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his man Reynaldo is called Montano. Divers scenes and passages, some of them such as a reporter would be least likely to omit, are wanting altogether. The Queen is represented as concerting and actively co-operating with Hamlet against the King's life; and she has an interview of considerable length with Horatio, who informs her of Hamlet's escape from the ship bound for England, and of his safe return to Denmark; of which scene the later issues have no traces whatever. All this fully ascertains the play to have undergone a thorough recasting from what it was when the copy of 1603 was taken.
A good deal of question has been made as to the time when the tragedy was first written. It is all but certain that the subject was done into a play some years before Shakespeare took it in hand, as we have notices to that effect reaching as far back as 1589. That play, however, is lost; and our notices of it give no clue to the authorship. On the other hand, there appears no good reason for believing that any form of Shakespeare's Hamlet was in being long before we hear of it as entered at the Stationers', in 1602.
Whether, or how far, Shakespeare may have borrowed his materials from any pre-existing play on the subject, we have no means of knowing. The tragedy was partly founded on a work by Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish historian, written as early as 1204, but not printed till 1514. The incidents, as related by him, were borrowed by Belleforest, through whose French version, probably, the tale found its way to the English stage. It was called The History of Hamblet. As there told, the story is, both in matter and style, uncouth and barbarous in the last degree ; a savage, shocking tale of lust and murder, unredeemed by a single touch of art or fancy in the narrator. The scene of the incidents is laid before the introduction of Christianity into Denmark, and when the Danish power held sway in England : further than this the time is not specified. A
close sketch of such parts of the tale as were specially drawn upon for the play is all I have room for.
Roderick, King of Denmark, divided his kingdom into provinces, and placed governors in them. Among these were two warlike brothers, Horvendile and Fengon. The greatest honour that men of noble birth could at that time win was by piracy, wherein Horvendile surpassed all others. Collere, King of Norway, was so moved by his fame that he challenged him to fight, body to body; and the challenge was accepted, the victor to have all the riches that were in the other's ship. Collere was slain ; and Horvendile returned home with much treasure, most of which he sent to King Roderick, who thereupon gave him his daughter Geruth in marriage. Of this marriage sprang Hamblet, the hero of the tale.
Fengon became so envious of his brother, that he resolved to kill him. Before doing this, he corrupted his wife, whom he afterwards married. Young Hamblet, thinking he was likely to fare no better than his father, went to feigning himself mad. One of Fengon's friends suspected his madness to be feigned, and counselled Fengon to use some crafty means for discovering his purpose. The plot being all laid, the counsellor went into the Queen's chamber, and hid behind the hangings. Soon after, the Queen and the Prince came in; but the latter, suspecting some treachery, kept up his counterfeit of madness, and went to beating with his arms upon the hangings. Feeling something stir under them, he cried, 66 A rat, a rat!” and thrust his sword into them; which done, he pulled the man out half dead, and made an end of him. He then has a long interview with his mother, which ends in a pledge of mutual confidence between them. She engages to keep his secret faithfully, and to aid him in his purpose of revenge; swearing that she had often prevented his death, and that she had never consented to the murder of his father.
Fengon's next device was to send the Prince to England, with secret letters to have him there put to death. Two of his Ministers being sent along with him, the Prince, again suspecting mischief, when they were at sea read their commission while they were asleep, and substituted one requiring the bearers to be hanged. All this and much more being done, he returned to Denmark, and there executed his revenge in a manner horrid enough.
There is, besides, an episodical passage in the tale, from which the Poet probably took some hints, especially in the hero's melancholy mood, and his apprehension that “ the spirit he has seen may be the Devil.” I condense a portion of it: “ In those days the northern parts of the world, living then under Satan's laws, were full of enchanters, so that there was not any young gentleman that knew not something therein. And so Hamblet had been instructed in that devilish art whereby the wicked spirit abuseth mankind. It toucheth not the matter herein to discover the parts of divination in man, and whether this Prince, by reason of his over-great melancholy, had received those impressions, divining that which never any had before declared.” The “ impressions ” here spoken of refer to the means whereby Hamblet found out the secret of his father's murder.
It is hardly needful to add that Shakespeare makes the persons Christians, clothing them with the sentiments and manners of a much later period than they have in the tale ; though he still places the scene at a time when England paid some sort of homage to the Danish crown ; which was before the Norman Conquest. Therewithal the Poet uses very great freedom in regard to time; transferring to Denmark, in fact, the social and intellectual England of his own day.
We have seen that the Hamlet of 1604 was greatly enlarged. The enlargement, however, is mainly in the contemplative and imaginative parts, little being added in the way of action and incident. And in respect of those parts, there is no comparison between the two copies; the differ
ence is literally immense. In the earlier text we have little more than a naked though in the main well-ordered and well-knit skeleton, which, in the later, is everywhere replenished and glorified with large, rich volumes of thought and poetry; where all that is incidental and circumstantial is made subordinate to the living energies of mind and soul.
Accordingly Schlegel well describes this play as 6 a tragedy of thought.” Such is, indeed, its character; in which respect it stands alone among all the tragedies in being; and it takes this character from the hero's mind. Hamlet everywhere floods the scene with intellectual wealth, and this in the varied forms of wit, humour, poetry, and high philosophy, with large stores of moral and practical wisdom : affluent with the spoils of learning, of genius, and art, he pours out in inexhaustible variety and profusion, enriching and adorning whatever he touches, and making it fresh, racy, delectable, and instructive. And he does all this without any sign of exertion ; does it with the ease and fluency of a free native impulse, such as to preclude the idea of its being a special purpose with him. For, with all his redundancy of mental treasure, he nowhere betrays the least ostentation of intellect. It is plainly the unlaboured, unaffected issue of a mind so full that it cannot choose but overflow.
But perhaps the leading characteristic of this play lies in its strong resemblance to the Classic Tragedy, in that the action is, in a very peculiar degree, dominated by what the ancients called Fate, but what, in Christian language, is termed Providence. In no other modern drama do we take so deep an impression of a superhuman power presiding over a war of irregular and opposing forces, and calmly working out its own purpose through the baffled, disjointed, and conflicting purposes of human agents. Of course, the Poet's genius is itself the providence of the play. But here, again, his insight is so profound and so just, his workmanship so true to the course of human experience, that all things come to pass just as if ordered by the Divine Providence of the world. And, however the persons go at cross-aims with each other or themselves, they nevertheless still move true to the author's aim : their confused and broken schemes he uses as the elements of a higher order ; 1 and the harshest discords of their plane of thought serve to enrich and deepen the harmonies of his; their very blunders and failures ministering to his success, their wilfulness to his law, their madness to his reason.
Hamlet himself has caused more of perplexity and discussion than any other character in the whole range of art. The charm of his mind and person amounts to an almost universal fascination; and he has been well described as a concentration of all the interests that belong to humanity.” I have learned by experience, that one seems to understand him better after a little study than after a great deal ; and that the less one sees into him, the more apt one is to think he sees through him ; in which respect he is indeed like Nature herself.
One man considers Hamlet great, but wicked ; another, good, but weak'; a third, that he lacks courage, and dare not act; a fourth, that he has too much intellect for his will, and so reflects away the time of action : some conclude his madness half genuine ; others, that it is wholly feigned. Yet, notwithstanding this diversity of opinions, all agree in thinking and speaking of him as an actual person ; and, while all are impressed with the truth of the character, hardly any one is satisfied with another's interpretation of it. That there should be such unanimity as to his being a man, and at the same time such diversity as to what sort of a man he is, appears something rather curious, to say the least.
Touching the main point in Hamlet's course, the more common view is that of his will being practically crippledy by excess of intellect. Coleridge gives the best statement of it. "We see,” says he, “ a great, an almost enormous intellectual activity, and a proportionate aversion to real