The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

This is a copy of the Third Quarto of Hamlet, published in 1611. It was printed from a copy of the Second Quarto, first published in 1604.

The Second Quarto text is the earliest full text of the play we have, and is probably a version of the play as Shakespeare first wrote it. Its claim to be 'enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppy', which was reproduced on the titlepage of the Third Quarto, distinguishes this play from the First Quarto. Published a year earlier, the First Quarto presents a sharply abbreviated and rearranged text. While it is often unreliable in its rendering of particular speeches - Hamlet's most famous soliloquy, 'To be or not to be', is notoriously garbled - it may nonetheless represent the shape and structure of the play as it was first performed. Even if the longer Second Quarto text is closer to Shakespeare's own manuscripts, it would have been far too long to be performed in its entirety on the Renaissance stage, so any performance would have needed to make substantial cuts.

But the text established and reproduced in the later quartos does not represent the only authoritative version of Hamlet. When the First Folio was published in 1623, it reproduced a revised text, in which some lines and speeches are deleted, new ones added in, and many minor changes are made. This text is probably based on Shakespeare's own revision of the play.

This copy once belonged to James Halliwell-Phillipps. Its titlepage is a 19th century facsimile, but it is otherwise, as he says, 'a very fine copy'.


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Further Study

This copy is held at the University of Edinburgh library, shelfmark JA 3734. For more on the textual and publication history of Hamlet, see Lukas Erne, Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (Cambridge, 2003), Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford, 1987), Laurie Maguire, Shakespearean Suspect Texts (Cambridge, 1996) and Andrew Murphy, Shakespeare in Print (Cambridge, 2003).