The Reading of Books and the Reading of Literature

Forming the English Canon > Hamlet

In the seventeenth century, Hamlet had not yet achieved the literary status it has today. In fact, in this volume of plays bound together, Hamlet (published 1683) does not receive pride of place and is instead placed between Henry Purcell’s oft-neglected The Fairy Queen and Dryden’s All for Love.

The title page of this book emphasizes Hamlet’s theatrical qualities, not its literary ones. The performance venue features prominently on the title page.

Inside the book, the editor emphasizes the play’s literary and performance qualities. The play is long and thus not suited for performance, unless some text is taken out. Printing a performance text, however, would wrong the “incomparable Author.” Throughout the book, a “ sign marks lines that were excised in performance. In the sixteenth century, “ was used to indicate commonplaces.

It is amusing that one of the most sententious speeches in all of Shakespeare – Polonius’ to-thine-own-self-be-true speech – would be excised in performance.

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