Act V - The Final Words

In Act V we are presented with one of the greatest textual contradiction in the literary cannon: Hamlet's Age.

There is every indication throughout the play that Hamlet is young. He along with Laertes (also a college student) and Fortinbras (the prince of Norway) are referred to repeatedly as "young".

Laertes also extends his warning to Ophelia by explaining that Hamlet is probably just a feckless youth toying with her. There is also the matter of Hamlet's schooling which would hardly still be in progress if he was not young. And don't get me started on his character and youthful callowness towards Ophelia and uncertainty about his convictions and course of action. This immature behavior is less understandable if he is middle aged.

However, the grave-digger is clear that Hamlet is 30 years old at the beginning of Act V.

So how do we deal with this inconsistency? There are scholarly arguments on both sides, but I believe that the best defense is context. Reading through the text the reader must form an overall impression of the character. I believe Hamlet's character is consistently depicted as being naive and young.

Attached is the web page with one scholar's argument for the position I hold that Hamlet's age was added to after the first Quarto printing - possibly for Burbage's performance.