Young Shakespeare’s Young Hamlet: Print, Piracy, and Performance

review by Paige Ambroziak

Not too long ago I came across “Shakespeare’s Badass Quarto” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which details the latest controversy about the first edition of Hamlet. Though I have worked on Hamlet and am inclined to linger over its narrative aspects, debates about the historicity of the text are riveting, nonetheless. For anyone who doesn’t know, there are three printed versions of the tragedy, the First Quarto (1603), the Second Quarto (1604), and the First Folio edition of 1623. The First Quarto has always been suspect and a bit of a bastard child, if it is even considered the master’s offspring. I happen to love that edition best. It is shorter, tighter, and less about a hesitant and incapable prince than a young heir facing a suspect stepfather. The differences between the editions have been widely examined and discussed, as well as prove viable as evidence for both sides, which brings me to my point. After reading Ron Rosenbaum’s article in the Chronicle, I picked up Terri Bourus’s Young Shakespeare’s Young Hamlet, which he had discussed in depth since it convincingly heralds a much needed change to our perception of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. Bourus claims the 1603 Hamlet is the playwright’s original version, first performed on the Elizabethan stage in 1589. Continue reading