Thursday 7 April 2016

Further observations on the Hamlet H Quarto.

Messages continue to pour in since the publication of the 'H Quarto' (see the examples following the comments of the first post on this subject), proving beyond doubt that octolitteraphilia is contagious. Here is a selection from a linguist, a Shakespeare scholar, and a novelist:

'How heavily hawked? Hope highly heeded Handschrift halfway hoodwinks whole host.' Professor David Denison

'Hugely hilarious - hope highly honoured.' Professor Michael Dobson

'Higher-order hypothesis hilarious! Here's hoping H Hamlet huge hit.' Jean Hegland ... whose novel, Still Time, incidentally, is a must-read for Shakespeare-lovers.

And from Professor Keith Johnson, who - in a post to the Shaksper website - introduces an issue that is now attracting considerable interest.

'David Crystal’s Unbelievable Hamlet Discovery hits on heavy and heretofore hidden hints about Hamlet’s history. Huge happenstance.

'Crystal’s H Quarto has implications for various areas of Shakespeare scholarship, including the field of Original Pronunciation, in which Crystal himself has been the guiding spirit. He has pointed out that in Early Modern English, an initial ‘h’ was often unpronounced. The first few lines of his H Quarto might then have read:

FRANCISCO ’o! ’enchman?
FRANCISCO ’ey, ’our ’eedfully ’eeded.
BARNARDO ’orological ’alfnight’s ’appened. ’op ’ome.

'Taken as a whole, there seems no doubt that the H Quarto gives us the longest stretch of uninterrupted h-dropping in the entire canon of English literature, including in the works of Dickens, with all his various Cockney h-droppers.

'There is, however, more to the h-dropping than phonetic quirk. The following thoughts occurred to me a couple of days ago (it is today 3rd April). The hero’s name, and the play’s title, start with a dropped h, so would have been pronounced ’Amlet. There is, however, a little-known vowel change (known as the ‘Quite Small Vowel Shift’) that took place in just a few streets in Stratford-upon-Avon for a few months in the 1600 period. It is one of the few sound changes in English that took place retrospectively. In it, today’s vowel came to be pronounced as the one in hot. It was not ’Amlet at all, but ’Omlet.

'The word omelet first appeared in the language at around this period, and there is a little-known Elizabethan Cookbook entitled Chippes Withal (a title which, as it happens, the twentieth-century English playwright Arnold Wesker took for one of his plays). On the topic of omelets the book (written in verse) has this to say: Who wolde an omelette make, Perforce must egges brake. But this is just what the play previously known as Hamlet is about. In the process of becoming a fulfilled man, Hamlet creates mayhem. In culinary terms, eggs get broken.

'When Crystal next feels like a walk, one can only urge him to return to New House, and give his full attention to other broken drains. There may be other H Quartos to discover: The Happy Housewives of Henley, perhaps, and Hiems’ Homily (pronounced ’Iems ’Omily: the play about Leontes and ’ermione).'

It is entirely possible. And I suspect that the disturbed earth recently shown to be present in the radar scan of Shakespeare's grave is not an indication of a removed skull, as has been claimed, but of stolen manuscripts that were buried with the body.

Some scholars have sensed that Shakespeare's disorder was more deep-rooted than I claimed. Other letters may have been affected. This from Professor Tim Connell:

'And of course Love's Labours Lost bears out your theory, as does an early ms (doubtless amended by Condell and Heminge) of the Wicked Wives of Windsor.'

Peter Holland adds:

'David Crystal is to be congratulated on his remarkable discovery. I take it that the fact that the only non-h word I have identified is 'for' (p.76) is the consequence of its being the opening syllable of Fortinbras (the speaker of the stray word) and hence indicates Fortinbras' wish to hint at the otherwise unknown F quarto which would focus on Fortinbras' view of the whole narrative.

Or perhaps it's the long-surmised F quarto, known as the FQ. I recommend considering Midsummer Midnight's Musing too.'

Peter is to be congratulated on his close reading of the text. It is indeed the case that 'for' in the Fortinbras speech is the only instance of a non-h word, and I have long pondered the implications of this. There is some evidence that octolitteraphilia manifests itself in waves, and that, once a bout of h-activity has been released, normal letter usage resumes, temporarily. The fact that 'for' occurs at the very end of the play is indicative that this particular h-bout was about to run its course - presumably motivated by the new character name that was forming in Shakespeare's brain.


  1. On the subject of Fortinbras I am reminded of the symbol adopted by Ferdinand and Isabella. Some years ago I wrote (here)

    "...and that f/h thing, incidentally, is at the root of Ferdinand and Isabella's royal emblem - the fennel plant: Aragonese had a word starting with f and Castilian had an h for the initial letter of the word for 'fennel'. But that's a whole nother kettle of red herring. "

    Maybe there were parts of his realm where he was called Ortnbras.

    (Time for my medication.)

    PS I have to say I'd prefer the word to be octavolitteraphobia :-)

  2. -PHILIA of course _ wanted to make it ordinal rather than cardinal, not to turn it on its head.


  3. If you want to be really pedantic about the term how about ogdoostoichiophilia ὀγδοοστοιχειοφιλία (!)

  4. If you want to be really pedantic about the term how about ogdoostoichiophilia — ὀγδοοστοιχειοφιλία (!)

  5. Love it.

    (And for those whose Classical Greek is rusty: eighth letter...)

  6. Michèle Vignaux, University Lyon 2 (France)6 November 2016 at 18:07

    To me, this H-Quarto looks just like an April Fools' hoax (poste on 1 April!)

  7. Several people have indeed suggested such a thing.