“Bad” Version of Hamlet

Recently I was told to go and admire the badness of Hamlet (Shakespeare) in Quarto 1. Apparently, it is known for is outright awfulness and is thought to be a pirated or first draft of Hamlet. After scanning through, I agree its pretty bad; however, I’m no scholar of Shakespeare so I cant determine how bad by any means. First off, after scanning I noticed that the character ‘Polonius’ is refereed to as ‘Corambis’ which is weird. Also ‘Reynoldo’ is now ‘Montano’ which is also confusing if you’ve read Othello. But those seem like minor details to me.

One of the most famous speeches in all of Shakespeare’s play is Hamlets “to be or not to be” speech. In normal copies of the play, this occurs in the 3rd act after establishing why Ophelia ‘randomly’ runs into Hamlet. However, in this version it happens in Act I, scene 7 and throws that whole scene off. Instead of it focusing on one or two things, it jumps all around and it filled with all kinds of randomness. It becomes of jumble of important plot points all wrapped into to one scene (not a good plan). Guilderstone and Rossencraft are mixed in that scene(about being spies), with Corambis talking to Hamlet (fishmonger) after he talks to Ofelia (go to a nunnery), and then the players of the play Hamlet is planning are also present. Basically its a mess of things thrown it to one scene.

Also in Quarto 1 is the stage directions; they are weird. (enter the ghost in his nightgown?) Besides that, the scene I previously mentioned has one part that of stage directions missing that seems pretty small but it helpful. When Hamlet first enters the scene, it just says he enters. However, in copies now it says he enters reading a book. In Quarto 1, I suppose it doesn’t really change that scene all that much; its a mess anyways. But, in copies now, it helps establish the ‘craziness’ Hamlets has fallen into. Hamlet reads the book while talking to Polonius/ Corambis and then starts talking about the words and their meanings. Essentially, showing the audience he’s kinda losing it. And that’s not there in Quarto 1; which makes the play even more ‘bad’.

Besides missing parts, changing names, and bad stage directions, I’m sure there is other stuff missing/ changed that adds to the badness of that version. Those are just a few examples I found that stuck out to me.


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