Article Title

The Beginning of Hamlet


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

"Where, before Hamlet, can we find such a 'setting' contrived as that for the first scene on the battlements?" - H. Granville Barker.1


Peace in earth.2 In modern criticism much attention has been paid to the problem of how Shakespeare's plays were staged in his own time, and how this might illumine our understanding of the works. As a result of the researchers of Glynne Wickham, Muriel Bradbook, and Nevill Coghill, among others, it is apparent that Shakespeare used stagecraft as well as poetry to gain his dramatic effects, and that some at least of the conventions of the Elizabethan stage were inherited from the typological conventions of the medieval mystery plays. Most recently, Emrys Jones, in his studies of "scenic form," has described how many of the actions of the mysteries were used by Shakespeare, principally in his histories. "These [medieval] patterns," Jones has written, "are in fact the means whereby the action of the play is carried deep into the audience's mind."3 The subjects of the mystery plays, which were highly selective, were those bible stories of which the "immemorial authenticity" (again Jones' phrase)4 can only ring truer with each fresh representation, narrative sequences which develop into myth, and produce an imaginative impression beyond that of language.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.