Playhouse Markings and the Revision of Hamlet


A revision narrative that sees Shakespeare transforming Hamlet into a different work of art when he transcribed his pre-theatrical “foul papers” (as represented by the second Quarto) into a clean copy suitable for theatrical preparation (as represented, at some remove, by the Folio) continues to dominate editorial practices today, despite a duplicated Q2 stage direction that signals the hand of a playhouse functionary in its underlying copy. This essay challenges existing paradigms of Hamlet revision by taking seriously the prospect that Roberts’ printinghouse set Q2 from a manuscript at least minimally prepared for theatrical performance. By exploring part-lines in Q2 and cuts effected between Q2 and F in light of the particularities of surviving playhouse manuscripts, this essay proposes that the authority for revision in Hamlet is likely more mixed than scholars have yet entertained. Shakespeare’s revising hand, potentially over the course of multiple revivals, is not discounted, but one need not posit a separate or profound stage of authorial revision in order to account for the differences between Q2 and F. Cancellations, sometimes entangled in minor textual alteration and open to subsequent inscription, complicate presumptions of a singular version “within” a playhouse manuscript. Questioning if every manuscript cancellation, whether in the Q2 or F copy, would or even could make “the printinghouse cut”, this essay proposes that the manuscript in Roberts’ printinghouse in 1604-5 might have looked something like Q2, but also a lot more like F than editorial rationales and comparative analyses of Q2 and F have contemplated. I’d be happy to discuss this essay with interested colleagues in advance of its publication and to share perspectives.