In Hamlet, what is omitted in the bad quarto version of "to be or not to be." Does this cause any gaps in meaning or changes in meaning?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Interestingly enough, the answer to this question all depends upon your idea of what "the bad quarto version" of Shakespeare's Hamlet actually is. To my mind, the "bad version" is the 1604 Quarto 2 version that is replicated almost exactly in the 1623 Folio 1 version. Yet it is suggested to me that the short 1603 Quarto 1 version might be thought of as "bad" as it is the short one. Lee Lady, Ph.D. of the University of Hawai'i has this to say about our Shakespearean text versions of Hamlet:

Blunder Alert: We Have No Good Texts For Shakespeare's Plays
by Lee Lady, Ph.D. University of Hawai'i
REVIEW OF: Marjorie Garber: Shakespeare After All

The improvements made by various editors had many different objectives, .... But one common change the editors made was to change the language of various passages to make it more "Shakespearean."

So now I realize ... that many of the rhetorical and rhythmic features in the plays which I found so significant, were apparently never in the play as Shakespeare's company performed it, but were changes made by subsequent editors.

In particular, my conclusion about Hamlet's "To Be or Not to Be" speech [Q2/F1], ... may well be [from] the editor's idea of what the speech ought to sound like, and not [the] words Shakespeare himself wrote.

Barring a definitive idea of which the "bad version" is, I'll briefly compare both the Quarto 1 and Quarto 2 speeches. (1) Q1 is shorter at about one-half the length of the Q2 speech. (2) The emphasis of the Q1 speech is a contemplation of the uncertain nature of death when compared to the certain injustices of life:

For in that dreame of death, when wee awake,
And borne before an euerlasting Iudge, [...]
From whence no passenger euer retur'nd,
The vndiscouered country, at whose sight [...]
Scorned by the right rich, the rich curssed of the poore?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong'd,
The taste of hunger, or a tirants raigne, ... (Q1, 1603)

In comparison, Q2 emphasizes philosophical musings on the nobility of suffering the vagaries and injustices of life; this focuses much more upon Hamlet's dilemma with Claudius as to focusing upon Hamlet's dilemma with himself:

Whether tis nobler in the minde to suffer
The slings and arrowes of outragious fortune,
Or to take Armes against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them, to die to sleepe
No more, and by a sleepe, to say we end
The hart-ake, and the thousand naturall shocks
That flesh is heire to; ... (Q2, 1604)

(3) Q2 has a more protracted contemplation of the "To sleepe, perchance to dreame" metaphor. In Q2, "dreame" is introduced at line 10 and leads in to the discussion of "calamitie of so long life: / For who would beare the whips and scornes of time." In Q1, "dreame" is introduced at line 3 and leads in to the discussion of judgement:

And borne before an euerlasting Iudge,
From whence no passenger euer retur'nd,
The vndiscouered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd. (Q1, 1603)

(4) The long Q2 version ends with thoughts not found in Q1 which discuss the idea of cowardice and the idea of contemplative thought that may be allusive or overpowering ("pale cast" introduces some ambiguity as to meaning):

Thus conscience dooes make cowards,
And thus the natiue hiew of resolution
Is sickled ore with the pale cast of thought (Q2, 1604)

Read the study guide:

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question