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Date of Shakespeare's work on Hamlet.
The spiritual complexion of the Shakespearean Hamlet is, in its last nuances, beyond analysis. far-reaching affinities with the mind of other times are charged with the most vivid suggestions of its own ; its universality is full of local colour; its local colour penetrated with ideal gleams.
Outer evidence points clearly to 1601 as the date of the text imperfectly represented in the First Quarto. On July 26, 1602, this text was entered in the Stationers' Register. The allusions in this text to the travelling' of the players and to its cause, correspond to the known situation of Shakespeare's own company during the previous year. We know that they "travelled' towards the end of the year, playing, among other places, at Cambridge, and performing, among other pieces, the newly-finished Hamlet,----which the edition of 1603 announced as having been diverse times acted by the Company in the two Universities. We know also that, before they travelled, the Children of the Chapel on the private stages had become formidable competitors of the public stage. And it would seem that this competition must have become formidable to the Globe Company later than September 29, 1600, when Burbage, its manager, leased the Blackfriars Theatre to Evans, the régisseur of the Children.1
In the authentic 1604 Quarto the sarcastic description of the Children is cut out, and the travelling ascribed vaguely to a late 'innovation.' The fact that Shakespeare's fellow-actors printed both versions together in the Folio goes to show that the second is only a more formal reference to the same circumstance as the first.
To trace any inner connexion between Hamlet and Shakespeare's history is less easy. Nothing that 1 Cf. W. Hall Griffin, Hamlet, p. xxi.
we know of Shakespeare's personal history really explains the startling and sudden intensity of personal accent in Hamlet, or the changed outlook upon the world which here first becomes apparent. His father's death in 1601, the execution of Essex and imprisonment of Southampton early in the same year, may have lent fervour to Hamlet's outbursts of grief and of friendship. Montaigne's Essays, in Florio's excellent English, may have contributed to thespeculative subtlety of his speech. But these things carry us little way towards explaining Hamlet. A deep inward convulsion is no doubt revealed in the Sonnets. But we are not at liberty to see in the world-weariness of Hamlet a direct reflexion of the hell of time'l which Shakespeare suffered from his branded name and his friend estranged, or to hear the echo of Shakespeare's cry for restful death 2 in Hamlet's “To be, or not to be.' The evidence rather tends to show that when Shakespeare unlocked his heart in these bitter verses his imagination was bodying forth the joyous comedy of Falstaff or Fluellen. What is clear is that Shakespeare had himself lived through all the desolation that he makes Hamlet express; but it is when experience has subsided into a vibrating memory that it becomes stuff for drama. And Hamlet is not the only reflexion of this mood. From about 1600 to 1604 Shakespeare shows a disposition to draw, with a peculiar acerbity, pictures of corrupt cities and courts, and with a peculiar sympathy, always touched with irony, the thinking and feeling men whom the spectacle of such societies turns into cynics or satirists, plunges into despondence or goads to reform. Jaques pierces the body of court and city with shafts of choice invective, discharged with curious and selfconscious art. The duke in Measure for Measure is 1 Sonnet cxxiv.
2 Sonnet lxvi.
bent upon healing his plague-stricken city, but has not the nerve to apply the cauterising iron. Brutus, with sterner resolve but less insight, heroically strikes the blow and perishes amidst the ruin he has wrought. It is not difficult to imagine how the elements of ineffectual idealism here detached may have gathered in Shakespeare's mind about the character of the Danish prince, who even in the Saga had loitered towards his deed of death, and loved his motley somewhat too well. Transferred to a modern society, as polished on the surface as Brutus' Rome, and as corrupt at the core as the duke's Vienna, new possibilities opened for the legend of the tardy avenger. A brain solely occupied with the business of avenging a particular crime becomes a highly-strung organism acutely sensitive to every harmony of civil refinement, and every jar of moral discord. He sees his personal wrongs on a background of general corruption. Everything in Hamlet converges upon Hamlet, and his complex animosity to evil is thrown into relief by the elementary vindictiveness of his antitypes Fortinbras and Laertes,-Shakespeare's own extraordinarily effective additions to the legend. Fortinbras is not without a trace of Hamlet's nobleness, or Laertes of his accomplishment. But neither has any thought save of personal vengeance.
Hamlet's shafts of invective glance aside from the king to the whole society of which the king is the type. He brings that society to the bar of an idealism as lofty and noble as Brutus', and riddles its pretensions with a poignancy which Jaques cannot approach. His dream of the greatness of man—'infinite in faculty, in action like an angel, in apprehension like a god'—is a Humanist counterpart of the austere Stoic sense of human dignity which nerves the dagger of Brutus against the supposed tyranny of Cæsar. And all the brilliant culture
of Humanism, which we rather presume than recognise in Jaques,-its wit, its various dexterity, its delight in the stage,--are mirrored in his incomparably vivid speech. But his intellect and passion are mysteriously involved in his doom. Brutus' abstract faith in man carries him resolutely to ruin without suffering disillusion ; Hamlet's bitter penetration shatters the very bases of that exalted dream, and disillusion paralyses resolve. If he sees the world as an unweeded garden, it is because he alone has eyes for the fretted canopy of heaven. But amid all his pessimism, 'art still has truth'; man is a 'quintessence of dust,' but the next moment he is giving a genial welcome to the strolling players, somewhat as Jaques forgets his melancholy in the delightful discovery of Touchstone. It is not for nothing that he is made the mouthpiece of Shakespeare's ripest convictions about the art of playing ; for he wears his own disguise with something of the player's zest, and is allured away from his purpose by the intellectual fascination of his rôle.
The Brutus and the Jaques types are as it were promontories in the sea of Hamlet: promontories which, if not 'sterile,' yet do not carry us within sight of shore. A mysterious residuum always remains, and the history of the attempts to solve it approaches in intellectual fascination, and exceeds in intellectual value, the task of solution itself. Three generations have seen their own philosophic and racial idiosyncrasies in the elusive mirror of Hamlet. To the humanity of Goethe he was a pure and lovely nature; to the speculative idealism of Coleridge the problem lay in his over-reflecting intellect; to the Hegelian religiosity of Ulrici, in his tender conscience; to Schopenhauer, in his world-weariness. With the reaction from the philosophies of pure thought and from the old Germany of pure thinkers, new Hamlets VOL. VIII
have arisen, whose difficulties lie in their 'spleen' (Hermann Grimm), their 'temperament' (Gessner), or their 'sluggish blood' (Loening); or in the restraints imposed by external sanctions of law and politics. If modern psychology lives in Loening's 'lazy Hamlet, the political Teuton of to-day is reflected in Werder's scornful 'dismissal' of the dreamer Hamlet to limbo in company with the dreaming Germany of which Freytag proclaimed him the type. Finally, to the 'realistic' eyes of our time Hamlet has become a veiled allusion, and his spiritual profile an ineffectual disguise, for Essex,1 Montaigne, or James the First.
1 This is the contention of printed in his Shakspere's SelbstHermann Conrad in a series of bekenntnisse, 1897. elaborate articles recently re