Episode 29 - What Should Be The Fear?


It beckons you to go away with it,
As if it some impartment did desire
To you alone.

Look, with what courteous action
It waves you to a more removed ground:
But do not go with it.

No, by no means.

It will not speak; then I will follow it.

Do not, my lord.

                        Why, what should be the fear?
I do not set my life in a pin's fee;
And for my soul, what can it do to that,
Being a thing immortal as itself?
It waves me forth again: I'll follow it.


The Ur-Hamlet (the German prefix Ur- means "primordial") is a play by an unknown author, though it is maintained that it could have been written by Thomas Kyd (who wrote The Spanish Tragedy) or perhaps by Shakespeare himself. Scholarship dates it to sometime during 1587.  No printed copy of the text survives, but it is mentioned in various places. As mentioned in the episode, Thomas Lodge refers to it, and it was sufficiently current in the public imagination for Thomas Nashe to have mentioned it in comparison with Seneca in his address to the Gentlemen Students of Oxford. All we really know about the play is that it featured a character called Hamlet and a ghost character that exhorted him to revenge. 

Thomas Lodge
Lodge was a trained physician who also had a passion for literature. His father had been Lord Mayor of London. He turned to writing rather later in life, having established himself first as a doctor. He wrote in a variety of formats - novels, pamphlets, and even plays - and indeed his treatise in Defence of Poetry, Music and Stage Plays somehow contained enough opinion to find itself banned. Lodge travelled extensively, even as far as Brazil in the early 1590s. In 1596 he wrote the work that earns him a mention here, Wit's Miserie and the World's Madnesse, a kind of memoir in which he mentions having scene the Ur-Hamlet play performed at Burbage's Shoreditch Playhouse.   

Thomas Nashe
Nashe is considered the greatest of the Elizabethan pampleteers - writers who produced pamphlets, or unbound and therefore easily distributed pieces of writing. He wrote a wide variety of items in an even wider variety of styles, very much appearing as an Elizabethan man of letters. His name appears on the title page of Christoper Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage, although we have no idea what, if anything, he contributed to the play. He comes up in connection with the Ur-Hamlet because of his somewhat convoluted reference to a Hamlet text in his address To the Gentlemen Students of Oxford, in which he laments the poor talents of writers contributing to English drama at the time. In comparison with Seneca, he feels they are rather worthless. There's an inference - given the comparison with Seneca, whose Roman plays are notoriously blood-soaked - that perhaps the Ur-Hamlet was also quite a bloody tale. (The body count in Shakespeare's version isn't anything to be sneezed at, either.)