Internet Shakespeare Editions


Hamlet: university student

From the Roxburghe Ballads.
University of Victoria Library.

The University of Wittenberg was established in 1502--so the real Hamlet (if there was one) could not in fact have gone there, since the story goes back to the early medieval period. But many of Hamlet's attitudes and tastes smack of a university environment*.

Oddly enough, doddery old Polonius is a better judge of poetry than Hamlet: he criticizes the Player's turgid and academic speech on Pyrrhus (Hamlet's favourite, 2.2.455-525) as too long, and accurately describes Hamlet's poetry as artificial*.

Hamlet's advice on acting has often been presented as if Shakespeare's own; but is Hamlet conditioned by his preference for academic drama, more restrained than the public stage? Was Shakespeare as scornful of clowns as was Hamlet?


  1. Once a student . . .

    For example, there is a jocular bout of academic debate between Hamlet and his old University colleagues, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (2.2.220-270); but Hamlet loses interest ("by my fay, I cannot reason"), and proceeds to grill the two on their reasons for visiting him. Hamlet's view of tragedy also seems academic, indebted to the Greeks' concept of hamartia.

  2. Vile poetry

    Hamlet's poem refers to "the most beautified Ophelia," on which Polonius comments, "That's an ill phrase, a vile phrase" (2.2.111) --and he is surely right.