“I never gave you ought”: The Nunnery Scene Across Texts

There are three versions of Hamlet that have a rightful claim to be an “original” copy of the version written by William Shakespeare. All three legitimate claimants to an esteemed placement in literary canon have great similarity in plot and content, and all three were published during or immediately following the playwright’s lifetime. This multiplicity has been a major contributing factor to the presentation of the singular Hamlet most people imagine to exist. By looking at the 1603 Quarto (Q1), the 1604-5 Quarto (Q2), and finally the First Folio (FF) copies[1], there emerges a way of examining a text potentially in flux. This study examines a portion of one scene across the texts: Act III Scene i, specifically the confrontation between Hamlet and Ophelia[2]. This scene was chosen for specifically its nebulousness across the texts, and the potential interpretations for the critic, director, actor. By examining the changing and shifting nature of this scene across texts, there is the possibility to lift out a deeper understanding of the pathos and motivations behind the words. Also, the examination gives the slightest window into a potential working process for the playwright, as he negotiated his intentions and the demands of performance.

Structurally, the lines being focused on within this study follow the infamous “To be or not to be…” speech[3], but the placement of this scene in the plot of the play varies among the three versions. Q1 places the scene earlier in the play, before Hamlet begins working with the acting company on his trap for his uncle. Q2 and FF place the scene in the midst of the working action, possibly because the placement of the scene in the midst of the setting of the trap creates more tension. The audience has seen Hamlet for a longer length of time, and is more aware of his internal plotting with the setting of this scene at a chronologically later point. Q2 and FF have the best chances of showing an “edited” text[4], with the evidence of their later publication dates and substantial changes from Q1. The scene is also markedly shorter in Q1: 61 lines to Q2’s 73. The scene itself is structured differently among the texts, with lines being moved around more than being changed. Sections of dialogue are moved or lifted into different orders.

Hamlet notices Ophelia, and greets her in verse at the tail end of his soliloquy. “Soft you now, / The faire Ophelia? Nimph, in thy Orizons/ Be all my finnes remembred” is the FF version, while Q1 has the much simpler “Lady, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered”[5]. Q2 is virtually identical to FF’s version, and it seems the length is to make a greater emphasis when Hamlet shifts to prose in his exchange with Ophelia. In Q1, Ophelia immediately sets about trying to return Hamlet’s “Remembrances” or letters. However, in Q2 and FF she asks how he has been. In Q2 he responds with “I humbly thank you, well” while in FF he says “well” thrice. The repetition of the word gives it a mocking tone, signifying that in the FF version he has likely immediately re-affected his madness. Q2 gives a chance for Hamlet to be sincere in his response. This is an instance where the texts represent divergent attitudes and affects for an actor to undertake. The shift to prose that is present in all texts for Hamlet’s dialogue suggests several things. First, prose allows for a quicker pace. It also is juxtaposed with Ophelia’s constant use of verse. Hamlet’s use of prose brings him down a level, and changes him textually. In a way, Ophelia is more consistent in this exchange, and is in the “higher” form as she sticks to verse. She is measured as Hamlet lacks meter. Hamlet’s responses and questions in prose bring him down as he brings Ophelia’s character down. However, she retains her lofty position, and remains in the position of offering up her “orisons”—throughout Hamlet’s ranting, she prays for heavenly intervention for his sanity. This masking of speech from Hamlet separates the two and enforces the possibility that performance is the true conflict between the pair.

In Q1, Hamlet immediately begins interrogating Ophelia with “Are you fair?” after the attempted return of his letters. In contrast, Q2 and FF have him deny giving her “ought”. This is the biggest variation in structure among the texts within this particular scene. Q1 seems to give Hamlet immediate suspicion upon the return of the letters; Q2 and FF seem to indicate a sort of shock with his quick denial. Hamlet, later in the play, will proclaim that he loved Ophelia more than anyone. The brevity of Q1 takes away from this proclamation of love. Q2 and FF, rather, give the sense that Hamlet is genuinely taken aback by the return of his letters. His denial could be a form of shock, and the fruit of true affection being spurned. Ophelia’s pressing of Hamlet and her insistence that “Rich gifts wax poore, when giuers proue vnkinde” provokes Hamlet greatly. Q2 and FF seem to have a natural crescendo, more harmonized than Q1’s version. It seems likely that the rearrangement of the scene shows Shakespeare at work in some way, that he recognized the pacing of the scene required shifting and additions to be believable. The edits, if they are thus, show a greater pathos than their earlier kin.

Hamlet’s rant about honesty and beauty might reveal a true interior of his character within the scene. Hamlet has projected his mother onto Ophelia, and is unable to distinguish them as separate women. The difference between Q1 and the other texts is that Hamlet never makes any claim to have once loved Ophelia to her face in Q1. He only insists “I never gave you nothing” (7.153-4) where he claims “I did loue you once” in FF. Within Q1, his proclamations are confined to his letters and her grave. In Q2 and FF it becomes possible Hamlet’s insistence that Ophelia get to a Nunnery may well be his harsh attempt to preserve her from the corruption he sees in marriage as a result of his parents’ failed marriage.

Affectation and acting have a great impact on this scene’s tension. To a degree, both Ophelia and Hamlet are acting parts in front of each other, and the affectation is the conflict. How much sincerity is each character utilizing within the scene? More validly, at which point for each of the pair do their masks go on and off? It is possible that the scene begins with Ophelia masked and Hamlet open, then ends with Hamlet masked and Ophelia forcibly unmasked by Hamlet’s performance. Ophelia is aware that her father and the king are listening to the pair. If Hamlet realizes he is being watched, when does he make the realization? Textually, the easiest answer in all three versions would have to be when Hamlet asks Ophelia “Where’s your Father?”, but various points indicate that he may be aware of the eavesdroppers. It’s possible he is aware from the very beginning, as an explanation for his treatment of Ophelia. When Hamlet discusses the dishonesty of men, and tells Ophelia “beleeue none of vs”, this indicates an accusation directed toward the men who are dishonestly listening. Hamlet is already suspicious of Polonius as a spy for his uncle; he would naturally now associate his daughter with this suspicion[6]. At the very least, the texts seem to indicate that he must know by the end of the encounter, because his lines “Thofe that are married already, all but one fhall liue, the reft fhall keep as they are” indicate the king as the “but one” doomed to death.

Ophelia’s epitaph to this encounter[7] is different among the three texts, giving various inlets to her reaction to Hamlet’s exterior appearance and behavior. The biggest difference is in Q1, where she gives a quick four-line prayer[8]:

Great God of heaven, what a quick change is this!

The courtier, scholar, soldier, all in him,

All dashed and splintered thence! O, woe is me

To ha’ seen what I have seen, see what I see!

Meanwhile, here are the Q2 and FF versions side by side:

O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,

Th’expectation and rose of the fair state,

The glass of fashion and the mould of form,

Th’observed of all observers, quite, quite down.

And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,

That sucked the honey of his musicked vows,

Now see that noble and most sovereign reason

Like sweet bells jangled out of time and harsh—

That unmatched form and feature of blown youth

Blasted with ecstasy. O woe is me

T’have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

O what a Noble minde is heere o’re-throwne?

The Courtiers, Soldiers, Schollers: Eye, tongue, fword,

Th’expectanfie and Rofe of the faire State,

The glaffe of Fashion and the mould of Forme,

Th’obferu’d of all Observers, quite, quite downe.

Haue I of Ladies most deiect and wretched,

That fuck’d the Honie of his Musicke Vowes:

Now fee that Noble, and most Soueraigne Reafon,

Like fweet Bels iangled out of tune, and harfh—

That vnmatch’d Forme and Feature of blowne youth,

Blafted with extafie. O woe is me,

T’haue feene what I haue feene: fee what I fee.

Q1 appears to be a gutted version of the Q2 and FF versions, but the better hypothesis is that the later versions were edited for more gravity. Q1’s simplicity takes away from the inner turmoil Ophelia faces following the conversation. There is more that Ophelia needs to say following Hamlet’s abuse of her person and the apparent resolution of their romance. It also serves to make Ophelia’s later madness more jarring. She approaches Hamlet’s madness with solemnity and reasoned observations about the impact this madness has not only on her, but also on the whole of Denmark. Ophelia is firmly sane in this scene, and that firm sanity makes her later losses more noticable[9].

The majority of differences between this speech Q2 and FF are spelling and grammar conventions, which were unreliable at best at this point in printing history. These variations, though, give a lot for an actress to consider in performance. After all, punctuation kept could give great insight. Could the capitalization of certain words give them a different emphasis in performance? For an immediate example, the speaking of the second line would alter considerably when using the FF version, because it has a colon that breaks things up[10]. The lines are slowed down by the addition of so much punctuation, which is conventionally seen as a pause. The first line has a question mark rather than an exclamation point in the FF version. In fact, there are no exclamation points in the FF version. The FF version is then slower, more considerate than Q2. Q2 seems to be said in breathless passion, while FF might be said in measured shock.

Then there is the issue of “time” and “tune” in the ninth line of the epitaph. Both work in the context of music and the metaphor, and both could easily be mistaken from a handwritten manuscript for each other. “Out of time” suggests the cacophony of music not ordered by time. Anyone with the experience of hearing a band or orchestra warm up would be familiar with the sensations associated with the lack of “time”. The snatches of melody and scales intermingling with general noise as musicians warm up and prepare for performance is loud and at times painful[11]. This suggests a familiarity of sound, but a lack of order. “Out of tune” suggests the order is present, but the sound is wrong. In some ways, the two lines are inversions of each other, and each has a significant impact on meaning. Both highlight the “wrongness” of what Ophelia has heard; although she can recognize aspects that are familiar to her within Hamlet, she can also detect disorder. The choice of “time” or “tune” might then be informed by what type of performance Hamlet gives, and what the director of a performance may wish to convey unto his audience. The contrast could be unintentional, but a decision on which to use could prove to have a larger impact on the play than thought possible in the hands of a skilled director.

What emerges for consideration from the bodies of Q1, Q2, and FF are several choices and possibilities. How much of the scene is performance on the part of the characters? Careful consideration of the text gives possibility to the pathos of conflicting performance, and even the possibility that Hamlet and Ophelia hurt each other deeply in the act of trying to spare each other from the dangers each perceives for the other. Ironically, Ophelia falls victim to precisely what she sees as a danger to Hamlet: madness will have her reason jangled out of tune, and she will drown singing her own music. This scene, then, has the capability to set the tone for the rest of the play. It can lend sincerity or falsehood to Hamlet’s proclamations of love at Ophelia’s grave; it can add poignancy to Ophelia’s madness. Thus, careful consideration of all available texts makes a single performance or reading more textured and rich. These convergences and divergences serve to make the play multi-faceted and empowered, and should be looked at with enthusiasm rather than trepidation. Variety and alternate viewpoints are what makes the multiplicity of this play so unique, even among other plays written by Shakespeare.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies. “The tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke”. Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed. Blount [at the charges of W. Iaggard, Ed. Blount, I. Smithweeke, and W. Aspley], 1623. Web. 5 July 2014. <http://firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/download/pdfs/F-ham.pdf&gt;.

Shakespeare, William, and Ann Thompson. Hamlet. Reprint. London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2006. Print

Shakespeare, William, and Ann Thompson. Hamlet, the texts of 1603 and 1623. . Reprint. London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2007. Print.

[1] Q1 and Q2 are being sourced from the Arden 3 series, while the FF is being sourced from the Bodleian’s First Folio facsimile. Spellings and punctuations are kept true from the facsimile, while Q1 and Q2 are copied as shown in the Arden 3 versions.

[2] Q1 7.137-98, Q2 3.1.87-160, FF pages 265-6.

[3] This speech alone would warrant its own study, which is why it has been omitted here.

[4] Presuming the validity of Q1.

[5] “Nymph” gives an otherworldly quality to Ophelia, and maybe even signifies that she is something of nature, foreshadowing her return to it via drowning. Also, it seems likely that Hamlet is acknowledging Ophelia as being lost to him as a result of his father’s vengeance.

[6] Yet another way the pair is separated by outside forces.

[7] And presumably an epitaph to Hamlet’s sanity.

[8] Another orison to remind us of Hamlet’s sins?

[9] This scene, in particular, seems a good argument against the idea Ophelia is prone to madness. Rather, it suggests that she is obviously driven to insanity.

[10] Presumably to show possession of the “Eye, tongue, fword”.

[11] Especially painful with a lack of expertise in the musicians’ ranks—out of time and out of tune is probably the most painful to witness.


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