Reviews of "Staging Shakespeare's Hamlet" (Edwin Mellen Press 2005)

Charles Marowitz provided the following boosting blurb:
With microscopic attention both to textul nuance and historical allusion, Lars Kaaber has vivisected Hamlet's cadaver and, paradoxically, brought it spankingly back to life. Kaaber triumphantly reaffirms the value of 'close reading' and never taking a classic for granted.

Critic, playwright and director Charles Marowitz.

By Professor Niels B. Hansen (foreword of the publication)
The fictional character of Hamlet is probably the Dane who has achieved the most lasting and widespread fame around the world. In the eyes of the world – sometimes also the academic world – the enigmatic prince is commonly seen as the melancholy Dane, and fellow Danes, assumed to have a privileged insight into the character of their countryman, are often faced with the question: Is he a typical and representative Dane? The assumption on which this question is based is highly doubtful, and in most cases it is parried with jocular evasions.
At the same time there is no doubt that this play with its roots in Danish legend, and its Danish setting has of all Shakespeare’s plays had a special position in Denmark, on the stage since its first translation and performance in Copenhagen in 1816, as well as in the minds and works of Danish Shakespeareans.
Back in 1896 Georg Brandes, the internationally acclaimed Danish critic, published his
William Shakespeare. This large-scale study of the works and the mind of the playwright was translated into many languages and noted among critics all over Europe. It also had a powerful and lasting influence on the reception of Shakespeare in Denmark. It is quite clear that Hamlet had a special appeal for Brandes, and not only because of his nationality, but just as much for his mentality. “We love thee like a brother”, wrote Brandes of Hamlet.  Since then many Danish writers have felt and met the challenge to come to grips with Hamlet –  the play and the protagonist, most of them writing  for a Danish audience.
Now, just over a century after Brandes’ book, another fellow Dane offers to all of the English-speaking world a new look at the play and the protagonist, which deserves the attention of this large audience not because of its author’s background, but because of the merits of his work. To write a book on
Hamlet with a fresh look at the text is an impressive achievement at a time when there is no end to the literature, academic and popular, which continues to fill the shelves of libraries and bookstores around the world.
Lars Kaaber’s bookhas many merits. First and foremost it is an extremely perceptive, intelligent, and witty (and occasionally irreverent) scrutiny and exposition of the playtext. The title of Kaaber’s opening chapter, ‘What happened to
Hamlet’brings to mind Dover Wilson’s What Happens in Hamlet, and there is a certain resemblance between the two books in that both in their basically chronological reading of the play combine commentary and monograph. Kaaber does not, however, place himself in a critical school which stands on the shoulders of Dover Wilson. The mentors he would admit to are rather Wilson Knight, Eleanor Prosser and William Empson, though chiefly for their various reservations about the noble prince. Kaaber, however, draws on an impressive range of critical and scholarly works on the play, moving with grace and wit and independence in a vast expanse of troubled and sometimes muddy waters. He does not lean on any literary theory, fashionable or otherwise. His theory about the play is grounded in his own dual background in the academic world and in the world of the theatre as both playwright and director. His pervasive argument is that we need to peel off layer after layer of a tradition which has encrusted the original playtext. Thespians and critics are alike to blame for these aberrations, and above all it is the Romantics and the Victorians that are to blame for what happened to Hamlet. Hamlet is not the noble youth that Goethe and many others would have us believe. The text, Kaaber claims, if read with an open and attentive mind, forces us to discard many preconceptions and misconceptions about the prince. He is much less likable and admirable than we have been led to believe. If we accept that, we find that in the process our estimation of much else in the play, not least the characters of Claudius and Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, changes radically as well.
This is not in itself a radically new insight. The romantic hero has been out of fashion for quite a while; modern directors and actors around the world are most happy to go their own ways, with varied, strange and often unfortunate results.
What is special and rewarding about Kaaber’s approach is his persistent and intelligent attention to details in the text which provide cues for psychological and dramatic interpretation, coupled with the lucid and elegant, witty and indeed entertaining style in which he presents his observations, comments and arguments. Hamlet may, as Kaaber argues in an appendix, have taken colour from Shakespeare’s friend and patron the Earl of Southampton. More significantly he shares with his creator a fascination with the theatre and everything associated with it, which is the most salient addition to the character Shakespeare took over from his sources. But Shakespeare saw more deeply into the mind and predicament of his introspective protagonist and the circumstances in which he had to manoeuvre. So the keynotes to a proper appreciation of the text, the keynotes in Kaaber’s approach to the text, are its almost countless instances of theatricality and irony. To get the right perspective on the play we need to be constantly aware of the comedy in the tragedy. This thought is not in itself original and new; but Kaaber has more consistently and persuasively than any other book I am familiar with pursued these ideas and woven them into an all-round reading of
Hamlet which stands solidly on the two legs of scholarship and performance, and which should appeal equally to scholars and theatre people.  

                                                                          Niels B. Hansen
                                                                          Associate Professor
University of Copenhagen

Marion Fewell
Lars Kaaber gives us an act by act, scene by scene, indeed line by line, reading of
Hamlet, which, while carefully and correctly acknowledging Shakespeare scholarship, is marked by its freshness and independence, qualities doubtless resulting from his 20 years or more of experience as a director. He speaks from the heart of the realities of staging this play, realities sometimes far removed from the esoteric distance imposed by scholarship, while yet establishing himself convincingly as an authority with a foot in each camp. Unafraid to challenge received truths, Lars Kaaber is prepared to question the virtually canonical reading of Act 1, Scene V as one in which Hamlet swears an oath to kill his uncle, claiming that such an undertaking was in fact never given.
The chronological structure that underpins Lars Kaaber's treatment of the play allows him, and us, the delight of a wide-ranging discussion without sinking under the weight of an over-bulky text. Among other matters we are reminded of Hamlet's dual loyalties, as the son of a Norse warlord and as the urbane and erudite product of a university inevitably associated with Martin Luther. Lars Kaaber's analysis of Shakespeare's sources, particularly his carefully documented links with Florio's translation of Montaigne's
Essaies, is particularly interesting. We are also invited to reflect on the topicality of Hamlet, with many social and political allusions noted, and are reminded that Shakespeare's troupe had been all too closely involved with the Earl of Essex, performing Richard II at his behest in the late years of Elizabeth's reign, a reckless decision that could easily have resulted in imprisonment or worse.
The link with Essex is picked up again in an appendix dealing with the Earl of Southampton and his possible connection with
Hamlet. It is perhaps not quite true to say that Kaaber attempts to boldly go where no man has been before (his predecessors in this field are cited), but he is clearly willing to brave the pitfalls associated with biographical speculation and to give his readers a thorough summary of the evidence currently available. Some of this evidence, albeit persuasively presented, is clearly circumstantial and is admitted by Lars Kaaber to be so: nonetheless, those of us who, like him, are insatiably curious about Shakespeare and his play can only be grateful to be given the material so lucidly presented here, enabling us to form our own judgement of the matter.
Lars Kaaber's years of reading and directing Shakespeare have paid off in this vast and fascinating work: differently ordered it could quite reasonably be renamed
A Hamlet Encyclopedia and indeed its arrangement into short sections, each with its own catchy subheading, tempts us to dip into this book, using it to check a particular scene or to look for ideas for further reading. Despite its usefulness in this respect such random sampling does little justice to Lars Kaaber's achievement: far better to sit back and enjoy the ride from start to finish, revelling in the author's captivating account of the play, its sources, its historical and topical links and, not least, its productions over the centuries. The theatrical anecdotes he has collected are worth reading alone. I shall long treasure his accounts of Garrick's hair-raising performance and the much-imitated Kean Crawl. This book is that rare thing, a scholarly page-turner, one which allows us to absorb painlessly the benefits of Lars Kaaber's labours while relishing the air of cheerful insouciance with which he almost, but not quite, conceals his lifelong passion for Hamlet. I recommend this book to teachers, students and Shakespeare lovers everywhere.
Marion Fewell,
Extern lecturer,
The University of Copenhagen
A review in five chapters (!) from Japan, by Tadaaki Noguchi
Kaaber, Lars, Staging Shakespeare's Hamlet: A Director's Interpreting Text Through Performance (Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2005).  Xiii + 513pp.
Lars Kaaber, the author of the book, is a Danish writer, playwright, and theatre director covering sixty-five productions so far.  He has dealt with Shakespearean plays such as Measure for Measure, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Winter's Tale, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It.  He also teaches Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama. 
The book is over five hundred pages long, quite voluminous.  In the first twenty pages, Kaaber talks about a textual history of Hamlet where theatrical people such as actors and directors cut and changed the original as well as edited texts into what they wanted.  In doing so, they meant to create on page and stage their own Hamlets, which are quite different from those which can be more properly created out of reading what we have now as the second quarto text of Hamlet published in 1604/5 as well as the first folio text published in 1623.  The Danish critic points out: they have grossly distorted or idealised the character of Hamlet over the last four hundred years.  Seeing Hamlet as a Romantic hero has led us to forget the fact that the text portrays Hamlet 'not only as a victim of circumstance, but also as callous, self-centred, pesky and brutal' (21), which Kaaber demonstrates by reading the second quarto (Q2), the first folio (F), and sometimes the first quarto (Q1) text of Hamlet in the following sections: Act I, Act II, Act III, Act IV, and  Act V.  Kaaber pours energy into explaining how this view of Hamlet has been buried and unnoticed through erroneous treatments of the text and arbitrary actings based upon misinterpretations of the text.
 The sections between Act I and Act V consist of Kaaber's commentaries and interpretations of various aspects of the text of Hamlet, referring to historical documents, playwrights, famous textual editors of Shakespearean plays, critics, directors, actors and actresses, and film-makers.  He tells us what is good or bad about them.  What he points out about them is very sharp and direct.  The reader notices that he tries to present the differences between his ideas and interpretations and others in a very fair and logical way, as a result of which we come to know how long and in what ways traditional ideas of Hamlet and ways of looking at Hamlet have misled us.   
 This laborious critical work, which requires a great amount of patience and capability, is the result of Kaaber's efforts as a teaching scholar of Shakespeare, a writer, a playwright, and a theatre director who has already dealt with several Shakespearean plays for the stage.  His logically and closely reading the whole text allows him to have his original ideas and views of the play, which are obviously presented in the book. 
 The significance of the publication of such a unique book as this lies not only in the fact that Kaaber's Danish identity shared with Hamlet the prince of Denmark has induced him to research into the various areas related to the play, Danish cultural characteristics in the Renaissance age, sources of the play, one of which is a Danish legend, part of the Renaissance history concerned with the royal families of both countries Denmark and England, but also in the chronological reading of the play, which reminds us of John Dover Wilson's What Happens in Hamlet (1935).  The chronological reading or scene-by-scene reading is also relevant to the fact that Kaaber is a playwright, and therefore he would like us to enjoy the development of this critical work in the same way as on the stage, which shows that the Danish writer is quite witty and 'playful'.  Another important emphasis of his in relation to reading the play is to try to go back to the Elizabethan time (the year 1601) when the text of Hamlet was originally staged for the public (1601), to understand something original, something originally Shakespearean, which is  that the historical context concerned with the Essex Rebellion is reflected in the way Shakespeare used, for instance, the play within the play (244), Laertes's rebellion (322)..
 The problems the reader has to experience in this book, however, are to read the long and winding explanations of the episodes, characters, and critical matters; to recall what Kaaber says in the earlier part of the book when reading the later part of it in order to compare the differences and incogruities of the same prince, for example; and to notice that there are a lot of very minor mistakes here and there.  
 Apart from the main thesis on Hamlet, the book contains three appendices. Appendix 1 deals with the third Earl of Southampton to discuss a possiblity of Shakespeare modelling Hamlet after Southampton who was involved in the Essex rebellion in 1601, making use of the biographical information of the earl available in  G. P. V. Akrigg's Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1969).  There are arranged a lot of interesting similarities between Hamlet and Southumpton, which are very interesting and well thought-out.  The reader is sometimes led into believing, because of the similarities, that Hamlet might have been created after Southampton as a model by Shakespeare who must have known part or a lot of Southampton's life.  But it seems to remain a speculation, because there are a couple of discrepancies between Southampton and Hamlet in terms of homosexuality (444-5) and the frequency of seeing their fathers (446).  However, what Kaaber intends to do in this chapter as well as in the whole book by referring to the Essex rebellion (1601) is very well taken.  I should like to regard it as a very interesting academic pursuit.  He seems to sense a certain air and smell of the age in the fact that Hamlet was performed in the same year 1601 as the Essex Rebellion, having noticed that there are various tempting agreements between the two.  Appendix 2 talks about a short history of different Hamlets on stage and film; as the critic says he means to cover what is left out in the main section of the book in conjunction to actors and directors, which is very handy and interesting, and yet, part of which is rather redundant.  Appendix 3 clarifies the way Kaaber appreciates Shakespeare's plays.  Unlike literary scholars, such as William Hazlitt and Philip Edwards who are similar to each other in respect of sharing the idea that Shakespeare's plays cannot be performed on the stage satisfactorily, Kaaber as a playwright and director believes that Shakespeare left us great plays to read and yet that his plays must be acted before audiences, which must have been his sole aim. 
What Kaaver is doing in this thick book is to reevaluate the interpretations of the Danish prince as well as other characters, Claudius, Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, for instance, and to re-direct the critical area of Hamlet from a chaotic and arbitrary way of criticism to a more original-text-centred way of criticism, trying to avoid influences coming from erroneous interpretations and performances traditionally accepted.  And I think that he has achieved his original objectives for the book, Staging Shakespeare's Hamlet: A Director's Interpreting Text Through Performance. 
 A number of very critically striking arguments should be pointed out.  The most important point Kaaber makes at the very beginning of this book is for us to notice that the neoclassical and the Romantic age contributed to misrepresenting and misinterpreting the whole play and the character of Hamlet (21).  The transformation of the text began with Thomas Betterton in the 1660s, and it is David Garrick in the eighteenth century who drastically cut and changed the text.  The Romantic age 'is responsible for our uncritical view of Hamlet as a good son, a lover and a hero' (21).  Kaaber emphasises the fact that the Romantic view of Hamlet still influences us in the twenty-first century.  The Romantics of the nineteenth century created the 'very model of a young hero' (20), which does not correspond to what Hamlet actually shows in the play: 'the view of blood vengeance, of misanthropy and misogyny, of filial obligation and paternal authority, as well as of rashness as an ideal' (20).  He is far from the 'model of a young hero'.   
 In connection to the history of ideas, Kaaber sees a reflection of the Renaissance chaos in Hamlet, agreeing with  Kirsten Hastrup (2004), an anthropologist, who refutes the Elizabethan world picture suggested by E. M. W. Tillyard (1943) as 'embedded in a universal order, presided over by God who had allotted humans and other species a fixed and permanent position in the cosmos' (90).  Hustrup says that 'a new idea of the individual took root, and with it emerged the possibility of individual choices of action and, consequently, of forming one's own fate.  These new ideas furnished Shakespeare with material, and, conversely, Shakespeare contributed much to the exemplification and establishment of both a sense of history and a sense of the individual'.  Applying Hustrup's ideas of the Renaissance chaos to Shakespearean plays, Kaaber argues that Shakespeare discusses the 'general mistrust of paternal authoritarians' (91) by giving a number of cruel, senseless, and nasty fathers from his plays.  Hamlet shows mistrust to the Ghost, who the prince believes is the ghost of his father, and expresses the distaste for revenge ordered by the ghost because revenge is murder as a matter of fact.  Kaaber wants to see a new idea of the individual arisen in the Danish prince (91).  A new sense of the individual in the Renaissance, which was pointed out long ago, is tied up with the possibility of individual choices of action as a representation of the Renaissance chaos.  The combination of a new idea of the individual with Hustrup's ideas of the Renaissance chaos is materialised in Kaaber into the filial resistence or rebellious attitudes as a choice of action (related to revenge) taken by the prince.  This transformation is truly striking and interesting.
 In the critical history of Hamlet, Reverend Dr Mozley is the first person who thought of Hamlet's 'revenge of his father's murder' 'as a religious task' (92), according to Kaaber (referring to Act 1, Scene 5).  He points out that regarding revenge as such is quite erroneous because it is unchristian, and yet in 1985 Philip Edwards, the New Cambridge Shakespeare editor, following John Dover Wilson, still asserts that
                      Hamlet has not yet vowed to obey the Ghost's command.  He now gives his word -- very solemly, perhaps kneeling as Wilson suggests, and rising with 'I have sworn't' or 'so be it.' 

Edwards and Wilson read 'a solemn oath of vengeance into the text', and yet the 'kneeling in the post-spectral speech is unsubstantiated by Shakespeare's text' (92). 

The discussion of revenge in the context of Christianity continues when Kaaber comments on Act 2, Scene 2.  The critic here deals with two contrasting scholars talking about revenge: Eleanor Prosser (1967) and Philip Edwards (1983).  Kaaber demonstrates that both have weaknesses.  The latter 'endorses revenge as the only right thing for Hamlet to do (190); the former 'states that the Ghost is indeed an evil spirit, incompatible with the Christian values celebrated in England at the time'.  Prosser states that 'Elizabethan moralists condemned revenge as illegal, blasphemous, immoral, irrational, unnatural, and unhealthy -- not to mention unsafe.  Moreover, not only did revenge violate religion, law, morality, and common sense, it was thoroughly un-English' (193). 

Edwards backs himself up by quoting Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling 'relating the story of Abraham and Isaac'.  'Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his long-awaited and much-loved son.  ... everything depended on whether the voice really came from God -- but that is a risk, says Kierkegaard, which true believers must always run' (194).  Edwards also quotes from William Tyndale, who studied at Wittenberg like Hamlet and said: '... faith justified Abraham, and was the mother of all his good works which he afterwards did.  Good works are works of God's commandment, wrought in faith ... Jacob robbed Laban his uncle; Moses robbed the Egyptians; and Abraham is about to slay and burn his own son; and all are holy works, because they are wrought in faith at God's commandment' (194).  The command Hamlet receives, Kaaber points out, is not from God, but from the Ghost, a 'sinner, confined to fast in fires until he is sufficiently purified to meet his maker' (195), implying Edwards's confusion. 

Prosser somehow thinks, however, that 'vengeance as such is not entirely banned by the Bible' (195), which Kaaber thinks is Prosser's weakness.  He says that 'Vengeance is outlawed categorically in the New Testament, in which we find Paul saying in Romans 12:19:
                                            ... Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written,                                                               Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 
 The critic also refers to Matthew 5:38: 'Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.  But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil ...'.  This verse is related to Exodus 21:24-25: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot to foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe'.  Kaaber thinks that Hamlet 'wavers between the two incompatible parts of the Bible' (196). 
Kaaber does not end the awakening discussion on revenge from the Biblical point of view but mentions Peter R. Moore's 'Hamlet and the Two Witness Rule' (1997), which quotes Numbers 35:30: 'Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses, but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die'.  The reason for this quote is that Kaaber, following Moore, wants to suggest that Hamlet thought out how to use The Murder of Gonzago which at the end of Act II he has asked the players visiting ElsinoreCastle to perform before the King and the Queen in order to get two witnesses.  Bearing the Scriptural  passage in mind, Hamlet ponders upon the possibility that Claudius may betray his guilt during the performance of the play, in which case Claudius showing his guilt is the second 'witness' since staging The Murder of Gonzago was put into reality based upon the belief that the Ghost (the first witness) told Hamlet the truth in Act 1, Scene 5.  Ascertaining that the demands specified in the above Scripture are met, Hamlet may take action. 
This is a very interesting Biblical-oriented pursuit of the problem, which the prince is trying to solve, showing exactly what passages are in the Bible in conjunction to revenge or vengeance.   

Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1, starting with 'To be, or not to be, that is the question' (208) is pondered upon so profoundly that the reader feels as if the critic were explaining internal matters Hamlet meditates on in relation to humankind and the way he should be, after coming out of his mental world.  The critic does not forget to mention that this soliloquy is placed ideally in this drama, which means that the soliloquy is the prestage to harsh reality where there are no rights for Hamlet to choose and determine.  The point is that Kaaber sees in this soliloquy something essentially existential, a deeper level of thinking than just pondering upon taking revenge, which is rather beautifully and eloquently demonstrated. 

Since he is involved in writing plays, directing Shakespearean plays, and teaching drama, Kaaber is aware of interrelations of text, performance, and criticism.  He makes distinctions between Q2 and F1 versions of Hamlet, and pays attention to when and how eclectic texts of Hamlet were formed, following textual studies done by John Jones (1995).  When he talks about the soliloquy in Act 4, Scene 4, he says that Lewis Theobald conflated Q2 and F1 into one text (1733) which is not for the stage to perform but for the armchair to read.  The 'overstuffed' text of Hamlet was regarded as a novel by William Hazlitt (1817), who is 'largely responsible for the view that the "real" Hamlet is Theobald's full Hamlet, the alleged unperformabiltiy of which has given rise to the notion that any director can edit the play for performance as he pleases' (309).  The appearance of Theobald's conflated text, Kaaber points out, changed the whole view of the play; Hamlet becomes a tragedy about procrastination (310).  What the critic is showing here about the eclectic text makes us aware of interconnectedness between inventions of texts and shifts of views of the same play.

When the critic talks about Hamlet who kills his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dispatched to England bearing Claudius's sealed commission, the reader becomes convinced that the prince has done an extremely  thoughtless and savage deed (366), because he deprived his two old friends of the chance to have 'shriving time' or to 'obtain absolution' when he forged another unsealed letter asking the English King to execute the two without any hesitation.  Usually the reader does not notice that such a thing as time for 'absolution' is required before Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are executed, which is the verification of Hamlet's rashness and cruelty.  Kaaber presents it most clearly in order to show the prince's unthoughtful savageness. 

Kaaber tries to see something quite uniquely Danish in the play as well.  Since he is Danish, the critic intentionally talks about the play in relation to Danish characteristics.  He refers to a variety of things varying from Danish names, whose variants are used in the play, to heavy drinking habits of Danes. 

In relation to Hamlet's age (thirty), Kaaber mentions Danish school education at the time of Shakespeare, quoting from Thomas Nashe's Pierce Penniless (1592): 'For fashion sake some will put their children to schoole, but they set them not to it till they are fourteene years old, so that you shall see a great boy with a beard learne his ABC and sit weeping under the rod when he is thirty years old' (49).  The critic explains that the 'schooling of which Nashe speaks must be the further studies ... begun at the age of fourteen.  Throughout the Renaissance, the Universtiy of Copenhagen was limited to theology, and all other subjects, such as languages, philosophy, medicine, and law, had to be studied abroad' (49-50).  Older Danish students were seen outside the country in the Renaissance, scattering all over European countries, which is reflected in Hamlet.  

A heavy drinking habit is another Danish characteristic.  Thomas Nashe again refers to it in Pierce Penniless (1592):
                      The Danes are bursten-bellied sots, that are to bee confuted with nothing but Tankards or                                        quart pots, and Ovid might as well haue read his verses to the Cetes that understood him                                          not, as a man talk reason to them that haue no cares but their mouths, nor sense but of that which they swallowe downe their throates.
Kaaber admits that what Nashe says in the above quote is '(s)adly true, even today' (73).  King Christian IV, who had a really bad drinking habit just like his father Frederick II who died of drink in 1588, is referred to in Sir John Harrington's report concerning the masque performed at the Danish court before King James I and Christian IV in July 1606; he really liked Rhenish wine, which was the preferred alcohol at the Danish court in Shakespeare's time.  Hamlet says about Claudius, 'as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down, / The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out / The triumph of his pledge' (1.4.10-12).  The critic mentions that the same Rhenish wine was tasted both at the real Danish court and at the Danish court in the play.  King Christian IV was a drunken sot; so is Claudius, drinking the same kind of wine.

Michel de Montaigne, after his retirement in 1571 at the age of 37, was writing his Essais between 1572 and 1588, and published his first two books of essays in 1580 and his third with the revised first two in 1588.  John Florio, an Italian protestant, translated and published Montaigne's Essais in 1603.  'Florio is far from Montaigne in the spirit, and not too accurate in the word' (153).  Kaaber mentions Georg Brandes, a Danish scholar, who investigated the influence of Florio's Montaigne on Hamlet as early as in 1895.  Further mentioning George Coffin Taylor (1925), who listed 750 words from Florio's Montaigne used by Shakespeare not before but after 1603 when Florio's translation of Montaigne's Essais came out, and Edgar Fripp (1937), who tried to overcome Taylor's weakness regarding the publication year of Florio's translation by suggesting that 'Florio was tutor to Shakespeare's patron, the Earl of Southampton, and this could certainly have brought Shakespeare into contact with the translation while it was still in the making' (155-6).  Both Taylor and Fripp believe that 'signs of Florio's Montaigne may be detected in Hamlet' (156).  What is unique about this particular section dedicated to the discussion on Florio's Montaigne and Hamlet is that before Taylor  and Fripp, Kaaber's Danish academic predecessor Georg Brandes had already 'traced remnants of Florio's Montaigne in Hamlet...' (154), which Kaaber seems to be proud of as a Danish Shakespeare critic, and Kaaber himself, following his predecessor, further delves into the text of Florio's Essayes to find some more echoing places in Hamlet on his own. 


A number of misinterpretations done by various authoritative critics and scholars are acutely pointed out and refuted by the Danish critic.  For instance, Andrew Gurr (1978) suggests that in Act 1, Scene 2, 'Claudius already suspects danger from Hamlet and wants to keep him under close surveillance.  This theory 'seems negated by the fact that the King immediately resolves to send Hamlet to England once he is convinced that he is a threat (Act III)'.  Gurr 'presupposes that Claudius foresees the detection of his crime' (48).   Kaaber responds to Gurr that 'were it not for the Ghost, Claudius appears to have committed the perfect murder.  I believe that Claudius's efforts to keep Hamlet in Elsinore rather indicates that he feels secure in his new office...' (49).  The new king could have allowed the prince to go back to Wittenberg as a student; if so, the prince would not have seen and talked to the Ghost.  He would not have gotten the order of taking revenge on Claudius.   

In Act 1, Scene 5, Hamlet speaks to the Ghost.  Dover Wilson thinks that Hamlet wants to wait until Marcellus leaves Horatio and himself to tell only Horatio the secret he heard from the Ghost, because Hamlet sees the sentry as an inconvenient witness.  Kaaber says that what Wilson talks about is not in harmony with the text where the prince says to Horatio 'No, you will reveal it' (1.5.119), although Wilson's ideas are performable (106).  Thus Kaaber refutes Wilson by showing textual evidence. 

When Irving Ribner (1960) says that 'Hamlet, like Romeo, comes into a world full of ancient evil not of his own creation...', Kaaber states that 'Ribner is partly wrong about both the heroes mentioned' (281).  Although the prince gets involved in some evil business to do without his intention, he creates something devilish on his own by stabbing the father of Laertes and Ophelia.  Hamlet invites himself to become 'the target of the revenge' of Laertes (281).     

Ribner, when he discusses Hamlet at the graveyard scene (Act 5, Scene 1), does not think that Hamlet should be allowed to leap into Ophelia's grave.  Similarly, Harold Bloom does not agree with the stage direction in Q1, 'Hamlet leaps in after Laertes'.  Respecting Ribner and Bloom, Kaaber is certain that Hamlet jumps into the grave, since Burbage who acted Hamlet at the Globe 'took the plunge' (359), which Henry Huth seems to have seen at the actual theatre.  Huth created a poem which is a tribute to Richard Burbage after his death in 1618, containing a line, 'Oft haue I seene him leape into a Graue' (359). 

Speaking about Hamlet after his death (Act 5, Scene 2), Bloom says that 'Shakespeare concludes the play with audacious irony: Hamlet receives full military honours, as if he too would have become a great killing machine'.  Kaaber corrects Bloom by stating that 'Hamlet does die a killer' (391).   

Kaaber once in a while interprets some words in the text in his original ways.  In Act 4, Scene 5, Laertes, noticing Ophelia's madness, deplores, 'O heat dry up my brains, tears seven times salt, / Burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye! ...' (4.5.154-5).  Having discovered that '(t)hroughout the play, Laertes is connected with water', Kaaber believes that '"brains" is a misspelling or possibly a phonetic representation of the Elizabethan pronunciation of "brines" -- salt water', showing disagreement to Harold Jenkins who maintains that 'The brain, conceived of in the old physiology as cold and moist, would perish if 'dried up'.  Seeing a coherent meaning within the line 154, Kaaber says that 'the brain has never been the source of tears, so nothing in the statement makes any obvious sense if "brains" is accepted as it stands' (329).  Kaaber's interpretation of the word 'brains' is very persuasive, as far as I can see. 

Act 5, Scene 2 starts in the middle of the conversation between Hamlet and Horatio, 'So much for this.  Now shall you see the other' (5.2.1).  Kaaber, mentioning the fact that he has noticed in this way of starting a new scene that Elizabethan theatre had developed a new idea of changing a scene to another, talks about what 'this' and 'the other' mean.  Philip Edwards (1985) thinks that 'this' means 'the first part of Hamlet's promised account of his travels', and that 'the other' means 'the remainder of the story which we shall hear shortly' (362).  If Edwards's interpretation were in accordance with the context of the line, 'hear' would be more preferable than 'see'.  John Weiss (1876) infers that 'this' is related to the story of Ophelia's death, in which interpretation Kaaber sees 'one single speck of plausibility'.  And yet there is no indication that both were speaking about Ophelia, Kaaber says.  Since the critic says that the word 'see' is the crucial cue to understanding this line, he himself interprets that '"this" may refer to the letter which Horatio received in IV. 6' (363), and that '"the other" may refer to the commission which Hamlet stole from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and which he actually produces a few lines later, in V. 2. 26' (363-4).  Both represented by 'this' and 'the other' are documents to see and read, which does make sense. 


It should be pointed out that I encountered some problems of the book itself.  The reader wonders which text of Hamlet the critic used to quote lines from the play.  Although it is clear that the line numbers correspond to The New Cambridge Shakespeare: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, edited by Philip Edwards (1985), actual quotations are not from this edition.  Did I miss the critic's mention of the edition used in this book?

Minor mistakes, such as '24 January' (24), 'publically' (239), 'Hamlet means to say the he will...' (270), scene number Act 4, Scene 4 (323-26), 'Garrick deleted him from the play in the seventeenth century' (387), etc., should have been corrected to '24 February', 'publicly', 'Hamlet means to say that he will...', scene number Act 4, Scene 5, 'Garrick deleted him from the play in the eighteenth century'. 

Minor adjustments should be necessary concerning the quotations from texts and their locations.  'Hamlet himself hardly seem capable of being acted' from Hazlitt should be 'Hamlet himself seem hardly capable of being acted' (309).  A quote from 4.5.116 of Hamlet, 'guard the door', can be seen neither in Q2 nor in F1.  Other modern editions, Arden, Oxford, Cambridge, and New Variorum, say, like in Q2 and F1, 'keep the door'.  The line, 'Let me speak to the yet unknowing world how these things came about' (5. 2. 358-9), should be in two lines: 'Let me speak to the yet unknowing world / How  these things came about', which is on page 332.  There are the same type of mistakes on other pages as well: 333, 336, 348, 359, 364-5, 360, 388.

A couple of punctuation problems.  'As Granville Barker writes: Shakespeare was preoccupied with tempo, not time.' on page 362 should be 'As Granville Barker writes, Shakespeare was preoccupied with tempo, not time'.  The full stop is missing after 'Rowe' on page 25.  Italics should be used for the titles of plays, such as 'Henry V' and 'Henry IV' on pages 30 and 31.

Speaking about the phrase 'remember me' (1.5.111), I have some reservation.  After the prince departed with the Ghost who ordered the prince to take his late father's revenge upon the present king of Denmark, Hamlet reiterates what the Ghost said to him: '... Now to my word; / 'Adieu, adieu! remember me.' / I have sworn't' (1.5.110-12), which Kaaber quotes to talk about whether Hamlet has sworn to take revenge or not.  And the critic says that 'So much for the passage in which Hamlet is supposed to swear to his revenge.  ... Hamlet has only promised to think of the Ghost and has not uttered a single sound about the bloody business imposed upon him' (96).  In so far as 'remember me' goes, the meaning of this particular passage is taken by the critic so literally that the passage sounds severed from the rest of what was going on between Old Hamlet and young Hamlet, since the critic restricts the meaning of 'me' only to the character of the Ghost.  'Me' in 'remember me' signifies the person himself, needless to say; but at the same time it signifies the words conveyed from the person to the other party listening to him.  It is simply natural to interpret the word 'me' more broardly, after the audience has seen the Ghost convey a certain amount of information about what happened to the dead father of the prince and his mother.  Consequently, if you assume that the word 'me' means 'me' as well as 'what I said to you', a different interpretation from Kaaber's can be produced concerning 'Oh, vengeance!' (2.2.541): Hamlet may well say that 'I have determined to take revenge upon my uncle, "I'll have these players / Play something like the murder of my father / Before mine uncle. / I'll observe his looks, ... / ... The play's the thing / Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king"' (2.2.547-558).  Having said that, what the critic says on pages 189 and 190 should be respected. 

The line 'He's fat and scant of breath' (5.2.264) has been discussed as a problematical word in Hamlet.  Kaaber points out that 'Ophelia's statement that Hamlet is "the glass of fashion and the mould of form"' (378).  According to Philip Edwards, Richard Burbage who acted the first Hamlet could hardly have been 'fat' (chubby), says Kaaber.  The critic says that 'the word "fat" simply means "warm" or "stuffy", as in Prince Hal's remark to Poins: "prithee, come out of that fat room"' (1 Henry IV, 2.4.1).  The word modifies the following word 'room' in 1 Henry IV.  The Oxford English Dictionary says that 'stuffy' means, when applied to a room, building, etc., 'ill-ventilated, close';  when applied to the air, 'wanting freshness, oppressive to the lungs and head'  (Definition 2).  The OED defines 'stuffy', when applied to persons, as 'affected with a sensation of stoppage or obstruction in the organs of breathing' (Definition 3).  It is obvious, therefore, that the usage of 'stuffy' Kaaber talks about is not the same as that which is applied to the word 'fat' from Hamlet.  Nevertheless, it is right in saying that 'stuffy' is the most appropriate meaning of 'fat' from Hamlet, only when the third definition is applied to it.  You cannot say, 'I am stuffy' in the second meaning, but you can say, 'I feel or am stuffy' in the third meaning. 


The reader spontaneously comes to know how anticlimactically the critic concludes his own critical work on Hamlet, when he or she reads the passage: 'he unwittingly blunders into the act for which we have been waiting throughout the play and, in the process, ruins the entire state and annihilates his father's political victories.  This angle is Shakespeare's, as it is not to be found in Saxo or Belleforest' (392).  The prince ruins the entire state of Denmark by giving his 'dying voice' to Fortinbras, which is 'his ultimate betrayal of Old Hamlet' (388) as well as by getting involved in becoming part of 'life's drama' (209) and ending up as a killer (391) sending several people to the other world.  The unheroic picture of the prince is completed here.  This precise, if negative, statement of the protagonist of the play is only possible after a logical perusal of the text, reading the whole text scene by scene to trace the way Hamlet changes from a young prince defying fate to a prince like 'a footman obeying the orders of Destiny'.   

Professor Niels B. Hansen, University of Copenhagen, writes in the 'Foreword' that 'What is special and rewarding about Kaaber's approach is his persistent and intelligent attention to details in the text which provide cues for psychological and dramatic interpretation, coupled with the lucid and elegant, witty and indeed entertaining style in which he presents his observations, comments and arguments' (xi). This is quite to the point.

Kaaber is a most persistent, courageous, and original drama critic in that although he is fully aware of himself dipped in a long and oppressive tradition of Shakespearean criticism, textually and dramatically, he does not recede from where he should stand to present what he has discovered about the play in the text as well as on the stage.  The book revealed by Kaaber is a remarkable contribution not only to the studies in Hamlet but also in Shakespeare.