Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a character who spends time playing with words rather than getting on with the task in hand – avenging his father’s murder.
Well, that’s the traditional view. After all, he’s usually shown clutching the famous skull, musing about life and death, rather than dealing with practical consequences. Even the length of the play Hamlet is offered as evidence that its main character procrastinates too much.
But Hamlet has studied at university, and knows the importance of gathering evidence; and little by little we see him assembling the jigsaw, until (rather like Hercule Poirot) he has enough facts to gather the family for the grand ‘reveal’ — and with certainty point the finger at the perpetrator of the crime.
He may not be a man of action, but Hamlet is no shirk. Actually he achieves his goal because he works hard at it. When a group of actors arrives at court, he takes matters into his own hands. He even goes so far as to edit the script of their play to tell the story of his father’s death — so he can read the reactions on the audience’s faces.
Hamlet knows that each word is an essential unit of meaning, and that a sentence carefully delivered can have the power of a sword.
Presented with a text to communicate — however brief — all editors must weigh up the various options and construct as careful a version as possible in order to address not just our clients’ expectations, but our own as well.