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busie themselves with the endevours of Arte, that could scarcely Latinize their neck-verse, if they should have neede; yet English Seneca, reade by candell-light, yields many good sentences, as blood is a beggar, and so foorth; and if you entreate him faire in a frostie morning, he will affoord you whole Hamlets—I should say, handfuls—oftragical speeches.' Henslowe notes that on the 9th of June 1594 he received at Hamlet, viiis.,' when my Lord Chamberlain's men (Shakespeare's company) were performing at Newington Buits. In the Pedlar's Prophecy, a comedy, 1595, these lines occur :
• O most unhappy Hamlet, country, shire,
Where such unjust justice have the governance.' Does the capitalising denote a reference to the play, or was it unintentional, or was the compositor under the unconscious influence, at the time, of 'Hamlet' as an actual drama ? In Wit's Miserie, or the World's Madnesse, by Thomas Lodge, 1596, we read of a character's being a foul lubber, and looks as pale as the vizard of the ghost who cried so miserably at the theatre, “ Hamlet, revenge. Steevens says, 'I have seen a copy of Speght's edition of Chaucer, which formerly belonged to Dr Gabriel Harvey (the antagonist of Nash), who, in his own handwriting, has set down this play (Hamletí as a performance with which he was well acquainted in the year 1598. His words are these: “ The younger sort take much delight in Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, but his Lucrece and his tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, have it in them to please the wiser sort, 1598."'* Dr C. M. Ingleby in his Shakespeare's Centurie of Prayse, p. 361, says, "The Two Angry Women of Abington, by Henry Porter, 1599, has a trace of Hamlet,' and the subtlety of his taste, as well as the accuracy of his statement, may easily be tested by those who choose to read that drama, which is to be found in Hazlitt's Dodsley's Old Plays, vol. vii, pp. 261-383. In 1602, in Dekkar's Satiro-Mastix, Captain Tucca cries out, 'My name's “ Hamlet revenge ;
;" and in 1603, as we have seen,
Hamlet was issued, “as it hath beene diverse times acted by his highnesse servants in the cittie of London, as also in the two universities of Cambridge and Oxford. These words did not appear on the title-page without meaning. Nish had twitted Shakespeare as one of those who could scarcely Latinise his neck-verse,' who possessed only a 'little country
* Johnson and Steevens' The Plays of William Shakespeare, third edition, 1785, by Isaac Reed, vol. x, p. 257.
grammar knowledge,' even when alluding to Hamlet. Greene, the friend of Nash, spoke sneeringly of Shakespeare, in 1592, as 'an absolute Johannes Factotum-a crow beautified with our feathers,' who thought he could bombast out a blank verse with the best of them. Shakespeare issued his Venus and Adonis, a poem on a classical subject, and followed it up by his Lucrece, as proof that he was not so ignorant as he had been thought, even of classics; and in revising Hamlet he takes occasion to express briefly his opinion of Greene's assertion that he had beautified' himself with other feathers than his own, by making Polonius say, 'That's an ill phrase -a vile phrase "beautified” is a vile phrase' (II, ii, 111).
On Wednesday, 8th February 1587, there occurred at Fotheringay Castle an event which must have excited national interest, and recalled strange memories—the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. The tragedy then consummated had had other tragical scenes preceding it; and the explosion at the House of Kirk of Field, near Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, on the evening of Sunday, 9th February 1567—twenty years before—when the strangled body of Lord Darnley was found among the ruins, must have been freshened in the minds of every one. Though Mary denied complicity in the murder, she certainly married Bothwell, who was generally regarded as the author of the deed. Thus the immediate past exhibited a suggestive counterpart of the basis of the plot of Hamlet. Circumstances also arose about the same time to excite English interest in the history of Denmark.
Frederick II, as we learn from Thomas Heywood's Apology for Actors, 1614, 'entertained into his service a company of English players, commended unto him by the Earl of Leicester, prior to his death in 1588. Sir Edward Dyer was made ambassador from England to Denmark in 1589, and the regency established to hold rule during the minority of Christian IV gave Danish affairs a European interest. Besides this, the son of Mary Stuart was anxious to ally himself by marriage to the royal family of Denmark: Queen Elizabeth was opposed to the match, and much diplomatic intrigue was exercised to prevent the young king's intent, and it was partly successful. He, at last, succeeded, on 230 November 1589, in gaining as a wife Anne, Princess of Denmark, her sister having previously wedded Duke Henry Julius, of Brunswick, a royal dramatist, the prince who earliest established a regular theatre at his court, and invited English actors to perform in Germany. If a young author wished to
gain a plot for a play, and found from Saxo's narrative that he could place upon Danish ground the scene of a drama, the probability of whose incidents fell within the limits of accepted experience, there was every inducement for him to do so at this time. We might even go further than this, and say that if a drama of any mark, founded on Danish history, was in existence at that time, it would be sure to attract notice, be likely to excite jealousy, and bring about the sneers of those Masters of Arts of both universities who had, like Nash, Greene, and Peele, been the hack writers for the stage. If we suppose that this drama, composed in the rough enthusiasm of youth at Stratford, formed Shakespeare's introduction to that 'fellowship in a cry of players' to which he subsequently attained, we might fancy that the title of his first tragedy and the name of his only son, Hamnet, were not altogether unrelated, especially when we notice that in his will the poet calls that son's godfather Hamlett, though he signs his name, as witness to that will, Hamnet Sadler. Now it is within that period, 1587-9, that we hear first of the Tragedy of Hamlet, and close upon that time, in its earliest form, it appears to have been carried into Germany by the English actors who were favourably received in several of the courts of the princes of Germany, by which means Ayrer seems to have gained an outline of the plot at least, and notes of some of the finer passages in it.
So far as the evidence of the editions goes, it is certain that this tragedy has been more frequently altered and revised than
any other of the plays of William Shakespeare. The only objection we know to the opinion here expressed is that Hamlet is not mentioned in Meres' list of Shakespeare's plays in 1598. But if this play was undergoing revision in that year, Meres may have refrained from mentioning the immature work, especially as he was then only naming examples, not supplying a complete list, of Shakespeare's plays.
Gerald Massey has pointed out that in that year (1598) there was a large eclipse of the moon on 20th February (new style), and a large eclipse of the sun, possibly total in some parts of Britain, on March 6th. Two eclipses in a fortnight! the sun and moon darkened as if for the judgment-day! This illustrates the passage, I, i, 110-122, which does not appear in edition 1603, is given in that of 1604, but is omitted in the folio 1623. Why? Shakespeare himself had surpassed the passage about 1600 by the splendid scenes in Julius Cæsar, where the same eve are described as are here only
alluded to. Hamlet, therefore, is probably an early, youthful drama-about 1587-9 at least-in its origin and plot, but one which, as we have it now in its earliest British form, is substantially due to 1598.
It seems to us, in putting all these points together, that we cannot explain the whole facts on any other hypothesis than that Hamlet was one of Shakespeare's early, perhaps even youthful, dramas (1587); that it became popular for its story first, but was subsequently revised (1598), and made more poetical and philosophical (1623), as the playwright's excellence in his art increased, till it became the wonderful creation of genius which all educated nations now admire as a supreme work of worth and wisdom.
NOTES ON THE DRAMATIS PERSONÆ.
'Except in the case of Hamlet himself and his mother, who is called Geruth in the Hystorie [of Hamblet, 1608], there is no resemblance whatever between the names of the characters in the Hystorie and in the play."
** Shakespeare had, probably, good dramatic reasons for changing the names appropriated to the dramatis persone, though it may be difficult for us to find these out. It would give some interest to the study of the play to know so much of the characters as would give a guiding idea regarding their names and natures so far as that is possible. The following notes are set before the reader as a contribution to this end.
1. CLAUDIUS, King of Denmark, brother of the preceding king, whom he murdered, and whose crown he usurped, to the injury of his nephew, Hamlet, is, in Saxo's narrative, called Fengon. It is not easy to determine the reason for the adoption of the Roman designation for a Danish sovereign. It is not improbable that some associations regarding the pride, haughtiness, disdain of the laws, and profligacy of life, for which several members of the Claudian gens were noted, led Shakespeare's mind to entertain it, and that the remembrance of the fact that Claudius Nero Germanicus married his niece, Agrippina the younger, after the murder of her
husband, fixed him in the design of using it. Two special items in the play seem to give plausibility to this notion : one is, that Marcellus-a name adopted in the play-was that of one of the most illustrious of the plebeian families of the gens Claudia; and one of the most noted of the crimes of Nero was his order that his mother Agrippina should be slain. This fact was present to Shakespeare's mind when he composed the play; for he makes Hamlet pray:
.O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
Let me be cruel, not unnatural'—III, ii, 371-373. "The king is a most clever actor, always master of his looks and gestures, of his words and actions; his criminal doings are invariably based upon well-considered, wellappointed plans : he, too,
always endeavours to direct the course of events and the development of circumstances, in accordance with his own ideas and designs.'*
2. HAMLET is formed, Steevens suggests, from Amlethus, the name used by Saxo Grammaticus, as the Latinised form of Anlaf, Olaf, or Olaus, by dropping the terminal us and transferring the h to the beginning. John Ruskin believes that Hamlet is 'connected in some way with homely, the entire event of the tragedy turning on the betrayal of home-duty.' It may, therefore, have been simply adopted from the name Hamnet or Hamlet, which was common enough in England along the districts where the Danes had settled. Hamnet was the name given to Shakespeare's only son, whose godfather probably was Hamlet Sadler. The latter form seems to have been the local pronunciation of the former. Dr R. G. Latham believes that 'the Hamlet of Saxo's third book is Uffo, as crown prince, who as king becomes Olaus Mansuetus. But Olaus Mansuetus is, as name, much the same as Olaus Tranquillus, which is a recognised translation of Olaf Kyrre; which is, combination for combination, the Anglo-Saxon Anlaf Cwiran, and the Irish Ambhlaibh Cuaran. From Ambhlaibh, he thinks that Amlethus is an admissible transition.' Now Anlaf Cwiran and Ambhlaibh Cuaran point, beyond doubt, to Olaf, the son of Sihtrie.' "The date of Anlaf Cuaran is A.D. 950. Then it was that the Anlaf, who is supposed to have taken to himself the personality of Higelac,
and out of whose name in * Dr Herman Ulrici's Shakespeare's Dramatic Art (Bohn, 1876), vol. i, p. 496.