Imatges de pÓgina

- an

but joint Governor, with his brother Fengon, of the province of Jute. Fengon lives in adultery with Hamlet's mother during the lifetime of his father, who is not secretly poisoned, but openly put to death by Fengon at the head of his partisans. Hamlet's madness is counterfeited upon his own suggestion, and not in consequence of an interview with his father's ghostimportant character in the play which is not found in the story. In the story Hamlet is tempted by a "faire and beautifull woman in a secret place," but in vain, because he is forewarned by one of the courtiers, and also because " by her he was likewise informed of the treason, as being one that from her infancie loved and favoured him, and would have been exceedingly sorrowfull for his misfortune;" and in these few words consists its entire contribution to the character of Ophelia and the Scenes in which she bears so prominent a part. No play convicts the King of conscious guilt, according to the story; and of his own accord Hamlet goes to his mother's closet, where he kills the listening courtier before her eyes; and, this done, we are told that he "cut his bodie in pieces, which he caused to be boyled, and then cast it . . . to the hogges." In the story Hamlet takes his revenge by burning his uncle's banqueting hall at a time when it was filled with courtiers overcome with wine, and by afterwards rousing his uncle himself from his drunken slumbers in his own bedchamber, and cutting off his head with his own sword. Yet with all this dissimilarity between play and story, added to that which is the consequence of the addition of new characters and new incidents, there is remarkable resemblance in minute particulars. Thus, for instance, in the story as well as in the play, Hamlet, on detecting the hidden eavesdropper in his mother's closet, calls out, "A rat, a rat!" and the purport and character of his subsequent reproaches to his mother are notably alike in both.

[ocr errors]

To suppose that in the first dramatization of the History of Hamblet there was such a departure from the course of events which it relates as that just noticed, would not be in accordance with what we know of the practice among playwrights of the Elizabethan age, Shakespeare himself included. Histories and novels were then adapted to the stage with as little alteration as would fit them for their new function. If the subject proved popular, the plays were rewritten again and again, as the exi

gencies of the theatre required, and by pen of him who was nearest at hand and most capable of the work; and, as at each rewriting they were generally more or less recast, the longer they kept the stage the more they deviated from the original story upon which they were founded. To this common fortune Hamlet appears not to have been an exception. The vestiges of its transformation are slight, indeed, and do not enable us to trace it through its various phases; but, under the circumstances, they are quite sufficient to establish the fact that there was at least one intermediate form between the old story and the play which has come down to us.


The earliest mention of a tragedy of Hamlet which has yet been discovered is in an Epistle by Thomas Nash "To the Gentlemen Students of both Universities," prefixed to Robert Greene's Menaphon, which was published in 1589, and, Mr. Dyce seems to think, two years before. In this epistle Nash says that English Seneca ́read by candle-light yeeldes many good sentences, as Bloud is a begger, and so foorth and if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning he will affoord you whole Hamlets, I should say handfulls of tragical speaches." * — Henslowe's Diary affords the next trace of a Hamlet. In that singular and interesting record we find the following entry (p. 35. Ed. Shak. Soc.):

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Next, in Thomas Lodge's Wit's Miserie, or The World's Madnesse, printed in 1596, a certain fiend is said to be "a foul lubber. . . and lookes as pale as the vizard of the ghost who cried so miserably at the theatre, Hamlet revenge! Last, among the plays which Francis Meres cites, in the well-known passage of his Palladis Tamia, 1598, to prove Shakespeare's excellence in tragedy, Hamlet is not mentioned, although Titus Andronicus is, and the only other pure tragedy named is Romeo and Juliet. I regard this omission as strong negative evidence that Shakespeare had not at that time written his Hamlet. That he had written it, in any form known to us, as early as 1588 or 1589, nine or ten years before Meres' book appeared, is yet more improbable ; and, considering also that he was at that date but twenty-four

Apud Rev. A. Dyce.

[ocr errors]

years old, this point may be regarded as sufficiently established. But, as we have seen, before 1589 a Hamlet had been written, and in 1594 there was performed at Henslowe's theatre a Hamlet, which, from the absence of his distinguishing mark, ne, and the small sum which he received as his share of the profits, we may be sure was not a new play. Finally, in 1596, two years before the appearance of Meres' book, Nash knew of a Hamlet (and had it been Shakespeare's, Meres would surely have cited it) in which the Ghost of Hamlet's father incited him to revenge. This seems to lead us to the conclusion that the first introduction of the Ghost into the plot is not due to Shakespeare, and that there was therefore an intermediate form of the tragedy between the old history and that which is now known to us. And in support of this view there is the important fact that in the earliest existing version of Shakespeare's work two characters have different names from those which they bear in all editions of the completed version, which can hardly be other than a remnant of a preceding dramatization of the story.

This first version of the tragedy is of such a character that it bears alike upon the questions of the formation of the text, the period at which the drama was produced, and the manner in which it was written. On the 26th of July, 1602, James Roberts entered upon the Register of the Stationers' Company


A booke, The Revenge of Hamlett prince of Denmarke, as yt was latelie acted by the Lord Chamberlayn his servantes." No edition of that year is known, and it is almost certain that none was printed. But we may be sure that the play which Roberts entered was Shakespeare's, because it had been lately performed by the company to which he belonged, Lord Chamberlain's, --and which, before a year had passed, became the King's players. And in 1603 the earliest known edition of the play appeared, with the announcement on the title page that it had been divers times acted by his Highness' servants in the city of London, and also in the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and elsewhere. The latter part of this announcement is of moment, as showing the great favor in which the play was held in the highest quarters at that period, and making it still surer that such a

[ocr errors]

See "Extracts from the Stationers' Register," Variorum of 1821, Vol II.

p. 369.

play could not have been passed over by Meres when he mentioned Titus Andronicus.

Of the edition of 1603, only two copies are known; one without the title page, and the other lacking the last leaf. But a very exact reprint of it was made by William Nicol in 1825, in which even its minutest errors and defects are represented.* The text of this edition is but about half as long as that of the folio; and, like those of the first editions of The Merry Wives of Windsor, King Henry the Fifth, and Romeo and Juliet, it is so mutilated, as well as so corrupt, that there can be no doubt that it also was printed from a very imperfect copy which had been surreptitiously procured. The great difference in length between the texts of the first and the second edition has been generally regarded of late years as presumptive evidence that the play was revised and largely added to before the printing of the latter. And this opinion has been thought to derive very material support from the noteworthy announcement upon the title page of the second edition; of which opinion that announcement, however, (owing to what I regard as a misapprehension of its meaning.) is rather the source. On this title page the play is said to be "Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie," which has been accepted on all hands as meaning that the play had been "enlarged' by the author. But upon the very face of it, and especially under the circumstances, has it not clearly a very different purport? The previous edition is so corrupt, disconnected, and heterogeneous that the least observant reader, even of that day, when plays were printed so carelessly, must have seen that as a whole it was but a maimed and mutilated version of the true text, and in some parts, a mere travestie of it. Therefore immediately, as soon as might be, another edition was prepared from a genuine copy, and this, with reference to the preceding notoriously imperfect and spurious edition, (sold, be it observed, by the same bookseller,) was declared to be newly imprinted, and enlarged, according to the true and perfect copy, to almost as much again as it was. It seems to be very plainly indicated that the enlargement was the consequence of the procurement of a complete and authentic text,

[ocr errors]

* Since very beautifully, but not quite so correctly, reprinted by Josiah Allen, Jr., of Birmingham, in company with the text of the quarto of 1604, under the title of "The Devonshire Hamlets."

and was merely the work of the printer or publisher, and not of the author.

A close examination of the text of the quarto of 1603 has convinced me that it is merely an im erfect, garbled, and interpolated version of the completed play, and that its comparative brevity is caused by sheer mutilation consequent upon the haste and secrecy with which the copy for it was obtained and put in type. This could easily be shown in an analysis and comparison of the two texts, like those which have been instituted in regard to The Merry Wives of Windsor, King Henry the Sixth, and Romeo and Juliet.

For instance, the conformity of the two texts, which is nearly absolute at first, diminishes as the play advances, as if the reporter had grown weary and careless over his protracted task. In the case of rhyming couplets at the end of Scenes, impressive speeches, and the like, the rhymes, (easily caught and remembered,) and generally the lines themselves, are the same in both texts, although in the elder confusion and corruption may precede and follow them. Of the few stage directions there are enough which record a spectator's impression, instead of issuing a stage manager's order, to show that, like those in the first edition of Romeo and Juliet, they are due to observation of the performance, and not to the prompter's book. In Sc. 1 of Act III. the phrase 'to a nunnery go' is baldly repeated eight times within a few lines; showing that the reporter jotted down a memorandum of Hamlet's objurgation, but forgot to vary it as Shakespeare did - -a kind of evidence of the share that he had in the text of 1603, which he has left us on more than one occasion. The phrases for to,' when as,' and where as,' Shakespeare's avoidance of which has been noted in the Essay on the Authorship of King Henry the Sixth, (Vol. VII. pp. 431, 432,) occur in the earliest version several times; but in the quarto of 1604 the two latter are not found at all, the former but once, and in the folio it disappears entirely.


But, not to weary the reader with such minute analysis, I shall consider three or four prominent and characteristic pas

Such as "Enter Ofelia playing on a lute, and her haire down singing," Act IV. Sc. 5; "he throwes up a shovel [skull]," Act V. Sc. 1; "They catch one another's Rapiers, and both are wounded, Leartes falles downe, the Queene falles downe and dies," Act V. Sc. 2.

« AnteriorContinua »