Could Hamlet Be the
"Other Shakespeare?"

by Robert Winter

I'm probably not the only reasonably well-educated person to have entertained, for many years, a well-intentioned belief (never actually acted upon) in the value of re-reading Shakespeare as an adult.  Buit one evening, with virtually nothing else available to do, I was more or less driven into the clutches of my good intentions.

I emerged with a profoundly altered understanding of Hamlet--and with a complete unbidden, yet difficult to dismiss, suspicion about that oldest of old questions, "Who wrote Shakespeare's plays?"

Before explaining the basis of this notion, it would probably be best to recapitulate the context of the play.

Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, has gone through two wrenching experiences in quick succession:   first, the death of his father, the king;   then the remarriage of his mother to his father's brother, who has assumed the throne.  Hamlet's difficulties in accepting these events have produced a form of behavior that is generally perceived at court as madness.  But while his words seem distracted and out of touch, they make a distinctly vivid kind of sense, in their own way, which the new king recognizes as "method" in his madness.

The dramatic action begins with the watchmen on the castle walls sighting what appears to be the ghost of Hamlet's father.  Hamlet comes out to investigate.  The apparition takes him aside and tells him that he is indeed the ghost of his father, murdered by the treachery of his uncle, who poured poison in his ear while he lay sleeping in his orchard.

Since the play was written in an age that took ghosts seriously, one more or less standard interpretation holds that Hamlet ought to accept the ghost's words at face value.   But Hamlet doesn't see things in quite this way.  Although the gjost might be genuine, he says, it might also be an apparition from Hell, sent to deceive and confound him.

Hamlet devises a plan to check the ghost's credibility. 

A traveling troupe of actors has come to the castle.  He approaches their leader, begins a lengthy commentary on the drama of his times (which, curiously, not only shows Hamlet to be a highly developed connoisseur, but goes on at such length and in such detail that it is difficult to escape the impression that Hamlet is speaking for Shakespeare), and ends with a request that certain material of his own devising be inserted into a standard play.  The idea is to re-create his father's alleged murder right in front of his uncle and mother, and watch their reactions.


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