1603 (“Bad”) Quarto 1: “My Name is Ed de Veer”, “I’m secret/hidden heir.”

Hamlet (Q1), Sallied flesh, Scene 2, %22My NAME is Ed de Veer.%22, #1Fig. 1

Hamlet (Q1) Sallied flesh, Scene 2, %22Ed de Vere, heir to E.R., #2


The opening line in the 1604 and 1623 versions of Hamlet are striking for two reasons:

                                                         Bar. VVHose there? (Quarto 2, 1604)

                                           Barnardo.  Who’s there? (1623, First Folio)

   One of the themes in Hamlet is Hamlet’s gripe about Claudius becoming the heir to the kingdom of Denmark. A relatively familiar interpretation of the opening line of Hamlet (and it works in both the 1604 and 1623 versions) is that an apostrophe placed after the “th” in “there”, and spoken as “the heir” (or heard this way, at any rate) in both cases, changes the meaning. The concrete, literal meaning is the question any competent sentinel would ask atop the battlements of a castle to an unidentified person: “Who’s there?”, followed by the authoritative: “ . . . stand & unfold your selfe.”

   The second, a perhaps more suble interpretation for both a reader of the play, as well as a listening audience, is to be aware use of foreshadowing; that is, the play, at least in part, is asking the question of just who is now in control of the kingdom. If you are seeing Hamlet for the first time, and have no idea what is going on (an unlikely scenario in this day and age, but likely for Elizabethan playgoers who are clueless about what is happening, or going to happen), it is reasonable to assume Barnardo’s question as expected and reasonable in the context of the scene. It seems familiar and straight-foward: “Who are you? Identify yourself.” Implied is: “Because if you don’t I’m a military guard, I have a weapon, so I command you to answer.”

   Before I talk about the more remarkable of the two interpretations of “Who’s there?”, I wish to tell you of a relatively recent coincidence my wife, Prue,  and I had when on vacation in England in July, 2013.

   We had just finished a week as participants in “The Oxford Experience, 2013” held at Oxford University (Christ Church). The next leg of our vacation was to spend a full day at Castle Hedingham, the ancestral seat of the de Veres, Earls of Oxford. Castle Hedingham is a village in northeast Essex, about four miles west of Halstead. We were unable to book lodgings at the castle, and decided to stay in nearby Halstead. We left Oxford by bus and arrived shortly before noon on a Saturday. Before going to our lodgings, we decided to stop at a mall area in downtown Halstead for a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe. We asked about bus service to Castle Hedingham. The hostess said there was bus service, but was not sure which line we should take. She went inside the cafe and returned with a piece of paper, on which she had written the number of the bus line, just a ten minute ride down the road. She had torn a leaf from a pad used for taking food orders, and had written “Line 17” on it. The pad pages were numbered, and the one she used was stamped “89”. My reaction to “Line 17” was immediate. What a coincidence, I thought, and questioned whether or not the information was accurate. Later on in the day, we went to the bus terminal and found the bus line number was correct. Whereas I also thought the “17” may have been deliberate, as arguably the most famous of the Veres was Edward de Vere. the 17th. Earl of Oxford, there is no question about the fact the tag number “89” in a sequence of pages in an order book given to us by the cafe hostess was purely (but serendipitously) coincidental. “Line 17” to Castle Hedingham, ancestral seat of the 17th. Earl of Oxford, and “89”, seemingly straight out of the first line of the 1623 First Folio version of Hamlet (click HERE for a refresher on the first line). 8 + 9 = 17. (Bernardo = 8 letters; “Who’s there?” = 9 letters; Bernardo. Who’s there? = 17 letters).

   The coincidence of “Line 17” and tag number “89” notwithstanding, the latter lacks a context, but the business of “Bernardo. Who’s there? (or, “Who’s the heir?”) does have context. Which is not to say that it is not coincidence.  It does, however, speak to the context in which this discussion takes place (namely, that Edward de Vere is a major contributor to what is called the Shakespeare canon; or at least the master poet of the canon, from the standpoint of Group Authorship theory.  It all boils down to one’s “degree of belief”.

Fig. 2

Hamlet, Q1, Sallied flesh, Scene 2, Ed Vere thoughts, #3Fig. 3



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