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H A M L ET
NOTES, EXAMINATION PAPERS, AND
PLAN OF PREPARATION
J. M. D. MEIKLEJOHN, M.A.
PROFESSOR OF THE THEORY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE OF EDUCATION
IN THE UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS
An attempt has been made in these new editions to interpret Shakespeare by the aid of Shakespeare himself. The Method of Comparison has been constantly employed ; and the language used by him in one place has been compared with the language used in other places in similar circumstances—as well as with older English and with newer English. The text has been as carefully and as thoroughly annotated as the text of any Greek or Latin classic.
The first purpose in this elaborate annotation is of course the full working out of Shakespeare's meaning. The Editor has in all circumstances taken as much pains with this as if he had been making out the difficult and obscure terms of a will in which he himself was personally interested ; and he submits that this thorough excavation of the meaning of a really profound thinker is one of the very best kinds of training that a boy or girl can receive at school. This is to read the very mind of Shakespeare, and to weave his thoughts into the fibre of one's own mental constitution. And always new rewards come to the careful reader-in the shape of new meanings, recognition of thoughts he had before missed, of relations between the characters that had hitherto escaped him. For reading Shakespeare is just like examining Nature ; there are no hollownesses, there is no scamped work, for Shake. speare is as patiently exact and as first-hand as Nature herself.
Besides this thorough working out of Shakespeare's meaning, advantage has been taken of the opportunity to teach his English-to make each play an introduction to the ENGLISH OF SHAKESPEARE. For this purpose, copious collections of similar phrases have been gathered from other plays; his idioms have been dwelt upon; his peculiar use of words; his style and his rhythm. Some Teachers may consider that too many instances are given; but, in teaching, as in everything else, the old French saying is true : Assez n'y a, s'il trop n'y a. The Teacher need not require each pupil to give him all the instances collected. If each gives one or two, it will probably be enough; and, among them all, it is certain that one or two will stick in the memory. It is probable that, for those pupils who do not study either Greek or Latin, this close examination of every word and phrase in the text of Shakespeare will be the best substitute that can be found for the study of the ancient classics.
It were much to be hoped that Shakespeare should become more and more of a national study; and that every boy and girl in England should have a thorough knowledge of at least onc play of Shakespeare before they leave school. It would be one of the best lessons in human life-without the chance of a polluting or degrading experience. It would also have the effect of bringing back into the too pale and formal English of modern times a large number of pithy and vigorous phrases, which would help to develop as well as to reflect vigour in the characters of the readers. Shakespeare used the English language with more power than any writer that ever lived- he made it do more and say more than it had ever done-he made it speak in a more original way; and his combinations of words are perpetual provocations and invitations to originality and to newness of insight.
J. M. D. MEIKLEJOHN.
1. The first known edition of Hamlet appeared in 1603. It bore the following title-page :
Prince of Denmarke
By William Skake-speare.
uants in the Cittie of London : as also in the two V.
niuersities of Cambridge and Oxford, and elsewhere
At London printed for N. L. and John Trundell. 1603. The second quarto appeared in the following year, with a title-page much altered :
By William Shakespeare.
Fleetstreet 1604. It was upon this second quarto that all future editions of the play were based. It is conjectured that Shakespeare worked upon the basis of an old play, an edition of which is known to have appeared in 1602 ; that the quarto of 1603 represents his remodelling of this old play ; and that the edition of 1604 was a complete and final recast.
2. The story seems to have been drawn from the Historia Danica of Saxo Grammaticus, a native of Elsinore, who wrote about the end of the twelfth century ; though the earliest existing edition of his history has the date of 1514. A French writer, Francis de Belleforest, embodied the story of Amleth, Hamlet, or Hamblet in his Histoires Tragiques; and an unknown English writer translated this story and published it separately under the title of The Hystorie of Hamblet—a blackletter quarto copy of which, bearing the date of 1608, exists in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.
3. The play of Hamlet is the longest of Shakespeare's plays; and it is one of the greatest. It is also the most varied in incident; and the argument of the play would make a very long story. Though full of incident, the main interest of the play is centred in thought and character-in the moods of mind through which Hamlet passes, until he meets death in the fulfilment of the purpose towards which he has not marched or hastened, but simply drifted. There has also been more written about Hamlet than about any other play in the world. The books, pamphlets, and papers that have appeared on this play would constitute a respectable library. The play belongs to what has been called Shakespeare's period of 'Middle Tragedy ;' and its companion in this category is Julius Cæsar. Both are tragedies of thought; and both were written when Shakspeare was about thirty-seven or thirty-eight.
4. The young reader may with advantage study fully and carefully the character of Hamlet, as it stands out from and over against the circumstances which surround him, and as it may be interpreted-by the aid of contrast—by the characters of the other personages of the play. He is a student at the University of Wittenberg; he hears of the sudden and mys. terious death of his father; he hastens home to find his mother married to his uncle-an event which shocks his soul and begins to poison his feelings towards his mother; he hears of the appearance of his father's ghost ; he has an interview with it and a stern task laid upon him ; the whole of the habits of his
previous life are broken up; he is tortured by grief, doubt, love, and difficulty ; and only in dying does he attain to clearness of mind and strength of soul. After having studied the relation of Hamlet to the circumstances and characters that surround him, the reader may take the other personages of the play and study them in pairs. Thus Horatio may be compared with Laertes ; and both again with Hamlet. Horatio says little, and is little affected by external events. Laertes is a worldly manthe son of his father; and with no inner life at all. He is as thoughtless as Hamlet is thoughtful-as rash and eager for action as Hamlet is filled to excess with considerations, reflections and balancings of judgment. Claudius, again, stands in direct contrast with the late King (see III. iv. 56–66). Polonius, full of wise maxims which he has lost the power of applying to present exigencies, may be contrasted with Horatio, who says nothing, but is always ready to help, whatever may happen. Osric, in the end of the play, is an admirable set-off to the quiet soldierliness of Marcellus and Bernardo, in the beginning. Ophelia, with her deep unspeaking nature-one of those persons 'who live only in their own hearts, and upon their own hearts'-forms a noble contrast to the shallow external nature of the Queen, whose conscience and heart do not begin to speak until they are appealed to in the directest and strongest way by Hamlet himself and by tragical events.
5. The following are extracts from the most celebrated criticisms of the characters of this play :
HAMLET.—(i.) “Tender and nobly descended, this royal flower grew up under the direct influences of majesty ; the idea of the right and of princely dignity, the feeling for the good and the graceful, with the consciousness of his high birth, were unfolded in him together. He was a prince, a born prince. Pleasing in figure, polished by nature, courteous from the heart, he was to be the model of youth and the delight of the world. . . . Figure to yourself this youth, this son of princes, conceive him vividly, bring his condition before your eyes, and then observe him when he learns that his father's spirit walks; stand by him in the terrible night when the venerable Ghost itself appears before him. A horrid shudder seizes him ; he speaks to the mysterious form ; he sees it