Ballads and Performance: The Multimodal Stage in Early Modern England

"'Dangerous Conjectures': Ophelia’s Ballad Performance"

William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, The First Folio (1623), in Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623, eds. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor (London: Methuen Drama, 2006) 4.5.2-3. Further references will be given parenthetically. Readings of this scene from Hamlet, as this essay notes, should take into account a number of textual variants. For instance, these lines on Ophelia’s distracted condition are delivered, in the second Quarto, by a “Gentleman.” His part is cut in the Folio, and the lines are given instead to Horatio. In the second Quarto, it is Horatio who says that Ophelia must be “spoken with” lest she “strew / Dangerous coniectures in ill-breeding minds.” In the Folio, it is Gertrude. In the second Quarto, the courtiers “yawne” at Ophelia’s “unshaped” speech. In the Folio, they “aim” at it. Even the line, “there might be thought,” reads that way only in the second Quarto. The Folio has instead “there would be thought.” These differences give rise to questions. How does the scene read if it is the scholar who notes that Ophelia “speaks things in doubt”? Or the titled gentleman? If it is the scholar who draws the conclusion about the “dangerous conjectures” that might arise? Or the queen? Yawning and aiming are quite different responses, too. “Yawn” implies bafflement, even stupefaction, on the part of the courtiers. “Aim” suggests a focused attempt at understanding, and further, that Ophelia is indeed thinking something, something for the courtiers to “aim” at, “though,” as both Quarto and Folio have it, “nothing sure.”

This page is referenced by: