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Two Lines, Three Readers: Hamlet, TLN 1904–5


A reading of Hamlet TLN 1904–5, this essay resists the recent turn away from close reading. It reviews what little commentary these two lines have received and offers a reading of them. It takes up the question of male friendship and the intimacies implied in Hamlet’s “my conversation,” and reviews the multiple meanings of “conversation,” including Hamlet's consorting or having dealings with others, his occupation or engagement with things, his company or society, his manner of conducting himself in the world, and the way in which those dealings have been filled with contention and threat of strife. It considers the forms of the verb “cop’d” (Q1), “copt” (Q2) or “coap’d” (F) and shows that Shakespeare uses “cope” to mean not only “contend” or “strive with” but also in its contemporary sexual meaning. His usage reflects a transitional moment in the verb’s meanings as it shifts toward the present sense of “manage” or “deal with.” The essay also contextualizes the lines: immediately prior to them, Hamlet offers his critique of theater and his call for its reform; he has “coped” or contended with many, and in lines 1904–5 he singles Horatio out from others with whom he has coped and had conversation to that Horatio to be a critic in the play scene. Horatio is the just man, the man of disinterested taste and liberal feeling with whom Hamlet shares his task of critical observation in Act 3, scene 2.

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