The Many Possible Interpretations of Hamlet

2555 Words11 Pages
The Many Possible Interpretations of Hamlet Towards the close of the play, Hamlet has a short exchange alone with Horatio, which seems intended to "set up" the final encounter with Laertes, the Queen, Claudius, and the whole Court, and to make absolutely clear the nature of his own involvement. The passage exists in two good versions; the second Quarto of 1604, and the Folio of 1623, which is now thought to represent Shakespeare's revision of the earlier version.11 This second text adds fourteen lines in which Hamlet seeks to justify, as "perfect conscience," his determination to kill Claudius with his own "arm"--or rather to "quit" him, which implies repaying as well.12 He then asks whether he would not be "damned" if he did nothing to eradicate "this canker of our nature" (V.ii.68-70). But even this later addition to the play does not establish a "plain and simple faith."13 We notice that Hamlet expresses himself in rhetorical questions which seem to qualify his momentary certainty. And only minutes later, as the last encounter approaches, his reluctance to tell all ("Thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart; but it is no matter," ll. 208-09) and a further intrusion of vigorous and baffling wordplay cloud over these ultimate issues once more. Immediately before the King and Queen enter on stage, Hamlet's words, spoken as he again finds himself alone with Horatio, are so tricky--or perhaps tricksy--that they baffled the original compositors of the text and have set modern editors at variance.14 Neither the Quarto nor Folio makes sense and various emendations have been proposed. No/knows; has/owes; leave/leaves; ought/all; of what/of ought, all collide and change places with each other in the different versions. Today a text might read, "Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows aught, what is't to leave betimes?" or "Since no man of ought he leaves, knows, what is't to leave . . .," or ". . . no man owes aught of what he leaves, what is't . . .," or ". . . no man knows of aught he leaves, what is't . . . ." (Was the speech ever absolutely clear in Shakespeare's autograph manuscript, or in his head?) With Hamlet's next words, as trumpet and drums [page 24] announce the King's arrival, the play's hero contrives yet another avoidance-tactic, refusing to talk further with a surprisingly curt "Let be.

More about The Many Possible Interpretations of Hamlet

Open Document