Horribly Hamlet: The “Bad” Quarto

Quarto 1 of Hamlet has quite the translation. This is definitely not a version that you should use if it’s your first time reading Hamlet. There are some pretty drastic differences that completely change parts of the play as well as several minute differences that are still quite comical. For example, in our current reading of Hamlet, the two courtiers whom Claudius sends to Norway are Cornelius and Voltimand, but in Q1 they are named Cornelia and Voltemar. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are called Gilderstone and Rossencraft and Ophelia is Ofelia in Q1. The most confusing name differences are the character of Corambis in Q1 who we all know as Polonius, and his servant Montano or as we know as Reynaldo (in this case, maybe the were confused with Othello?). These name differences may be small, but they definitely confused me at first; however, there are several other instances where mistakes are far more prominent.

HAMLET: To be, or not to be, ay, there’s the point,
To die, to sleep, is that all? Ay, all.
No, to sleep, to dream, ay, marry, there it goes,
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting judge,
From whence no passenger ever returned,
The undiscovered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursèd damned.
But for this, the joyful hope of this,
Who’d bear the scorns and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich cursed of the poor,
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wronged,
The taste of hunger, or a tyrant’s reign,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,
When that he may his full quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would this endure,
But for a hope of something after death?
Which puzzles the brain, and doth confound the sense,
Which makes us rather bear those evils we have
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Ay, that. Oh, this conscience makes cowards of us all.–
Lady, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.—Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia!—Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.
I thought it would be really interesting to compare one of Hamlet’s most well-known speech, “To be or not to be…” The bad quarto and the version that I am reading in class depict vastly different imagery. The are metaphors that are only translated in Quarto 1 “the rich cursed of the poor” and “the widow being oppressed, the orphan wronged.” A lot of the imagery in our current version reveal Hamlet’s true feelings; whereas, Quarto 1 does begin the same way, but the figurative language causes the reader to lose focus on Hamlet’s central point made in the speech– he is considering suicide.
As bad as Quarto 1 is, it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Surprisingly, there was still a storyline. However, the translation definitely created discrepancies. I think it would be interesting to further analyze the entirety of Quarto 1 with the Hamlet that we will eventually finish reading.

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