2.2.153; 2H4 917; 2.2.138).
(iii) Every Man Out of his Humour
LAWRENCE (1926; 1928, p. 101), followed by CHAMBERS (1930, 1:423), takes Hamlet’s “the humorous man shall end his part in peace” (1368-9) to refer to audience disturbance which, he thinks, marked the original conclusion of Jonson’s Every Man Out of his Humour (SR 8 April 1600). This would point to a date of 1600 for Ham. However, HONIGMANN (1956, p.29) replies that “the humorous man” is not necessarily an allusion to Jonson’s play, and that Lawrence’s dual acceptance of the phrase as a reference to Jonson’s play and the “inhibition” as a reference to the order of June 1600 [see below] results in an unacceptably long composition period for Ham. JENKINS (ed. 1982, p. 470) is sceptical on other grounds: “Although Jonson admits that the original ending of Every Man Out of his Humour was not ‘relished,’ it is no more than a conjecture that the audience created a disturbance which prevented Macilente from ending his part ‘in peace.’ ”
(iv) Antonio’s Revenge
Parallels—of plot rather than language—between Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge and Ham. (McGINN, 1938, Shakespeare’s Influence, pp.19-23, 135-8) suggest imitation one way or the other. The resemblances are “too strong to be merely coincidental” (HUNTER, ed. 1966, p. xviii). The question of precedence is, however, unresolved, with three possibilities having been advocated:
(a) Antonio’s Revenge precedes Ham.
Marston’s play was published in 1602, but THORNDIKE (1902, p. 130) dated its composition back to the winter of 1599-1600, and CHAMBERS (1923, 3:429-30) to the early winter of 1599. Both cite the prologue as indicating the season. THORNDIKE (1902, pp. 155-68) goes on to argue that Marston borrows from the old Ham., not from Sh. STOLL (1906, p. 290) accepts Thorndike’s arguments for the precedence. HONIGMANN (1956, p. 30) argues that, on this dating, winter 1599 becomes the terminus a quo for Ham. because Sh. would not have had time to write Ham. after JC and before Antonio’s Revenge.
(b) Ham. precedes Antonio’s Revenge.
McGINN (1938, PMLA, pp. 135-7) put forward the date of Antonio’s Revenge to 1600-01, as a consequence of his argument that Antonio and Mellida, to which Antonio’s Revenge is the sequel, may date from as late as 1600. That Marston borrowed from Sh. is accepted by LAWRENCE (1926), McGINN (1938), and FROST (1968, pp. 174-80). JENKINS (ed 1982, pp. 9-13) also argues that a comparison between the plays shows that it is Marston who is taking motifs from Sh. because the common features have a precise significance in Ham. which they lack in Antonio’s Revenge.
(c) Ham. and Antonio’s Revenge are exactly contemporary.
SMITH, PIZER, & KAUFMAN (1958, p. 496): the two dramatists were “writing during the same period (summer, fall of 1600), neither able to see what the other was doing, each with an eye on the old Hamlet play.” GAIR (ed. 1978, pp. 13-19) agrees with them; and HUNTER (ed. 1966, p. xx), for whom a terminal date of autumn 1600 for Antonio’s Revenge leaves Marston too little time to imitate Ham., suggests that “Marston’s play may draw its similarities to the extant Hamlet from its imitation of an Ur-Hamlet.” EDWARDS (ed. 1985, p. 7) agrees, although he sees it as possible that Shakespeare may have been working on Ham. when Antonio’s Revenge was staged and so may have reacted to it.
(v) The Malcontent
Marston’s The Malcontent has also figured as a point of reference for dating Ham. because of the general similarities of the “malcontent” figures and the specific similarity between Mendoza’s apostrophe on woman (ed. HUNTER , 1.5.39-48) and Hamlet’s on man. HALLIWELL (ed. 1856, 2: 300) sees the speech as Marston’s imitation of Sh., but HONIGMANN (1956, p. 31) suggests that Hamlet’s afterthought, “no, nor woman neither,” may indicate the precedence of Marston’s speech. The date of The Malcontent is uncertain, however. STOLL (1905, pp. 55-60; 1906, pp. 289-303; 1935, pp. 42-50) argues for 1600 (on the grounds of an allusion to a story of a horn growing in a woman’s forehead “twelve years since,” a story described in a pamphlet of 1588), and hence the precedence of Marston’s play (1906, pp. 289-303), and is supported by CROSS (1960, pp. 104-13). However, CHAMBERS (1923, 3:431-2) cannot accept that “twelve years” is a precise figure, and argues that the first production took place in the year of the Stationers’ Register entry, 1604. WALLEY (1933, pp. 397-409) agrees, and therefore accepts the precedence of Ham. Because recent editors (HARRIS, ed. 1967; HUNTER, ed. 1975, p. xli) take 1602 as the earliest possible date for Marston’s play on the grounds that Marston uses the ‘Dymock’ translation of Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido (SR September 1601), most commentators accept 1603 as the probable date (ALLEN, 1920, p. 143; HUNTER, ed. 1975, pp. xli-xlvi). Even if an early date for The Malcontent could be ascertained, the unresolved problem of precedence would seem to render Marston’s play an uncertain point of reference for dating Ham. (cf. HONIGMANN, 1956, p. 31). A date of 1603 places The Malcontent beyond the entry of Ham. in the Stationers’ Register.
The phrase quoted by Lodge [see above, p. 000] re-appears in Satiromastix (SR 11 November 1601): “my name’s Hamlet reuenge” (BOWERS [ed. 1953], 4.1.121). Hence most critics (e.g. WILSON, ed. 1934, pp. xx-xxi) accept that Dekker is quoting from the same play cited by Lodge. Since the phrase seems to be satirical in intent, and Satiromastix was performed by Sh.’s own company at the Globe, GRAY (1928, pp. 255-6) and DUTHIE (1941, p. 77), assuming that Sh.’s company would not ridicule one of his plays, conclude that the reference confirms the existence of an earlier, non-Shn drama. For FLEAY (1886, p. 229), however, the quotation in Satiromastix indicates that a staged version of Ham. dates from before its final version. SAMS (1988, p. 26) sees the quotation as being from Sh.’s original play.
BOWERS (1952, pp. 280-1) argues that Satiromastix 5.2 echoes the two-portraits passage in the closet scene in Ham., suggesting that Sh.’s play had been on stage for at least some months before the completion of Satiromastix. SMITH, PIZER, & KAUFMAN (1958, pp. 494-5) agree, but JENKINS (ed. 1982, p. 2) is sceptical that Shakespeare could have had time to respond to the popularity of the boy actors [see below] before the production of Satiromastix.
Thus the evidence from the work of other dramatists is not conclusive: the question of precedence remains unresolved in the case of the Antonio’s Revenge and The Malcontent, while the Jonson reference remains conjecture and the Satiromastix quotation does not add to the evidence from Lodge’s quotation. The modern consensus is that allusions in Ham. to JC and MWW indicate for Ham. a terminus a quo of 1599 and a terminus ad quem of 1602; but in neither case is the evidence more than assumption.
4. Internal references
(i) ‘Inhibition’ and ‘the late innovation’ and the ‘little eyases’
In 2.2, Hamlet asks why the tragedians are travelling, to which Rosencrantz replies that “their inhibition, comes by meanes of the late innouasion” (1379-80). Commentators disagree markedly about the significance of these lines for dating the play, and about whether they are connected with the succeeding dialogue, in F but not in Q2, about the players’ decline in popularity, which Rosencrantz attributes to the fashion for “an ayrie of Children, little Yases” (1386-7). THEOBALD (ed. 1733, 7:275 n30) emends to “Aiery of Children, little Eyases,” explaining that “an Aiery or Eyery is a Hawk’s or Eagle’s Nest” and that little Eyases means “Young Nestlings, Creatures just out of the Egg.” Sh. intends, Theobald says, a topical allusion to the Children of the Chapel, a supposition universally accepted. The Children of the Chapel Royal played at Blackfriars from Michaelmas 1600, leading to the subsequent War of the Theatres of 1601 (see CHAMBERS, 1923, 2:41-3).
The first commentator to infer a date of composition from the reference to an inhibition on the players was HOLT (Appendix to JOHNSON [ed. 1765, 8: sig. L12v]), who interpreted the allusion as being to anti-vagabond statutes: “This is a proof this play was not wrote till after the 39 Eliz. 1597, (Shakespeare then 33,) when the first statute against vagabonds was made, including players; and perhaps, not till after the 1st James 1602.” MALONE (1778, p. 14; ed. 1790, 1:1:310) at first accepted Holt’s idea that the “inhibition” is to be identified with the 1597 statute, although he presumed that the allusion was added between 1597 and 1604 (when Q2 was published). At the same time, Malone explained the reference to the War of the Theatres as also being a later addition, pointing to its omission from Q2 as confirming evidence. At this stage, Malone saw no reason to alter 1596 as the likely date of composition. However, he subsequently (1821, 2: 370) proposed that the “inhibition” referred to a later statute: “There can be very little doubt that Hamlet was first performed in the autumn of that year , from the reference which is made in it to the “inhibition of the players” which comes by means of the late innovation. All the theatres except the Fortune and the Globe were inhibited by an Order of Council in June, 1600 . . . and so the other city tragedians were forced to travel. This order arose probably from the licentiousness of the children of Paules, who indulged in personal allusion, and were tyrannically clapped for it.” His interpretation of “innouasion” as referring to the introduction of personal abuse into plays derived from STEEVENS (ed. 1778, 10:254), who had commented that “Several companies of actors in the time of our author were silenced on account of this licentious practice.” Malone, by attributing such licence specifically to the child actors, firmly locks together the “inhibition/innouasion” and “little Yases” passages; but now with the conclusion that 1600, rather than his earlier 1596, was the date of production.
Later critics have pursued and refined the legal interpretation of “inhibition.” Most agree with Malone, that the reference is to a Privy Council decree of 22 June 1600 (reproduced in CHAMBERS , 4:331-2). However, because a second order of Privy Council on 31 December 1601 requested that the Justices of Middlesex and Surrey should execute the 1600 order more effectively, FLEAY (1876, p. 41) concludes that the 1600 order proved ineffectual, so that the reference is more likely to have been to the second order. LAWRENCE (1926) counters that, although the first order proved “a dead letter,” it might have produced a temporary exodus. If the play was performed later in the summer of 1600, a reference to the little eyases would have been an apt explanation for the travelling of the tragedians. HONIGMANN (1956, pp. 28-9) argues for the 1600 decree, on the grounds that December 1601 would have been too late for an attack on the boy actors. The objection that Shakespeare’s company was allowed to remain in London, he says, rests on the false inference that the “tragedians of the city” are Shakespeare’s own company. SMITH, PIZER & KAUFMAN (1958, p. 494) suggest that to accept the inhibition as a reference to the June 1600 decree is to propose a completion of the entire play some months later; but, since the lines could have been added after the first completion of the text, their argument cannot hold. Although the 1600 decree and the later order of December 1601 are the two main candidates for the “inhibition” as relating to legal restraints on players, CHAMBERS (1923, 2:206) at one point considered the possibility that the inhibition might have been that of 1603, after the death of Elizabeth, even though he concedes that “innouasion” “does not seem a very obvious term” for the accession of a new sovereign.
Interpretations of the “inhibition/innouasion” are often directly connected to the “little Yases” lines, as we have already seen in Malone and Honigmann. Such a connection affects dating and theories of revision. FLEAY (1886, p. 228) indicates that the “little Yases” passage points to 1601, which is his date for the first performance of Ham. Q2’s omission of the passage, he says, reflects a revision of 1603, by which time the controversy was over. HERFORD (ed. 1899, 8:126) argues for identifying the “late innouasion” with the child actors on the grounds that, since both versions were retained in F, the sarcastic account of the children must refer to the same object as the recent innovation. Hence a date of 1601, the time of the children’s popularity, is indicated. An additional argument for connecting the passages was adduced by W.H. GRIFFIN (Academy, 25 April 1896), who first identified Q2’s “innouasion” with the “noueltie” which, in Q1, is explicitly defined as the arrival of the child actors: “noueltie carries it away, For the principall publike audience that Came to them, are turned to priuate playes, And to the humour of children” (Q1 CLN 998-1001). CHAMBERS (1923, 2:206) comments that “this leaves ‘inhibition’ without a meaning.” FLEAY (1891, p.186) observes that Q1’s “humour of children” could not be a ‘novelty’ later than 1601, since they had begun to be fashionable in 1600. HONGIMANN (1956, p. 27) adapts Griffin’s observation to argue that the supposed piratical authors of Q1 must have understood “innovation” as meaning “noueltie.”
But the interpretation of “innouasion” as meaning novelty, whatever that novelty is taken to be, was challenged by BOAS (1923, p.23n): on the other occasions when Shakespeare uses “innovation” and its cognates (IH4 V.5.1.78, Oth. 2.3.40-2 cited by Boas; with Cor. 3.1.174, Sir Thomas More, MSR, Addn II, 216 added by WILSON, ed. 1934, p. 177), it has the sense of “insurrection, tumult, commotion.” If the meaning here is the same, the prime candidate becomes the Essex rebellion of 8 February 1601. Such an interpretation argues that the “inhibition/innouasion” lines are separate from the account of the boy actors in F. FLEAY (1886, pp. 227-8) had argued that 1601 must be the date for the performance of a first version of Ham. on the grounds that the innovation (which he interpreted as meaning a political innovation) refers to the Essex rebellion, so confirming the 1601 indicated by the “little Yases” passage. That the reference is to the Essex rebellion is adopted by GRAY (1932, pp. 52-53), WILSON (ed.1934, p. 177), and JENKINS (ed. 1982, pp. 3, 472). CHAMBERS (1944, p. 69) accepts Boas’s and Wilson’s argument from other uses of “innovation” and changes his previous view that “inhibition” “does not seem a very obvious term for a seditious rising” (1923, 2:206) and that the Essex rebellion was not being referred to (1930, 1:423). However, as THORNDIKE (1902, p. 132) and WILSON (ed. 1934, pp. 177-8) note, Sh.’s company were acting at court on the eve of Essex’s execution, and thus it is difficult to sustain the claim of GRAY (1932, p. 53) that the Essex affair had “inhibited” the company. On these grounds, HONIGMANN (1956, pp. 27-28) does not believe that the reference can be to the Essex rebellion, pointing out that “no political upheaval of this period seems to have led to an inhibition.” CHAMBERS’s (1944, p. 69) suggestion that an inhibition might have been imposed by the City and local Justices without waiting for instructions has not been taken up.
A totally different approach is suggested by BREUER (1987), that the reference to an “innouasion” may be purely internal to the play: the death of an old ruler and the succession of a brother could be seen as a novelty which might well have led to unquiet and insecurity, and thus to the banning of plays. In this case, the phrases offer no clues about dating. Breuer is supported by FARLEY-HILLS (1990, p. 9), who sees the “innouasion” as being “the political crisis caused by King Hamlet’s recent death.” Such an interpretation would explain why Q2 retains the “innouasion” lines while omitting reference to “the now passé war of the theatres.” Farley-Hills thus regards the “inhibition/innouasion” and “little Yases” passages as separate.
In sum, it will be evident that, while a number of arguments concerning the inhibition and innovation depend upon establishing a connection with the “little Yases” passage which follows in F, the political interpretation of the innovation can only be sustained by keeping the passages apart. CHAMBERS (1923, 2:41-3) does separate them, seeing the innovation passage and the discussion of the players’ loss of popularity as distinct: the latter passage responds to the baiting of the common stages in Jonson’s Poetaster, thus indicating a date of summer/autumn 1601 for Ham. JENKINS (ed. 1982, p. 471) also argues that the Q1 reporter, who attributed the players’ travelling to the novelty of the children, conflated two separate things, the innovation which explains why the actors are on tour, and the vogue of the children which explains why they have lost popularity. He adds that the phrase “the late innouasion” also suggests a particular event in the past, not a continuing one, as would be appropriate for an allusion to the child actors.
(i.1) addition or excision?
A further complication—in that the passage concerning the little eyases does not appear in Q2—is the question whether the lines were added to F or cut from Q2. MALONE (1778, p. 14; ed. 1790, 1:1:310), as we have noted, was the first to propose the most obvious inference, that the passage was probably an addition since it is not found in the quarto of 1604. But WILSON (1934, 1:97) argues that the passage was omitted from the quarto on the grounds that it “must have been written when the War of the Theatres was at its height, and cannot therefore have been added after the publication of Q2 in 1605 or even after 1602 when Roberts may have first received the copy from the Globe.” DUTHIE (1941, p. 84) accepts Wilson’s point, and sees the “little Yases” passage—on the grounds of his interpretation of the Essex reference in Harvey’s note—as an addition in 1601-2 to a possible Shn first version. LAWRENCE (1928, pp. 107-8) argues that the Q2 text is coherent—Hamlet’s remarks on the new popularity of Claudius being “another illustration of public caprice” to add to Rosencrantz’s statement that the players are not held in their former estimation. Conversely, GRAY (1932, p. 54n) finds the Q2 text disconnected, indicating an omission, and KIRSCHBAUM (1937, p. 175) agrees, detecting “no sequence between Hamlet’s remarks concerning the “Picture in little” and the preceding speeches.” HONIGMANN (1956, p. 27) sees both texts as reading connectively—which would point to an insertion rather than a cut—whereas, as WILSON (1934, 1:97) argues, three of the other four longish passages found in F but not Q2 “have left frayed edges” behind them. The fourth (2914-6; 4.5.161-3), says Honigmann, occurs in a scene where “the dialogue consists of frayed edges, and one more or less would not show.” For Honigmann, since the child actors are either an integral part of the dialogue or were neatly added when topical (probably the latter), mid-1601 must be the terminus ad quem for composition. But JENKINS (ed. 1982, pp.2-3) regards it as natural to assume that this passage belongs with another of the “frayed edge” cuts in the same scene (1285-1316); and he also argues that the text in Q2 does not read connectively, for the two instances of the public’s fickleness so brought together are actually not comparable: the first (that the tragedians have lost their following) “concerns the loss of popularity by those who formerly had it,” while the second (that Claudius has become popular) “shows an access of popularity by a man formerly disliked.” They are, however, both instances of the same general proposition.
Those who argue that the passage was cut in Q2 are left to explain the reasons for the cut. LEE (1915, p. 365), following FLEAY (1891, 2:187), suggests that the omission was “in deference” to Queen Anne, as patron of the children. WILSON (1934, 1:97-8) also mentions as a possibility that it was cut by censorship, “as reflecting unfavourably, upon the Children of the Chapel, who on the accession of James I had become the Children of the Queen’s Revels"; but he comments that “the War of the Theatres was such stale matter when the copy was handed over to Roberts that the players themselves may have deleted the reference,” concluding, however, that the cut was an accident of the printing-house. His conclusion (“undue haste on the part of the compositor”) is rejected by HONIGMANN (1956, p.27) on the grounds that the “omission” is “too neat to be just an accident.” Honigmann also rejects the idea that the players may have deleted it owing to its staleness because the passage remained in F when equally untopical. For BROWN (1955, p. 31), a study of the competence of the compositors for Q2 suggests that the passages called “omissions” by Wilson are likely to be additions to Sh.’s foul papers preserved in F. This argument is taken by Honigmann as corroboration for the theory that the “little Yases” lines were an afterthought in 1601, a theory he sees as supported by the unconvincing nature of explanations for their being cut in Q2. This view has been acknowledged by JENKINS (ed. 1982, p. 5), who reconciles it with the “cut” theory: “That a passage of topical interest should be inserted in a play and when no longer topical removed is not inherently unlikely; nor is it that less should be removed than was put in.” Further support for the addition theory comes from EDWARDS (ed. 1985, p.4), who sees the passage as “a kind of afterthought before he submitted his manuscript to his colleagues;” and from HIBBARD (ed. 1987, p. 5), for whom the lines are “a later addition to the revised version which . . . provided the copy for the Folio text."
Although a literal reading, whether the Essex rebellion or the War of the Theatres (or both) is taken as the referent, will therefore point to a date of 1601, the problem caused by the absence of the “little Yases” passage in Q2 casts the date into doubt.
(ii) “a little patch of ground”
WILSON (ed. 1934, p. 221; ed. 1936, pp. 305-6) argues that the captain’s mention of fighting for “a little patch of ground” (2743+11) alludes to English attacks on the sand-dunes of Ostend, described in Camden’s Annales as a contest “de sterili arena,” from 2 July 1601 till spring 1602, thus indicating “the late summer or autumn of 1601 as the date for Hamlet ” i.e. when public interest would be strongest. DUTHIE (1941, p. 84) accepts Wilson’s point, and sees this reference as—like the “little Yases” passage—an addition to a possible Shn first version. CHAMBERS (1944, pp. 70-5) rejects the idea on the grounds that the land involved was more than “a little patch,” and that Ostend was a militarily valuable town. HONIGMANN (1956, p. 31) implies, and JENKINS (ed. 1982, pp. 527-8) states, agreement with Chambers. GOLDRING (1982; apud WELLS & TAYLOR [1987, p. 122]) suggests that, in any case, the lines are more appropriate for the English victory at Nieuport on 22 June 1600, when approximately 6000 people were killed on a narrow strip of sand between two sets of dunes.
To refer words in a play, a piece of fiction, to a contemporary event is to make a large assumption. When critics disagree about which event is intended, the sands of certainty become even more shifting. Internal references can supply us with, at best, tantalising possibilities. The safest conclusion to any assessment of the evidence for dating Sh.’s most celebrated play is that though the Stationers’ Registry date of 1602 is the safest point of reference, it does not preclude subsequent or prior revision.
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