Shakespeare’s Hand in the Copy for the 1603 First Quarto of Hamlet

© Hamlet Studies, 1998 (Vol. XX, pp. 80-88)



The latest editor of Hamlet is Professor Frank Kermode. [1] Like most of his modern predecessors, [2] he is convinced that the 1603 First Quarto (Q1) was a bogus piracy concocted by an unknown actor, for unknown reasons, from an unknowable memory of an unknown play. But at least Kermode reaffirms that the 1604-5 Second Quarto (Q2) was set up from Shakespeare's manuscript—except that its Act I “seems to have been printed from… a copy of Q1 corrected and enlarged by collation with [that] manuscript." [3] This assumes that sober Tudor tradesmen relied on the alleged travesty they were avowedly replacing—another implausible procedure requiring yet another series of unverifiable conjectures, which (like the attribution of the early Hamlet to “Kyd”, and the “memorial reconstruction” legend itself) are justified solely by the subjective assess­ment that Shakespeare could not conceivably have written the unfamiliar and inferior text of Q1.

     All such canards fly in the face of the facts and of common sense. Only their total intangibility has saved them from being shot down. However, Kermode's purported reason for the striking parallels between Q1 and Q2 is at least verifiable, from well-known concordances; [4] and if this can be proved false, the entire edifice of baseless speculation will at last collapse.

     The question is one of manuscript, so the starting-point must be the only extant Shakespearean holograph, [5] hereafter called More. This excerpt is duly reproduced in facsimile, together with expert commentary, [6] in the Riverside edition. Its clearest characteristic is its intense variability of spelling; thus the word sheriff appears as Shreiff, shreef, shreeve, Shrieue and Shreue, all within five lines.

     It is no surprise, then, that Hamlet Q2 exhibits this same feature. Even after extensive compositorial normalisation (inferable from such facts as the replacement of More's “coold”, “should” and “woold” by the conventional forms, throughout every edition of all the plays and poems) there are still hundreds of variants and other idiosyncrasies. For example, in addition to the triplets (i.e. three different ways of spelling the same word) Angel/Angell/Angle, Denmark/Denmarke/Denmarke and do/doe/doo, Q2 contains hundreds of doublets, from aloofe/a loofe to you'l/you'le. The plain explanation is that these typical Shakespearean variants have eluded the normalisation process, whether because of acquiescence, or indifference, or inadvertence, on the part of the Q2 compositors.

     But then what of the very same triplets and doublets, in the identical spellings, throughout Q1 (not just in its first Act)?

     Investigators should ask which is the most likely: (a) that an unevidenced “reporting actor” happened to share Shakespeare's variability, including his exact spellings; (b) that the Q2 compositors relied on the supposedly untrue and imperfect Q1 in setting up what their own title-page calls “the true and perfect Coppie”; or (c) that a Shakespeare manuscript lies behind both Quarto texts of Hamlet.

     Nobody will believe (a). But every orthodox editor asserts the equally implausible (b) and rejects (c), despite the latter's conformity with common sense and the copious evidence7 for an early Shakespeare Hamlet, including Q1's specific attribution of that text to him and to the company he had served for the previous eight years.

     Yet there is equally copious textual evidence in favour of (c) itself. First, such Q2 misprints as cost (=cast), and sallied (=sullied) occur because (as More shows) [8] Shakespeare's formation of letter a was often indistinguishable from his o or u. But these same misprints also occur in Q1, which plainly implies the same hand behind both.

     This conclusion is confirmed by comparing the two texts [9] at I.i.58-79. The Tudor era lacked settled rules of orthography; Shakespeare's own writing was in the highest degree variable; and the twenty-two lines in question come from different editions of different versions set up by different compositors at different times in different workshops. Unsur­prisingly, their texts differ too, as follows (Q1 first): Hor./Hora.; ar­mor/Armor; selfe,/selfe.; combated./combated,; yce/ice; hower/houre; Marshall stalke he passed through/martiall stauke hath he gone by; particular/perticular thought; thought/grosse; the/our, toyles/toiles; why/with; brazen/brazon; diuide/deuide; sunday/Sunday; march/hast (=haste); is't/ist; me/mee. So the Q2 compositors were evidently not just copying from Q1. Yet almost all the shared words in each Quarto text are identical, including such eccentric spelling and typography as smot (=smote), sleaded (=sledded), pollax (=Polacks), strikt (=strict), cost (=cast), Cannon, forraine (=foreign), ship-writes (=shipwrights), ioynt (=joint). Only six letters out of some seven hundred are different. And all these words, and all the variants, are prima facie Shakespearean, thus the variable speech-prefixes, the presence or absence of initial capi­tals or of final -e, the occasional use of ea for e, or ow for ou, the inter­changeability of i and y, the otiose apostrophe and the phonetic spellings, can readily be matched from Moreand other authentic sources, including Hamlet Q2. There, for example, the writer cannot re­call whether the sentry's name is Barnardo or Bernardo; but nor can the writer of Q1. Even the Q2 misprint “particular” is readily explicable by reference to the More abbreviation meaning either “par” or “per.”

     The choice between (b) and (c) would soon be settled in favour of (c) if it could be shown that the exact resemblances were not in fact con­fined to Act I, but also occurred passim. So the following selection of Q2 spellings, which (being printed from his autograph) are prima facie Shakespearean, is restricted to items which occur in Acts II-V: advise (=advice), borne (=born), cald (=called), cauiary (=caviare), chuse (=choose), cleere (=clear), eosin (=cousin), deere (=dear), Duckat (=ducat), I (=ay), Iigge (=jig), leasure (=leisure), loose (=lose), magicke, mettle (=metal), mistris (=mistress), musicke, neere (=near), Nemeon (=Nemean), of (=off), penitrable (=penetrable), perdy (=the ex­pletive pardieu), prethee (=prithee), prophecie (=prophesy), spunge (=sponge), sute (=suit), tuch (=touch), yeeld (yield) and so forth. But exactly the same spellings and usages appear in Q1, Acts II-V. So these cannot be explained by theory (b); which leaves (c). And then Ockham's Razor, or common sense, requires that this same explanation, not an en­tirely different and incompatible one, applies to the corresponding Act I examples, such as allies (=alleys), gelly (=jelly), glimses (=glimpses), sent (scent); these too are Shakespearean, and hence derive from his ac­tual handwriting, not from a hypothetical copy of Q1.

     By way of confirmation, the capitalisation pattern shared by Q1 and Q2 also implies the same writer. Thus initial capitals are allotted not only to names and nationalities but also to animals (Ape, Camelion, Cat, Doue, Hart, Lyon, Mole, Porpentine, Rat, Serpent), heavenly bodies (Moone, Sunne), professions or types (Actor, Actors, Baker, Carpenter, Clowne, Graue-maker, Iudge, Mason, Pagan, Pioner, Players, Priest, Shipwright), ranks or titles (Captaines, Centinels, King, Knight, Ladie/Lady, Ladies, Lord, Queene), relationships (Father, Nephew), su­pernatural beings (Angell/Angels, Ghost), and weapons (Armes, Cannon, Dagger, Rapier). But any capitalised word can also begin with a small letter (ship-writes) or with either (courtier/Courtier, crowne/Crowne, death/Death, enter/Enter, french/French, gentlemen/Gentlemen, grace/Grace, letters/Letters, man/Man, nature/Nature, trumpet/Trumpets). There are also many miscellaneous or arbitrary capi­tals (Anticke, Arras, Duckat, Dumbe, Hebona, Historicall, Iigge, Iohn a Dreames, Orchard, Pastorali, Sepulcher, Tennis, Tragedians, Youth) and here by far the most frequent is C (as additionally in Capapee (=cap-A­pied), Chorus, Chronicles, Citty, Comedy, Comicall, Court), presumably because the writer's small letter was indistinct. All this is conformable with the capitalisation in More. Further, all the Shakespearean examples from Q2 cited in this paragraph are also found, letter for letter and vari­ant for variant, in Q1; and not just in Act I but passim.

     Similarly the two Quartos share their idiosyncratic punctuation and italics, as well as their spelling. Thus both have I'le/Ile (=I'll), i'st/ist (=is it), i'th, wee'le, and you'l/you'll (=you'll), as well as can'st and t'was, together withDenmarke, England, Capapea, and hic & vbique with an ampersand and a v. Again all these are prima facie Shakespear­ean, because they are found in Q2, and again they range throughout both plays, not just Act I.

     We also know from More that Shakespeare often preferred full spellings, such as final -ll for -l, as in Bushell or gospell. So it is no surprise that Hamlet Q2, printed from authorial copy, has Angell, apparrell, barrell, brothell, buriall, capitall, celestiall, Comicall, cruell, dismall, equall, funerall, generall, Historicall, immortall, maiesticall, mortall, naturall, personal!, portall, prodigall, quarrel!, repell, royall, totall, triuiall, vneffectuall, viall, vnequall, vnnaturall, withall. But the excep­tions are equally typical; such modem spellings as wonderful, and such truncated words or stems as ful, kil-, quils, shal, smel-, tel, wel, wil also occur throughout Q2. Again, however, all these Shakespearean spell­ings, rules and exceptions alike, are also found throughout Q1, with the same inescapable inference.

     Similarly, Shakespeare preferred the -ie to the -y ending; and this too applies to Q2, even in 1604-5, a time of transition to the modern -y Occasionally that edition prints either ending, indifferently, as in beau­tie/beauty, bodie/body, countrie/country, guiltie/guilty, memortermem­ory, mercie/mercy. But usually -ie prevails, as in Charitie, plemencie, dexteritie, dignitie, divinitie, dutie, enmitie, fantasie, fortie, humanitie, lunacie, maiestie, modestie, philosophie, policie, propertie, quantitie, se­cresie, soueraigntie, Tragedie, vacancie, villanie, Vniversitie.Again, all these variants and spellings are found throughout Q1.

     Shakespeare also had an occasional penchant for adding u to the normal a, in such words as graunt; that same More spelling, together with such words or stems as chaunt-, commaund, demaund-, is also found in both Q1 and Q2. Similarly the More addition of c to the normal nk, as in thanck, also occurs in both Quartos, each of which has blancket, rancke and linckt (=linked). That last word further exemplifies the Shakespearean preference for truncated preterites, as in the More spellings clothd or topt (=topped); both Q1 and Q2 have cald, damnd, doomd, drownd, frownd, honord, honourd, playd, turnd, as well as ac­curst, bak't, dupt, exprest, fixt, lock't, look't, pickt, prickt, sharks, whipt—including the same otiose apostrophes. Again, the More termi­nal -nes instead of -ness or -nesse, as in stilnes, is matched by busines, lightnes and madnes in both Quartos, which also share the variant forms lewdnesse and madnesse.

     Another well-known characteristic of Shakespeare is his quite frequent use of medial -y- instead of -i-, a spelling preference which was already old-fashioned by 1600. The More manuscript, though undated and apparently undatable, is commonly assigned to that period; but it nevertheless contains such words as aucthoryty, babyes, banysh, and so forth, in some profusion. This idiosyncrasy would be expected to occur in the handwritten text that Shakespeare provided for Hamlet Q2; and several examples of it, unsurprisingly in so long a play, have survived the normalisation process: auoyde, ayre, ayres, coyn-, dayly, foyle, foyles, iuyce, layd, likelyhood, loynes, Lyon, noyse, poynt, poysned, poyson, poysons, toyle(s), voyce, yce, yfaith. But the same words, in the exact same y-spellings, also occur throughout Q1.

     Indeed, the Q2 Shakespearisms shared with Q1 are so very profuse that some condensation is called for; so the following addenda are limited, without further comment, to other plain parallels between More and Shakespeare's own spellings, as ably analysed by John Dover Wilson: [10] drabbe, madde, wharffe, begge, Iigge(=jig), drumme, beginne, pinne, runnes, sinnes, skinnes, sonne, Sunne, tenne, wonne, stoppe, farre, starre, starres, wane, carelesse, madnesse, swadling, els, smot, somthing, therfore, ther's, apparrell, forraine, Citty, pitty, vppon, wid­dow, gratious, secresie, pollax, scholler, schollers, souldier, honor, honord, sauory, obay, frend-, leaprous (=leperous), leasure, seauen (=seven), sleaded (=sledded), pesant, croking, groning, mone, sokes, ap­prooue, boorded, doo, dooes, doost, (vp)hoorded, mooued, prooue, shooes, carowse(s), clowd, clowdes, lowd, rowse, bin (=been), to (=too), o're/ore (=o'er), tis, wee'le/weele (=we will). All these are found throughout Q2, printed from copy in Shakespeare's own hand; but they also occur throughout Q1, again with the same inference.

     The same applies to buz, flie, foh, for't, goe, greeue, habite, hart/heart, hartely/hartily, hee (=he), heere, heerein, hoe (=ho), hote (=hot), loe (=lo), mee (=me), onely, orizons, pittifull, prophecie (=prophesy), raigne, scull (=skull), shee (=she), shee' le (=she'll), sodaine, soueraigne, soueraigntie, squeesing, stomacke, strait (=straight), studient, then (=than), tirant, to (=too), too't (=to it), tronchion, up-spring, wee (=we), wisedome,Wittenberg. As before, each of these spellings is authentically Shakespearean, as attested by its presence in Q2; but each also occurs throughout Q1. Equally Shakespearean, and equally shared, are the commonest categories of variation, namely those derived from spelling the same word in either the modem or the old style, as in sweet/sweete or mad/madde; considerations of space pre­clude their individual citation here.

     All these studies could now be aided by computer technology and extended throughout the canon and the so-called apocrypha. But very little modern professional attention has been paid to Shakespearean orthography; the requisite expertise is rare, the tasks are arduous, and the responses are minimal. Worse still, the results comprehensively contradict current academic assumptions and theories. For example, the writer of Q2, like the writer of Q1, and for the same reasons, can hardly be the superlative Latinist hailed by Stanley Wells: [11] both texts contain such words or stems as abhomin-, capitall, compleat-, demaund-, forraine, Hebona, mettle, perswa-, Rossi-, scholler, strikt, triuiall, vncurrant, which might not instantly appeal to anyone familiar with abominor, capitalis, completus, demando, foras, hebenus, metallum, persua-, Roscius, schola, strictus, trivialis, currens. Indeed, the many phonetic spellings, whether those found separately in each Quarto, or those shared by both, such as Centinels (=sentinels), pollax (=Polacks), sent (=scent), ship-writes (=shipwrights), and so forth, suggest that Shake­speare's education had been defective in English as well as Latin, just as many of his contemporaries or early biographers also attested. Other shared spellings help to confirm his provincial antecedents, as evi­denced by the broadened vowels in bloudily, graunt, maisters (=masters) and the like. Again, these Q2 Shakespearisms also occur throughout Q1.

     Perhaps these paths can now converge within the general field of at­tribution. Recently, Emeritus Professor Ernst Honigmann has published [12] a pioneering investigation into the 1622 First Quarto of Othello, and thereby identified certain of its eccentric spellings as authentically Shakespearean, as confirmed by their inclusion elsewhere in the canon. In other words, that 1622 printing was derived from an authorial manuscript. If so, the same must apply to Hamlet Q1 as well as Q2, because both those two Quartos, yet again, share several items from Honig­mann's list (his pp. 159-61) of Shakespearisms found in Othello 1622: approoue, beleeue, boord, cald, Citty, Crocadile, grove, Lyon, mary (= marry, exclam.), mistris, moauing, peece (=piece), pitty, prooue, sense (=sense), shew, shewes, Souldier, souldiers, venue, vertues, vertuous. Honigmann's Othello list also covers five general categories, thus: (1) “Shakespeare's very frequent substitution of y for modem I”; (2) -oo­- for -o-; (3) the doubling of consonants; (4) in- for en- ; (5) -full for -ful. Of these, (1)–(3) have already been copiously exemplified from both Hamlet Quartos; (4) and (5) are represented, again in both, by incombred (=encumbered), intreat, intreate, intreated, inuenom'd, dreadfull, fearefull, pittifull, wonderfull.

     Honigmann concedes that not all these spellings are uncommon, but he claims that their large overlap with Hamlet Q2 cannot be merely co­incidental. Nor, in that case, can their large overlap with Hamlet Q1. Honigmann further contends, with much justification, that his list is evi­dential. As he says, “a decided preference for shew (instead of show), or for vertue (instead of virtue), or for sence (instead of sense) was not unusual, taking each word individually. But how many other writers shared Shakespeare's preference for shew and vertue and sence and all the other strong or occasional preferences listed above?”

     One might also ask how many other writers' spelling was old-fash­ioned, provincial, phonetic and non-Latinist (this time in remaining un­responsive to the spelling of “sensus”). Only one such playwright was ever mentioned in Tudor times, and he was always known thus to every­one, admirers and detractors alike. [13] His, on Honigmann's own showing as on the observable facts, was the hand behind both Othello Q1 1622 and Hamlet Q2 1604-5. But, as this essay has striven to show, the same fingerprints are found all over Hamlet Q1 1603. That text, furthermore, displays much more than mere preference for the three words selected by Honigmann as especially evidential; thus shew and its derivates (shews, shewes, shewne) occur seventeen times, together with sence twice, vertue twice and vertues and vertuous once each, while the alter­native spellings show etc., sense and virtue etc. do not appear at all.

     So the next steps should include a comparison between Honigmann's findings and Hamlet Q1 on its own, quite independently of Hamlet Q2. This entails adding the following further exact correspon­dences to an already exceedingly long inventory: the special spellings conning and lowd; the y/i variants ioynd, ioynt, myching, Nyobe, poynted, Pryam, satyricall; the oo/o variants aboord, aboorde, coosin, loose (=lose), loosing (=losing); the doubled consonants abhorre, bedde, brimme, cittie, Crabbe, dramme, droppes, frett, guttes, hammes, hatte, lappe, legges, nuttes, pallace, quallitie, ragges, thinne, wittes; the in/en variants incountered, indeuour, indure, intrap, inuenom'd; and the -full endings beautifull, disdainefull, fretfull, ioyfull, needefull, pitifull, thankfull. Honigmann further draws attention to "Shakespeare's -nd ending" in past tenses; and he adds that the Othello1622 stage direction Enter Brabantio in his night gowne may be compared with Enter the King in his night-gowne (2 Henry IV) and Enter Julius Caesar in his Night-gowneHamlet Q1 has dand (=damned) and also Enter the ghost in his night gowne.

     Even those accepted examples, among many others, suggest a play­wright who was utterly unconcerned about any aspect of orthography. If not only variant spelling but variant punctuation, hyphens, capitals, ital­ics, doubled or halved medial consonants, added terminal -e, and so forth, could safely be attributed to the writer, and not to the supposed in­tervention of any copyist or compositor, then many other examples com­mon to both Quartos of Hamlet could have been added, such as A(a)ngle (=angel), back(')t, C(c)amell, C(c)hristen (=Christian), Crab(be), crack(')t, C(c)rocadile, Doomes (-)day, D(d)ream't, evill(es), gau(w)les (=galls), Glo(-)worme, griss(e)1(')d, inbar(c)kt, li(y)ppes, MaRico, Mouse(-)trap, ne(')er (=never), ore(-)whelme, R(r)ew(e) (=rue), seaz(e)d (=seized), S(s)elleridge (=cellarage), shrowd(e).

     Even without any such adjustments, the spellings shared by both Quartos are often exactly replicated when the same words occur in other texts agreed to have been set up from authorial copy, such as Love's Labour's Lost 1598. But perhaps the present tally will suffice to make the point. In sum: about six hundred separate Shakespearisms (types), iden­tifiable as such by their departure from modern usage (not counting the use of i for j and v for u) and their presence throughout Hamlet Q2 and Othello Q1, in uncounted numbers (tokens) are also found throughout Hamlet Q1 in the selfsame spellings, variants, punctuation, italics and capitals. So Q1 also was set up from his own manuscript. So Q1 cannot be a 'memorial reconstruction,' a theory for which no evidence has ever existed, whether in this particular instance or in general. On the con­trary, as generations of independent investigators have rationally inferred from the documentary evidence and from common sense, Q1 represents the revised text of an earlier Shakespeare version. It should now be incorporated in the accepted canon.


[1] In The Riverside Shakespeare, Boston, New York, 1997, pp. 1183-1245.


[2] Notably T. J. B. Spencer with Anne Barton(New Penguin Shakespeare, London, 1980), H. Jenkins The Arden Shakespeare, London, 1982), P. Edwards New Cambridge Shakespeare ,Cambridge, 1985), G. Hibbard (Oxford Shakespeare, Oxford, 1987), S. Wells and G.Taylor (William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Oxford, 1987, 735), G. Taylor and S. Wells, A Textual Companion to the Oxford Shakespeare, Oxford, 1988, 396-402).


[3] As in note 1, p. 1234.


[4] Q1 in Spevack, A Shakespeare Concordance,Hildesheim and New York, 1975, viii, Bad Quartos pp. 175-200; Q2 in Oxford Shakespeare Concordances, ed. T. Howard-Hill, Oxford, 1973. (The correspondences recorded in this essay were compiled from, and can be verified by, ocular comparison between these two alphabetical listings).


[5] Shakespeare's Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More: Papers by Alfred W. Pollard, W.W. Greg, E. Maunde Thompson, J. Dover Wilson and R.W. Chambers (Cambridge, 1923).


[6] As in note 1, pp. 1775-94.


[7] E. Sams, “Shakespeare's Text and Common Sense,” TLS, 2 Sept. 1983, 933-34; ibid., “Taboo, or not Taboo?. The Text, Dating and Authorship of Hamlet, 1589-1623” Hamlet Studies, 1988, 12-46: S. Urkowitz, “Good News about ‘Bad’ Quartos,” in “Bad” Shakespeare,ed. M. Charney, Rutherford N.J. and London, 1988; ibid., “Well sayd old Mole,” inShakespeare Study Today, ed. G. Ziegler, 37-70; ibid., “Back to Basics: Thinking about the Hamlet First Quarto,” in The Hamlet First Published, ed. T. Clayton, Newark (Del.) and London, 1992: M. Foster, The Play Behind the Play: Hamlet and Quarto One, ed. A. Shiras, Pittsburgh PA, 1991; Y. Bains, Making Sense of the First Quartos of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Hamlet, Shimla, 1995; ibid., “Loose Ends and Inconsistencies in the First Quarto of Shakespeare's Hamlet?,” Hamlet Studies, 1996, 94-104; E. Sams, The Real Shakespeare, New Haven and London, 1995, 2/1997, 121-35.


[8] As in note 5, pp. 118, 119-20.


[9] J. Dover Wilson, The Copy for Hamlet 1603 (London, 1918).


[10] As in note 5, pp 132-41.


[11] S Wells, The Complete Works as in note 2, p. xiv: “more thor­oughly trained in classical rhetoric and Roman (if not Greek) literature than most present-day holders of a University degree in classics.”


[12] E. Honigmann, The Texts of Othello and Shakespearian Revision, London, 1996.


[13] In testimony recorded from 1592, as summarised in E. Sams, The Real Shakespeare, as in note 7, 201-2.