After reading the First Quarto of Hamlet, I realized why many refer to it as the “Bad Quarto.” Although the general plot line and some of the character lines are pretty much the same as the version most readers study today, this original version of Hamlet was significantly shorter in some places. And since I’ve read the first and second act of the definitive, accepted Hamlet so far, at times this older version just felt really disorganized
To begin, Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act I about his discontent with his mother and uncle’s hasty marriage is noticeably shorter than the accepted, definitive text. This shorter version unfortunately leaves out key phrases in the monologue which help develop Hamlet’s character and the plot. For instance, in the definitive text, Hamlet laments how “ weary, stale, flat and unprofitable/Seem to me all the uses of this world.” These lines demonstrate Hamlet’s frustration and meaningless he feels for life; essentially, he does not see a point to living, but he refrains from committing suicide because doing so goes against his religion (this is evident through the lines “Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d/His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! “). These lines mark the beginning of Hamlet’s soliloquy in the definitive text and demonstrates his view on life; however, since these specific lines are missing from the original text, the reader does not achieve the same view of Hamlet as a reader examining the modern-day definitive text. Shakespeare develops Hamlet’s character in the full version as deeply religious and superstitious, as shown by his awe and belief in his father’s ghost and his decision to extend his meaningless life out of fear of God. Without this information, the character can’t empathize with Hamlet and will struggle to understand why he doesn’t just kill himself. Furthermore, in the definitive text, Hamlet praises the loving, attentive personality of King Hamlet. Contrasted with the horrible descriptions given for uncle Claudius, the reader both recognizes Hamlet’s deep love for his father and realizes how much Hamlet despises his uncle Claudius in comparison. Lacking these lines describing King Hamlet, the original text is unable to fully develop Hamlet as a loving and devoted son who will obey his ghost father’s wishes.
While Hamlet’s altered soliloquy and incomplete development stood out to me the most in Act I, the most interesting difference between the First Quarto and the modern-day accepted text occurred in Act II. In the version most readers study today, a crazed Hamlet bursts into Ophelia’s bedroom while she is sewing, grips her wrist, sighs, and leaves without a word. However, in the original text, Hamlet confronts Ophelia in this manner while she is walking in the gallery. This difference in setting completely changes the “weird-factor.” Bursting into someone’s room in such a crazed state causes Hamlet to appear deranged and crazy in the eyes of the reader; the accepted text therefore uses this to highlight his distressed and insane state. But, in the original text, this confrontation occurs in the open, public gallery which makes this meeting less disturbing. Instead of intentionally going to Ophelia’s room, Hamlet could instead just happen to see Ophelia in the gallery after being shocked by seeing the ghost of his father. This difference in setting relays a different message; in the original, Hamlet could have met Ophelia in the gallery by mere coincidence whereas in the modern, accepted version, Hamlet purposefully goes to Ophelia’s room. The latter helps develop a more complex plot line as the reader can more readily believe that Hamlet is actually obsessed or in love with Ophelia (which will later be revealed to be false).
Here is the link for the “Bad Quarto”: