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series of dramas in which the author seems burdened with a peculiarly intimate sense of the results of human weakness and crime.
The Quarto of 1604 was followed by a succession of other quartos, each printed from the one preced
ing, and of little or no independent Source of the
ho value. The earliest collected edition
of Shakspere's works, issued in 1623 by the two actors Heminge and Condell and known as the First Folio (F), contained a Hamlet printed from a manuscript different from that which had been used in Q2. It onnitted a number of passages and added a few; and the text, though more carefully printed than that of Q2, is in some respects inferior. The present edition is based on Q, supplemented and corrected by F1, with occasional emendations drawn from modern editors.
The story of Hamlet is first found in the History of the Danes written in Latin by Saxo Gram
maticus in the twelfth century. It Source of the was told in French by Belleforest in
his Histoires Tragiques (1570), and his version was translated into English. The only edition of this English Hystorie of Hamblet now extant was published in 1608, but there may have been earlier editions. By 1587, a play on the subject, probably by Thomas Kyd, the author of The Spanish Tragedy, was already on the English stage, and continued to be acted at intervals during the next decade. On this play it is supposed
that Shakspere based his tragedy, and it may be that passages from it survive in Q, and even in the later versions. But no copy of the old play has come down to us, and though we may compare Shakspere's tragedy with the prose tale, it is impossible to know certainly how many of the differences may be due to his dramatic predecessor. It has been thought by some scholars that this earlier play is represented by a German prose drama on Hamlet which formed part of the repertory of one of the companies of English players traveling in Germany in the seventeenth century, and which was printed in 1781 from a manuscript dated 1710. This German play, however, whether based on the work of Kyd, or as some think, on Qu, reproduces its original in so degraded a form that it is not possible to take it as a fair representation of its source.
We have, then, to be content with conjecture never quite verifiable as to the part in the received text of Hamlet which is to be credited to the author of the lost play. In the prose tale we have already the main situation, a king murdered by his brother, who had previously seduced and has now married his queen; and the son of the king aiming at revenge, finally achieving it, and using the device of pretended madness to protect himself in the meantime. But there is no ghost, the murder of Hamlet's father being acknowledged but explained away to the apparent satis
faction of the people; the madness is assumed by Hamlet for the protection of his own life rather than for the disguising of his plans; and the nature of the madness is more farcical than in Shakspere, the Prince “wallowing and lying in the dirt and mire.” The prototype of Polonius is killed while eavesdropping, but his character. bears little resemblance to that of Shakspero's Lord Chamberlain; Ophelia and Horatio are. merely hinted at; and Laertes, Fortinbras, and several of the minor characters are absent altogether. The comic elements contributed by the grave-diggers and Osric are also wanting, and there is no trace of the introspective and contemplative tendencies that bulk so largely in the character of Shakspere's hero. Of the catastrophe of the drama, too, there is little trace in the story. The Hamlet of the Hystorie goes to England without interruption from pirates, witnesses the death of his two companions, returns and kills not only the king but all the courtiers, goes to England again and marries two wives, one of whom betrays him. to his death and marries his slayer. It is perhaps needless to add that nothing of the splendid diction of the tragedy is due to the Hystorie.
There is, however, another method by which we may form an opinion as to Shakspere's part in the transformation of this crude tale of blood and treachery into the most famous of English tragedies. A study of other plays of the same type
published before or about the date of Hamlet reveals the fact that many of the features which the general reader regards as peculiar to the present play are to be found also in the work of such men as Kyd, Jonson, and Marston. “Poisoning, murders, suicide, insanity, and a ghost occur as in: other revenge plays. The refusal of an opportunity to kill the villain, the songs and wild talk of the mad girl, the murder of an innocent intruder, scenes in a churchyard, banquets, reception of ambassadors, funerals, the appearance of the ghost to soldiers on the watch, the play within the play-all these had appeared in other plays as well as in the old Hamlet. In other plays, too, there were such minor conventionalities as the swearing on the sword hilt, the descriptive announcement of the death of the heroine, the carrying off of the bodies, the voice of the ghost in the cellar, the reading of a book, the midnight scene with the clock striking, and the business of death-heads."? It thus appears manifest that, in Hamlet as elsewhere, the greatness of Shakspere's achievement does not consist in the invention of plot, motive, situation, or types of
1 E. g. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy and Jonson's additions to that play, Marston's Antonio's Revenge, and Chettle's Hoffman.
? The Relations of Hamlet to Contemporary Revenge Plays, by A. H. Thorndike, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, xvii, 209-210.
Hamlet publications. 209-210.
Hamlet plavith Roset with Osric:
character, all of which he shared with his contemporaries, but in so manipulating those elements, in so fusing them together by the intensity of his imagination, that there resulted, not a clever piece of stage-craft, but a fragment of human life.
Hamlet is written mainly in blank verse, which had been since Marlowe the standard metre of
the English drama. The chief ex
ceptions are the scenes in which Hamlet plays the madman; those in which he converses with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with the actors, and with Osric; and the scene with the grave-diggers; all of which are in prose. This is in accordance with Shakspere’s custom of employing verse to indicate the higher emotional and imaginative level. The blank verse of “Aeneas' tale to Dido," II. ii. 489 ff., is purposely made bombastic, probably in allusion to the style in which the same incidents are treated in the Tragedy of Dido by Marlowe and Nash; and the verse of the “Murder of Gonzago," III. ii. 151 ff., is stilted and archaic, to remove it from the style of the rest of the play, just as ordinary dramatic verse is removed from actual speech.
The normal type of the blank verse has five iambic feet, that is, ten syllables with the accent falling on the even syllables. From this regular form, however, Shakspere deviates with great freedom, the commonest variations being these: