Hamlet as The Christmas Prince: Certain Speculations on Hamlet, the Calendar, Revels, and Misrule
Steve Roth

Roth, Steve. "Hamlet as The Christmas Prince: Certain Speculations on Hamlet, the Calendar, Revels, and Misrule." Early Modern Literary Studies 7.3 (January, 2002): 5.1-89 <URL:


A sad tale's best for winter.
I have one of sprites and goblins. -
The Winter's Tale II.i

  1. In the first of his series of EMLS articles discussing the chronology of Shakespeare's plays (on Hamlet, King Lear, and Julius Caesar) [1], Steve Sohmer has offered the first systematic analysis of the chronology of Hamlet since the work of Harley Granville-Barker. [2] Sohmer's speculations on Hamlet--in the EMLS article, in the revised discussions in Shakespeare's Mystery Play, [3] and in a followup note on Hamlet in EMLS [4]--demonstrate a convincing and coherent pattern of references and allusions in Hamlet to the Elizabethan liturgical calendar. He argues that this "calendrical design...is integral to Shakespeare's structure for the play's three 'movements.'" [5] In this article I would like to revisit Sohmer's underappreciated analysis, both to point out some difficulties with that analysis and to expand upon and support it with further evidence.

  2. Sohmer finds in Hamlet's chronological design "theological dimensions" relating to Martin Luther and the reformation, and to the Catholic/Protestant debate over the institution of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Without discounting the validity of those assertions (both Sohmer's and his predecessors'), I suggest that these speculations lead to faulty analysis of the play’s chronology, and that the chronological structure is more directly related to the dates of revels-season performances at court, the inns of court, the universities, houses of nobles, and elsewhere throughout Elizabethan and pre-Elizabethan England, and to the "lords of misrule" tradition associated with those revels.[6] I also suggest that the chronological structure alludes to important events from Shakespeare's life.

  3. I think it worth mentioning at the outset what one early reader has pointed out, that "this essay is haunted by L. C. Knights, and his question 'how many children had Lady Macbeth?'" [7] I am keenly aware of this fact; the opening chapter of my Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country--from which work-in-progress this paper is adapted--is titled "How Many Years Had Hamlet the Dane?" In lieu of a lengthy detour into Knights' troubled realm, I refer readers to my attempted exorcism (or propitiation, at least) in the preface to that larger work.[8]

    Hamlet's Time Structure

  4. Sohmer begins his discussion of Hamlet's time structure with Granville-Barker's explanation of the play's three "movements," or sequences of events (see Figure 1). For ease of reference, I've given a name to each sequence.

    The ghost sequence. The ramparts scenes, the opening court scene, and Laertes' and Polonius' talks with Ophelia. (1.1-1.5)

    The mousetrap sequence. Beginning with Polonius's meeting with Reynaldo and Hamlet's (reported) appearance in Ophelia's closet, spanning the nunnery scene, mousetrap, and Gertrude's closet, and ending with Hamlet's encounter with Fortinbras' army and departure for England. (2.1-4.4)

    The gravedigger sequence. Beginning with Ophelia's madness, spanning the graveyard scene, and ending with the swordfight. (4.5-5.2)

  5. This description does much to clarify the progression and intervals of the play (and suggests that it should be presented with two intermissions). There's a five-scene beginning, a ten-scene middle, and a five-scene end.[9] Shakespeare probably didn’t identify scenes explicitly--there are none specified in the Hamlet quartos, and only a handful in Acts One and Two in the Folio. But a certain symmetry is apparent nonetheless, and it’s emphasized by the repeated "two-month" trope discussed below.

  6. Granville-Barker does not, however, address the plethora of detailed and surprisingly obtrusive time references that are scattered throughout the play. Sohmer does.

    Figure 1: A Hamlet Timeline

  7. A graphical timeline of
    Hamlet's chronology. See also the interactive version of this timeline, which provides text citations linked to the graphic, at

    The Ghost Walks

  8. Sohmer’s chronological analysis presents evidence that the ghost first walked on the four nights from Friday 30 October until Monday 2 November 1601. The following bullet items summarise Sohmer’s key points, with my commentary in square brackets pointing out some additional evidence, and some difficulties with his analysis.

    • The final composition or revision of Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been dated to 1600 or (in Sohmer’s opinion more likely) 1601. [10]

    • The holy days were pervasive for Elizabethans. "Correspondence, contracts, leases, liens, and tenancies--all were dated with reference to the church calendar." [11]

    • Shakespeare and other Elizabethan poets often used the liturgical and festal calendar as a structural device.[12]

    • References in the text [detailed in
    Table 1, below] tell us that the ghost appears on four successive nights.

    • The sentinels’ difficulty seeing each other in the opening scene--calling out repeatedly for identification--suggests a dark, moonless night. [It can’t be cloudy, because Bernardo refers to "yond same star that’s westward from the pole,"
    1.1.48 and Horatio speaks of a red sunrise: "the morn in russet mantle clad/Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill." 1.1.186 But see my comments below on an error in Sohmer’s calculations here.]

    • Francisco tells us, "’Tis bitter cold."
    1.1.10 Hamlet echoes that the next night: "The air bites shrowdly, it is very cold." 1.4.3

    • Marcellus comments on "that season…/Wherein our Savior’s birth is celebrated,/…/…no spirit dare stir abroad,/…/No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,/So hallowed, and so gracious, is that time."
    1.1.178 Sohmer identifies this with Advent--27 November to 25 December in 1601. [The first Sunday of Advent in 1601 was actually 29 November.] The ghost could not walk during this period.

  9. Horatio comments, "So have I heard and do in part believe it." 1.1.185 Shakespeare seems to have fabricated this superstition out of broadcloth. Nobody has found an Elizabethan precedent for Marcellus’s proscribed season; it’s not known to have been a belief in Shakespeare’s day. [13] That Shakespeare inserted this singular item suggests some purpose--dramatic, narrative, structural, or otherwise--a purpose that I hope will become clear below.

  10. So the encounters with the ghost occur over four consecutive nights in winter, before 29 November or after 25 December.

    • The star Deneb, which Sohmer identifies as Bernardo’s star, lay "westward from the pole, circa 1:00 a.m. during the period 30 October--10 November, 1601." Sohmer cites a convincing pattern of relationships between Hamlet and the constellations Cygnus or the Northern Cross, each of which contains Deneb as its brightest star. [14]

    • In a footnote, Sohmer states that "2 November 1601 was a moonless night, both in London and at Elsinore." [15]

  11. Sohmer consistently qualifies his statements about a dark and moonless night, and perhaps with good reason, as there is an unfortunate miscalculation here. He cites the moon’s position according to the now-current Gregorian calendar, not the Julian calendar of sixteenth-century England and Denmark, which was offset by ten days. By the Julian calendar, the moon on 2 November 1601 was full--with all the spooky connotations that still attach.

  12. In fact, while Bernardo looks north toward Polaris at 1 am on 2 November, the almost-full moon is almost directly behind him in the south, sixty degrees above the horizon. (Which could make for some pretty stagey staging.) This makes sense given Hamlet's "What may this mean,/That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel/Revisits thus the glimpses of the moon." 1.4.51 Given these "glimpses" and Horatio's "morn in russet mantle clad," it's probably most accurate to imagine a night of scudding, broken clouds, with the moon revealed, then hidden, then revealed again.

  13. The full moon may seem to dash Sohmer's theory, but the haunting connotations actually add weight, and there are other obvious ways to explain the sentries’ inability to see each other--from broken clouds to various methods of staging and blocking.

    • The four days from 30 October to 2 November 1601 were, respectively, the Feast of Marcellus [!], All Hallows Eve, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day. It was a common Elizabethan belief that spirits walked the night on All Hallows Eve. And November was commonly associated with death. The last three of these holidays were all about remembrance of the dead. [16]

  14. In that context, it's hard not to think of the ghost's final injunction, echoed by Hamlet: "Remember me." 1.5.99, 119 The night of 31 October/ 1 November had for centuries been celebrated as Celtic New Year; even in pre-Christian times it was believed that disruptive spirits roamed on that night. [17] It was also a night of costumes, masks, revels, inversion of roles, real and play-acted rebellion, and theatrical productions. (The first known performance of Othello, for instance, was before the court at Whitehall on "Hallamas," 1604, and The Tempest was performed there on 1 November 1611).

  15. All Hallows was also a time for election of "mock kings," "lords of revels," or "kings of misrule." These lords would reign over the revels season through Christmas and Twelfth Night (5 January, another night of inversion and misrule), often ending their reigns at Candlemas (2 February) or Shrovetide (which had--and has--perhaps the greatest association with carnival and misrule). John Stow tells us in his Survey of London:

    Now for sportes and pastimes yearely vsed, first in the feaste of Christmas, there was in the kinges house, wheresoever hee was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or Maister of merry disports, and the like had yee in the house of every noble man, of honor, or good worshippe, were he spirituall or temporall. Amongst the which the Mayor of London, and eyther of the shiriffes had their seuerall Lordes of Misrule, euer contending without quarrell or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes to delight the Beholders. These Lordes beginning their rule on Alhollon Eue, continued the same till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, commonlie called Candlemas day. [2 February] [18]

    With perhaps one exception, Elizabeth does not seem to have adopted this custom. [19] (Though she did have a full-time Master of Revels, and she was entertained on multiple occasions by kings of misrule from the inns of court, with their retinues.) But she certainly enjoyed revels on the traditional dates. And while it was largely suppressed after the reformation, the ancient lords-of-misrule tradition continued at universities, inns of court, noblemen’s houses, and among the common people. On All Saints' Eve, 1607, for instance, a certain Thomas Tucker was invested as "Christmas Lord or Prince of the Revels" at St. John's College, Oxford. [20] (More on these lords of misrule below.) As in London and Oxford, the misrule at Elsinore begins on All Hallows Eve.

  16. Table 1 may be helpful in sorting out all the "yesternights" and "tonights" referencing the ghost's appearances, and their correlation to Sohmer's proposed dates. It also highlights how insistently and fastidiously the times and days are catalogued in the play.

    Table 1: The Ghost Sequence



    Text References

    Friday, Oct. 30, Feast of Marcellus

    To Saturday morning, Oct. 31

    1 a.m. Ghost appears to Bernardo and Marcellus.


    Saturday, Oct. 31, All Hallows Eve

    To Sunday morning, Nov. 1

    1 a.m.: Ghost appears again to Bernardo and Marcellus.


    Sunday, Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day

    To Monday morning, Nov. 2

    Midnight: Bernardo and Marcellus tell Horatio (again) of ghost’s appearance on the preceding two nights.

    Ghost appears to Bernardo, Marcellus, and Horatio.

    Francisco: "You come most carefully upon your hour." Bernardo: "’Tis now strook twelf." 1.1.8

    Marcellus: "…this dreaded sight twice seen of us;/Therefore I have entreated him along,/With us to watch the minutes of this night," 1.1.35

    Bernardo describing the previous encounters to Horatio: "…let us once again assail your ears,/…./What we have two nights seen./…./Last night of all,/When yond same star…/…./Where now it burns,…/The bell then beating one—" [cut off by the ghost’s appearance] 1.1.42

    Marcellus: "Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,/…hath he gone by our watch." 1.1.81

    Marcellus, on agreeing to inform Hamlet: "I this morning know/Where we shall find him most convenient." 1.1.194

    Monday, Nov. 2
    All Souls’ Day

    To Tuesday morning, Nov. 3

    Evening: Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo tell Hamlet of the preceding three nights.

    Just before midnight: Ghost appears to Marcellus, Horatio, and Hamlet.

    Hamlet to Bernardo: "Good even, sir." 1.2.173 Apparently Hamlet is engaged in the opening court scene, so Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo don’t connect with him until evening.

    Horatio: "My lord, I think I saw him yesternight./…/Two nights together had these gentlemen,/In the dead waste and middle of the night,/Been thus encount’red:…/And I with them the third night kept the watch," 1.2.196, 205, 217

    Hamlet: "Stayed it long?" Horatio: "While one with moderate haste might tell a hundreth." Bernardo and Marcellus: "Longer, longer." Horatio: "Not when I saw’t." 1.2.253 [21]

    Hamlet: "Hold you the watch to-night?/…/I will watch to-night,/…/Upon the platform ’twixt aleven and twelf/I’ll visit you." 1.2.237, 260, 271

    Hamlet: "What hour now?" Horatio: "I think it lacks of twelf." Marcellus: "No, it is stroock." Horatio: "Indeed? I heard it not. It then draws near the season/Wherein the spirit held his wont to walk." 1.4.5

  17. As Sohmer points out, religious holidays started at sunset the night preceding the holiday; that night was called the "vigil." So Friday night/Saturday morning, when the ghost first appeared, was the vigil of All Hallows Eve.

  18. Another point Sohmer brings up, but doesn't address to my complete satisfaction, is the time at which Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus arrive on the ramparts (Horatio: "…it lacks of twelf," 1.4.6 and Marcellus: "No, it is stroock.") Sohmer explains: "Hamlet has said he would arrive on the platform ''twixt aleven and twelf.' Given his eagerness to see the Ghost, it's hard to believe he would arrive behind his time. In order to make its fourth appearance on All Souls' Day, the Ghost would have to appear before midnight." [22]

  19. But that doesn't explain the seemingly intentional contradiction here. Is it before or after midnight? Time is definitely compressed in this scene, and in the second ramparts scene as well. It goes from midnight through one o'clock to dawn in 130 lines (in Denmark, in the winter). But that doesn't explain the contradiction

  20. The First Quarto perhaps clarifies the question. Comparing the versions:

    F1/Q2 F1: 607; Q2: 607

    .I thinke it lackes of twelfe.
    Mar.No, it is strooke.
    Hora.Indeede; I heard it not, it then drawes neere the season,
    Wherein the spirit held his wont to walke           A florish of trumpets
    What does this meane my Lord?           and 2. peeces goes of.

    (The stage direction is in Q2 only, not F1.)

    Q1 Q1: 607

    Hor. I think it lackes of twelue,           Sound Trumpets.
    Mar. No, t'is strucke.
    Hor. Indeed I heard it not, what doth this mean my lord?

  21. Marcellus mistakes the trumpet blare that "brays out" Claudius' draining of his draught of Rhenish for the striking of midnight. Nervous and edgy, he jumps at the sound, and replies too quickly. If this is correct, Sohmer is also correct that the ghost appears before midnight, hence on All Souls' Day--the day when all dead souls are remembered. Q1 is presumably from the memory of the actor who played Marcellus, and most editors agree that Q1 was used as a reference for Act One in the more authoritative texts, so its stage directions here carry double authority. [23]

  22. Some of Sohmer's chronological arguments regarding Hamlet's relation to Martin Luther and the reformation are more difficult to accept. There are certainly relationships and echoes there, but some of Sohmer's "calendrical" relationships are dubious. In particular, he cites Corpus Christi (2-3 June) as the date of the graveyard and swordfight, which is impossible to reconcile with the text. The action ends four months after the ramparts scenes, at latest--by the first week of March, as explained below and depicted in Figure 1.

    Murder Most Foul

  23. If we take Sohmer's dates for the Ghost's appearance as correct, at least provisionally, then based on Hamlet's "But two months dead, nay, not so much, not two" 1.2.142 on 2 November, old Hamlet was murdered sometime shortly after 2 September, 1601. The first week of September is about the latest it could have occurred, because the ghost says he was "Sleeping within my orchard,/My custom always of the afternoon". 1.5.67 After that date it would have been getting too cold for naps al fresco (viz, the improbable winter nap scene that Brannagh depicts).

  24. Sohmer, through some serpentine calculations, cites 2 October as the date of the murder--less than a month before the opening scenes--which directly contradicts Hamlet's "But two months dead." In Shakespeare's Mystery play he explains that "Hamlet is confused about how long his father has been dead because he has recently journeyed from Wittenberg, where the calendar is Julian, to a place where the calendar is Gregorian." [24] Even if that confusion were plausible, 1) both Wittenberg and Denmark were on the Julian calendar until 1700 (England didn't switch until 1752), [25] and 2) the discrepancy between the two calendars would only account for ten days, not a full month.

  25. There are no liturgical events of note in the first week of September, but there is an important event relative to Shakespeare's life. John Shakespeare--Will's father--was buried on 8 September 1601. This connection, for me at least, is remarkably moving and convincing. And it's even more moving if we accept Nicholas Rowe's third- or fourth-hand report that Shakespeare's greatest role was as the ghost ":…tho' I have inquir'd, I could never meet with any further Account of him this way, than that the top of his Performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet." [26]

  26. If we correlate King Hamlet's murder with John Shakespeare's death, that puts the date at Sunday 6 September or Monday 7 September--a day or two before John Shakespeare's burial. This strongly supports Sohmer's opinion, shared by Dover Wilson and others, that Shakespeare completed Hamlet as we know it after September 1601.

    O'erhasty Wedding

  27. We know from Hamlet's "A little month, or ere those shoes were old/With which she followed my poor father's body,/…/…Within a month,/…/She married" 1.2.151 that Claudius and Gertrude's wedding happened within a month of old Hamlet's death--probably just under a month. So the wedding would have occurred sometime in the first week of October. There were periods (Advent, for example) in which weddings were proscribed by the church. The first week of October did not fall in any of those periods. [27]

    Christmas Break

  28. The next question: how much time passes between the ghost sequence and the mousetrap sequence? It may be helpful to refer to Table 2 while reading the following points.

  29. Ophelia's "Twice two months." In the mousetrap scene, Ophelia says old Hamlet has been dead "twice two months." 3.2.83 If he died in the first week of September 1601, the mousetrap sequence occurs in the first week of January, 1602. [28]

  30. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It’s not clear when the summons was sent to them, or where they were at the time. Claudius' mention that they are "of so young days brought up with [Hamlet]" 2.2.13 tells us that they're probably Danish friends of Hamlet's, and Rosencrantz's comment to Gertrude and Claudius ("...the sovereign power you have of us," 2.2.30) supports their Danish citizenship. They seem to have arrived from outside the country, though, because Hamlet asks them 2.2.226 what they've done that they should be sent to Denmark. They're referred to as "schoolfellows," 3.4.224 so it’s quite likely they were at Wittenberg (their namesakes appear in the university rosters in the 1500s), but they could have been pre-university schoolfellows.

  31. Claudius refers to "our hasty sending" for them in their first interview. 2.2.6 And based on Gertrude's reference to her "too much changed son" 2.2.40, it seems that they were summoned after Hamlet put his antic disposition on (3 November). There needs to have been time for them to receive the summons and then journey to Elsinore.

  32. Voltemand and Cornelius. These ambassadors took ship for Norway immediately after the court scene, on 2 November. (Claudius, when dispatching them, says, "Let your haste commend your duty." 1.2.41) They report to Claudius on their return 2.2.69:

    Upon our first, he sent out to suppress
    His nephew's levies, which to him appear'd
    To be a preparation 'gains't the Polack;
    But better looked into, he truly found
    It was against your Highness. Whereat griev'd,
    That so his sickness, age, and impotence
    Was falsely borne in hand, sends out arrests
    On Fortinbras, which he, in brief, obeys,
    Receives rebuke from Norway, and in fine,
    Makes vow before his uncle never more
    To give th' assay of arms against your Majesty.

  33. So in the time since Voltemand and Cornelius departed, they travelled to Norway and met with the king. Norway sent messages to suppress Fortinbras' levying of troops, and looked into what those troops were being used for. On discovering that they were threatening Denmark, he sent for Fortinbras, who returned and made "vow before his uncle." Cornelius and Voltemand then returned to Denmark. Two months seems a reasonable amount of time for these events to have occurred.

  34. Hamlet's letters to Ophelia. On 2 November, Polonius tells Ophelia to reject Hamlet's letters and other approaches. In reporting Hamlet's appearance in her closet, Ophelia reports that she has done so: "…as you did command/I did repel his letters, and denied/His access to me." 2.1.120

  35. Polonius reports in more detail to Gertrude and Claudius. He gives them Hamlet's love letter, and continues at 2.2.132:

    This in obedience hath my daughter shown me,
    And more above, hath his solicitings,
    As they fell out by time, by means, and place,
    All given to mine ear.

    He then describes the course of events beginning with his warning her off on 2 November: 2.2.151

    …I prescripts gave her,
    That she should lock herself from his resort,
    Admit no messengers, receive no tokens.
    Which done, she took the fruits of my advice;
    And he repell'd, a short tale to make,
    Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,
    Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,
    Thence into a lightness, and by this declension,
    Into the madness wherein now he raves

    So Hamlet has sent multiple letters to Ophelia without requital prior to his appearance in her closet, and the "declension" which Polonius describes in "a short tale" occurred over some period. (It makes no difference here that his description is perhaps fatuous; the duration's the thing.) Two months seems right.

  36. Reynaldo's mission to Paris. In the opening line of Polonius' interview with Reynaldo, in which he sends him off to Laertes in Paris, he says, "Give him this money and these notes." 2.1.3 Laertes presumably took money with him when he departed on 2 November, so some time must have passed that he's in need of another installment.

  37. Ophelia's quite explicit "twice two months" probably suffices to set the timing of this series of scenes in the first week of January, but the supporting evidence from all these other matters is interesting in that it shows the coherence of the chronology.

    Hamlet's "Monday Morning"

  38. There's one other clue to the date of the mousetrap sequence--a flagrant one, from Hamlet in one of his flagrant moods. After Rosencrantz tells Hamlet of the players' arrival, Polonius enters to tell Hamlet the same thing, which Hamlet makes mock of: "I will prophesy, he comes to tell me of the players, mark it. You say right, sir, a' Monday morning, 'twas then indeed." 2.2.277 None of the editors seems to know what this means. [30] To paraphrase: "Watch: I'll say what he's going to say before he says it." Then he says to Polonius, "If you're going to tell me the players arrived on Monday morning, you're right!"

  39. So it's Monday morning in the first week of January, 1602. The players arrive on 4 January. Wednesday 6 January was Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Day. [31] The night of 5 January--the night the mousetrap was played--was Twelfth Night.

  40. Like All Hallows Eve, Twelfth Night was a night of revels, performances, masking, costumes, and misrule. [32] It was a key event in the revels season at court and elsewhere. Every year between 1582 and 1608, save two, there was a performance at court on Epiphany (four different companies played on Epiphany in 1601). During the seven years 1596 to 1602, four of the Epiphany performances were by Shakespeare's company (including 1601, but not including 1602).

  41. There's a further significance, though, to this date in Hamlet. The Christmas season, with its worship, observances, solemnities, and inhibitions, ends at sunset on Twelfth Night. And on that night, at "the very witching time of night,/When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out/Contagion to this world," 3.2.277 the ghost walks again. Recall Marcellus’ somewhat odd reference to "that season…/Wherein our Savior’s birth is celebrated,/…/…no spirit dare stir abroad,/…/No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,/So hallowed, and so gracious, is that time." 1.1.178 It clearly refers not just to Advent, as Sohmer suggests, but to the twelve days of Christmas as well. As soon as that proscribed season ends, the ghost returns. [33]

    The Mousetrap Sequence

  42. So the play tells us exactly when the mousetrap sequence happens. It also tells us that the mousetrap events occur over four days, and on which days the events occur. Again, a table of days and references may help to sort it all out.

    Table 2: The Mousetrap Sequence

    Act and Scene


    Text References


    Monday, January 4

    Reported by Ophelia to Polonius (2.1)

    Hamlet appears in Ophelia’s closet.



    Polonius’ interview with Reynaldo

    Reynaldo’s exit immediately precedes Ophelia’s entrance.

    Ophelia tells Polonius of Hamlet’s visit.

    Ophelia: "Oh my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!" 2.1.85

    Polonius: "Come, go with me. I will go seek the King./...Come, go we to the King./.../Come." 2.1.113, 130, 133


    Cornelius and Voltemand report on their embassy.

    Claudius: "...at our more considered time we’ll read,/Answer, and think upon this business." 2.2.90

    Polonius tells Gertrude and Claudius of Hamlet’s visit to Ophelia’s closet.


    Hamlet’s encounter with the Players

    Hamlet: "…we’ll hear a play tomorrow./…./We’ll ha’t to-morrow night." 2.2.375, 377


    Tuesday, January 5: Twelfth Night (and morning of January 6, Epiphany)


    Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius report on Hamlet to Claudius and Gertrude; Polonius invites them to the play.

    Rosencrantz of Hamlet and the players: "…they have already order/This night to play before him." 3.1.24

    Nunnery scene

    Claudius: "I have in quick determination/Thus set it down: he shall with speed to England" 3.1.151

    Polonius: "…after the play/Let his queen-mother all alone entreat him…" 3.1.164




    Hamlet summoned to Gertrude

    Hamlet: "’Tis now the very witching time of night,/When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out/Contagion to this world." 3.2.277


    Claudius’ "repentance"

    Claudius to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: "I your commission will forthwith dispatch,/And he to England shall along with you./The terms of our estate may not endure/Hazard so near ’s as doth hourly grow/Out of his brows." 3.3.5


    Gertrude’s closet; the ghost walks.



    Gertrude reports to Claudius.

    Claudius: "The sun no sooner shall the mountains touch/But we will ship him hence." 4.1.32


    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ask Hamlet for the body.



    Claudius sends Hamlet to England.

    Claudius: "…must send thee hence/With fiery quickness; therefore prepare thyself,/The bark is ready, and the wind at help,/Th’ associates tend, and every thing is bent/For England." 4.3.38

    "Follow him at foot, tempt him with speed aboard./Delay it not, I’ll have him hence to-night./Away, for every thing is seal’d and done/That else leans on th’ affair. Pray you make haste." 4.3.49


    Wednesday, January 6: Epiphany


    Day: Hamlet encounters Fortinbras’ army headed for the Polack wars.


    Reported in letter from Hamlet to Horatio in 4.6

    Night: Hamlet exchanges Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s packet.

    "Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase...." 4.6.12


    Thursday, January 7

    Reported by Hamlet to Horatio in 5.2

    Hamlet taken by pirates.

    Hamlet telling of his packet switching: "Now the next day/Was our sea-fight," 5.2.59

  43. The mousetrap is played the night after the players arrive, Hamlet takes ship the next day, and the following day he’s taken by the pirates. While the explicit references to chronology here are pretty tight, there are a couple of questionable areas having to do with Ophelia and Fortinbras.

    Ophelia's Closet

  44. There's a possible delay between Hamlet's appearance in Ophelia's closet, her report to Polonius, and his report to Claudius. But it seems pretty clear that they happen close upon each other. When Ophelia enters with her "Oh my lord my lord, I have been so affrighted!", 2.1.85 and Polonius responds with his repeated urgings to hasten to the king, it's clear that she has just encountered Hamlet, and that Polonius is intent on going directly to Claudius, which he does in the next scene. (In Q1 she accompanies him to see the king, but in Q2 and F1, Polonius presumably pauses to get her full account and Hamlet's love letter; he then reports them himself sans Ophelia.)

  45. It's in that ensuing scene that Hamlet makes his reference to Monday morning, and says they'll have the play the next night.

    Ophelia's Many a Day

  46. Another problematic bit is Ophelia's opening line to Hamlet in the nunnery scene: "How does your honor this many a day?" (3.1.90). If she saw him in her closet only the day before, it seems odd. But then consider that Hamlet didn't even speak to her in that encounter:

    Polonius:                               What said he?
    Ophelia: He took me by the wrist, and held me hard...

    She proceeds to describe his alarming actions, but he never says a word. So when she asks how he's been doing all this time, it makes sense given that her only encounter with him in the last two months was this silent and unnerving one the day before.

    Fortinbras' Promised March

  47. There's another curious issue of timing in Hamlet's encounter with Fortinbras' army. It makes sense that the army should be on this march on this day, following a respite during Christmas so the levied troops could go home to their families (this especially given the St. Valentine legend discussed below). But only two days before, Claudius received from Norway "entreaty, herein further shown,/That it might please you to give quiet pass/Through your dominions for this enterprise,...". He responds, "at our more considered time we'll read,/Answer, and think upon this business." 2.2.90 Given what goes on in Claudius' life in the next two days (the mousetrap, Polonius' death, etc.), it seems unlikely that he would have had much "considered time." So Fortinbras is on the move in Denmark without Claudius' approval, which is no doubt why he sends his captain to "greet the Danish king" and crave "the conveyance of a promised march." 4.4.4 Fortinbras, like Polonius and Claudius, is in a hurry.

    Hamlet at Sea

  48. With the mousetrap sequence in hand, the obvious question is how long Hamlet spends with the pirates. How much time passes between his capture and the gravedigger sequence? At this point, the coherence of the play's chronology breaks down. There are plenty of clues and explicit references, as in the rest of the play, but they seem to contradict each other.

  49. There's one explicit reference that limits how long this hiatus is. When Claudius is conscripting Laertes into his plot to kill Hamlet, he says that Lamord, a gentleman of Normandy, had spoken highly of Laertes' swordsmanship "in Hamlet's hearing…Two months since." [34] 4.7.79, 89 (It's amusing how carefully this reference is hidden, with the two ends of the just-cited quotation ten lines apart.) This story may be a fabrication by Claudius. He's sweating at this point to win Laertes over, and flattery is his method. (And it's curious how he fishes for Laertes to provide Lamord's name.) But even if his story is false, his "two months" would have to agree with Laertes' knowledge of when Hamlet was where.

  50. So Hamlet is gone at most two months; that's the longest possible interval between the mousetrap and gravedigger sequences. If the ghost first walks at the end of October, the gravedigger sequence is in the first week of March at the latest.

    Sudden and More Strange Return

  51. But that two-month reference is contradicted in the text. Both Claudius and Hamlet refer to Hamlet's sudden return and aborted voyage, telling us that he's only been gone a couple of days--certainly less than a week. And this is in keeping with Hamlet's "Ere we were two days old at sea." Here are the key lines

    Hamlet (in his letter to Claudius): "...my sudden and more strange return." 4.7.50

    Claudius, on reading Hamlet's letter: "What should this mean? Are all the rest come back?/.../If he be now returned,/As checking at his voyage, and that he means/No more to undertake it," 4.7.51, 66

    It certainly sounds as if Hamlet returns immediately. But the sudden return conflicts with two other items we learn in the text:

    Hamlet, in his letter to Horatio: "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hold their course for England." 4.6.12

    Horatio, in the final scene of the play: "So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to't." 5.2.6

    There are at least three problems of chronology here:

    • If the ambassadors are still on their way to England when Hamlet returns, and even in the "interim" preceding the swordfight scene, how do they get back in time for the swordfight?

    • How was there time for word of Polonius' death to get to Laertes in Paris, and for him to return before Hamlet?

    • How was there time for Fortinbras to go to the "Polack wars" and return in time for the swordfight scene?
    It seems impossible to reconcile those journeys with Claudius and Hamlet's language--especially since all these voyages were happening in the middle of winter, in northern Europe.

    Ophelia's Flowers

  52. There's yet another conundrum in this regard: Ophelia and her flowers. She gives a whole garden of flowers to Laertes, Claudius, and Gertrude, none of which could have been blooming in late February/early March in Denmark or in England. They could be imaginary flowers she's handing out, of course, but that doesn't solve the other Ophelia-flower problem.

  53. In describing Ophelia's drowning, Gertrude says, "fantastic garlands did she make/Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples" 4.7.185. These are real summer flowers. There's no resolving that with the chronology of the play.

  54. Gertrude does speak of a willow which "grows askant the brook/That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream." "Hoar" is generally interpreted as "gray," but its common usage referring to frost (cf. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, "The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts/Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose" MSND: 2.1.111), combined with "glassy" referring to ice, could at a stretch be seen as Shakespeare giving the nod to his chronological inconsistency. Likewise, in two of her mad snatches Ophelia bumps snow right up against flowers: "White his shroud as the mountaine snow/…/Larded all with sweet flowers…" 4.5.32 and "His beard was as white as snow,/All flaxen was his pole." 4.5.160 And Gertrude's "fantastic" could suggest that the flowers were only in Ophelia’s fantasy. (There is tight parallel here, worthy of further research, with the problem of summer flowers in winter that Sohmer discusses in his article on Lear.) [35]

  55. Also contradictory, if interesting, is a possible source of the Ophelia drowning scene. A woman named Katherine Hamlett was drowned in the Avon near Stratford when Shakespeare was fifteen, on December 17, 1579--the dead of winter. (See below for more on Katherine.)

  56. No matter whether Shakespeare was aware of these inconsistencies, or whether he acknowledged them in these passages, the contradictions are there. So for the nonce I adopted the critic's time-honoured solution to contradictory evidence: I ignored it. [36] Put aside for the moment Hamlet's "sudden and more strange return," Claudius’ "checking at his voyage," and Ophelia's flowers, and we can say that Hamlet was with the pirates for as much as two months.

    The Gravedigger Sequence

  57. So with mirth in dearth and dirge in plenty (or vice versa), I'll continue. Once again, I’ll resort to a table to lay out the events and references within the gravedigger sequence.

    Table 3: The Gravedigger Sequence

    Act and Scene


    Text References


    Day 1


    Ophelia’s madness

    Claudius: "Her brother is in secret come from France." 4.5.57

    Laertes bursts in.


    Ophelia flower scene


    Claudius convinces Laertes to listen.



    Horatio receives letters from sailors, reads his, and sends the sailors to Claudius.

    Hamlet’s letter to Horatio: "repair thou to me with as much speed as thou wouldest fly death." 4.6.12

    Horatio to sailors: "Come, I will give you way for these your letters,/And do’t the speedier that you may direct me/To him from whom you brought them." 4.6.14

    4.6+ (scene in Q1 only)

    Horatio’s interview with Gertrude, telling her of Hamlet’s return

    "he hath appoynted me/To meete him on the east side of the Cittie/Tomorrow morning." Q1: 3525.8


    Claudius calms (and conscripts) Laertes.


    Messenger brings letters from Hamlet.

    Hamlet’s letter to Claudius: "To-morrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes." 4.7.50

    Gertrude announces Ophelia’s death.


    Day 2


    Gravedigger scene

    Claudius to Laertes (Q2/F1): "Strengthen your patience in our last night’s speech,/We’ll put the matter to the present push./…/An hour of quiet shortly shall we see;/Till then in patience our proceeding be." 5.1.186

    Q1: "This very day shall Hamlet drinke his last,/For presently we meane to send to him." Q1:3496


    Hamlet tells Horatio of his sea voyage.



  58. There are two possible hiatuses in this sequence of events:

    • The time between Claudius' conversations with Laertes

    • The time between the gravedigger scene and Hamlet's conversation with Horatio preceding the swordfight

  59. The first interruption--during which Horatio receives Hamlet's letters and immediately forwards them to Claudius--must be brief, especially given all the language of haste in these scenes. Claudius is in the midst of calming a raging Laertes, who's heading a rebellious mob. He'd probably give it his immediate attention.

  60. It's also impossible to believe that Hamlet would have long delayed telling Horatio of his packet switching on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or that Horatio would have waited long to hear of it. And Q1’s "this very day," however dubious the source, at least demonstrates that the actor who played with Shakespeare thought that the swordfight was the same day as the graveyard scene. Combined with Q2/F1's "an hour of quiet," that reference makes it pretty likely that the swordfight is the same day as the graveyard scene. The material below further supports that.

    Tomorrow is St Valentine's Day

  61. The curious question still remains: When did the gravedigger sequence happen? How long was Hamlet with the pirates?

  62. Again, a seemingly offhand reference in the text gives a clue. In her first madness scene, Ophelia sings, "To-morrow is St Valentine's day, All in the morning betime." 4.5.39 Valentine's Day of course relates to the love/sex/marriage themes of the play that come to a head in Ophelia's madness, but Hamlet's tossed-off "Monday morning" suggests that we should not gloss over such explicit statements. If this one is significant, then the graveyard and swordfight scenes the next day occur on St Valentine's Day--Sunday 14 February 1602. [37]

  63. Elizabethans observed a tradition on Valentine's Day (much deplored by the Puritans) of young people choosing partners by lot to be their "valentines." [38] I don't find any correlation to this practice in Hamlet, but the sexual connotations make sense, especially when you consider that images of St Valentine often included images of cocks. The word "cock" is used six times in the play, many more if you include "woodcock," "cockle," and the like. (The OED cites a usage meaning "penis" as early as 1618.) One notable occurrence is Ophelia's bawdy oath--replacing "God" with "cock"--in her Valentine's song about a maid losing her virginity: "Young men will do't, if they come to’t;/By Cock, they are to blame." 4.5.41

    Claudius the Cruel

  64. There are at least two unrelated St Valentine legends. In the one that's relevant here, a Roman emperor was having trouble levying troops. He thought this was because they didn't want to leave their wives and families, so (very sensibly) he banned all marriages and engagements. Valentine, a priest, defied the ban and secretly married couples, for which he was executed. The emperor's name? Claudius II, also known as "Claudius the Cruel."

  65. The name's quite a clincher, and it's hard not to think of Hamlet's "I say we will have no moe marriage." 3.1.131 Just because the legend has relevance, of course, doesn't mean that the date's right. But there are several other correlations that make sense.

  66. Two curious lines from Opehlia’s madness, for instance also lend credence:

    • "How should I your true-love know/From another one?/By his cockle hat and staff,/And his sandal shoon."
    4.5.27 The cockle hat refers to the cockle-shell souvenirs worn by pilgrims who have travelled to the shrine of St. James of Compostella in Spain--a pilgrimage performed by millions over the centuries.

    • "They say the owl was a baker’s daughter"
    4.5.37 refers to a folktale about a baker’s daughter who was transformed into an owl because she begrudged Christ when he asked for some bread.

  67. One of the saints honoured on 14 February is Angelo de Gualdo (c. 1265–1325). As a youth he made the pilgrimage (barefoot) from Italy to the shrine of St. James at Compostella. He later gave bread to the poor, which upset his mother; she subsequently died, and he felt guilty and repentant--that his action of giving bread was somehow the cause. I can find no evidence that Shakespeare knew of de Gualdo--he's a pretty obscure saint--so while it explains Ophelia's two lines, I can't recommend certainty.

    Not Shriving Time Allowed

  68. Valentine's Day was interesting in 1602, because in that year it was also Shrove Sunday, the first day of Shrovetide--the three days associated with revels, carnival, misrule, and inversion of roles ending on Shrove Tuesday. That festive tradition has its roots in the Roman Saturnalia. (As Sohmer points out in his article on Lear, Shakespeare was intimately familiar with this history through his knowledge of Ovid's Fasti.) [39] The period of licence (and its counterpoint, "shriving," or confession) is understandable, because the day after Shrove Tuesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and its forty days (plus Sundays) of abstinence leading up to Easter. [40]

  69. Shrovetide was the end of the revels season that starts before Christmas, and depending on which came first (Shrove Tuesday is a moveable feast), either Valentine's Day or Shrovetide marked the turning point from winter to spring. [41] In 1602 they conjoined.

  70. Several Elizabethan Shrovetide customs are interesting regarding Hamlet. First--going back to the play's "cock" fixation--is the custom of "cock-throwing" or "cockthrashing." [42] This game involved tying a cock to a stake, with young men throwing rocks or sticks at it. Also illuminating is the tradition of dressing up as animals, considering the repeated trope of man-and-beast passages throughout the play. [43]

  71. Shrovetide was intimately related to rebellion--both in fact and in "act." Crowds--especially of young men--would range through the streets in masks and costumes, raising havoc. Chambers cites, among others, a 1618 account "describing the bands of prentices, 3,000 or 4,000 strong, who on Shrove Tuesday and 1 May do outrages in all directions." [44] And those riots were often directed at playhouses in Shakespeare's day. A 1630 account (also cited by Chambers) describes "…those youths arm'd with cudgels, stones, hammers, tules, trowels, and handsawes, put the Playhouses to the sack and Bawdyhouses to the spoyle…." [45] On Shrove Tuesday, 1617, a crowd of apprentices ravaged Christopher Beeston's Cockpit theatre on Drury Lane. [46] And on Shrove Saturday, we find Laertes leading a riotous mob onto the stage of the Globe Theatre. [47]

  72. The return of Fortinbras' army, just in time for Lent, adds a bit more weight to the dating, and the six weeks that have passed since Hamlet's departure on 6 January is a reasonable period for Laertes, the English ambassadors, and Fortinbras to have made their journeys. A further significance, perhaps spurious: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don't make it to Shrovetide--the English king, in Hamlet's words, "those bearers put to sudden death,/Not shriving time allowed." 5.2.52

    The Burial of Katherine Hamlett

  73. Another piece of evidence, already alluded to, bears airing here--the death by drowning of (the perhaps eponymous) Katherine Hamlett on 17 December 1579. Several authors have noted the similarity of Katherine's case to Ophelia's, especially given the gravediggers' and Laertes' commentary on the burial. [48] There's the drowning, the question of whether it was suicide or accident, and the resulting question of whether the body could be given Christian burial.

  74. What is interesting here, once again, are the dates. Katherine Hamlett went to her final resting place sometime shortly after 11 February 1580 (when her body was "on a view" at the coroner’s inquest). [49] 14 February, a Sunday, would have been propitious--especially given that in 1580, as in 1602, 14 February was Shrove Sunday.

    Julius Caesar and the Pirates

  75. Another piece of evidence arises from a familiar yet surprising source: Julius Caesar's time with pirates as a young man, as recounted in Plutarch's Lives, which Shakespeare knew intimately both in Latin and in North's 1579 English translation. [50] For some reason Plutarch includes an oddly specific statement that Caesar was with the pirates for thirty-eight days. I was quite surprised to find that, if the dates suggested here are valid, then the duration of Hamlet's pirate sojourn from 6 January to 13 February is in fact thirty-eight days (counting inclusively, in the Roman manner). This would constitute a remarkable coincidence. The surety of Plutarch as a source is even firmer when you look at how well both Caesar and Hamlet get on with the pirates, and the similarity of Hamlet's character to Caesar's as depicted in this passage. [51]

    Shrovetide Revels at Court

  76. Like Twelfth Night, Shrovetide was one of the key holidays when plays were peformed at court, and at other institutions like the inns of court and the universities. In the forty-two years 1567-1608, there were plays at court at Shrovetide every year but four--often multiple performances. Two of those four missing years include possible performances, and the other two--1593 and 1594--were notorious plague years when the public companies were in disarray. In the twelve years 1596-1607, eight of the Shrovetide performances were by Shakespeare's company.

  77. One other year is especially notable in highlighting the dramatic tradition on this day. On 14 February 1613--yet another year in which Valentine's Day fell on Shrove Sunday--Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I and Anne of Denmark and patron of Lady Elizabeth's Men, was married to Frederick V (who at the time took over patronage of Prince Henry's Men, Henry having just died). The event was surrounded by weeks of revels, including a full twenty performances by Shakespeare's company.

  78. Finally, it is at least interesting to note that on Shrove Sunday, 14 February 1602, Shakespeare's company played before the court at Whitehall. We don’t know what play they presented. It's nice to think it was Hamlet.

    The Christmas Prince

  79. One more table, summarizing the events from the murder to the swordfight, should help lay out the whole chronology of the play. You can take the actual dates for what you will; the durations--aside from how long Hamlet was with the pirates--are unambiguously stated in the text.

    Table 4: The Chronology of Hamlet


    Sunday, September 6

    King Hamlet murdered


    Tuesday, September 8


    John Shakespeare buried

    Sunday, October 4

    Claudius and Gertrude married


    Friday, October 30

    The ghost walks.

    Feast of Marcellus

    Saturday, October 31

    The ghost walks.

    All Hallows Eve

    Sunday, November 1

    The ghost walks.

    All Saints’ Day

    Monday, November 2

    Court scene

    Laertes, Voltemand, and Cornelius depart.

    The ghost walks.

    All Souls’ Day


    Monday, January 4

    Ambassadors return.

    The players arrive.


    Tuesday, January 5


    The ghost walks.

    Twelfth Night

    Wednesday, January 6

    Hamlet and English ambassadors depart.

    Fortinbras departs for Poland.


    Thursday, January 7

    Hamlet taken by pirates.


    Saturday, February 13

    Ophelia’s madness.

    Laertes returns.

    Hamlet’s letters arrive.


    Sunday, February 14

    Hamlet returns.

    Graveyard and swordfight

    Fortinbras returns.

    English ambassadors return.

    Valentine’s Day

    Shrove Sunday

  80. The action of Hamlet begins on 31 October, All Hallows Eve, has its middle on 5 January, Twelfth Night, and ends on 14 February, Shrove Sunday. It's tempting and amusing to find in this Shakespeare's sophisticated and complex response to Ben Jonson and his ilk. Jonson advocated (but often didn't adhere to) the rather simplistic neo-Aristotelian notion that a play should observe "unity of time," and have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

  81. It's also interesting to see this span in relation to the reigns of revels kings and Christmas princes. We have at least three detailed descriptions of these reigns in the years surrounding Hamlet's debut--two at the inns of court and one at university--summarised in Table 5.

    Table 5: The Reigns of Christmas Prince

    All Hallow’s/All Saint’s

    (Oct. 31/Nov. 1)


    (Dec. 25)

    New Year’s

    (Jan. 1)

    Twelfth Night/Epiphany (Jan. 5/6)

    Candlemas (Feb. 2)

    Shrovetide (Moveable)

    1594/5. Grey’s Inn. Henry Helmes served as the "Prince of Purpoole."


    St. Thomas’s Eve, Fri., Dec. 20: The Prince invested.

    Innocents Day, Sat, Dec 28, at night: Inner Temple entertained with a mask and performance of Twelfth Night by the Chamberlain’s Men.

    Fri., Jan 3: Many nobles entertained with a show of Graius and Templarius followed by speeches (perhaps written by Francis Bacon).


    Mon., Jan. 6. Mask with six "Knights of the Helmet."

    The prince visits the court at Greenwich, and promises to return at Shrovetide

    Shrove Mon./Tue. Feb. 10/11: Mask presented before the court at Whitehall, maskers presented to the queen the next day, followed by fighting at the barriers that night.

    1597/8. Middle Temple. Revels of the "Prince d’Amour."


    Sat., Dec. 24: Prince elected. Mon., Dec. 26: Coronation. Wed., Dec. 28: A comedy presented.

    Mon., Jan 2: A comedy.

    Friday, Jan. 6 (Epiphany, or "Twelf Day at night": A pageant through the streets to court, followed by a mask.

    Thu., Feb 2. The prince resigns.


    1607/8. St. John’s College, Oxford. The reign of Thomas Tucker, "Christmas Lord or Prince of the Revels."

    All Hallows Day at night/All Saint’s Eve, Sat. Oct. 31. Prince invested.


    Shrove Tue., Feb. 9. Prince resigns. Sat., Feb. 13 (eve of St. Valentine’s Day): A final play performed.

  82. The first account, reported in Gesta Grayorum, [52] is of the reign of Henry Helmes, the "Prince of Purpoole," at Gray’s Inn in 1594/95. The revels began on 20 December and continued until Twelfth Night, when Comedy of Errors was played by Shakespeare’s company. They resumed on Candlemas (2 February), and concluded with a masque presented before the Queen at Whitehall at Shrovetide (Monday or Tuesday). There was also that night a simulated battle defending the ramparts against "rebels," the Prince of Purpoole taking sides with the Earl of Cumberland against the Earl of Essex and others. The next day, the masquers were presented to the queen, and the Prince’s reign ended.

  83. The second account is of the revels presided over by Richard Martin, "the burning Prince of Love," at the Middle Temple in 1597/98. He was invested on Saturday 24 December, and resigned on Candlemas--Thursday 2 February.

  84. The third account is of the 1607/8 season at St. John's College, Oxford. [54] In this account a certain Thomas Tucker was invested "Christmas Lord or Prince of the Revels" on All Saints' Eve, Saturday 31 October 1607. His reign ended, and he resigned his crown, on Shrove Tuesday, 9 February 1608. A final play was then performed on Saturday 13 February. His reign aligns exactly with the period of Claudius' "misrule" and its drunken revelry, [55] exactly six years later--and with Hamlet's reign as the Christmas Prince.

    Hamlet and Misrule

  85. While it's hardly necessary to detail the constant trope of misrule and rebellion in Hamlet, or Hamlet's role as the master of revels, it is useful here to look briefly at the old chestnut of Hamlet's character as it relates to lords of misrule. Of particular interest in this light is Arthur McGee's analysis of that character in The Elizabethan Hamlet. [56] McGee draws together strong evidence, and a large and convincing body of criticism (including Wilson, Jenkins, Waldcock, Murray, Levin, Rylands, Chambers, and Hotson) that sees in Hamlet and Hamlet strong influences of the Vice character from medieval plays. He demonstrates the Elizabethan conflation of that character with that of fools and jesters, and quotes Dover Wilson to associate those character types with lords of misrule:

    as heir to the Vice, Falstaff inherits by reversion the functions and attributes of the Lord of Misrule, the Fool, the Buffoon, and the Jester, antic figures the origins of which are lost in the dark backward and abyss of folk-custom. [57]

  86. Hamlet, likewise, inherits those functions and attributes. If this picture of Hamlet's character is safe, E. K. Chambers' comment is also of interest here, though perhaps only as an aside: "It is noticeable that the appearance of fools as important dramatis personae in the plays apparently coincides with the substitution for William Kempe as 'comic lead' in the Lord Chamberlain's company of Robert Armin, whose own Nest of Ninnies abounds in reminiscences of the fool-literature." [58] (Armin probably replaced Kempe in 1599, and he had certainly done so by the end of 1600.) [59] While we know that Burbage took the role of Hamlet, it's tempting to think that Armin did as well (perhaps with Sly as his gravedigger counterpart?) [60]

    Shakespeare and Misrule

  87. If this article succeeds in nothing else, it demonstrates by catalogue that there is a striking abundance of references in Hamlet to times, days, and dates. Given all that obtrusive chronological detail, and given Shakespeare's constant playing with misrule--notably in Twelfth Night and Caesar, which were composed in the same two or three years as Hamlet--it's not wild speculation to suggest that Shakespeare wove yet another layer into Hamlet, perhaps the most intricately woven of his plays. A chronological layer referring to the liturgical and revels calendar, and reigns of misrule, is a reasonable one to find.

  88. It's especially interesting to see this pattern of holidays--All Hallows, Twelfth Night, and Shrovetide--rear its head in Sohmer's analysis of both Caesar [61] and Twelfth Night. [62] In discussing Caesar, he comments on the conjunction of Shrovetide with Valentine's Day in 1599, and devotes a whole chapter to discussing the play's relation to lords of misrule and the Shrovetide riots. And he argues that the action of Twelfth Night runs from All Souls' to Shrovetide (3 February in 1600, which was 13 February Gregorian), with the titular suggestion of Twelfth Night in the middle--the same period suggested here for Hamlet.

  89. This article points out some difficulties with Sohmer's chronological analysis of Hamlet--his first foray into this interesting area. But it also supports and gives weight to his more strongly supported conclusions, and to his overall approach of viewing the calendar as a key structural and thematic element in Shakespeare's plays.


    A note on line references. Quotations from Shakespeare are from the Riverside edition (G. Blakemore Evans, et al, eds. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974). Line numbers and hyperlinks, however, refer to the 1914 Oxford text on bartelby.com (W. J. Craig, ed.)--the best publicly available modern-spelling text on the web. The line numbers in the Oxford text, and the text itself, do not match Riverside.

    A few quotations and line numbers refer to the original texts of F1, Q1, and Q2. They are referenced by through line numbers, and are hyperlinked to the Internet Shakespeare Editions. (URL: <web.uvic.ca/shakespeare/Annex/DraftTxt/Ham/>)

    1. "Certain Speculations on Hamlet, the Calendar, and Martin Luther," Early Modern Literary Studies 2.1 (1996): 5.1-51 URL: purl.oclc.org/emls/02-1/sohmshak.html; "The Lunar Calendar of Shakespeare's King Lear;" Early Modern Literary Studies 5.2 (September, 1999): 2.1-17 URL: purl.oclc.org/emls/05-2/sohmlear.htm; and "12 June 1599: Opening Day at Shakespeare's Globe." Early Modern Literary Studies 3.1 (1997): 1.1-46 <URL: purl.oclc.org/emls/03-1/sohmjuli.html>.

    2. Harley Granville-Barker, Preface to Shakespeare: Hamlet (London: Batsford, 1970). Excerpted online at: <princehamlet.com/granville.html>.

    3. Steve Sohmer, Shakespeare's Mystery play: The opening of the Globe theatre 1599 (Manchester and New York: Manchester UP, 1999).

    4. Steve Sohmer, "A note on Hamlet's illegitimacy identifying a source of the 'dram of eale' speech (Q2 1.4.17-38)." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.3 (January, 2001): 13.1-7 <URL: purl.oclc.org/emls/06-3/sohmnote.htm>.

    5. Sohmer, "Certain Speculations on Hamlet," 51.

    6. E. K Chambers concisely summarizes the revels calendar in The Elizabethan Stage. 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1965), I, 19-20. Sandra Billington provides an excellent survey of the lords of misrule tradition in sixteenth-century England in Mock Kings in Medieval Society and Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1991). Of particular interest to this discussion is her Chapter 2, "Kings of Winter Festive Groups."

    7. Knights, L. C., Explorations: Essays in Criticism, Mainly on the Literature of the Seventeenth Century (New York, George W. Stewart, 1947), 15-54.

    8. Roth, S. Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country. Forthcoming; available online at <princehamlet.com>.

    9. Martin Wiggins points out that this was a fairly standard and traditional dramatic structure at the time: "Events often fall naturally not into five acts but two or three movements or 'discourses', each focusing on a different stage of the plot" (Shakespeare and the Drama of his Time [Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000], 81.)

    10. E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1963) I, 411-425. Harold Jenkins, ed., Hamlet, Arden, 1982 (2000 Thomson reprint edition), 1-7. Blakemore Evans, ed., Riverside, 1136.

    11. Sohmer, "Certain Speculations on Hamlet," 4. For the Elizabethans' cognisance of and adherence to the calendar, see David Cressy’s Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989). "Calendrical consciousness permeated people’s lives, and can be traced in their private reckonings and community observances." (13.) The book traces that consciousness in meticulously documented detail.

    12. In addition to Billington (see note 6), key works demonstrating Shakespeare's use of the calendar and festive tradition are François Laroque's Shakespeare’s festive world: Elizabethan seasonal entertainment and the professional stage (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991), C. L. Barber's Shakespeare's festive comedy: a study of dramatic form and its relation to social custom (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1959), David Wiles' Shakespeare's Almanac: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Marriage and the Elizabethan Calendar (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1993), and R. Chris Hassel Jr.'s Renaissance Drama and the English Church Year (Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1979).

    13. There is a fairly close parallel to Marcellus' language in a sixteenth-century treatise on holiday practices, here discussing Twelfth Night/Epiphany: "And rounde about the house they go, with torch or taper clere,/That neither bread nor meat do want, nor witch with dreadful charm,/Have powre to hurt their children, or to do their cattell harme." Popular and Popish Superstitions and Customs On Saints'-Days and Holy-Days in Germany and Other Papist Lands A. D. 1553, Being the Fourth Booke of "The Popish Kingdome, or reigne of Anitchrist, written in Latine verse by Thomas Naogeorgus (or Kirchmaier), and englyshed by Barnabe Googe. . . Anno 1570." Reprinted as an appendix in Phillip Stubbes's Anatomie of the Abuses in England in Shakespeare's Youth. A.D. 1583. Part I. Frederick J. Furnivall, ed. (London: N. Trübner for The New Shakespeare Society [Series VI, No. 6], 1879. 321-348, ll. 170-72. Facs. repr. ed. R.C. Hope. London: Chiswick P, 1880). This same treatise (ll. 37-46) suggests that sixteenth-century beliefs about Advent were in fact quite opposite to Marcellus' statement: "Three weekes before the day whereon was born the Lorde of grace,/An on the Thursday Boyes and Girles do runne in every place,/And bounce and beate at every doore, with blowes and lustie snaps,/And crie, the advent of the Lorde not borne as yet perhaps./And wishing to the neighbours all, that in the houses dwell,/A happie year, and every thing to spring and propser well :/Here have they peares, and plumbs, & pence, ech man gives willinglee,/For these three nights are alwayes thought, unfortunate to bee :/Wherein they are afrayede of sprites, and cankred witches spight,/And dreadfull devils blacke and grim, that then have chiefest might." This whole description--with its "souling" from door to door, and three days--sounds suspiciously like a Hallows/Saints/Souls or perhaps Shrovetide misplacement, as does the ensuing passage, which describes methods for divining a future spouse's name and character (a widespread practice, but most closely associated with Halloween and Shrovetide; See A. R. Wright, British Calendar Customs. 3 vols [London: William Glaisher for the Folk-Lore Society, 1936], I, 4, 16-20; III, 109-17, 121-131). Kirchmaier's later discussion (ll. 901-920) of All Saints (2 November) is oddly out of chronological order, and doesn’t discuss traditional practices for that date; it just gives a polemic against indulgences--monks and priests taking money to pray for the dead. All Hallows and All Souls are not even mentioned. These and other matters suggest some confusion, corruption, or pollution in Googe’s source, and/or that he may have brought his "poetic" skills to bear in preparing the translation. Even if his translation is accurate and complete, his decision to translate and publish this tract suggests that many of the customs vilified therein were also traditional and familiar in England. E. K. Chambers (The Mediaeval Stage. [Oxford: Clarendon P, 1903], 2 vols, I, 267 n. 11) says, "I do not know where Shakespeare got the idea, of which I find no confirmation.... Ten minutes after writing the above note, I have come on the following passage in Tolstoi, Résurrection (trad. franç.), i. 297 'Un proverbe dit que les coqs chantent de bonne heure dans les nuits joyeuses.'" One has to wonder if Tolstoy's proverb did not originate in Hamlet.

    14. There are other possibilities for Bernardo's star, discussed in Roth, Undiscovered Country, Appendix E.

    15. Sohmer, "Certain Speculations on Hamlet," n. 14.

    16. Aside from All Saints, which was included in the list of approved holy days in the "Table and Kalendar" of the 1552 (and 1559) Book of Common Prayer <justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/Kalendar_1559.htm>, these holidays were officially suppressed in 1538. ("The King's Injunctions, restricting the number of holy days," in The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, 8 vols. Ed. Stephen Reed Cattley [London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, sold by L. & G. Seeley, 1837-41], 164-65.) As Cressy notes, though, "Purging the calendar was easier to proclaim than to enforce" (Bonfires and Bells, 5.) "Religious conservatives continued to observe such abrogated days as Corpus Christi, All Souls’, and St Thomas of Centerbury" (7.) (See also his discussion of Hallowmas on 29-30.) He also points out the amusing contradiction that "The church courts...blithely ignored the purging of of saints’ days"; they continued to include All Souls in their calendar of law days and appearance days (10-11). As David Underdown reports, "Hallowe'en, when goblins and spirits had to be propitiated, had come under the same official ban at the Reformation as other saints' days. But it was still occasionally celebrated: at Wellington, Somerset, for instance, as late as 1604, when the constable was beaten up by a disorderly crowd of revellers" (Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England, 1603-1660 [Oxford: Clarendon P, 1985], 70.)

    17. Sir James Frazer tells us, "Not only among the Celts but throughout Europe, Hallowe'en, the night which marks the transition from autumn to winter, seems to have been of old the time of year when the souls of the departed were supposed to revisit their old homes.... But it is not only the souls of the departed who are supposed to be hovering unseen on the day when autumn to winter resigns the pale year. Witches then speed on their errands of mischief, some sweeping through the air on besoms, others galloping along the roads on tabby-cats, which for that evening are turned into coal-black steeds. The fairies, too, are all let loose, and hobgoblins of every sort roam freely about." (The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion [London: Macmillan], 1929. Available online at: <digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=3623> and <bartleby.com/196>.) The conflation of pagan and Christian holidays (including All Hallows with Celtic new year) is conveniently and concisely summarized in François Laroque's "A Comparative Calendar of Folk Customs and Festivities in Elizabethan England," Cahiers Élisabéthains 8 (October 1975), 5-13.

    18. Stow, J. A Survey of London, ed. C. L. Kingsford (Oxford, 1908; repr 1971), i. 97 Available online at: <parallel.park.uga.edu/~oxford/course/desmet_texts/stow_survey.html>

    19. Billington (Mock Kings, 32) cites a 1564-5 instance at Elizabeth's court.

    20. The Christmas Prince, edited by F. S. Boas (Oxford: Malone Society Reprints, Oxford UP, 1922). Facsimile edition: E. J. Richards, The Christmas prince (New York: G. Olms), 1982.

    21. I am at a loss as to the purpose of this interchange, unless it merely serves to highlight the elastic (and subjective) nature of time in the scene being reported on. Its specificity, in this allusion-fest of a play, suggests something more particular.

    22. Sohmer, "Certain Speculations on Hamlet," n.10.

    23. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, William Shakespeare, a Textual Companion [1997] (New York and London: Norton, 1987), 396.

    24. 231.

    25. Toke Norby, The Perpetual Calendar. URL: <www.norbyhus.dk/calendar.html>. (Wittenberg was in the Electorate of Saxony, a Protestant territory; see The Catholic Encyclopedia online at: <www.newadvent.org/cathen/13497b.htm>.)

    26. The Works of Mr. William Shakespear in Six Volumes Adorn'd with Cuts. Revised and Corrected with an Account of the Life and Writings of the Author, edited by Nicholas Rowe (London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, 1709), 6 vols. Introduction available online at: <shakespeare.palomar.edu/ROWE.HTM>.

    27. If Claudius took the crown before the wedding (the text doesn't tell us), it's perhaps significant that Michaelmas, 29 September, was "the usual day of elections in local government, the day for choosing aldermen, mayors, and churchwardens. Many parishes and corporations followed a Michaelmas-to-Michaelmas calendar for their official business" (Cressy, Bonfires and Bells, 29.)

    28. This interchange, where Hamlet says, "my father died within’s two hours," is one of Shakespeare’s better plays on real time versus theatre time--the mousetrap scene is about two hours into the play. Sohmer is perhaps the first to point out this amusing item, with thanks to his friend M. A. McGrail (Mystery Play, 233), but unfortunately he attempts to use arithmetic based upon it to support his dating of other events in the play.

    29. This new year's timing also perhaps adds a dimension to one joke in the mousetrap, Hamlet's facetious comment on the prologue: "Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?" 3.2.152 George Puttenham, in his widely influential The Arte of English Poesie of 1585 (www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/criticism/artofp_book1.html), describes "posies" as "epigrammes that were sent usually for new yeares giftes…we do use them as devices in rings and armes and about such courtly purposes."

    30. Jenkins does attempt a not-very-satisfying explanation: "If this were a nonsense remark addressed to Polonius, it would be unique in being ignored. Rather Hamlet ignores Polonius by pretending to be in earnest conversation" (Jenkins, ed. Hamlet, 259 n. 383-4).

    31. Epiphany was also celebrated by many in England as "Old Christmas" (Wright, British Calendar Customs, 50; The Catholic Enyclopedia: newadvent.org/cathen/05504c.htm.). This is perhaps one example of Hamlet's widespread use of archaic references, allusions, tropes, and figures.

    32. Kirchmaier (Popular and Popish Customs, ll. 133-136): [Marginal head: "Twelfe day./January 6."] "Here sundrie friendes togither come, and meete in companie,/And make a king amongst themselves by voyce or destinie :/Who after princely guise appoyntes, his officers alway,/Then unto feasting doe they go, and long time after play :" Hassel (Renaissance Drama, 55): "Epiphany, the culminating festival of the Christmas season, is as prominent liturgically as it is central to the dramatic tradition at court. From the emergence of this tradition in the early sixteenth century through the last decade of the repeated festival performances in the 1630s, Twelfth Day was the festival most often graced by dramatic entertainments at court." Cressy (Bonfires and Bells, 16): "Twelfth night, of course, was a traditional time for masques and plays at court. The days of Christmas were spent with mummeries, disguising, stage plays, dancing, and generous provision of the food and drink. The Wassail bowls came out again on Twelfth day amidst a variety of local celebratory customs." Wright (British Calendar Customs, 2:51): "During the twelve days ending on Epiphany, revels were held, and one of the most popular and jovial of these was the revel of Twelfth Night. ...the Twelfth Cake was cut, this being the preliminary step to the election of a King, a Queen, and other officers of the ceremonies." Epiphany is one of the approved holy days in the 1559 Book of Common Prayer.

    33. Given this timing piece, it seems that Claudius’ call for lights occurs at about (just after?) midnight--the turn from Twelfth Night to Epiphany. It’s perhaps significant that Ephiphany was also called the Feast of Lights; customs included both candles and bonfires. (Wright, British Calendar Customs, 57-60; The Catholic Enyclopedia: newadvent.org/cathen/05504c.htm.)

    34. While Sohmer makes note of Lamord, pointing out the meaning of his name as "the dead," he doesn’t mention this chronological reference.

    35. Sohmer, "Lear," 1-17. Oruch ("Spring in February," 562-64) points out this same conflict in the springtime imagery on February 14 in the works of Chaucer, his contemporaries, and his predecessors: "The paradox of winter in spring, of the lover’s sadness amidst the world’s joy, is of course not original with Chaucer. ...the idealized spring landscape of classical and medieval lyrics is pervaded by this opposition."

    36. The favoured critical evasion at this juncture is to plead Shakespeare’s preference for dramatic effect over narrative consistency. But that dodge begs the question; uncecessary and incoherent chronological clues serve no dramatic purpose. A thematic purpose ("the time is out of joint") could certainly be argued, even going so far as to suggest an inversion of inversion--that the chronological structure referencing misrule is itself subverted by incoherence. But a simpler so perhaps more likely explanation is that the author simply failed to maintain here the chronological coherence that is managed so successfully elsewhere.

    37. Saint Valentine’s Day was omitted from the list of approved holy days in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, but it remained in the calendar of the ecclesiastical courts (Cressy, Bonfires and Bells, 11). It certainly continued to be listed in the popular almanacs. (See, for instance, Robert Watson’s A doble almanacke or Kalender drawne for this present yeer, 1600 [London: Richard Watkins and James Robertes], 1600.) And as detailed below, it continued (and continues) to be widely observed in the popular tradition.

    38. A poem by John Lydgate to Catherine, Henry V’s consort (c. 1420), depicts this tradition: "Seynte Valentine. Of custome yeere by yeere/Men have an usaunce, in this regioun,/To loke and serche Cupides kalendere,/And chose theyr choyse, by grete affeccioun;/Such as ben move with Cupides mocioun,/Takyng theyre choyse as theyr sort doth falle." Laroque (Shakespeare’s festive world, 106-107) quotes Henri Misson de Valbourg’s 1698 Mémoires et observations faites par un voyageur en Angleterre sur ce qui’il y a troubé de plus remarkable: "On the Eve of the 14th of Feb. St Valentine’s Day, a Time when all living Nature inclines to couple, the young Folks in England, and Scotland too, by a very ancient Custom, celebrate a little Festival that tends to the same end: An equal Number of Maids and Batchelors get together, each writes their true or some feigned name upon separate Billets, which they roll up, and draw by way of Lots, the Maids taking the Mens Billets, and the Men the Maids; so that each of the young Men lights upon a Girl that he calls his Valentine, and each of the Girls upon a young Man whom she calls hers...Fortune having thus divided the Company into so many Couples, the Valentintes give Balls and Treats to their Mistresses, wear their Billets several Days upon their Bosoms or Sleeves, and this little Sport often ends in Love." Academic tradition associates this practice with the Roman Lupercalia (i.e., W. Carew Hazlitt, Faiths and Folklore: A Dictionary, 2 vols [London: Reeves and Turner], 1905, II, 608), but that association has been effectively refuted by Henry Ansgar Kelly (Chaucer and the Cult of St. Valentine [Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1986]) and Jack B. Oruch ("St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February" [Speculum 56 (1981), 534-565]). The earliest references these authors find to this Valentine’s practice are in the early sixteenth century, and have their roots in the writings of Chaucer and his contemporaries, about birds choosing their mates on Valentine’s day. See note 41.

    39. Sohmer, "Lear."

    40. Kirchmaier, Popular and Popish Superstitions, ll. 277-80: "Now when at length the pleasant time of Shrovetide comes in place,/And cruel fasting dayes at hand approch with solemne grace :/Then olde and yong are both as mad, as ghestes of Bacchus feast,/And foure dayes long they tipple square, and feed and never reast." (Further customs and festivities are described at some length.) See also "Shrovetide, or Confession Time" in Hazlitt (Faiths and Folklore, 2, 545-48). Cressy’s comment (Bonfires and Bells, 18) is a propos: "It is not necessary to invoke terms like hierarchical inversion, theatrical mimesis, reaffirmative reintegration, liminal transgression, or latent control, to demonstrate that Shrovetide was a time for letting off steam."

    41. Laroque, Shakespeare’s Festive World, 96. See also Chaucer’s Parlement of Foulys, ll. 683-86: "Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on-lofte; --/Thus singen smale foules for thy sake --/Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,/That hast this wintres weders over-shake" (The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. W.W. Skeat [Oxford, 1900]). URL: <sunsite.Berkeley.EDU/OMACL/Parliament/parliament.html>

    42. Laroque, Shakespeare's Festive World, 48: "Every popular festival was associated with its own particular bestiary in which animals, which had long ago played the role of totemic ancestors, guardian gods or sacrificial victims, now served as designs for masks, as pretexts for dressing up and games, and also as social or sexual emblems. Animal sacrifice survived in the Elizabethan period in the indirect and sporting forms of cock-throwing and various games that took place inside a ring or pit (bull-baiting, bear-baiting and cock-fights)." Cressy (Bonfires and Bells, 19) tells us that "At Knotting, Bedfordshire, in the mid-1630s, the minister and congregation enjoyed Shrovetide cockfights inside the church, to the scandal of both Laudians and puritans." See also Wright, British Calendar Customs, 1, 24-26.

    43. Kirchmaier (Popular and Popish Superstitions, ll. 313-17): "Some like wilde beastes doe runne abrode in skinnes that diverse bee/Arayde, and eke with lothsome shapes, that dreafull are to see :/They counterfet both Beares and Woolves, and Lions fierce in fight,/And raging Bulles. Some play the Cranes with wings & stilts upright./Some like the filthie forme of Apes, and some like fooles are drest,/Which best beseemse these Papistes all, that thus keepe Bachus feast."

    44. Chambers. Elizabethan Stage, I, 265 n. 1.

    45. John Taylor, All the Workes of John Taylor the Water-Poet. Beeing sixty and three in number (London, J.B. for James Boler), 1630. Quoted at further length in Laroque, Shakespeare's festive world, 98-99.

    46. Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997), 176. Chambers. E. S. 2, 240.

    47. The relation between theatre, Shrovetide, and misrule is wonderfully illustrated by the riot between students of the abutting Trinity and St. John's Colleges (Cambridge) on 6 (Ash Wednesday) and 7 February 1611, all centred around the Trinity men excluding the Johnians from their play. The imbroglio is described in detail in Appendix 17 of Alan Nelson's Records of Early English Drama: Cambridge (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1989), 1030-1033.

    48. R. S. Guernsey, Ecclesiastical Law in Hamlet: The Burial of Ophelia (New York: AMS P, 1971). Available online at: <sourcetext.com/lawlibrary/guernsey/00.htm>. Edgar Fripp, Shakespeare, Man and Artist (London: Humphrey Milford), 1938, 146-149. Michael MacDonald, "Ophelia's Maim'd Rites," Shakespeare Quarterly 37 (1986): 309-17. Roth, Undiscovered Country, Appendix F.

    49. The results of that inquest are transcribed and translated in R. Savage, Minutes and Accounts of the Corporation of Stratford-Upon-Avon and Other Records. Volume III 1577–1586 (London: Dugdale Society), 1921, 50–51. Also available in Roth, Undiscovered Country, Appendix F.

    50. Available online at: <www.perseus.tufts.edu/JC/plutarch.north.html>.

    51. ". . .he took to sea again, and was taken by pirates about the Isle of Pharmacusa : for those pirates kept all upon that sea-coast, with a great fleet of ships and boats. They asking him at the first twenty talents for his ransom, Caesar laughed them to scorn, as though they knew not what a man they had taken, and of himself promised them fifty talents. Then he sent his men up and down to get him this money, so that he was left in manner alone among these thieves of the Cilicians (which are the cruellest butchers in the world), with one of his friends, and two of his slaves only : and yet he made so little reckoning of them, that, when he was desirous to sleep, he sent unto them to command them to make no noise. Thus was he eight-and-thirty days among them, not kept as a prisoner, but rather waited upon by them as a prince. All this time he would boldly exercise himself in any sport or pastime they would go to. And other while he would write verses, and make orations, and call them together to say them before them : and if any of them seemed as though they had not understood him, or passed not for them, he called them blockheads and brute beasts, and, laughing, threatened them that he would hang them up. But they were as merry with the matter as could be, and took all in good part, thinking that this his bold speech came through the simplicity of his youth."

    52. Gesta Grayorum (London: Malone Society), 1914. See also Basil Brown's Law Sports at Gray's Inn (1594). New York: "Privately Printed by the Author," 1921.

    53. See discussions in Philip Finklepearl, John Marston of the Middle Temple (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1969); and Anthony Arlidge, Shakespeare and the Prince of Love (London, Giles de la Mare, 2000).

    54. The Christmas Prince (ed. Boas), 2.

    55. Billington (Mock Kings, 120-21) comments, "Claudius's murder of Old Hamlet establishes misrule over which the wassailing usurper presides."

    56. A. McGee, The Elizabethan Hamlet (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1987), 85–91.

    57. Quoted in McGee, 86. Chambers also notes this conflation, though he suggests an opposite derivation: "the character of vice is derived from that of the domestic fool or jester" (M. S. 1:204) Frazer depicts the relation of the king of misrule to the carnival "king must die" tradition: "We have seen that in Italy, Spain, and France, that is, in the countries where the influence of Rome has been deepest and most lasting, a conspicuous feature of the Carnival is a burlesque figure personifying the festive season, which after a short career of glory and dissipation is publicly shot, burnt, or otherwise destroyed, to the feigned grief or genuine delight of the populace. If the view here suggested of the Carnival is correct, this grotesque personage is no other than a direct successor of the old King of the Saturnalia, the master of the revels, the real man who personated Saturn and, when the revels were over, suffered a real death in his assumed character. The King of the Bean on Twelfth Night and the mediaeval Bishop of Fools, Abbot of Unreason, or Lord of Misrule are figures of the same sort and may perhaps have had a similar origin" (The Golden Bough. URL: <bartleby.com/196>). Arthur Lindley explores Hamlet's relation to the carnival and misrule traditions in Chapter 5, "A Crafty Madness: Carnival and the Politics of Revenge" in Hyperion and the Hobbyhorse: Studies in Carnivalesque Subversion (Newark: U of Delaware P, 1996), 112-136.

    58. Chambers, M. S., 1, 388.

    59. Chambers, E. S., 2, 300.

    60. Laroque's comments in Shakespeare's Festive World are perhaps also of moment here. He comments (46) that the "language of festivity...depended almost entirely upon stereotyped, proverbial, even dialectical expressions, leaving little room for subtlety or for any complex elaboration." Shakespeare's dramatic work, however, "dignifies the place of the old calendary customs and festivals, associating the irreverence and uncouthness of the clown with the topsy-turvy world and the spirit of parody attached to the notion of misrule, at the precise moment when the figure of the clown was being dropped in the professional theatre generally." (174) The same might be said of Armin's complex jesting, replacing Kempe's clownish jigs.

    61. Sohmer, Mystery Play, 105-116.

    62. Sohmer, Mystery Play, 199-216.

Works Cited

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• Billington, Sandra. Mock Kings in Medieval Society and Renaissance Drama. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1991.

• Brown, Basil. Law Sports at Gray’s Inn (1594). New York: "Privately Printed by the Author," 1921.

The Catholic Encyclopedia Ed. Charles G. Herbermann, et. al. New York: Appleton, 1907-12. URL: <newadvent.org/cathen/>.

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Kirchmaier, Thomas. Popular and Popish Superstitions and Customs On Saints'-Days and Holy-Days in Germany and Other Papist Lands A. D. 1553, Being the Fourth Booke of "The Popish Kingdome, or reigne of Anitchrist, written in Latine verse by Thomas Naogeorgus (or Kirchmaier), and englyshed by Barnabe Googe, Anno 1570." Reprinted as an appendix in Phillip Stubbes's Anatomie of the Abuses in England in Shakespeare’s Youth. A.D. 1583. Part I. Frederick J. Furnivall, ed. London: N. Trübner for The New Shakespeare Society (Series VI, No. 6.), 1879. 321-348. Facs. repr. ed. R.C. Hope. London: Chiswick P, 1880.

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Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)