By Colleen

I’m teaching Hamlet this week in my Shakespeare class. I’m sure you can guess what that means costuming wise: lots of black.


And I’ll be working out a few very, very cursory ideas in between…

I am teaching the first quarto (Q1) of Hamlet for the first time.

With the Norton Shakespeare, there are two editions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (First Quarto (Q1)), previously referred to by scholars as a “bad quarto,” memorially reconstructed by a lesser actor) and the conflated Second Quarto (Q2) with additions from the First Folio (F), a much longer, fuller text and the one more commonly read or used for performances (although still trimmed by most directors). The textual relationships of the three texts are complex and vexed, and I am not going into it in this post.

But I offered my students a choice: to read Q1 or to read Q2/F. At about half the length of the latter play, students voted for the much shorter first quarto. About half the class had previously read Hamlet, which almost certainly means they have read Q2/F and so they also decided that it would be interesting to read this particular version. We added a few critical reading about the textual history and in cases of a few key scenes and speeches, I asked students to also read from Q2/F.

As we block a lot of scenes in class, students enjoyed the brisker pace of Q1, and Hamlet as an apt revenger.

Basically, it’s the difference between this:

and this:

Okay…  Maybe it’s not that dramatic, but so many of Hamlet’s long speeches just get to the point in Q1, and students are really enjoying that. To be honest, I am really enjoying that.

Hamlet’s speeches appear more terse, definite, and striking in their concrete details vs. abstract concepts, according to class discussion. On the first day we begin a new play, students introduce the play in a 10-15 minute Prezi (performance and publication history, genre, Shakespeare’s concurrent works, Shakespeare’s sources, and a short clip) and then they devise a class activity. Thinking about the differences between Q1 and Q2/F, the presentation group split the class into two sections and had each group read and perform  the “To Be or Not to Be” speech, then opened this up to larger discussions on this famous speech. There are losses to be sure when brevity is the soul of wit, but so far students are enjoying the dynamics of the play.

Maybe the differences between Q1 and Q2/F may be better compared to the difference between these two cinematic Hamlets: Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (aka the one with Mel Gibson, which clocks in at 2:15) vs. Branagh’s Hamlet ( 4:20! with an actual intermission red curtain).


NOW ON To the costuming..

Details and Specs (clockwise from upper lefthand corner):

  • The time is out of joint: camera timer clicked off before I could step back (Q1 6.163)
  • Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him Horatio: gold skull with diamond teeth brooch (Forever 21?) (Q1 16.99)
  • Let the devil wear black: black velvet blazer (vintage, mother’s) & golden skull memento more brooch (Q1 9.146)
  • For I’ll have a suit of sables:  black dress with leather shoulder details (Target), black shiny tights (TJ Maxx),  black booties (Doctor Marten); sunglasses (Betsey Johnson) (Q1 9.147)
  • blacker than is jet!: detail of dress pattern, black leather tied sash belt (Express) (Q1 10.8)
  • It smells to heaven:  SOTD: Everything and Nothing by Tokyo Milk (a line not found in Q1; Q2/F conflated text 3.3.36)