THE AIR BITES “SHROUDLY”—DOES SHAKESPEARE’S SPELLING MATTER? When Hamlet enters with Horatio and Marcellus just before he sees the ghost, he says: “The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold.” Or does he? That is what he says in the first folio edition of 1623.
But “The air bites Shroudly.” is what Hamlet says in the 1604 quarto edition.
Ron Rosenbaum analyzes the difference that “Shroudly” makes in THE SHAKESPEARE WARS. This spelling carries the overtones of “shroud”, which fits with the ghost who is about to appear and with the descriptions of physical death which recur in the play. And Horatio’s next line (“It is a nipping and an eager air.”) would, with “shroudly”, more strongly suggest “the apprehension that death is nipping eagerly at our heels”.
Rosenbaum is discussing the “war” over whether Shakespeare’s spelling matters. Modern editors for the most part choose one modern spelling when there is a textual difficulty. If the modern spelling “shrewdly” is chosen, all the additional meanings of “shroudly” are lost.