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HomeFeaturesOne Hamlet or many? Rushdie, Dalrymple rake up debate on Shakespeare drafts

One Hamlet or many? Rushdie, Dalrymple rake up debate on Shakespeare drafts

Author Salman Rushdie called out William Dalrymple's purported claim that Shakespeare had a "second draft" of Hamlet.

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New Delhi: “What a piece of work is man,” wrote Shakespeare in the much-acclaimed tragedy Hamlet more than 400 years ago. Or did he?

This age-old question, on Shakespeare and the many contentions surrounding the authorship of the plays attributed to him, has been raked up once again by prominent British novelist Salman Rushdie.

It all started after author William Dalrymple apparently said at a talk, “When Shakespeare was writing the second draft of ‘Hamlet’ in London…”

As a Time magazine editor mentioned this in a tweet, Rushdie responded asking whether Dalrymple had actually seen a draft of Hamlet to make the claim.

“This could revolutionize Shakespeare scholarship,” he added in his post.

Rushdie’s response to Dalrymple’s claim isn’t unwarranted since there is no absolute proof that Shakespeare authored multiple drafts of the play. 

Dalrymple hadn’t yet responded to the comment at the time of publishing.

On pirated Quartos and flamboyant Folios 

There are three versions of Hamlet available — Quarto 1 published in 1603, Quarto 2 (1604 or 1605) and the Folio version which was published in 1623 by his colleagues and friends.

Quartos are small books which were made by folding a printed sheet twice and usually consisted of eight pages. They were rough and less sturdy, and were meant for common use. Almost half of Shakespeare’s plays were printed as one-play quartos in his lifetime.

The first Quarto of Hamlet is considered a ‘bad quarto’ because of its dubious textual authority. Many scholars believe that this version was not authored by Shakespeare but rather by someone who was part of the early performances of the play or even by an audience member.
Quarto 1 of Hamlet | Wikipedia
Quarto 1 of Hamlet | Wikipedia

This bootlegged version of the play is almost half in length of the second Quarto and does not contain significant lines and passages reinforcing the theory that it was written from memory. This version also contains interesting stage directions, which were absent from the later versions of the play.

The second Quarto, published in 1604 or 1605, is considered the ‘actual’ text of the play and is believed to be the Bard’s original version. The title page of the Quarto read, “Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie.” The text of this version is much more elaborate and coherent than the first one.

Quarto 1 of Hamlet | Wikipedia
Quarto 2 of Hamlet | Wikipedia

The final version was in the First Folio of 1623 published by John Heminge and Henry Condell who were actors and Shakespeare’s friends. Folios are large books where a printed sheet is folded once. They are more extravagant and expensive and usually catered to the upper echelons of Elizabethan society.

The Hamlet included in the First Folio contained 22 additional lines and almost 250 lines have been omitted in this version.

Shakespeare’s First Folio | Wikipedia

Ur-Hamlet, a play based on Norse Mythology, is considered to be a major source of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There is no surviving text of this play but it is widely believed to have been authored by Thomas Kyd. A popular theory is that this was an early version of Hamlet authored by Shakespeare himself.

Thus, it’s actually difficult to ascertain with absolute certainty which version was actually authored by Shakespeare, if at all. This fact was further iterated by Rushdie in a subsequent reply as he said, “Neither theory justifies @DalrympleWill’s flamboyant assertion.”


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