What Planet is This?

21 Aug 2005

Hamlet and Jabberwocky

In May I pointed out that the opening two lines from Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky bear a striking resemblance to two lines from the first scene of Hamlet:

The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
Hamlet; Act I, Scene i

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
Jabberwocky; Stanza I

The first stanza of Jabberwocky was actually written by Carroll in 1855 for his family periodical Mischmasch, when he was just twenty-three. The labels on the frontispiece of Mischmasch were "Knowledge, Liveliness, Mirth, Good Humour, Taste, Cheerfulness, and Content". The original of Jabberwocky was presented therein as a mirthful parody of Anglo-Saxon poetry:

Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogroves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe.

—In Hudson's Biography of Lewis Carroll, Ch.3

I've been unable to find any existing commentary on the comparison between Hamlet and Jabberwocky, yet it's hard to believe that I could be the first to notice. Erik Stattin mentioned my comparison in a Norwegian comment which I thought may provide further information, but Terje Bless's translation showed that to be a fruitless avenue.

One possible chink of light is the fact that Canto IV of Carroll's Phantasmagoria poem, first published in 1869, refers explicitly to those two lines from Hamlet:

"And when you've learned to squeak, my man,
  And caught the double sob,
You're pretty much where you began:
Just try and gibber if you can!
  That's something like a job! [...]

"Shakspeare I think it is who treats
  Of Ghosts, in days of old,
Who 'gibbered in the Roman streets,'
Dressed, if you recollect, in sheets —
  They must have found it cold.

Obviously we would expect him to be acquainted with the passage, but this shows also that he had his mind towards including it in his own poetry. It makes the comparison marginally more compelling.

Cite: Palmer, S.B. (2005). "Hamlet and Jabberwocky", in: What Planet is This?
Archival URI: http://inamidst.com/notes/hamwocky


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