Books In an effort to acknowledge the passage of time and how even some of their Third Series publications might require some reconsideration, as scholarship begins on the Fourth Series, Arden presents this revised edition of Hamlet, first published in 2006 with some thirty extra pages inserted to present additional scholarship and further productions and publications. For some reason, having gratefully received review copies of the plays for some years now, in my memory I'd already reviewed the earlier version and was all ready to simply link back to my opinion with some necessary amendations of that opinion. But it appears not. Right, then.
The Arden Hamlet was and is groundbreaking for presenting all three extant Hamlet texts, first Quarto, second Quarto and first Folio (ignoring later reprints) across two publications and treating them as separate entities worthy of study in and of themselves. All three texts contain lines and scenes which don't appear in the others or in the case of the first Quarto whole sections which are simply different, some would argue incoherent and there's been much discussion as illustrated by the authors in their introduction as to exactly where they came from before they were published in this editions.
Previously, with the exception of facsimiles, editors have taken it upon themselves to try and create a "right" or "ideal" version of the play, attempting to reproduce "what Shakespeare intended". This led them to either choose the second Quarto or Folio as their base text (and including variations at the end) or as was customary for years, and often still is, a conflation, drawing together all three texts, compiling a version which mixes together the three texts. Before I became a fan, I assumed there was only ever one text of Hamlet, the conflated version, surely studied much in schools for many years and was amazed to find that simply wasn't what Shakespeare wrote.
Taylor and Thompson take the view that because can't really know the origin of the texts before they appeared in the relevant publications and that it's their job as scholarly publishers to present the texts in as readable editions as possible that they should, with the exception of modernising the text and "fixing" error in the original printing, present them pretty much as is. For more on the implications that has on the Q1 and F1 texts, see my original review of the accompanying volume containing those texts. For all its textual "faults", Q1's scene structure has become pervasive as a signpost for directors seeking to the cut the text.
The evidence based approach pervades the publication, as the authors seeking to present the arguments of previous scholars whilst enunciating just how much assumption and hearsay has seeped into scholarship, the need to back-up shaky arguments transforming maybes into certainties. We can't know exactly the relationship between the various texts whether they're successive rewrites, alternative versions for different venues and even if Shakespeare himself had a hand in their preparation or another hand. But scholars across history have become lost up numerous blind alleys.
The structure of the book is standard Arden with the "eclectic" approach of the Third Series allowing the authors to choose the topic which mostly interests them. Here that means that although some lip service is given to the psychoanalytic approach to Hamlet's character, the discussion focuses primarily, across the introduction and appendices, on the textual matters and discrepancies which then feeds into a production and publication history hinting towards a suggestion that the interpretation methodologies of editors, actors, authors and directors converge.
The decadal update extends these themes with the inevitable mismatch between four hundred and then ten years being concentrated on in similar number of pages. The authors also bravely include criticism of their original publication, from the decision to treat Q1 with the same respect as the other versions to individual choices within the actual text. Inevitably there's still an obvious cut off point, as the text doesn't noticed that Maxine Peake's performance was filmed for release and there's no mention of the Radio 4 Afternoon Drama production starring Jamie Parker.
Nevertheless, of all the Hamlet editions available this is the publication I'd recommend to anyone seeking a scholarly edition of the play and have on numerous occasions. Reading appendix 2, which carefully unpicks the differences between the texts and the misapprehensions wrought on them across numerous publications was the first time I really became suspicious of scholarly motive and realised that there isn't one Hamlet. There's what's in the original text and then the hundred of different versions since, on the page and on the stage.
Hamlet: Revised Edition. (The Arden Shakespeare). Edited by Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson is published by Bloomsbury. £8.99 paperback. ISBN: 9781472518385. Review copy supplied.