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include, or even wholly refer to, a time prior to the death of Hamlet's father? And this question would be answered universally, I suppose, in the negative, on the ground that Hamlet was not at Court but at Wittenberg when his father died. I will deal with this idea in a separate note, and will only add here that, though it is quite possible that Shakespeare never imagined any of these matters clearly, and so produced these unimportant difficulties, we ought not to assume this without examination.



The answer will at once be given: 'At the University of Wittenberg. For the king says to him (i. ii. 112):

For your intent

In going back to school in Wittenberg,

It is most retrograde to our desire.

The Queen also prays him not to go to Wittenberg: and he consents to remain.'

Now I quite agree that the obvious interpretation of this passage is that universally accepted, that Hamlet, like Horatio, was at Wittenberg when his father died; and I do not say that it is wrong. But it involves difficulties, and ought not to be regarded as certain.

(1) One of these difficulties has long been recognised.. Hamlet, according to the evidence of Act v., Scene i., is thirty years of age; and that is a very late age for a university student. One solution is found (by those who admit that Hamlet was thirty) in a passage in Nash's Pierce Penniless: For fashion sake some [Danes] will put their children to schoole, but they set them not to it till they are fourteene years old, so that you shall see a great boy with a beard learne his A.B.C. and sit weeping under the rod when he is

This is intrinsically not probable, and is the more improbable because in QI Hamlet's letter to Ophelia (which must have been written before the action of the play begins) is signed 'Thine ever the most unhappy Prince Hamlet.' 'Unhappy' might be meant to describe an unsuccessful lover, but it probably shows that the letter was written after his father's death.

thirty years old.' Another solution, as we saw (p. 105), is found in Hamlet's character. He is a philosopher who lingers on at the University from love of his studies there.

(2) But there is a more formidable difficulty, which seems to have escaped notice. Horatio certainly came from Wittenberg to the funeral. And observe how he and Hamlet meet (i. ii. 160). Hor. Hail to your lordship! Ham.


I am glad to see you well:

Horatio, or I do forget myself.

The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever. Ham. Sir, my good friend; I'll change that name with you : And what make you from Wittenberg, Horatio? Marcellus?

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Ham. I am very glad to see you. Good even, sir.1
But what, in faith, make you from Wittenberg?
A truant disposition, good my lord.


Ham. I would not hear your enemy say so,


Nor shall you do my ear that violence,
To make it truster of your own report
Against yourself: I know you are no truant.
But what is your affair in Elsinore?

We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.
My lord, I came to see your father's funeral.
I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow-student;
I think it was to see my mother's wedding.

Is not this passing strange? Hamlet and Horatio are supposed to be fellow-students at Wittenberg, and to have left it for Elsinore less than two months ago. Yet Hamlet hardly recognises Horatio at first, and speaks as if he himself lived at Elsinore (I refer to his bitter jest, 'We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart'). Who would dream that Hamlet had himself just come from Wittenberg, if it were not for the previous words about his going back there?

How can this be explained on the usual view? Only, I presume, by supposing that Hamlet is so sunk in melancholy that he really does almost 'forget himself' 2 and forget everything else, so

These three words are evidently addressed to Bernardo.

2 Cf. Antonio in his melancholy (Merchant of Venice, i. i. 6),
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me

That I have much ado to know myself.

that he actually is in doubt who Horatio is. And this, though not impossible, is hard to believe.

'Oh no,' it may be answered, 'for he is doubtful about Marcellus too; and yet, if he were living at Elsinore, he must have seen Marcellus often.' But he is not doubtful about Marcellus. That note of interrogation after 'Marcellus' is Capell's conjecture: it is not in any Quarto or any Folio. The fact is that he knows perfectly well the man who lives at Elsinore, but is confused by the appearance of the friend who comes from Wittenberg.

(3) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent for, to wean Hamlet from his melancholy and to worm his secret out of him, because he has known them from his youth and is fond of them (ii. ii. 1 ff.). They come to Denmark (ii. ii. 247 f.): they come therefore from some other country. Where do they come from? They are, we hear, Hamlet's 'school-fellows' (iii. iv. 202). And in the first Quarto we are directly told that they were with him at Wittenberg: Ham. What, Gilderstone, and Rossencraft,

Welcome, kind school-fellows, to Elsanore.

Gil. We thank your grace, and would be very glad
You were as when we were at Wittenberg.

Now let the reader look at Hamlet's first greeting of them in the received text, and let him ask himself whether it is the greeting of a man to fellow students whom he left two months ago: whether it is not rather, like his greeting of Horatio, the welcome of an old fellow-student who has not seen his visitors for a considerable time (ii. ii. 226 f.).

(4) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tell Hamlet of the players who are coming. He asks what players they are, and is told, 'Even those you were wont to take such delight in, the tragedians of the city.' He asks, 'Do they hold the same estimation they did when I was in the city?' Evidently he has not been in the city for some time. And this is still more evident when the players come in, and he talks of one having grown a beard, and another having perhaps cracked his voice, since they last met. What then is this city, where he has not been for some time, but where (it would appear) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern live? It is not in Denmark ('Comest thou to beard me in Denmark ?'). It would seem to be Wittenberg.1

1In Der Bestrafte Brudermord it is Wittenberg. Hamlet says to the actors: 'Were you not, a few years ago, at the University of Wittenberg? I think I

All these passages, it should be observed, are consistent with one another. And the conclusion they point to is that Hamlet has left the University for some years and has been living at Court. This again is consistent with his being thirty years of age, and with his being mentioned as a soldier and a courtier as well as a scholar (iii. i. 159). And it is inconsistent, I believe, with nothing in the play, unless with the mention of his 'going back to school in Wittenberg.' But it is not really inconsistent with that. The idea may quite well be that Hamlet, feeling it impossible to continue at Court after his mother's marriage and Claudius' accession, thinks of the University where, years ago, he was so happy, and contemplates a return to it. If this were Shakespeare's meaning he might easily fail to notice that the expression 'going back to school in Wittenberg' would naturally suggest that Hamlet had only just left school.'

I do not see how to account for these passages except on this hypothesis. But it in its turn involves a certain difficulty. Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to be of about the same age as Hamlet. How then do they come to be at Wittenberg? I had thought that this question might be answered in the following way. If the city' is Wittenberg, Shakespeare would regard it as a place like London, and we might suppose that Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were living there, though they had ceased to be students. But this can hardly be true of Horatio, who, when he (to spare Hamlet's feelings) talks of being 'a truant,' must mean a truant from his University. The only solution I can suggest is that, in the story or play which Shakespeare used, Hamlet and the others were all at the time of the murder young students at Wittenberg, and that when he determined to make them older men (or to make Hamlet, at any rate, older), he did not take trouble enough to carry this idea through all the necessary detail, and so left some inconsistencies. But in any case the difficulty in the view which I suggest seems to me not nearly so great as those which the usual view has to meet.1

saw you act there': Furness's Variorum, ii. 129. But it is very doubtful whether this play is anything but an adaptation and enlargement of Hamlet as it existed in the stage represented by Q 1.

It is perhaps worth while to note that in Der Bestrafte Brudermord Hamlet is said to have been in Germany' at the time of his father's murder.



The chief arguments on this question may be found in Furness's Variorum Hamlet, vol. i., pp. 391 ff. I will merely explain my position briefly.

Even if the general impression I received from the play were that Hamlet was a youth of eighteen or twenty, I should feel quite unable to set it against the evidence of the statements in v. i. which show him to be exactly thirty, unless these statements seemed to be casual. But they have to my mind, on the contrary, the appearance of being expressly inserted in order to fix Hamlet's age; and the fact that they differ decidedly from the statements in QI confirms that idea. So does the fact that the Player King speaks of having been married thirty years (iii. ii. 165), where again the number differs from that in QI.

If v. i. did not contain those decisive statements, I believe my impression as to Hamlet's age would be uncertain. His being several times called 'young' would not influence me much (nor at all when he is called 'young' simply to distinguish him from his father, as he is in the very passage which shows him to be thirty). But I think we naturally take him to be about as old as Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guilden stern, and take them to be less than thirty. Further, the language used by Laertes and Polonius to Ophelia in i. iii. would certainly, by itself, lead one to imagine Hamlet as a good deal less than thirty; and the impression it makes is not, to me, altogether effaced by the fact that Henry V. at his accession is said to be in 'the very May-morn of his youth,'— an expression which corresponds closely with those used by Laertes to Ophelia. In some passages, again, there is an air of boyish petulance. On the other side, however, we should have to set (1) the maturity of Hamlet's thought; (2) his manner, on the whole, to other men and to his mother, which, I think, is far from suggesting the idea of a mere youth; (3) such a passage as his words to Horatio at iii. ii. 59 ff., which imply that both he and Horatio have seen a good deal of life (this passage has in Q1 nothing corresponding to the

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