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The French novelist, Belleforest, extracted from Saxo Grammaticus' History of Denmark the history of Amleth, and inserted it in the collection of novels published by him in the latter half of the sixteenth century; whence it was transfused into English, under the title of “ The Hystorie of Hamblett,” a small quarto volume printed in black-letter.
The history of Hamlet also formed the subject of a play which was acted previous to 1589 ; and arguing from the general course of Shakspeare's mind, that play influenced him during the composition of his own Hamlet. But unfortunately the old play is lost, and the only remaining subject for illustration is the black-letter quarto.
We learn from that authority, that the happiness of Horvendille, king of Denmark, excited
the envy of his brother Fengon; who was, moreover, enflamed by love for Geruth, the queen. The villain paused not to commit a fratricide which placed him on the throne, and facilitated his union with the object of his guilty passion.
Hamblet, the son of Horvendille and Geruth, was quick in his perception of the danger to be apprehended from the murderer of his father, and sought safety in assuming the appearance of mental imbecility. The execution, however, of his project was imperfect: suspicion was excited; and “they counselled to try and know, if possible, how to discover the intent and meaning of the young prince; and they could find no better nor more fit invention to entrap him, than to set some fair and beautiful woman in a secret place, that with flattering speeches, and all the craftiest means she could, should purposely seek to allure his mind. To this end certain courtiers were appointed to lead Hamblet to a solitary place within the woods, where they brought the
And surely the poor prince at this assault had been in great danger, if a gentleman that in Horvendille's time had been nourished with him, had not shown himself more affectioned to the bringing up he had received with Hamblet, than desirous to please the tyrant.
This gentleman bore the courtiers company, making full ac
count that the least show of perfect sense and wisdom that Hamblet should make, would be sufficient to cause him to lose his life; and therefore by certain signs he gave
Hamblet intelligence into what danger he was likely to fall, if by any means he seemed to obey, or once like the wanton toys and vicious provocations of the gentlewoman sent thither by his uncle ; which much abashed the prince, as then wholly being in affection to the lady.” The result was that the prince deceived the courtiers, who “ assured themselves that without doubt he was distraught of his senses."
The failure of this plot was succeeded by a new experiment. It was thought that an unrestrained expression of his natural feelings might be anticipated from Hamlet in an interview with his mother, and a proper knowledge of his real character and views could be obtained by one concealed under the arras for the purpose of overhearing the conversation. But the wariness of Hamlet was not inferior to the craft of his enemies. Entering the chamber with his customary air of folly, he began to crow like a cock, beating his arms against the hangings in imitation of that bird's action with his wings. Feeling something stir behind the arras, he cried “A rat! a rat !” and drawing his sword thrust it through
the concealed spy, whose body he cut in pieces and cast into a vault. Returning to the chamber, Hamlet replied, in an authoritative tone, to the lamentations of the queen who bewailed her son's unhappy loss of intellect, justly upbraiding her shameless licentiousness, and characterising in the worst of colours a woman who could wantonly embrace the brother and murderer of her husband.
Fengon now lived in daily apprehension of meeting the same fate that had overtaken the courtier spy; and resolving to get rid of Hamlet at once, despatched him with letters to the king of England containing secret solicitations to put the prince immediately to death. 66 But the subtle Danish prince (being at sea), whilst his companions slept, having read the letters, and knowing his uncle's great treason, with the wicked and villainous minds of the two courtiers that led him to the slaughter, razed out the letters that concerned his death, and instead thereof graved others, with commission to the king of England to hang his two companions ; and not content to turn the death they had devised against him upon their own necks, wrote further, that king Fengon willed him to give his daughter to Hamblet in marriage.” Every thing fell out as Hamlet desired; his attendants were