Hamlet and Wittenberg

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THIS IS AN ANSWER I LEFT ON THE THREAD REGARDING HAMLET'S AGE AND I THOUGHT IT MAY MAKE INTERESTING DISCUSSION. THE PIECE I HAVE WRITTEN IS TOO LONG TO SEND AS ONE WHOLE MESSAGE SO I WILL HAVE TO SEND PART TWO AS A "RESPONCE" TO THIS, IF YOU GET MY DRIFT!? HOPE IT INTERESTS YOU. PATRICK. 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 retrograde 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


THIS IS CONTINUED FROM MY ORIGINAL MESSAGE ABOVE!!! PATRICK. 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.

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

Your suggestion that Hamlet might be returning to school at age thirty after some years absence can in some ways work with the text, except that historically, as far as I've found, it was certainly uncommon, if not unknown, especially for someone in Hamlet's position, as a prince.

In any case, 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.

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

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.

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 Shakespreare ‘Hamlet’, pp. 553-554.)

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

You could be right that Hamlet hasn't been in Wittenberg for some time. But I prefer the 'first instinct' prompted by Claudius' line.

I see no problem at all with Ophelia. They would have known each other since they were children: Ophelia lives at court, and even after going to Wittenberg Hamlet would see her every time he came home. I like the idea that he then finds affection and companionship with her as a support just after his father's death - Ophelia the 'ministering angel'. It's not a rampaging affair, just a blossoming of new, fragile first love, which is one reason why Hamlet is a bit insecure and uncertain about it.

I don't agree with you about Hamlet's greeting of the players. II.ii is the day before III.i and III.ii. It is therefore four months after King Hamlet's death (see III.ii.125-126, III.i.16-21 and II.ii.531-534). A beard can grow in four months. Hamlet merely jests that he hopes the boy-actor's voice has not broken. There is certainly no indication that it has. But of course kids like to be told they've grown, which may well be why Hamlet tells the boy he has grown so much taller. The whole greeting is constructed and spoken with good-humoured and clever wit. They've come all the way from Wittenberg to the Danish court just to serve him. He's very happy to see them. He wants to make them to know it and to feel welcome.

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

Neither do I see how Hamlet and Horatio's conversation idicates they have not seen each other for some time: if this were so, I would expect Hamlet to be a little more wary than he is about launching straight into an attack on the King and Queen's marriage. I do, however, think that the slight distance in their conversation in this scene can be put down to a difference in status. This is supported by the fact that Horatio states about Hamlet's father, 'I saw him once.' Clearly Horatio is not of the rank that merits habitation/participation at court, where he would see the King frequently. On a related note, Horatio must be a bit older than Hamlet: he saw King Hamlet go to fight Old King Fortinbras and remembers it, but Hamlet was only born at that time (I.i.63-64 and V.i.138-143). This initial slight aloofness in the dialogue between Hamlet and Horatio disappears as the play progresses, and Horatio demonstrates complete loyalty and friendship towards Hamlet and Hamlet takes Horatio fully into his confidence. In Wittenberg Horatio and Hamlet probably would not always have moved in the same social circles, so although they were good friends, Hamlet would have been less aware of just how deeply good a friend he had in Horatio.

In contrast, that sort of distance is completely absent between Hamlet and R & G when R & G first appear in II.ii, but it emerges as Hamlet comes to see that they are lesser friends than Horatio. So R & G are probably higher up the social scale than Horatio. Furthermore, with these social placements it makes sense that R & G would be the men Hamlet talked much of and most adhered to after leaving Wittenberg (II.ii.19-21). Now, I think the fact that he has been talking of them much suggests they are fairly fresh in his mind, so that he has been with them in Wittenberg recently.

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

This leaves us only with Hamlet's discussion with R & G in II.ii about the misfortunes off the players in Wittenberg. It is possible that the bad position in which the players find themselves would take more than four months to develop, but this is not obligatory. But really, this whole discussion is a dramatic convenience which has nothing to do with the narrative of HAMLET. Although WS has quite cleverly worked it in, it is an authorial intrusion referring to and commenting on the actual 'war of the theatres' in Engand, ca. 1601. WS himself points out that playwrights at this time had to refer to and comment on this business if they wanted their plays to have any success (II.ii.352-354).

I think Hamlet's belated recognition of Horatio in I.ii is more important for its indication of how far Hamlet is from Wittenberg in mind and thought rather than in time, especially after what he's just been saying to himself. Wittenberg was the place of his childhood/adolescence, where he was happy doing what he loved - studying and revelling in theatre. Horatio belongs to that part of his life. Compared to that, he finds Denmark after his father's death 'a prison' of harsh and oppressive realities. The space of time which separate the two parts of his existence is much less important than the factors of his life which do so.

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

Gertrude does not want him to go back to Wittenberg because she adores him. See IV.vii.11-16. This, and Claudius' description of Hamlet's general popularity, must be Claudius speaking the truth - there are no other reasons for him to not kill Hamlet straight out in Elsinore. Gertrude's speech always indicates her great affection for Hamlet. So she doesn't want to be parted from him.

I still feel Hamlet is a teenager, about seventeen or eighteen. at that point where a boy becomes man. That’s what constitutes a ‘young man’ in the Renaissance, as he is described. And I think WS's characerization of him, in speech, behaviour, relationships, and descripion, supports that too.

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

All the pieces fall into place once we accept the idea that Hamlet and Horatio are mature scholars, their presence at Wittenburg tied in not with any kind of undergraduate studies but more in line with immersing themselves in the teachings of Luther, whose school it was. How else do you account for Horatio being a captain of the Guard, for having been in the elder Hamlet's battles, for (for heaven's sake) exhibiting the stoic qualities of a soldier, which Hamlet so admires. As for the juvenilia that Harold Jenkins and others make so much of as indicative of a teen age Hamlet and Horatio, they conveniently ignore the many passages pointing in just the opposite direction. Hickery, dickery, dock; mickery, mockery, mock: the graveyard clown is a dry as dust, word-splitting satan who just possibly may here be in a flyting wit contest with his son the Antichrist, the 30 year old imitator of perfection who has one fatal flaw. He, a graveyard clone, well, I don't have to spell it out for you but I will: Hamlet, the ape of all others, who, as God's chosen avenger, needs to be in a state of grace, which of course his 'habit that too much o- erleavens/The form of plausive manners' (mocking) prevents him from entering into.

-- Glen Cowing (gcowing@msn.com), February 16, 2003.

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