Monday, May 22, 2023

Eye Shall Not Look Upon His Like Again

Shakespeare, William. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: Hamlet. Ed. Horace Howard Furness. 2 vols. 1877. New York: Dover, 1963.

One of the things I often bring with me when I'm traveling is something to read that I can easily abandon. I'll grab the printouts of articles that I haven't gotten around to reading. Those are ideal—they're easy to read and recycle, and I return from the trip with my head a bit fuller and my bag a bit emptier.

But the last time I had a trip, I didn't have very many articles ready to go; however, I did have a variorum edition of Hamlet that was falling apart, so I grabbed it thinking it would provide some interest and could be left behind without much regret. "Besides," I thought, "I have the Harold Jenkins Arden edition; he probably covers anything this one has."

But the thing about a variorum edition is that it can pull from anywhere and everywhere, and I found one note particularly interesting. It's the note on Hamlet's line in Act I, scene ii (line 188 in this edition):

It suggests that the printed line "I shall not look upon his like again" (printed that way in Q1, Q2, and F) could instead by "Eye shall not look upon his like again."

That is an amazing possibility. It takes the line to an additional depth, moving it from "I'll never see anyone like him again" to "No one shall ever see anyone like him again." The first demonstrates Hamlet's individual mourning (which is deep and nothing to be sneezed at) to a more universal loss.

If you add to that the sheer number of times the word "eye" comes up in the play—a quick search shows more than thirty eye(s) in the play; there are only fifteen or so ear(s)—it makes for a significant difference.

The variorum edition notes that the ear will probably hear I rather than eye (or, I suppose, ay), but I good actor would be able to bring the word "eye" forward at that point. Eye, for one, would like to see that.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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—The Tempest