He’s fat and scant of breath.

Much has been made of Hamlet’s fatness. Is he or isn’t he? There are those who say “fat” here means “sweaty” or “full.” But, as Isaac Butler pointed out in his essay on this topic a few years ago, given how fat is used in the rest of this play, fat probably means fat. But what I find interesting is an assumption that Gertrude calling Hamlet fat means that Hamlet is fat, as if no mother ever called her son fat, even though he was not. As if no mother ever had body dysmorphia that she projected onto her children.

I’m very happy for Hamlet to have any type of body. In general, I believe all bodies are good bodies and that Hamlet should be able to be played by any one of them – male, sure but also female, trans, non-binary and questioning. He could be fat, thin, muscular, weedy – but also disabled and non-disabled.

So whether or not the character is written to be fat means nothing to me, really. Gertrude calls him fat because sometimes mothers do that sort of thing. Especially in a time that was perhaps not quite as fat phobic as the times we live in now. Even in our own time, there are cultures that find fatness much less taboo – that might call someone fat with affection and/or love. Maybe that’s what Gertrude is doing here. That’s how I played it when I played the part. Who knows if it read – but it helped me to say what I felt was an insult at the time. After a lot of exposure to fat activism, I’d feel less worried about it. It’s fine if Hamlet is fat. It’s fine if his mother calls him so. Even if he’s not.


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