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CLAUDIUS, king of Denmark.
and other Attendants. Ghost of Hamlet's Father.
HAMLET, the longest of Shakespeare's plays, was never Early printed, as it was certainly never performed, entire, Editions. in his own time. Our authentic text is derived from two early versions, each defective in certain points: viz. the Quarto of 1604 (Q2), and the Folio of 1623. The title-page of the Quarto runs :
THE | Tragicall Historie of HAMLET, | Prince of Denmarke. | By William Shakespeare. Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie. At LONDON, | Printed by I. R. for N. L., and are to be sold at his shoppe under Saint Dunstons Church in | Fleet Street. 1604.
This is the more valuable of the two editions, and the Hamlet texts of the last generation have steadily approximated towards it. But the Folio of 1623 was printed from an independent MS. containing some new passages as well as dropping many old; and while its variations in phrase were rarely for the better, it was much more accurately printed.
Four Quartos followed that of 1604, each printed substantially from its immediate predecessor in 1605, 1611, circa 1611-1637, and 1637.
In addition to these authentic editions of the Shakespearean text, two rude versions of the Hamlet story exist, which stand in a close but enigmatic rela
The First tion to it. The so-called 'First Quarto' of Hamlet Quarto.
was unknown until 1821, when Sir Henry Bunbury discovered a copy bound up with nine other old Shakespearean Quartos. Its title-page runs :
THE | Tragicall Historie of | HAMLET | Prince of Denmarke | By William Shake-speare. As it hath been diverse times acted by his Highnesse ser- uants in the Cittie of London: as also in the two V-niversities of Cambridge and Oxford, and else-where. At London printed for N. L. and John Trundell. 1603.2
All critics agree that this ‘First Quarto' was a pirated edition, surreptitiously put together from notes taken in the theatre. The great majority agree that the original, which it thus rudely reproduced, was not the very Hamlet printed 'according to the true and perfect copy' in the Second Quarto, but an earlier version of the story, which underwent a revision by Shakespeare before it became the definitive Hamlet we know.3
1 It is now in the library of the Duke of Devonshire. In 1856 a needy student raised a shilling on a second copy, now in the British Museum. The two copies supplement each other, the first lacking the last page, the second the title-page. Facsimiles have been published by Timmins, Ashbee, and Griggs.
2 Thus the text is little more than half as long as the Second Quarto text—2143 lines to 3719; a large part of this must be laid to the account of omission and mutilation. What havoc this wrought may be judged from such disjecta membra as the following:
O my lord, the young Ofelia Having made a garland of sundrie
sortes of floures, Sitting upon a willow by a brooke, The enuious sprig broke, into the
brooke she fell, And for a while her clothes spread
wide abroade Bore the young Lady up: and there
she sat smiling Even mermaid - like, 'twixt heaven and earth, etc.
(Sc. xv.) 3 The most decisive points of the evidence are : (1) the divergent names. For Polonius and Reynaldo we find in Q, Corambis and Montano ; (2) an entire scene (xiv.) not found in Qz; (3) the queen is somewhat differently conceived, and has a somewhat different rôle. She
In this earlier version itself, however, there is unmistakable evidence of Shakespeare's hand. Some of the profoundest things in Hamlet are absent; but many of his most pregnant and searching sayings are discernible, through a veil. On the other hand there are marks of altogether alien work.
Still more difficulty surrounds the German version per of Hamlet, obtusely entitled, Der bestrafte Brudermord. bestrafte It was first printed in 1781, from a MS. dated October mord. 27, 1710. The language of the MS. is of the later seventeenth century, but the play itself undoubtedly belonged to the repertory of one or other of the bands of English players who entertained the courts and the cities of Germany from 1585 till far on into the war time, with their gross travesties of the masterpieces of the English stage. A good deal of Shakespearean poetry flashes amongst the wreckage of the First Quarto: here every ray is lost in an unbroken opacity of the vulgarest prose. It is possible, nevertheless, to see that the traducer operated upon a version of Hamlet identical neither with the First nor with the Second Quarto, but containing marks of both, -most probably the original text which the First Quarto attempted to reproduce.1 The remarkable 'Prologus' in which ‘Night' holds colloquy with the three Furies, and fires them on to vengeance upon the guilty king, has no known English original, but points, like much of the First Quarto text, to a preShakespearean version of the Hamlet story.
solemnly protests her innocence thises with Hamlet she is far too of the murder, and joins with helpless to conspire. Many Horatio (in the scene referred to) other slighter differences may be and with Hamlet himself in plot- passed by. ting the revenge.
In Q2 she is more unequivocally “frail': her 1 Corambus (Creizenach, Die guilt, though not established, is Schauspiele der engl. Comödianhinted, and while she sympa- ten, p. 134).
Of all the vanished plays of Elizabeth's time, the old or 'original' Hamlet is the most regrettable. A chorus of testimonies, from 1589 onwards, leave no doubt that there was such a play, but tell us little about it. The locus classicus is Nash's epistle prefixed to Greene's Menaphon, where he talks a little in friendship with a few of our triviall translators' to the following effect :
It is a common practice now-a-daies amongst a sort of shifting companions, that runne through every arte and thrive by none, to leave the trade of Noverint whereto they were borne, and busie themselves with the indevors of art, that could scarcelie latinize their necke-verse if they should have neede; yet English Seneca read by candle-light yeeldes manie good sentences, as Bloud is a begger, and so forth: and if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning, he will afoord you whole Hamlets, I should say handfulls, of tragical speaches. But O grief! Tempus edax rerum ; -what's that will last alwaies ? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be drie; and Seneca, let bloud line by line, and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage: which makes his famisht followers to imitate the Kidde in Æsop, who enamored with the Foxes newfangles, forsooke all hopes of life to leape into a new occupation, and these men renouncing all possibilities of credit or estimation, to intermeddle with Italian translations,' etc.
The Hamlet thus in existence before 1590 was repeatedly played between 1590 and 1600;1 and the melodramatic catchword, Hamlet, Revenge,' clung
1 Henslowe records in his performance : '[Hate Virtue is] Diary under June 9, 1594, 'Rd. a foul lubber, and looks as pale at hamlet. viijs.' He does not as the wisard of the ghost, which mark it as a new play. Lodge cried so miserably at the theator, in his Wits' Misery (1596) re- like an oyster-wife, Hamlet records a trait of this or a later venge.'