The jocular theatrical phrase eternity version designates a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in its entirety. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is the longest of all the plays by the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616).
– ‘Hamlet without the Prince’: meaning and origin
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– ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark’: origin
– ‘to have straws in one’s hair’: meaning and origin
– a Shakespearean phrase: ‘this mortal coil’
All the occurrences of eternity version that I have found are from newspaper articles by the British journalist, author and theatre critic John Courtenay Trewin (1908-1990).
The first is from Theatre and Life, published in The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 7th July 1946—J. C. Trewin was writing about Man and Superman (1903), a four-act drama by the Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950); the long third act, set off from the main action of the play, is often cut:
Here now is the famous detachable third act of “Man and Superman,” hell to Don Juan, heaven to a playgoer in search of a properly Shavian frisk.
Mr Shaw summed this up in his Epistle to A. B. Walkley 1. The Don Juan interlude, he says, is a “totally extraneous act in which my hero, enchanted by the air of the Sierra, has a dream in which his Mozartian ancestor appears and philosophizes at great length in a Shavio-Socratic dialogue with the lady, the statue, and the devil.” Totally extraneous? Maybe. Yet (just as with the cut and the “eternity” versions of “Hamlet”), once you have seen the complete “Man and Superman” you can never be happy with the three-act compression […].
1 Arthur Bingham Walkley (1855-1926) was a British theatre critic.
The second occurrence of the phrase is from A Walk in the Castle, published in The Illustrated London News (London, England) of Saturday 24th December 1955—J. C. Trewin was writing about Peter Brook’s 2 production of Hamlet at the Phœnix Theatre, London:
When I knew “Hamlet” first, years ago, the “short” acting version used to be so well defined that certain personages never appeared. If you had not studied the text carefully, you would not have known that they were in “Hamlet” at all. I am told that, when the new production was on tour, a veteran Shakespearean of the old school, who thought of the play only in terms of his working text, was surprised to see on view, and in the programme, someone called Reynaldo. Who in the world was this? On checking through the full text later that night, he was agreeably surprised to find that Reynaldo did exist.
Voltimand and Cornelius are another pair of shadows that flit in and out of Elsinore. They are the ambassadors to Norway. Cornelius has one line only, which he delivers in unison with his friend, “In that and all things will we show our duty.” Voltimand—were he given the chance he is not allowed at the Phoenix—would return again (with a silent Cornelius) for a long speech of twenty lines or so that brings back the news from “our brother Norway,” as Claudius puts it with some pomp. It is a speech that prepares the way for Fortinbras, but we rarely hear it now, except in the full, the “eternity,” version.
2 Peter Brook (born 1925) is an English theatre and film director.
The following is from Albanian Churchyard, published in The Birmingham Post (Birmingham, Warwickshire, England) of Wednesday 6th November 1963:
Thanks to the speed of Laurence Olivier’s 3 production, the National Theatre has managed to present Hamlet in almost an “eternity” version (as the stage knows it). True, we do not get the “aery of children, little eyases,” something that, like the Hecate scene in Macbeth, is noted with wonder’s breath indrawn whenever it appears. It is an unimportant passage, merely a topical thrust: I mention it because for Shakespeare collectors it has importance out of proportion to its value.
3 Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) was an English actor, and theatre and film director.
Finally, this is from Elsinore in aluminium, published in The Illustrated London News (London, England) of Saturday 23rd January 1971:
Unless it is possible to do Hamlet in its “eternity” version, there must always be argument about the cuts. Even so, I would have thought that one scene, the first, was practically inviolable. Apparently not. Jonathan Miller cut it from his production by University amateurs last autumn, and now Anthony Page, at the Cambridge Theatre, London, opens with Hamlet’s appearance on a bare, bleak stage, to take his place at court: to me it looked as if he were hurrying for an Underground train on a Danish equivalent of the Victoria Line.
John Courtenay Trewin (1908-1990)—photograph published in The Illustrated London News (London, England) of Saturday 11th January 1958: