Shakespeare's Hamlet

An Introduction to the Text

First Quarto

Soon after Hamlet's debut, three different versions were printed and released. The first to be released was, the First Quarto, dubbed the "bad Quarto" (xlvii) because there were so many errors in the version it was difficult to even perform. Not only was this entire version only slightly longer than half the ngths of the other versions, but the character’s names were not even consistent with the other versions. For instance, Polonius is called Corambis and "Reynaldo appears as Montano," (xlvii). Scholars believe that the First Quarto was created when a small-part actor attempted to memorize the play and type what he remembered. Then in order to fill in the long sections of dialogue that were blank, "hack poets" (xlv) were hired. As a result, the First Quarto was dubbed to be "generally unreliable" (xlvii) and thus did not heavily influence the modern version of the text.
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Second Quarto

The next version to be released was the Second Quarto which is referred to as the "good quarto"(xlvii) because it was believed to have been transferred either directly from Shakespeare's own manuscript or "from a scribe's copy of it" (xlviii). The Second Quarto is also much longer than the First Quarto that was printed before it, and is often combined with the Folio to create the modern version. Recently, however, scholars believe the Second Quarto and the Folio are "distinct, independent Shakespearean versions" (xlix) and therefore should not be combined with each other.

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The modern version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a combination of the Second Quarto and parts of the second Folio. Editors seek to correct the errors of the second quarto through editing or the implantation of the first Folio. Through doing this, the writers seek to make the works more accessible for the reader, by clarifying and making the meanings of the work easier to understand. Some of the words are changed to modern version involve the spelling of various kinds of words. Some words are changed so that they have the same meaning but the modern day meaning. For example, “when a means “he,” we changed it to he,” (Folger) and words like “mo”, are changed to “more,” “ye” to “you,” and “God buy to you” to “good-bye to you.” Not only this but to make the works more accessible they changed certain names to the modern day spelling. “For example, the Second Quarto’s “Gertrard” or “Gertrad” is changed to Folio’s “Gertrude” because “Gertrude” has become the familiar form of the name.” (Folger) To make the work even more comprehensible they included footnotes that further clarify the text.

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The Folio was derived by two king's men, John Heminge and Henrey Condell, who believed the First and Second Quartos were insufficient They claim that they received Shakespeare's actual work. "[S]ome editors have come to believe that the Second Quarto and Folio are distinct, independent Shakespearean versions of the play that ought never to be combined with each other in an edition" (xlix). Though the Folio and Second Quartos are very similar there are small pieces in the Folio that are not included in the Second Quarto and some pieces that are not in the Folio that are in the Second Quarto.

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Works Cited

"Burned Texture." January 6, 2008. Flickr. Online Image. February 18, 2013. <>.

McCullough, Michael. “Found Literature- Pacific Crest Trail.” August 14, 2009. Flickr. Online Image. February 18, 2013. <>.

Solaris, Valeriana “Antique German Continental Typewriter.” June 16, 2010. Flickr. Online Image. February 18, 2013. <>.

Worthington, Paul. “Pencils and Moleskines 04.” January 3, 2006. Flickr. Online Image. February 18, 2013. <>.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark. New York: Folger Shakespeare Library, 2009. Print.


Gordon Pedley, Maria Vido, and Will Lambert