In 1823, Sir Henry Bunbury discovered a badly bound volume of twelve
Shakespeare plays in a closet of his manor house. Nearly all of the
plays were first editions, but one stood out as extraordinary: a
previously unknown text of Hamlet that predated all other versions.
Suddenly, the world had to grapple with a radically new—or
rather, old—Hamlet in which the characters, plot, and poetry of
Shakespeare's most famous play were profoundly and strangely
Q1, as the text is known, has been declared a rough draft, a shorthand
piracy, a memorial reconstruction, and a pre-Shakespearean "ur-Hamlet,"
among other things. Flickering between two historical moments—its
publication in Shakespeare's early seventeenth century and its
rediscovery in Bunbury's early nineteenth—Q1 is both the first
and last Hamlet. Because this text became widely known only after the
familiar version of the play had reached the pinnacle of English
literature, its reception has entirely depended on this uncanny
temporal oscillation; so too has its ongoing influence on twentieth-
and twenty-first-century ideas of the play.
|Zachary Lesser examines how
the improbable discovery of Q1 has forced readers to reconsider
accepted truths about Shakespeare as an author and about the nature of
telling the story of this mysterious quarto and tracing the debates in
newspapers, London theaters, and scholarly journals that followed its
discovery, Lesser offers brilliant new insights on what we think we
mean by Hamlet.
Hamlet After Q1
An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text
by Zachary Lesser
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014