Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Hamlet' by John Marsden.

There’s something a tradition of turning out prose adaptations of Hamlet and it’s only right to investigate these singular interpretations along with the productions of Shakespeare’s text. The author’s analysis of the characters can take full advantage of the novel’s form, removing perhaps the artifice of the soliloquy by spelling out the internal dialogue which Shakespeare hints at when an actor would other stand up-stage and address the audience (or not depending upon the director). There’s also even more room for experimentation, since a reader will more than likely already be familiar with the story even as they turn to the first page leaving room for the writer to offer a different approach to the story.

John Marsden’s novel retells the story as a kind of Elsinore 90210, injecting some of the adolescent longings and leanings which Shakespeare only hints at. Following the same evidence that Steve Roth points to that Hamlet, Horatio and their peers are all of post-pubescent age, he reinforces within them the beating heart of young passion, to the extent that because they’re still becoming used to the changes in their own bodies, they’re emotionally ill equipped to deal with the encroaching requirements of being part of the royal family, and Hamlet in particular with the responsibilities of avenging his fathers death. We visit them during some eye-wideningly sensual moments, in which we become voyeurs, not of the wider psychological motivations of the characters as literary criticism might have it, but something far more intimate, graphic and primal.

Marsden also shifts about Shakespeare’s narrative, placing the discovery of Hamlet Snr’s Ghost up front before the throne room scene, for example, giving the impression of memories, of Horatio perhaps trying remember the order of events and getting it slightly wrong. As the novel progresses, these details seem to snap back into focus and as such the novel becomes less interesting, more like a straight prose retelling of the story. But the book continues to be worth reading (even with a skipping eye), for Marsden’s keen ability to express the details of the Elsinore court, particular the usually forgotten staff from the servants to the cooks who he renders with the kind of Dickensian minutiae that even filmed productions rarely achieve.

Hamlet by John Marsden is published by Candlewick Press. £10.31. ISBN: 076364451X.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shakespeare Quartos Archive Opens Access to Hamlet

I was sent the following press release yesterday by the communication department at the Bodlean Library for something which sounds and is rather amazing. Which is why I'm simply going to post their explanation in full:
Oxford, 16 November 2009 – The highly-anticipated Shakespeare Quartos Archive has been officially launched today with a complete digital collection of rare early editions of Hamlet. For the first time, all 32 existing quarto copies of the play held by participating UK and US institutions are freely available online in one place (www.quartos.org). This initiative is jointly led by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford and the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, through a joint transatlantic grant from Jisc in the UK and the National Endowment for the Humanities in the US.

Controversy surrounds Hamlet as there were several different versions published before the theatres were closed in 1642. The most significant differences are between the first folio, and the first (Q1) and second (Q2) quartos. For example, in Q1 Hamlet’s famous soliloquy appears in a different scene and begins “To be, or not to be, I there’s the point / To die, to sleep, is that all? I all” and the edition documents an entire scene not present elsewhere. Meanwhile Q2 is almost twice the length, with various additions including a new soliloquy for Hamlet.

Now scholars can explore these different quarto versions side by side for the first time on the project website. It features high-quality reproductions and searchable full text of surviving copies of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in quarto in an interactive interface. Functions and tools – such as the ability to overlay images, compare them side-by-side, and mark and tag features with user annotations – facilitate scholarly research, performance studies, and new applications for learning and teaching.

The project, which began in April 2008, reunites all 75 pre-1642 quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays into a single online collection. The prototype interface is at present fully functional only for Hamlet, but the Shakespeare Quartos Archive plans to apply this technology to all the plays in quarto, and to seek involvement from new partner institutions.

Richard Ovenden, Associate Director and Keeper of Special Collections, Bodleian Library said: ‘The Bodleian Library has been delighted to lead the UK side of this international partnership. Together with our partner institutions we have brought together all the existing quarto editions of Shakespeare's plays in one place. Featuring a set of innovative interactive tools, this digital resource will also open new ways of accessing and researching the original texts of Hamlet. We are confident that the Shakespeare Quartos Archive will become an indispensable online resource for the worldwide community of scholars, teachers and students with an interest in Shakespeare. It is a valuable addition to the increasing number of Bodleian's digital collections.’

Gail Kern Paster, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, said: ‘The Shakespeare Quartos Archive presents new and innovative opportunities that were simply unavailable before for scholars, teachers, and students to explore Hamlet.’

In the absence of surviving manuscripts, the quartos—Shakespeare’s earliest printed editions—offer the closest known evidence of what Shakespeare might actually have written, and what appeared on the early modern English stage.

Alastair Dunning, Digitisation Programme Manager at Jisc, said: ‘Early copies of Shakespeare's plays are now scattered across the world's great libraries and viewing each one in person would be a monumental task. However, international projects such as the Shakespeare Quartos Archive provide a valuable opportunity for such collections to be reunited and re-examined in their entirety.’

The Shakespeare Quartos Archive contains texts drawn from the British Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Huntington Library, the National Library of Scotland, and the University of Edinburgh Library, in addition to the Bodleian Library. These six institutions worked in conjunction with the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland, and The Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, to digitize and transcribe 32 copies of Hamlet.
You can see the Quarto's at www.quartos.org.

As an act of scholarship this is immense. Though there are printed facsimiles of these editions are available, together with amalgams which gave the "best" versions of each of the pages, as they say this is really the first time that critics, editors and students are able to properly compare and contrast these different editions and be able to see how our interpretation of the plays change and develop depending upon the version of the text that we are studying. The inclusion of the so-called Bad Quarto, I, allows us to enjoy a kind of alternate reality in which the play is shorter, slightly garbled, but still has its own unique power:
"To be, or not to be, I there's the point,
To Die, to sleepe, is that all? I all:
No, to sleepe, to dreame, I mary there it goes,
For in that dreame of death, when wee awake,
And borne before an euerlasting Iudge,
From whence no passenger euer retur'nd,
The vndiscouered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.
But for this, the ioyfull hope of this,
Whol'd beare the scornes and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich curssed of the poore?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong'd,
The taste of hunger, or a tirants raigne,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweate vnder this weary life,
When that he may his full Quietus make,
With a bare bodkin, who would this indure,
But for a hope of something after death?
Which pusles the braine, and doth confound the sence,
Which makes vs rather beare those euilles we haue,
Than flie to others that we know not of.
I that, O this conscience makes cowardes of vs all,
Lady in thy orizons, be all my sinnes remembred.
Just once I'd like to see a production of the First Quarto. Or for a production to substitute some of the text to keep the audience on their toes. You think you know that solliquey? Listen to this ...

Friday, November 13, 2009