A philosophical reading of Hamlet: A comparative study of the complexities of the earliest editions, Q1 (1603), Q2 (1604-5), and Folio (1623)




Journal Title

Journal ISSN



Volume Title


De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


Chapter One traces the origins of the Hamlet narrative, examining the play’s antecedent texts. The three early editions of the play are then studied in light of their relationship to the antecedent texts, and what is known about their provenance. The evolutionary nature of narratives and also knowledge is established as a key theme in this thesis. Chapter Two considers how editions of Hamlet were reprinted and edited in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and how the issue of making sense of the various editions developed. The discovery of Q1 Hamlet is considered, along with theories that accounted for it. The work of the New Bibliography is examined, followed by a focus on how the New Textualists reframed the study of Shakespeare and perceptions of Hamlet. An account of the most recent theories on the play’s provenance is then given. Chapter Three begins a three-part examination of the philosophical content of Hamlet, which is underpinned by an account of Western philosophical thinking from Plato to Michel de Montaigne. The play’s engagement with epistemology is here considered, through a focus on the philosophical conundrum of ‘the problem of universals’, which attempts to establish a thing’s nature, and to account for likeness between similar things.
Chapter Four considers how the play frames the relationship between language and truth. Names and titles are considered, along with the efficacy of ceremonies, the tension between written and spoken words, and the relationship between words, thoughts and things. The theme of representation is established as a dominant philosophical motif, and a Eucharistic subtext is highlighted throughout the play. Chapter Five considers how the play frames the natural world. Ophelia’s association with flowers, the subject of land, and how the supernatural and the natural are related are examined. Following this, Montaigne’s relationship to Shakespeare and Hamlet is analysed. This particular configuration of textual and philosophical analysis, in light of the play’s bibliographical history, affords us perspectives newly observed in this thesis.





Research Institute