Gert enjoyed Isaac Butler’s Is Hamlet Fat? in Slate.
This isn’t a new question; in the nineteenth century there was a lot of scholarly argument about the fact that Gertrude says of Hamlet before the duel with Laertes, “He’s fat, and scant of breath”. Apparently it wasn’t in the first edition; maybe, some say, it was put in later because Richard Burbage, who played Hamlet, had got fat; but in the Victoria era there was a view, shared by Goethe, that Hamlet was fat and that his fatness indicated weakness. A Victorian actor named E. Vale Blake declared in an 1880 article for Popular Science Monthly that Hamlet was “imprisoned in walls of adipose,” which, “essentially weakens and impedes … the will.”
Of course, particularly in this era of fatophobia, we want to think he’s a lean romantic, not a sweaty fatty. But Isaac Butler’s linguistic investigations with the help of a Shakespearean scholar suggest that Gertrude did mean that her son was, well, fat.
Gert has examined the text and come up with more compelling evidence for this:
1. The name Hamlet, a combination of “ham” and “piglet.”
2. His “customary suits of solemn black” – black is slimming as we all know.
3. “Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt.”
This opens up intriguing possibilities for a Hamlet truly of our times. Theatre directors are always looking for new angles – say, Julius Caesar played by performing dogs, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf set in a kindergarten, The Importance of Being Earnest set in the Bronx. Why not, pardon the pun, go the whole hog and have an absolutely mountainous actor playing Hamlet?