Bard Bits: Being a Bad Be
Even if you are not familiar with Hamlet you are probably aware of Hamlet’s anguished soliloquy of questioning his existence. It’s such a well-known speech that it is almost a cliché. It’s ripe for parody.
However, there is a wee bit of scholarly doubt if the “To Be” speech that is proffered in plays is the “To Be” that Shakespeare intended. The problem being (yes, a bit of play on the play’s speech) is that Shakespeare’s plays were published without him having proofed the final copy, and most of his plays were published after his death. That’s another post.
When his plays were sent to the printer, they might have been copies taken from someone’s memory, such as an actor or an audience member—accuracy wasn’t exactly sound. These manuscripts came in three forms: good (from the theatre company and with permission), bad (someone’s recall), and dubious (another version of recall, but even worse in content).
The printer would create “quartos,” which were pages folded twice to create four leaves, or eight pages. Scholars have divided the available found quartos in “good” and “bad.”
Bad quartos have no authority and the manuscript content is suspect. Here is an example of a “bad” quarto line:
To be, or not to be, Ay, there’s the point,
To Die, to sleepe, is that all? Ay all:
No, to sleep to dreame, I marry there it goes.
Compared with the standard, recognized lines:
To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die to sleep–
Some scholarly squabbles exist concerning if “bad” quartos are really all that bad.. The lines might have been rough drafts and since Shakespeare isn’t about for consultation, it’s suggested to leave the matter be.