Hamlet's age

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Does anybody get how Hamlet is 30 (Gravedigger and Hamlet, V.i.144 - 164)? My knowlede of history says complete Renaissance education (school in Wittenberg) ended about age 17, + if he's so popular and promising as Claudius and Ophelia say, why was he not elected king instead of Claudius unless the voters think he's too young? Anyone know how old the first Hamlet actor

-- catherine england (catherineamer@hotmail.com), October 03, 2001


I don't believe anyone's really understood how Hamlet could be 30 except that it "says so". If he's still a student at thirty, then his fellow student, Horatio must be EVEN OLDER than Hamlet since he remembers Old Hamlet's war with Norway (I,i,63-64), the day Hamlet was supposedly born! The First Quarto version of the play makes no mention of the gravedigger's 30 years on the job nor mention of Hamlet's birth. Also, in that version, Yorick as only been dead for 12 years, not 23. Hamlet certainly doesn't act like he's 30... My guess is that since nobody's perfect, Mr. Shax (or his scribe) probably forgot what he'd written at the beginning of the play. The Arden Edition of the play has an very good extensive analysis regarding this point.

Richard Burbage, who first played young Hamlet was likely in his 30's at the time.

-- Virginia (vsmleong@home.com), October 03, 2001.

Thanks heaps: this has bugged me for years. You've bolstered my feeling that Hamlet rightly should be, as he behaves, about 18, have a good talk with his mother, and ideally get a girlfriend more like Viola than Ophelia; and that the Gravedigger's line was perhaps put in to explain why Hamlet (Burbage) didn't look this young.

-- catherine england (catherineamer@hotmail.com), October 04, 2001.

[I don't know why, but my responses keep getting cut off]

The poor kid has had his head filled with moral philosophy and 'the dignity of man', then finds out real life doesn't quite measure up.

It's like the line in PETER'S FRIENDS: "kindergarten - school - university - black hole".

-- catherine england (catherineamer@hotmail.com), October 04, 2001.

I actually got quite obsessive on this question. Check out:


I hope you find it interesting. Feel free to drop a line with any thoughts.


-- Steve Roth (steve@steve-roth.com), November 09, 2001.

There seems to be no other conclusion of Hamlet's age contained wiithin the play (excluding, of course, the gravedigger's statments regarding his own years of employment as a gravedigger, and his statements regarding Yorick's death).

However, judging by the fact that Hamlet is a student, it sees unlikely that the Hamlet was meant to be portrayed as a thirty- year old character. Throughout the play, he seems to be in the prime of his life (on the whole, his behavior throughout the play seem to portray him as a young man). His love affair with Ophelia proves that he's still unmarried (which is unlikely, seeing as how, during the time period in whch Shakepere wrote this play, men and women generally married within their teen years).

Thus, the textual support (within the play) guarantees that Hamlet is thirty. However, it can be argued that he is younger (but that must be judged from the content of the play, and not from an actual quote from the play').

-- John Gilbert (TheValiant632@hotmail.com), January 19, 2003.

NOTE! THIS MESSAGE I WILL HAVE TO POST IN TWO HALVES SEEING AS IT APPEARS TO BE "TOO LONG" TO POST IN ONE HIT!? Pah! Shakespeare specifically wrote that Hamlet was thirty years old. He wouldn't have made such a specific point by accident. He meant Hamlet to be thirty years of age. "But Hamlet was still a student at Wittenberg University" you all say. Well, actually, no, this may well not be true. I am not saying that it isn't true, but the only evidence that he is still a student at Wittenberg is solely based on Claudius' statement: "For your intent in going back to school in Wittenberg it is most retorograde to our desire". Now on first instinct of that statement we assume that Hamlet has returned to Elsinore following the death of his father and now wants to return to school. But what if Hamlet had been living at court for some years, and now, following his fathers death and his mothers hasty remarriage, feels he is unable to live there and decides to return to Wittenberg where he once was happy? This idea is consistent with the text, both of Claudius' request and his mother's plea, "Go not to Wittenberg". It seems strange that his mother should plead for him not to return. There seems no real, just reason for it (that i can think of) unless for the reason I have stated.

-- Patrick Walker (criesandwhispers666@yahoo.com), January 19, 2003.

CONTINUED FROM PRIOR POSTING... More evidence points to this idea: when he meets Horatio in ActI SceneII he barely recognises him at first, and Hamlet has been gone, what, merely two months? Even their conversation seems to be one of old friends who haven't met for a long time. The same goes for his conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. When they tell Hamlet of the players that are coming to court Hamlet asks what players they are. He is told "Even those you were wont to take such delight in, the tragedians of the city". Hamlet asks "Do they hold the same estimation they did when I was in the city?". If we take the obvious conclusion that the "city" was Wittenberg, these two being Hamlet's school friends, then this and the rest of the conversation that follows about the actors shows that clearly Hamlet has not been in the city for some time. Years, even. Also, Hamlet's welcoming speech to the players themselves show us the same. He notes that one has grown a beard and another has broke his voice since they last met! Lastly I will point to the fact that for Hamlet NOT to have lived at court prior to the death of his father will have meant his relationship with Ophelia would have been born within the time of the opening of the play and Hamlet's return to Wittenberg (and within his mourning period)- within (or less than) two months. Though this last matter is not unlikely, it raises an interesting point that I expect many others haven't wondered upon. I think I may place this answer as a "question" on the forum for some of our regular's to muse upon. Tarrah!!

-- Patrick Walker (criesandwhispers666@yahoo.com), January 19, 2003.

Well then, I reserve the right to spread my favours too: I've brought this over from "Hamlet and Wittenberg".

One just can't get away from the fact that Hamlet is consistently, and often, in various ways, described as, referred to, and called 'young'. See I.i.174-175, I.iii.5- 14 and 115-126, I.v.16 and 38, II.ii.131-132 and 189-190, III.i.154 and 161, IV.i.19, IV.vii.70-81...96-104.

Throughout the play characters repeatedly state that the passions of love are strong in youths. Laertes, Polonius and Hamlet himself all state this. Gertrude implies it in III.i.38-40. In II.ii, III.i, III.ii, and III.iv we are shown Hamlet fighting what he feels for Ophelia, while in V.i he finally admits to it.

Laertes and Fortinbras are set up and pitted against Hamlet, thematically as well as within the narrative. They are also consistenly described as young.

Hamlet's very early conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in II.ii, and occasionally his dialogue with Horatio, amounts to the bantering chatter of youths similar to that of Romeo and his friends in ROMEO AND JULIET. And youths mock their elders while elders disparage youths - happens in HENRY IV PART I, MUCH ADO, etc., as well as R & J and HAMLET.

Also, it would be very unusual for a Prince, the only son and heir of a King (even though Denmark's monarchy is elective) to not be married by thirty: there would be grave concern about the continuation of the familial line, the dynasty.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), January 21, 2003.

Thirty (which Hamlet is sometimes taken to be purely because of the gravedigger’s few very debateable lines about time in V.i.138-178) was definitely middle-aged. In fact if you made it to thirty you were lucky. Nobody, especially of Hamlet's class was still studying at univesity at thirty. You left school and went to university as young as eleven or twelve. By the time you were in your late teens you were out fighting battles, or managing your estates, or filling important roles in the Church, especially as much of the previous generation had already died off.

I find fairly convincing Harold Jenkins' arguments about the meanings of 'thiry' and 'three and twenty.' He considerss that the 'thirty' was probably an idiomatic expression not so much intending the specific figure 30, but with the symbolic meaning of most of, or all the noteable part of, one’s life. Hence, notably, the emphasis on this figure in the playlet of THE MOUSETRAP in III.ii.150-157. Jenkins further argues that the figure 'three and twenty' was idiomatic for a symbolic meaning of the period of time separating one from one’s childhood. (Jenkins, The Arden Shakespeare ‘Hamlet’, pp. 553-554.)

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), January 21, 2003.

I believe hamlet is approximately 16. At the beginning of the play we learn he is attending university, and throughout the play he is treated as a young man. It appears the grave digger is suggesting he is 30 but look closer....when the clown is talking he says "bin sixteen here, man and boy thirty years" which can be read as meaning he worked as a grave digger for 16 years and he has been a man and a boy for 30 years. so this would make hamlet 16.

-- Kayla C. (blondegirlforever@hotmail.com), May 05, 2003.

Erm, that makes no sense. And anyway, I think the grave digger was "SEXTON" man and boy thirty years. Not sixteen. THAT makes sense. And Hamlet was certainly not 16! Certainly not. Hamlet's words are never the words of a 16 year old. Hamlet was studying at Wittenberg University!! This is no ordinary school. He was emersing himself in the philosophy's of Luther. Why do people have such a problem with a thirty year old man studying at such a place? He is thirty. That is what Shakespeare says. The End.

-- Patrick Walker (criesandwhispers666@yahoo.com), May 06, 2003.

Not that simple Patrick. The ecucation system did not run as European and American ones do now. Aristocratic boys went to university in their early to mid- teens, and got their BA's and MA's whilst still in their teens. Wittenberg was a university like any other. It just happened to be the one where Luther taught for a few years in the early sixteenth century.

There is nothing in the play to say that Hamlet was 'emersing himself in' Luther's philosophy. There is plenty to suggest he was emersing himself in humanist studies. But this is beside the point.

The gravedigger's lines about 'three and twenty' and 'thirty' years are certainly debatable, for various reasons. My main reason for going with Jenkins and concluding that they were in Shakespeare's time idiomatic expressions to mark stages in life, rather than actual quantities of years, is that all the evidence from all the rest of the play strongly suggests that Hamlet is still in his teens.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), May 06, 2003.

That sort of seems to ruin Hamlet. How can one sympathize with a whiny 30-year old? Shouldn't he be better equipped to handle life as it is thrown at him by that time? Wouldn't the people around him have stopped coddling him by that time and said, "Get up, Hamlet, you overgrown spoiled brat, and deal with it"? Hamlet acts like a sulky teenager, melodramatic and quickly inflamed. (this is not to say all teenagers are sulky, only that he is a sulky one.)

-- Sarah (drunkencynic@hotmail.com), June 26, 2003.

I think Patricks got the right idea. It would be quite likely for Hamlet to continue to study while he waited to become King. As well his relationship had to preceed his father's death, because after his mother kills him his opinion of women in general changes, and he cannot fall in love with one, and breaks off his relationship with Ophelia. Men did not have to get married as early as women did

-- 80 T (tayor80_@hotmail.com), November 26, 2003.

Back in Shakespeare's time there were no teenagers, they weren't invented until the 1920's. I think the reason Hamlet seems like a teenager is because of his role in life. He's a prince. Any normal boy in that era would have had a job and a family by the time he was sixteen. However Hamlet can't get a job, he's gotta wait until his father dies, and when the king finally does die, His brother takes the job. Hamlet's one shot at "becoming a man" was blown away by his uncle. Hamlet is infinitely immature because his "teen years" have lasted three times as long as any of ours would. Hamlet's thirty, so he's definately not a child, but he hasn't really become a man yet either.

-- Alex Potanos (ALex@chisox.net), December 12, 2003.

Hamlet was 30. the grave digger said that Yorik's skull was there for three and twenty years, this means 23. Hamlet remembered Yorik, how could this be if he is only 18? Also the grave digger says that he was an man and boy 30 years

-- Frank Wells (biggfranky_man@yahoo.com), January 07, 2004.

Buzz buzz. Been there, discussed that. Look further back, above.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@fastmail.com.au), January 07, 2004.

Hamlet takes place a long time ago when the Danes controlled England. Also, in Denmark, just because a King had a son, did not mean that the son would take his father's place. So Hamlet's not becoming king had nothing to do with his age. Thank you

-- becky narver (beckolyn@hotmail.com), April 05, 2004.

What the FUCK are you waffling on about, Becky? Stone the crows...

-- Patrick Walker (the_right_hand_of_doom@msn.com), April 05, 2004.

What's wrong with what she said?

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), April 06, 2004.

I am amused by the vehemence with which you discuss shakespeare. Don't you guys have anything better to do?

-- L (L@hotmail.com), October 09, 2004.

Lots of things just as interesting. Better? Mmm ... No, I don't think so.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), October 09, 2004.

the danes never controlled england! thats a pile of rubbish. Some of the vikings which came over from ALL of scandinavia (including finland and sweeden) and occupied england for a short period, then a revolution chucked them outta most of the north of england. Hardly could be considered as denmark owning england

-- salam (cpn_majid@hotmail.com), October 19, 2004.

Great. Now go read the play. In the play, the Danes control England, which why Claudius is annoyed that England has 'neglected' to pay its 'tribute'. If my medieval history serves me right, Danish kings controlled England around the year 1000.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), October 21, 2004.

Getting back to the original question (ahem)...

Hamlet is a "professional student" it appears. Remember that he had fought and acquitted himself well in the recent war. But he's uncomfortable with military, and of course, equally uncomfortable at court. When he says "Oh my prophetic soul, mine uncle" about Claudius, it's evident that he's never liked Claudius nor his closeness to Gertrude.

So Hamlet defers things, pushes away reality by attending school at Wittenberg. All the time.

Hamlet is an intellectual (duh) as is his pal Horatio, who's also a professional student (and even more comfortably with academe than Hamlet).

This change in Hamlet's personality is clearly Shakespeare's. All the ur-Hamlets were militaristic, and have returned from "the wars" to find that Dad has croaked. Shakespeare deliberately creates a new Hamlet persona, a truly "modern" hero, unique in literature.

-- Sam W (sam@waas.us), October 22, 2004.

I am amused by the vehemence with which you discuss shakespeare. Don't you guys have anything better to do?I mean really, Shakespeare has been dead for centuries!

-- Anurag Saraf (mibuwolf@gmail.com), January 06, 2005.

So what? Some of us like to yack about it and him. Takes all sorts. Inventors of football have been dead for centuries too, but people still like to play that, watch it, talk about it.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), January 06, 2005.

A VERY tenuous piece of evidence for Hamlet's being 30 would be the first lines spoken by the player king:

Full thirty times hath Phoebus' cart gone round Neptune's saltand Tellus' orbed ground, And thrity dozen moons with borrowed sheen About the world have twilve times have twelve times been, Since love our hearts, and Hymen did our hands, Unite commutual in most sacred bands.

If we are to belive that Hamlet has designed the play to exactly resemble his family situation (rather than just to vaguely emulate strongly enough to produce parallels in Claudius' mind), then Old Hamlet and Gertrude had been married thrity years when Old Hamlet died. If we then assume that they had a child within their first year of marriage, although a few years wouldn't matter, then Hamlet would be thirty. Perhaps the repition is important too, maybe Shakespeare was actualy trying to enforce some idea of time here, perhaps realising that Hamlet's adolesant behaviour, and worldy speech didn't quite add up.


I must say after reading this I sit well and truly on the fence. BUT it has inspired me to change my coursework title. Facinating stuff, I thank you all. This place is great.

-- Vivien Jones (vivra_la_diva@hotmail.com), January 10, 2005.

sorry, there's an error in that quotation. The fourth line should read 'About the world have times twelve thirties been,' Also, this forum doesn't allow you to space things properly for some reason , I hope you can still read it.

-- Viv (vivra_la_diva@hotmail.com), January 10, 2005.

That quote makes more sense to me if 'thirty years' really was a metaphoric expression in the period for referring to most of, or all the noteable part of, one’s life - that is, saying 'It was thirty years ago' was like saying 'It was an age ago'.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), January 10, 2005.

Sarah, some posts further back, got it right. 30, at that time in history, was an age for grown ups and within a decade or so of the end of life, not for indecisive, overwhelmed students.

Shakespeare clearly wrote the play for Burbage who was in his late 20s/early 30s when first performed, but became obviously old and more corpulent as the years went on and as he continued to play the role.

The first folio makes as good a case for Hamlet being a late teen as later editions make a case for Hamlet being 30. The first folio edition is more tatty and fragmented than later editions which are easier on the whole to read and perform, but, from a psychology perspective, it is the first folio's context that Shakespeare really intended to present the character and the only context in which Hamlet's soul-searching and hand-wringing makes any sense.

I first directed a production of Hamlet 43 years ago and have been wrestling with myself on this question even longer. Hamlet as a late teen/early 20 is the only view that makes sense. That later editions of the play say otherwise is easily understood by Shakespeare's loyalty to his stable of actors and as an expedient solutions. His plays are replete with such "adjustments" and pragmatic accomodations to realities of the day.


-- Dan Nickell (dnickell@netinc-usa.com), January 30, 2005.

hey thanks you guys. i had to write my senior paper on wheter hamlet is really 30 or a teen. and i came across this page lol you guys r the best it gave me alot of starting ponit and what questions to ask and look for while i dd my research and i came to the conclusion that hamlet is really a teen ager but ill put my resons why when i finish this paper lol Thank u guys r awsome lol

-- sTeVe (oro_steve_obo@yahoo.com), February 16, 2005.

I agree with Steve...I have to write a paper on this too...this site is sweeeet!

-- Mary M. (MJM@yahoo.com), February 25, 2005.

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