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to the popular memory for years after it had been superseded in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Even the entry of Shakespeare's play in the Stationers' Register, July 26, 1602, 'a booke called the Revenge of Hamlett,' probably betrays the dominance of the old version and the conception of the action which it had ingrained.
These meagre data make it probable that the old Hamlet was a tragedy of vengeance, strongly tinged with Senecan rhetoric, and set in motion, like Seneca's Thyestes and Agamemnon, by the appeal of the wronged man's ghost to his kin. Nash's acrid innuendoes, further, leave little doubt that the author was Thomas Kyd, on whose name, like Jonson, he condescends to Kyd. pun. Kyd's father apparently belonged to the 'trade of Noverint,' and his Spanish Tragedy betrays just that 'prentice knowledge of Seneca which Nash brands in the old Hamlet. There are speeches stuffed with Senecan reminiscences, and the whole action unfolds itself at the bidding of a ghost. But the play is in no sense antique: Elizabethan love of bustling action runs riot in the crowded plot. The chorus, the sentiments, and the messengers' reports are but classic embroidery somewhat incongruously pieced on to a garment of English homespun by a playwright who read his Seneca in English and by candle-light.' 3
1 My name's Hamlet re- crier in the eares of the Lord. venge,' says Captain Tucca in Sarrazin, Anglia, xiii. 124. Dekker's Satiromastix, “thou Armin's “There are, as Hamlet hast been at Paris garden, hast says, things called whips in not ? (1602). The phrase is store' (Nest of Ninnies, 1608), played upon also in Westward
may rest upon a confusion with Hoe (1607), and Rowland's The Spanish Tragedy, where Night Raven (1618).
this often-parodied phraseoccurs, 2 The phrase "Bloud is a but at least shows that the two beggar,' which Nash quotes from plays were classed together. the old Hamlet, has a parallel 3 Cf. R. Fischer, Zur Kunstin a sentence from a tract of entwicklung der engl. Tragödie, Kyd's : ‘Bloud is an inceasant
p. 94 f.
The Spanish Tragedy had, then, unmistakable affinities with the old Hamlet, and enables us to conjecture with tolerable clearness the shape which the legendary tale of Hamlet took in his hands.
Even as told by Saxo, in the earliest extant version, the legend of Hamlet probably owes something to the genius of Rome. Saxo Grammaticus (i.e. the Lettered'), perhaps the most brilliant Latinist of the twelfth century, wrote his History of the Danes in evident emulation of the sumptuous and sonorous manner of Livy. In what precise form he found the legend we cannot tell; but in his pages Amlothi, the sea - giant who looms vaguely in a phrase of the Edda, tossing the white beach-pebbles like meal from his 'mill,' has become a Northern counterpart of the Livian Brutus who expelled the Tarquins. Like Brutus he feigns madness or ‘folly' to save his life, and his feigning is the mainspring of the whole intrigue. The usurper Feng (Claudius), whose crimes are told at length, tries to entrap him into confession by a series of devices. A girl is thrown in his way; a crafty old counsellor listens unseen to his talk with his mother; finally he is sent to England with two guards and secret orders for his death. Amleth's craft everywhere triumphs: he keeps the saving veil of eccentricity before the maiden, kills the eavesdropping counsellor, and provides for his two guards the death to which they were leading him. After winning the daughter of the king of England he returns, slays the tyrant, justifies his deed in an oration to the assembled people, and is chosen
1 Cf. Mr. O. Elton's valuable
guages. "The king clapped his Appendix to his translation of hands together and laughed, the First Nine Books of Saxo. just as if he were an Amblode,'
2 As is well known, the den intet god forstode, runs an simpleton'Amleth took root in old Swedish rhyme quoted by the Scandinavian mind and lan- Vigfusson, s.v. 'amlóð.'
king. He is no sooner crowned than he has to cope with the machinations of his father-in-law, and marries a second wife, the “ Amazon' Hermentrude, by whose treachery he himself finally falls.
Out of this rambling History of Hamlet the old Probable playwright made his Tragedy of Revenge by a process the lost somewhat as follows. He added the ghost, whose summons spurs Hamlet to the revenge which Saxo's Amleth conceives unaided. The ghost probably told the story of his own death, which, in a play like King Leir, would have been visibly set forth. The tragedy certainly ended with the accomplishment of vengeance, and Hamlet, like Hieronymo, shared his victim's doom. It was assuredly not reserved to Shakespeare to silence the superfluous sequel. Moreover, if the summons to revenge opened the play and the act of revenge closed it, Hamlet necessarily delayed'; and the example of Hieronymo suggests that he already cried out at his own tardiness, already saw the phantom of the dead chiding his 'lapse in time and passion,?? was already stung with shame to see others do (like the Player and Fortinbras) what he neglects:
See, see, O see thy shame, Hieronymo !
ther to his son.
Hieronymo in his wildness And seeks not vengeance for Horatio's takes the old man, who has also lost a son, for his dead Horatio, We are brought very near Hamand bursts out :
let's conscience-stricken cry : Art thou not come, Horatio, from the
Do you not come your tardy son to depth To ask for justice in this upper earth, 2 It is plausibly suggested To tell thy father thou art veng'd ..
that the idea originated in the To plague Hieronymo that is remiss, well-known anecdote told in the
Hamlet and the First
In 1585-86 English players performed in the Kronborg at Helsingör. It is probable that their impressions and reports were already reflected in the old Hamlet ; that Saxo's Juteland had already become Shakespeare's Elsinore; that Hamlet's attendants were already called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.1
Finally, there is a good deal of evidence for holding the German that the old Hamlet, like The Spanish Tragedy and
Solimon and Perseda, opened with a symbolical diaQuarto.
logue between the supernatural contrivers of the harms,--the original, in fact, of that remarkable Prologus' of the Bestrafte Brudermord. The brief, fierce debate between Hecate and the Furies is foreshadowed in the dumb show of Gorbodric (Act IV.), where the Furies, daughters of the night,' move with their whips and snakes across the stage. No classical motif died harder in English tragedy; but for it, probably, the weird sisters themselves would have looked less like Furies than they do, and been less closely allied to Hecate. Of the action of the play the Prologue says little, but its allusive hints fall in with our other indications of the pre-Shakespearean drama. The king's incestuous marriage is to be punished with discord. “Mingle poison in their spousal and jealousy in their hearts !' cries Hecate. Such a queen naturally became the secret ally of the avenger, like Bell Imperia in The Spanish Tragedy, and this conception of Gertrude still lingers, as we have seen in the First Quarto, when she vows complicity with Hamlet:
Warning for Fair Women, and As she cried out the play was made glanced at in Hamlet (ii. 2. 617), by her [about her), of the woman at Lynn who had
And openly confess her husband's
murder. murdered her husband :And sitting to behold a tragedy ..
1 ii. 1077-1087. Wherein a woman that had murthered hers
2 Sarrazin (Anglia, xiii. 121) Was ever haunted with her husband's thinks that these scenes in Mac
ghost, She was so moved with the sight
beth were influenced by the thereof
original of the Prologue itself.
I will conceale, consent and doe my best,
What stratagem soe'er thou shalt devise.
Hieronymo, I will consent, conceale ;
Hier. On then, whatsoever I devise
Let me entreat you, grace my practices. It is hard to resist the evidence of such passages that in the earliest version of Hamlet fragments at least of the lost Hamlet remain embedded. Probably the whole of the scene between the queen and Horatio (xi.) omitted in the final versions is such a fragment.
We may conclude then that the old play already presented the rough-hewn framework of the action of Hamlet, with hints of Ophelia and Polonius, perhaps of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and some pregnant suggestions of Hamlet himself. If Hamlet is the most individual of all Shakespeare's works, if it is penetrated with the personal accent beyond any other dramatic utterance of man, it probably owes even less than usual—less certainly than Macbeth or Lear—to inventive construction of plot. But Shakespeare's supreme power of wholly transforming the spiritual complexion of a tale while leaving its material form almost intact, is nowhere so wonderfully seen.
1 This view has been urged almost an echo of Kyd's version with great force and learning by of Garnier's Cornélie :Sarrazin in the article already
And whatsoever lives is sure to die. quoted (Anglia, xiii. 117 f.).
(Hazl. Dodsl. v. 199.) 2 Such a fragnient too is the
Shakespeare transferred this king's sentiment in Q, (Sc. ii.
'vacant chaff, well meant 4, 7):
grain,' to his queen, whose amNone lives on earth but hee is borne biguous neutrality it aptly conto die,