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"Good" Quarto, "Bad" Quarto

An Internet Edition of the Final Duel in Hamlet

Tiffany Chan, Author

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The process by which a play gets from Shakespeare to a modern reader is far more complicated than it might first appear. For example, Hamlet was first published in quarto format with the first quarto (Q1) printed in 1603 and the second quarto (Q2) in 1604-5[1]. Over the years, scholars and editors have much maligned Q1—called the "bad" quarto—as the less authoritative and, artistically speaking, the lesser play. Subsequently, most modern editions use Q2 as the base text and few (though it seems the number is increasing) use Q1.

This project contains the "duel scenes" (between Hamlet and Laertes) at the end of Hamlet with one page using Q1 as its base text and another using Q2. Annotations draw attention to the major differences between the two and how they might affect interpretation. In addition, I have included extra material on the origins of the "good" and "bad" labels and the rationale and debate around them. Other extra material includes a compilation of editing statements from various modern editions, and a compilation of clips from various screen, stage, and web adaptations of Hamlet.

This (very narrowly focused) edition of a scene from Hamlet is meant to encourage the reader to do more than merely consider or pursue multiple readings. It also encourages readers to compare and think more closely and critically about the many ways in which we read Shakespeare—ways that are heavily informed by the printing process, the medium, attitudes towards authorship, and the many other factors that intervene between author, text, and reader.

A note on my own editing practice: for each scene, I have included a brief summary of the print history and provenance of the particular quarto transcribed. I used transcriptions from the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, a joint project of the Bodleian Library, Folger Library, MITH, and other institutions. The transcriptions were used under the Creative Commons Non-Commercial License that accompanied them. Per the documentation, spellings were not regularized except for long S, which was captured as regular s. I have also included links to the facsimile page of the start of the scene in EEBO, should anyone want to examine the typology or layout of the page.

[1] The print run for Q2 straddled 1604 and 1605 (Proudfoot et al. 478).

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