This is part of a bi-weekly series here at TSS: Early Modern and Open Access regularly showcases peer-reviewed articles (or other resources) of interest to early modernists that are freely available in open access formats.
This essay argues that Q1 Hamlet represents the earliest version of Shakespeare’s play, written in the late 1580s. The argument builds upon, and for the first time combines, evidence in Terri Bourus, Young Shakespeare’s Young Hamlet: Print, Piracy and Performance (2014) and Zachary Lesser, Hamlet After Q1 (2015). It concentrates on differences between Q1 and the later, expanded, canonical texts of the play, specifically in relation to the age of Hamlet and the Queen. It emphasizes that Hamlet’s age crucially affects the age, sexuality, and political importance of his mother (an issue ignored by male critics). Hamlet’s age has been a factor in performances of the play from Burbage and Betterton in the seventeenth century to 2015 productions of Q1. Why then did Harold Jenkins in 1982 dismiss the importance of Hamlet’s age? To contextualize Jenkins’ dismissal (founded on the principles of both New Criticism and New Bibliography), this essay traces scholarship on the age difference back to the 1870s. It focuses particularly on the conflict between two influential texts: A. C. Bradley’s Shakespearean Tragedy (1904) and L.C. Knight’s “How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?” (1933). It also calls attention to neglected details of Thomas Nashe’s 1589 allusion to “whole Hamlets of tragical speaches”: these point to Shakespeare as the author of the 1580s play, and also to specific details found in Q1 but not present in Belleforest’s story of Amleth in Histoires Tragiques.