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THE original story on which this play is built, may be found in Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish historian. From thence Belleforest adopted it in his collection of novels, in seven vo. lumes, which he began in 1564, and continued to publish through succeeding years. From this work, The Hystorie of Hamblett, quarto, bl. l. was translated. I have hitherto met with no earlier edition of the play than one in the year 1604, though it must have been performed before that time, as I have seen a copy of Speglt's edition of Chaucer, which formerly be. longed to Dr. Gabriel Harvey, (the antagonist of Nash) who, in his own hand-writing, has set down Hamlet, as a performance with which he was well acquainted, in the year 1598. His words are these: “ The younger sort take much delight in Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis; but his Lucrece, and his tra. gedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, have it in them to please the wiser sort, 1598."
In the books of the Stationers' Company, this play was entered by James Roberts, July 26, 1602, under the title of “A booke called The Revenge of Hamlett, Prince of Denmarke, as it was lately acted by the lord chamberlain his servantes."
In Eastward Hoe, by George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, 1605, is a fling at the hero of this tragedy. A footman named Hamlet enters, and a tankard-bearer asks him~"'Sfoote, Hamlet, are you mad?”
The frequent allusions of contemporary authors to this play sufficiently show its popularity. Thus, in Decker's Bel-man's Nightwalkes, 4to. 1612, we have" But if any mad Hamlet, hearing this, smell villainie, and rush in by violence to see what the tawny diuels (sypsies are dooing, then they excuse the fact,” &c. Again, in an old collection of Satirical Poems, called The Night-Raven, is this couplet:
“I will not cry Hamlet, Revenge my greeves,
“ But I will call Hangman, Revenge on thieves.” Steevens. Surely no satire was intended in Eastward Hoe, which was acted at Shakspeare's own playhouse, (Blackfriers) by the children of the revels, in 1605. Malone.
The following particulars relative to the date of this piece are borrowed from Dr. Farmer's Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare, p. 85, 86, second edition :
“ Greene, in the epistle prefixed to his Arcadia, hath a lash at some ‘vaine glorious tragedians,' and very plainly at Shakspeare in particular.— I leave all these to the mercy of their mother-tongue, that feed on vought but the crums that fall from the translator's trencher.—That could scarcely latinize their neck verse if they should have neede, yet English Seneca, read by candlelight yeelds many good sentences-hee will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say, handfuls of tragicall speeches.' I cannot determine exactly when this Epistle was first published; but, I fancy, it will carry the original Hamlet somewhat further back than we have hitherto done : and it may be observed, that the oldest copy now extant is said to be enlarged to almost as much againe as it was.' Gabriel Harvey printed at the end of the year 1592, 'Foure letters and certaine Sonnetts, especially touching Robert Greene :' in one of which his Arcadia is mentioned. Now Nash's Epistle must have been previous to these, as Gabriel is quoted in it with applause; and the Foure Letters were the beginning of a quarrel. Nash replied in 'Strange News of the intercepting certaine Letters, and a Convoy of Verses, as they were going privilie to victual the Low Countries, 1593. Harvey rejoined the same year in * Pierce's Supererogation, or a new Praise of the old Asse.' And Nash again, in
Have with you to Saffron Walden, or Gabriell Harvey's Hunt is up;' containing a full answer to the eldest sonne of the haltermaker, 1596.'— Nash died before 1606, as appears from an old comedy called The Return from Parnassus. Steevens.
A play on the subject of Hamlet had been exhibited on the stage before the year 1589, of which Thomas Kyd was, I bialieve, the author. On that play, and on the bl. 1. Historie of Hamblet, our poet, I conjecture, constructed the tragedy before us. The earliest edition of the prose-narrative which I have seen, was printed in 1608, but it undoubtedly was a re-publication.
Shakspeare's Hamlet was written, if my conjecture be well founded, in 1596. Malone.