Hamlet: Act I & Q1

As we’re all well aware, the First Folio version of Shakespeare’s texts often differ from the first Quarto (Q1) and other Quarto versions of his plays. As we’ve seen in other plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, sometimes entire acts and scenes differ between the Folio and Quarto texts. Hamlet is one of the plays which differs wildly from Folio to Quarto, especially when it comes to the most famous scene in all of Shakespearian history (do I really have to say which one?) In Act I alone we see three parts of the texts (all displayed in italics) which are heavily extended in the first Quarto.

First, after line 1.1.106, we receive more lines of dialogue by Barnardo and Horatio further explaining the warring state that took place during the time of King Hamlet’s death. Barnardo states, “I think it be no other but e’en so. / Well may it sort that this portentous figure / Comes armed through our watch so like our king / That was and is the question of these wars” ( By this statement we get the sense that Barnardo, and perhaps the other guardsmen, are not entirely afraid by the ghost of King Hamlet since he is “sort” or “be fitting” to be haunting the grounds, since he “was and is the [cause] of these wars.” However, in Act 1.4 we only get a sense that the men other than Prince Hamlet are terrified of the ghost. In this same addition from Q1, Horatio offers more extensive lines explaining how the streets of Rome were filled with blood and were “sick almost to doomsday with eclipse” ( This gives us much heavier insight to the state of war the men have laid witness to, and what the death of King Hamlet has caused to people other than his immediate family.

It is also important to note that the additional lines in 1.1.106 take place right before the ghosts enters again, which is also the case after the additional lines in 1.4.18 (this time stated by Hamlet). Perhaps, then the Q1 version of Hamlet was meant to build more overall suspense before the ghost returns to stage? The large chunks of text are sure to lead the audience members to forget about the ghost’s existence.

As I’ve mentioned, the Q1 additional lines at 1.4.18 belong to Hamlet, revealing information about the “drunkard” kings and perhaps information about his own psyche. He states: “They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase / Soil our addition; and indeed it takes / From our achievements…” ( Denmark seems to have a bad reputation as a home for drunkards, which we never would have known without these lines. But, perhaps more importantly, we receive lines such as “So oft itchances in particular man / That, for some vicious mole of nature in them— / As in their birth, wherein they are not guilty, / Since nature cannot choose his origin / By the o’ergrowth of some complexion, / Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason” ( Referencing a man who is “not guilty” since nature chose his origin rather than the man himself, who eventually “overgrows of some complexion” which the footnote describes as having an “unbalanced personality,” all seem to allude to Prince Hamlet’s own character. He also mentions that “one defect” is all it takes for the downfall of any given man ( Though he was originally referring to drinking, there are many other “defects” the characters all suffer from later in the play, particularly Hamlet himself.

The last added lines, spoken by Horatio, also foreshadow Hamlet’s eventually questionable and endangered mental state. While urging Hamlet not to follow the ghost Horatio pleas, “The very place puts toys of desperation / Without more motive into every brain / That looks so many fathoms to the sea / And hears it roar beneath” ( According to the footnote “toys of desperation” refer to “imaginings of despair and suicide,” which as most of us know Hamlet is sure to succumb to as the play continues. This tidbit of speech is quite different for Horatio to leave off with rather than just telling Hamlet to “Think of it” (“it” being the possibility of going mad after speaking to the ghost) (1.4.55).

These Q1 passages, while the First Folio has rendered useless, give far deeper insights and possible foreshadowing into the core of the play, and assuredly entail more thematic suspense before the ghost is introduced (both times). It’s interesting to read and consider the play both with and without these lines, and certainly convenient that both versions are available to us simultaneously.


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