Hamlet: Date and Early Afterlife

Cathcart, C. (2001). Hamlet: Date and Early Afterlife. The Review of English Studies, 52(207) pp. 341–359.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/res/52.207.341


Echoes of Hamlet are present in two plays of winter 1599/1600: Antonio and Mellida and Lust's Dominion. Correspondences between Hamlet and each of these plays are too strong to be coincidental, and they offer clear evidence of direction. The comic genre of Antonio and Mellida, and the existence of distinctive material shared by Hamlet and both Antonio plays, makes the prospect of a common source for these plays (such as the lost ur‐Hamlet) an improbable hypothesis. The evidence for the dates of the debtor plays is powerful. The permeation of their texts by Hamlet's lines is so widespread that a possible influence in the course of any revisions subsequent to 1599/1600 may be discounted. If the arguments outlined above are sound, then we must accept a Shakespearian Hamlet composed by the end of 1599. This is not inconsistent with other evidence for Hamlet's date. The suggested date offers a sharpened context for Hamlet's inception, and—as context confers meaning—invites a clearer understanding of the tragedy. The evidence of indebtedness, if valid, itself constitutes the play's immediate surviving afterlife.

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