Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 8 years ago

Writing in a "notebook" in the middle ages?

So I am writing about how I would stage a scene of Hamlet. I set it in the middle ages (this is when the play actually takes place) and have run into a problem. Hamlet literally takes out something to write with (the play says [writes]). He's outside and pulls it from his bag (I assume). Problem is, I'm pretty sure they wrote with quills and scrolls in the middle ages

What could I use that would be a bit more historically accurate?

2 Answers

  • Anonymous
    8 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Actually Hamlet is not set in the Middle Ages. Sure, the *story* was very old, from the Viking era, but as with all his plays Shakespeare set it in his own time, with contemporary attitudes and props.

    Yes, 16th-century people did write with ink and quill pens but you could only do that sitting at a desk or table - you couldn't possibly dip your quill in an ink bottle and all the rest of it standing up or on the move. Hamlet says he wants to make a note in his 'tables'. Tables were the fashionable portable data-entry device of Shakespeare's day - a hinged stiff cover containing wipe-clean pages that you wrote on with a metal stylus.

    You can see a picture of an original set of tables with a stylus at the link. This one happens to have a very lavish filigree metal cover, but you don't need to reproduce that. A stiff notebook covered in leather, with cords or ribbons to tie it shut, would do just fine, and even a long thin nail would be plenty good enough for a stylus on stage.

    He doesn't necessarily have to pull it from a bag. Some tables were really small, like pocket diaries, and could be carried in a pocket or even dangling from the belt.

  • 8 years ago

    They did have bound books in Hamlet's time:

    "Western books from the fifth century onwards were bound between hard covers, with pages made from parchment folded and sewn on to strong cords or ligaments that were attached to wooden boards and covered with leather."

    The historical setting of Hamlet might be around 900 AD (the tenth century).

    However, you are correct about the quills. "The hand-cut goose quill is still used as a calligraphy tool", so maybe you good buy one in a good stationery or art-supplies store.

    Remembrances in the Book of Their Brains -

    The book full of old men is very important.

    It is the book Polonius sees Hamlet reading.

    It is also the book that Polonius later gives to Ophelia to occupy her mind.

    It is also the book of remembrances that Hamlet doesn't remember when Ophelia tries to return it to him.

    It is the book of orisons wherein Hamlet wants Ophelia to remember all his sins.

    It is the book of Hamlet's brain from which he erased himself and wrote his father's commandment. It is also the book of Ophelia's brain, where she let her father tell her what to think and let her brother keep the key to her memory.

    It is a document in madness. It is a book full of old men - it should be dusty.

    LORD POLONIUS (to Ophelia)

    . . . .

    Read on this book;

    That show of such an exercise may colour

    Your loneliness. . . . .


    My lord, I have remembrances of yours,

    That I have longed long to re-deliver;

    I pray you, now receive them.


    No, not I;

    I never gave you aught.


    My honour'd lord, you know right well you did;

    And, with them, words of so sweet breath composed

    As made the things more rich: their perfume lost,

    Take these again; for to the noble mind

    Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.

    There, my lord.

    Since he IS a student, maybe Hamlet could take a shiny new book out of his backpack when he writes his father's commandment in the book and volume of his brain. Then when he writes his uncle in his tables, he could take out the book again (now dusty) and write his uncle in the back of the book, as an appendix.

    At the end of the scene where Hamlet is reading the dusty book, Polonius could leave with the book in hand (Hamlet having willingly parted with the book of his brain) so that Polonius can later hand the book to Ophelia.


    . . .--My honourable lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.


    You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will more willingly part withal: except my life, except my life, except my life.

    Also please see

    Old Men in the Book of his Brain -

    (I also like Syntinen Laulu's Answer.)

    Here's an interesting link (from Syntinien Laulu's link):

    That article somewhat undermines my own theory. However, in defense of my theory, Hamlet mentions "the book and volume of my brain." So I think he used an actual book and pretended to erase it, then write in it with a quill, using artistic license for erasable ink and an inkless quill. Or maybe he took notes on an actual table for later transcription into the book (of his brain) that Polonius saw him reading. But now I need to revise my essay with a link this excellent Question and Answers.

    Source(s): Hyper Hamlet An Annotated Hamlet with Hypertext Links to Related Lines, Motifs, and Essays
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