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The first quarto of 'Hamlet' and the date of 'Othello.' (dating of William Shakespeare's plays) (Notes)

EVER since Alfred Hart suggested, in 1935,(1) that the first Quarto of Hamlet (hereafter Q1) incorporated words and phrases from Othello, those who have discussed the date of Othello have divided into two camps. The difference between them is not huge, since the upper and lower limits for the play's date, generally agreed, are not far apart. Shakespeare seems to have browsed through Philemon Holland's translation of Pliny's Natural History (dated 1601 on the title-page, entered on the Stationers' Register on 20 May 1600), taking from it much of the exotic and 'foreign' detail peculiar to Othello--mines of sulphur, Arabian trees, chrysolite, coloquintida, the never-ebbing Pontic sea.(2) We know, too, that the play was performed at court on 1 November 1604, so we assume that it was written between 1601 and 1604. Not much room for manoeuvre, it may be thought: yet, as other plays usually assigned to the same few years are also difficult to date exactly (for instance, All's Well and Measure for Measure), a more precise date would be welcome. One wonders therefore why Hart's evidence seems so decisive to some and so flimsy to others.

In the present century we have been asked to choose between an Elizabethan and a Jacobean Othello. When E. K. Chambers considered the date of the play, in 1930, he agreed with Malone 'to put it in 1604 ... A production in 1604 is consonant with the stylistic evidence.'(3) The court performance served as a clear terminus ante quem; it was less clear, in Chambers's brief survey, that the play could not have been written a year or two earlier. Then, in 1935, came Alfred Hart's opening salvo, listing apparent echoes of Othello in the 'bad quarto' (Q1) of Hamlet (1603), from which it followed that Othello was written in 1603 or even 'some time before July 26, 1602, the date on which James Roberts entered |Hamlet~ on the Stationers' Register'. Hart reaffirmed his position in Stolne and Surreptitious Copies (1942), a major study of bad quartos where he also listed echoes from many other plays in Hamlet Q1. G. I. Duthie's detailed and useful The 'Bad' Quarto of 'Hamlet': A Critical Study (Cambridge, 1941) came out a year before Hart's book, and did not pursue the clues in Hart's earlier article. Yet, while J. Dover Wilson and Alice Walker accepted Hart's argument ('the play ... can hardly be later than early 1603, and may even belong to 1602'), as did W. W. Greg,(4) others did not fall into line. The Signet editor, Alvin Kernan, dated Othello 'about 1604'; the New Cambridge editor, Norman Sanders, proposed a date between 1601 and 1604, 'with late 1603 to early 1604 being the most likely time of ... completion'; and the recent Oxford editors also preferred the later date.(5)

Two connected thoughts, I suspect, persuaded doubters to resist Hart's date. Some of Hart's echoes are too faint to carry much conviction; and if those that remain are all that can be found, is it not a much weaker case than he claimed? Having always thought that at least two of Hart's 'echoes' of Othello in Q1 Hamlet were pretty conclusive, as such things go, I certainly assumed--and perhaps others did--that his careful sifting had uncovered all the Q1 borrowings from this play. Not so: much more remains to be said, disqualifying some of his echoes (where Hart disregarded earlier plays or common usage) and adding others that more than make up the short-fall. Hart, of course, tracked down the echoes in a very large number of texts: the fact that one may be able to add to his list by no means lessens his pioneer achievement.

Let us check through Hart's 'echoes' again.(6)

(1) Ghost. Nay pitty me not, but to my vnfolding Lend thy listning eare. (Q1, iv. 74-5; sigs. C3b, C4a) Oth. Most Gracious Duke, To my vnfolding, lend your prosperous eare. (Oth. 1. 3. 242-3)

(2) Ham. Vpon my loue I charge thee let it goe. (Q1, xviii. 102; sig. I3b) Oth. Speake: who began this? On my loue I charge thee? (Oth. 2. 3. 168)

(3) Ham. I neuer gaue you cause: but stand away. (Q1, xvi. 164; sig. I2a) Des. Alas the day, I neuer gaue him cause. (Oth. 3. 4. 159)

(4) Coram. My Lord, content you a while. (Q1, vii. 3; sig. E2a) Iago. Content thy selfe, a-while. (Oth. 2. 3. 361)

(5) King. Although I know your griefe is as a floud, Brimme full of sorrow. (Q1, xiii. 118-19; sig. H2a) Brab. For my perticular griefe Is of so flood-gate, and ore-bearing Nature. (Oth. 1. 3. 55-6)

(6) Ham. Ile no more of it. (Q1, vi. 196; sig. E1b) Cass. Let's haue no more of this. (Oth. 2. 3. 101)

(7) 'The phrase "loue and dutie," found three times in Hamlet Q1 but not in the second quarto, was used for the first time by Shakespeare in Othello ...'

(8) 'More significant of direct borrowing is the use in Hamlet Q1 of the compound adjective "Olympus-high", used in Othello (2. 1. 184-5): And let the labouring Barke climbe hills of Seas Olympus high. As Laertes leaps into the grave he cries (Q1. xvi. 142; sig. I1b), Now powre your earth on, Olympus hie.'

Only two of Hart's eight 'echoes' seem to me really worthy of attention, the first and the last. Here are some comments on some of the rest. (2) Hart has accidentally misprinted 'On thy loue' as 'On my loue' (Oth., QF). (3) There is a closer parallel to Q1 in Othello, 5. 2. 300--1: 'Deere Generall, I neuer gaue you cause' (F).(7) But Hart himself has shown that 'I never gave you cause' also occurs in The Spanish Tragedy.(8) (6) The Q1 line need not echo Othello, for it repeats 'Ile no more on't' from the equivalent speech in Hamlet (III. 1. 148, F; so Q2).

Apart from (1) and (8) Hart's echoes do not amount to very much, although 'Brimme full of sorrow' (5) may be influenced by Othello II. 3. 206 ('brim-full of feare', F). The editors who chose to disregard his evidence appear to be justified. What, though, can be said on the other side, in support of Hart? In my list of additional echoes I follow Hart's lay-out.(9)

(9) That his heeles may kicke at heauen, And fall as lowe as hel: (Q1, sig. G1b) Olympus high: and duck againe as low, As hell's from Heauen. (Oth. 2. 1. 186-7)

Q1 conflates two passages in Hamlet, II. 2. 490-1 and III. 3. 93-5 ('that his heeles may kicke at Heauen, / And that his Soule may be as damn'd aud |sic~ blacke / As Hell, whereto it goes' and 'downe the hill of Heauen, / As low as to the Fiends') and Othello. Compare also (8), above, which comes from the same speech in Othello.

(10) Now my friend, whose graue is this? Clowne Mine sir. Ham. But who must lie in it? Clowne If I should say, I should, I should lie in my throat sir. (Q1, sig. H4b) Clo.... I know not where he lodges, and for mee to deuise a lodging, and to say he lies heere, or he lies there, were to lye in mine owne throat. (Oth. 3. 4. 6ff.)

The equivalent passage in Hamlet Q2F (V. 1. 115ff.) omits 'I should lie in my throat', which Q1 appears to take from Othello. Shakespeare used this phrase many times, yet the quibble on two kinds of lying occurs only in Q1 and Othello.

(11) If aught of woe or wonder you'ld behold, Then looke vpon this tragicke spectacle. (Q1, sig. 14a) Looke on the Tragicke Loading of this bed: (Oth. 5. 2. 366)

(12) Hee is bereft of all the wealth he had, The Iewell that ador'nd his feature most Is filcht and stolne away, his wit's bereft him, (Q1, sig. D2b) Good name in Man, & woman (deere my Lord) Is the immediate Iewell of their Soules; Who steales my purse, steales trash ... But he that filches from me my good Name ... (Oth. 3. 3. 159ff.)

In both contexts a jewel that represents 'all the wealth he had' is filched away.

(13) Horatio, haue a care, obserue him well. (Q1, sig. F2b) Looke to your wife, obserue her well with Cassio (Oth. 3. 3. 201)

(14) I will haue sounder proofes (Q1, sig. F1a) Ile haue some proofe. (Oth. 3. 3. 392)

(15) For Polonius and Reynaldo Q1 substitutes 'Corambis' and 'Montano'.

The only Montano in Shakespeare is the one in Othello: it would appear that the compiler of Hamlet Q1 borrowed this unusual name from Othello, perhaps because the same minor actor played both parts. (The name Corambus occurs in All's Well, IV. 3. 185.)

Now the reader may think, as I do, that not all of these additional echoes (9-15) are equally irresistible. Should the command 'observe well' be called an echo? I include it because it occurs only once in the whole of Shakespeare, according to Marvin Spevack's Concordance, and therefore we may reasonably assume that the compiler of Hamlet Q1 borrowed it, together with his other echoes from the same play. We have to place these Othello echoes in a larger context, the writing habits of the Hamlet pirate, aptly described by E. K. Chambers. 'He paraphrases ... He makes a mosaic of recollected fragments ... He shifts the order of bits of dialogue within their scenes. Above all he uses or echoes in one scene passages which really belong to an earlier or later one.'(10) Once we see how the pirate shuffles the words and phrases of Hamlet within a scene, or from one scene to another, and how he appropriates phrases from many other plays, his echoing from Othello turns out to be his characteristic modus scribendi, and even the less compelling echoes need to be taken into account.

Some examples will put the matter in perspective. Hart suggested echoes in Hamlet Q1 from The Spanish Tragedy, Henry VI, Parts 1-3, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Twelfth Night, and other plays. A few seem to me too faint to pass muster:

(a) King. Therefore let mee intreat you stay in Court. (Q1, sig. B3b) Let vs intreat you stay till after dinner. (The Shrew, 3. 2. 192)

Many, however, repeat a unique turn of phrase:

(b) King. Well sonne Hamlet, we in care of you; but specially in tender preseruation of your health. (Q1, sig. G4a) in their deere care and tender preseruation of our person. (Henry V, 2. 2. 58-9)

And, despite Hart's diligence, sooner or later more borrowings will be found in Hamlet Q1. For instance:

(c) What chance is this? they are gone, and he come home. (Q1, sig. H3a)

What chance is this, that suddenly hath crost vs? (1 Henry VI, 1. 4. 72)

The mosaic-work of Hamlet Q1 consists of dozens of similar echoes, and those from Othello, though not all equally certain, become more certain when we consider the general indebtedness of the Hamlet pirate. That being so, Hart's conclusion--that Hamlet Q1 echoes Othello--can no longer be ignored.

Hamlet Q1, it is widely thought, was put together by the actor of Marcellus, who interpolated in Q1 words and phrases from other plays in which he had performed.(11) When could he have taken a part in Othello? As Hart observed, the theatres were closed for most of 1603 and in early 1604. In the words of E. K. Chambers:

1603. Plague broke out during April ... Plays had been restrained during the illness of Elizabeth on 19 March and probably not resumed ... The warrant of 8 Feb. |1604~ ... for a special royal subsidy to the King's Men ... suggests that they were still unable to perform in public on that date.(12)

It would follow that the actor who echoed Othello performed in the play before 19 March. And we are also driven back to an earlier date by Hart's inference that Othello could have been 'on the acting list' before 26 July 1602, when James Roberts entered Hamlet in the Stationers' Register. Hart assumed, as others did when he wrote, that Roberts acted as agent for the players, who wished to protect themselves against piracy. Roberts, it was said, having the exclusive right to print playbills, made 'blocking entries' in the Register on behalf of the players.

The older view of Roberts's role has now been challenged: he made his S.R. entries for his own benefit, it is alleged, passing on his 'copies' to other publishers and thus raking in a quick profit.(13) I do not see Roberts as the villain of the story; for our present purposes, however, we need not choose between these alternative theories. Either Roberts acted to block a bad text or he owned such a text: that is, by July 1602, an unauthorized text had come into being. And, since it seems most improbable that two different 'bad' texts of the same play were produced at much the same time, we are entitled to assume that the one we know as the 'bad quarto' of Hamlet existed in July 1602, together with its echoes from Othello.

Bad quartos, of course, did not just echo the most recent plays. Hamlet Q1 borrowed from The Spanish Tragedy and Richard III--so why assign Othello to 1602 rather than 1601? Accepting Hart's argument, and the consequence that Othello may date from 1602, Dover Wilson added that 'that would bring |Othello~ close to Hamlet which Edmund Chambers places in the summer or autumn of 1601 in his final review of the matter'.(14) Yet according to Harold Jenkins's review of the matter, Hamlet 'was being acted on the stage just possibly even before the end of 1599 and certainly in the course of 1600'.(15) For understandable reasons editors have tended to 'post-date' Shakespeare's plays--witness the opposition to Hart's date for Othello--a tradition that needs more study. Should Othello continue to be placed 'close to Hamlet'? If so, we cannot rule out the possibility that it may have been written in 1601--in the second half of the year, since the prefatory matter in Philemon Holland's Pliny prints an epistle dated 'Iunij xij. 1601'.

Why would Shakespeare be drawn to the story of Othello in 1601 or 1602? Several reasons suggest themselves. An embassy of Moors from Barbary arrived in England in 1600 and probably left in February 1601, having aroused a good deal of attention.(16) The news that Don Sebastian had reached Venice also caused a stir in London: Sebastian, King of Portugal, reportedly killed by the Moors at the battle of Alcazar (1578), was said to have survived many disastrous chances, not unlike Othello (I. 3. 128ff.), and his exploits were celebrated in books and a lost play finished by Dekker and Chettle in May 1601.(17) A lost play about George Scanderbeg, entered in the Stationers' Register in July 1601, may be even more relevant: Scanderbeg, a renegade Christian, led Turkish armies against Christians, and Othello could have been written as a counter-attraction, with a Moor starring as a Christian general against the Turks. The charter of the Levant Company lapsed in 1600, and fifty-three English merchants lost their privileges (which were restored in 1605): many minds were focused at this time on north Africa, the Levant, and Venice (England's trading rival), that is, on 'the world of Othello'. Nearer home the authorities worried about a related problem.

1601. Negroes and Blackamoors.--Whereas the Queen's Majesty is discontented at the great number of 'negars and blackamoores' which are crept into the realm since the troubles between her Highness and the King of Spain, and are fostered here to the annoyance of her own people, ... in order to discharge of them out of this country, her Majesty hath appointed Caspar Van Zeuden, merchant of Lubeck, for their transportation ... this is to require you to assist him to collect such negroes and blackamoors for this purpose.(18)

On 12 July 1602 Dr Julius Caesar wrote to Cecil about 'the Moors lately redeemed out of servitude by her Majesty's ships', who needed lodging and victuals till they could be transported back to Barbary.(19) The tragedy of the Moor of Venice, in short, could have been Shakespeare's response to topical events at home and abroad in 1601 or 1602.

What, then, can be said for Othello as 'Jacobean'? Emrys Jones has pointed out that the fictitious 'Cyprus wars' of the play must have a connection with historical events.

Although these events |in the play~ are in themselves fictitious ... they could hardly have failed to arouse the memory of anyone in Shakespeare's audience who was at all aware of recent European history. For if we were to seek to give an approximate date to the action of Othello, we should be driven to the crucial years round about 1570, the year of the Turkish attack on Cyprus.(20)

The play's connection with the historical attack on Cyprus 'is not only of a general kind; there are one or two precise details which suggest that Shakespeare had the events of 1570-1 in mind'. Richard Knolles, in his Generall Historie of the Turkes (1603), said of the Turkish fleet when it first landed in Cyprus that it 'consisted of two hundred galleys', and, more significantly, described its movements: a part of the fleet first sailed to Rhodes, there joined forces with the rest of the fleet and made for Cyprus. In Othello the Turkish fleet manoeuvres similarly, part of it first sailing to Rhodes (I. 3. 14-31), and one estimate puts its size at two hundred galleys.

1 Senator. My letters say, a hundred and seven galleys. Duke. And mine a hundred and forty. 2 Senator. And mine two hundred. (I. 3. 3-4)

Knolles's book was entered in the Stationers' Register on 5 December 1602, but, as Stanley Wells observed, an epistle printed in it is dated 'the last of September, 1603'. 'Clearly then, if Knolles's influence is accepted, the play cannot have been written before October 1603.'(21)

Must Knolles's influence be accepted? Being a historical writer, he did not invent his facts--he compiled them (as he freely acknowledged) from the historical record. One would expect the precise details that Shakespeare borrowed from him to be available elsewhere, and this proves to be the case. The Mahumetane or Turkish Historie (1600), translated by Robert Carr, included 'a briefe discourse of the warres of Cypres' where we read that the Turks sailed to Rhodes before they attacked Cyprus, and that the Christians (not the Turks) had a navy 'of 200 ships' (fo. 105). This, a more condensed account than Knolles's, suggests that Knolles was indebted to an earlier authority, as Shakespeare could have been as well. I have not checked all the books that might have supplied the facts--some, indeed, may no longer survive--but the ultimate source must have been Italian or Latin. Now one of the authors named and pillaged by Knolles, Francesco Sansovino, had printed a detailed account of the Cyprus wars, 'Guerra del Regno di Cipri, l'anno MDEXX' (i.e. MDLXX) in his Historia Universale (1600), and here we find exactly the same narrative as in Knolles, including the fact that Piali, the Turkish admiral, divided his fleet into two and that his ships joined forces again at Rhodes before attacking Cyprus.

Piali a' 18. di maggio, hauendo a Negroponte impalmato, & fornita l'armata di uettouaglie si leuo di la per nauigare a Rhodi, & nel camino ritrouo il resto dell' armata: & cosi tutti insieme al primo di Giugno giunsero a Rhodi.(22)

As for the size of the Turkish fleet, all the figures in Othello are guesses (107, 140, or 200 ships). The coincidence that one of these guesses agrees with Knolles's figure would be more significant if Ralph Carr had not chosen the same round number for a different fleet--although, again, we must not exclude the possibility of a common source for Shakespeare and Knolles.(23)

That Shakespeare's mind switched back to the 'Cyprus wars' of 1570-1 when he wrote Othello seems likely, and not uncharacteristic, even though the Turks had captured Rhodes much earlier, in 1522 (contrary to the impression given by the play, I. 3. 17-30). If we rule out Knolles as an influence, however, Othello ceases to have claims to be considered Jacobean. The fact that James I wrote a Lepanto, a poem apparently unknown to Shakespeare, surely has less significance than the echoes of Othello in Hamlet Q1. It might even be urged that Shakespeare's invented 'Cyprus wars' have Elizabethan overtones. After all, the Turks succeeded in conquering Cyprus in 1570-1, and the situation in the play is quite different. A huge hostile fleet attempts to conquer an island of another religious persuasion and is destroyed by tempests, an act of God--is this not meant to remind us of a victory nearer home? And--although such generalizations can be dangerous--even if Iago seems to think and speak like the Jacobeans, at the heart of the play, in the 'fountain from the which my being runs', I sense Elizabethan 'romantic' attitudes (to adventure, war, and love). These attitudes are made to feel old-fashioned, just as one might expect in late 1601 or 1602.

1 Alfred Hart, Times Literary Supplement, 10 Oct. 1935.

2 See Kenneth Muir, The Sources of Shakespeare's Plays (London, 1977), 188 ff.

3 E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare (Oxford, 1930), i. 462.

4 Othello, ed. Alice Walker and John Dover Wilson, The New Shakespeare (London, 1957), p. xv; W. W. Greg, The Shakespeare First Folio (Oxford, 1955), 371.

5 See the Signet edition (1963), p. xxiii; the New Cambridge Shakespeare, Othello, ed. Norman Sanders (Cambridge, 1984), 2; Stanley Wells et al., William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford, 1987), 126.

6 I reprint them from Stolne and Surreptitious Copies, 398, 400. Q1 stands for the bad Quarto of Hamlet, Oth. for the folio text of Othello. To assist the reader I have added signature references for Q1.

7 Line references are to William Shakespeare, The Complete Works, ed. Peter Alexander (London, 1951).

8 Hart, Stolne and Surreptitious Copies, 395.

9 Abbreviations as before.

10 Chambers, William Shakespeare, i. 415.

11 See Greg, Shakespeare First Folio, 302.

12 E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford, 1923), iv. 349-50.

13 See Sidney Thomas, 'The Myth of the Authorized Shakespeare Quartos', Shakespeare Quarterly, 27 (1976), 186-92; S. Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: Records and Images (London, 1981), 206-7.

14 Othello, ed. A. Walker and J. Dover Wilson, p. xv.

15 Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins, Arden edition (London, 1982), 13.

16 See Bernard Harris, 'A Portrait of a Moor', Shakespeare Survey, 11 (1958), 95.

17 See Henslowe's Diary, ed. R. A. Foakes and R. T. Rickert (Cambridge, 1961), 168-70.

18 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Hatfield House, Part XI, 1601 (1906), 569.

19 Ibid. Part XII, 1602 (1910), 222.

20 Emrys Jones, 'Othello, "Lepanto" and the Cyprus Wars', Shakespeare Survey, 21 (1968), 49. See also Samuel C. Chew, The Crescent and the Rose: Islam and England during the Renaissance (London, 1937; repr. 1965), 496 n. 1.

21 Stanley Wells, Times Literary Supplement, 20 July 1984, p. 811.

22 Historia Universale dell' Origine et Imperio de' Turchi (Venice, 1600), fo. 453a.

23 See Muir, Sources of Shakespeare's Plays, 182 ff.; E. A. J. Honigmann, 'Othello, Chappuys, and Cinthio', N & Q NS 13 (1966), 136-7.
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Author:Honigmann, E.A.J.
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Date:May 1, 1993
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