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HISTORY OF THE TEXT.
some years before. This edition was
Hamlet which soon after was printed in quarto, and reprinted in 1604, 1605, 1607, 1609, 1611,—“ enlarged,” as the title-pages bear, “ to almost as much again as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie.” The story and the characters were struck out at once, and received but little alteration. But the difference, between the first and the improved edition, consists mainly in magnificent additions of philosophical thought and splendid expansions of poetical language and imagery. Thus, to take one of the shortest examples,—the line in the first Hamlet
“Anon as mild and gentle as a dove,” breaks out in the next edition, like a blossom in spring, into the beautiful exuberance of
“A non as patient as the female dove, When that her golden couplets are disclosed,
His silence will sit brooding.” In the first folio edition of the poet's “Tragedies and Comedies,” published by “his fellows,” Heminge and Condell
, in 1623, Hamlet appears with so many variations from the enlarged quartos published during the poet's life
, as to prove that it was then printed from some other copy, probably, as is conjectured, from the manuscript used in the theatre. That edition contains many verbal differences from the quartos, some of which, as in other plays, indicate, not so much the correction of a prior erroneous text as the emendation by the author himself
. On the other hand, the quartos sometimes afford the better and more probable reading; and there are besides very noble and characteristic passages preserved in them only, having been apparently omitted in the copy used by the folio editors, as not necessary for the plot, and too long for the business of the stage. Thus, the solemn grandeur of the allusion to the prodigies of Rome, “ere the mightiest Julius fell;" the generalized reflection on the moral effect of the monster, custom,” in the closet scene with the Queen ; and the deep morality with which Hamlet muses upon the war between Norway and Poland, and his own indecision,—are not to be found in the folios.
The present editor, after careful collation of the texts, and examination of the editions, has selected the text of Mr. Collier's recent edition, to place in the printer's hands as the basis of the present impression. He has
, however, departed from Mr. Colliers text in more than twenty places, chiefly by restoring the old folio readings, where Mr. Collier has preferred those of the quartos.
All the various readings affecting the sense will be found in the notes. Many of these are of equal, or nearly equal probability with those preferred in the text; and some of them are perhaps the poet's own variations in different copies of his play.
SUPPOSED SOURCE OF THE PLOT.
“ The history of Hamlet, or Hamleth, is found in the Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus, who died about 1204. The works of Saxo Grammaticus are in Latin, and in Shakespeare's time had not been translated into any modern language. It was inferred, therefore, by Dr. Grey, and Mr. Whalley, that Shakespeare must have read the original. The story, however, is to be found in Belleforest's collection of novels, begun in 1654; and an English translation of this particular story was published as a quarto tract, entitled “The Historie of Hamblet, Prince of Denmarke. Capell, in his School of Shakespeare,' has given some extracts from an edition of this very rare book, dated 1608; but he conjectures that it first appeared about 1570. He has also printed the heads of chapters as they are given in this · History.' Horvendile is here the name of Hamlet's father, Fengon that of his uncle, and Geruth that of his mother. Fengon traitorously slays Horvendile, and marries his brother's wife. In the second chapter we are informed, “how Hamlet counterfeited the madman, to escape the tyranny of his uncle, and how he was tempted by a woman, (through his uncle's procurement) who thereby thought to undermine the Prince, and by that means to find out whether he counterfeited madness or not. In the third chapter we learn, "how Fengon, uncle to Hamlet, a second time to entrap him in his politic madness, caused one of his counsellors to be secretly hidden in the Queen's chamber, behind the arras, to hear what speech passed between Hamlet and the Queen; and how Hamlet killed him, and escaped that danger, and what followed.' It is in this part of the action that Shakespeare's use of this book may be distinctly traced. Capell says, "Amidst this resemblance of persons and circumstances, it is rather strange that none of the relater's expressions have got into the play: and yet not one of them is to be found, except the following, in Chapter III., where Hamlet kills the counsellor (who is described as of a greater reach than the rest, and is the poet's Polonius) behind the arras: here, beating the hangings, and perceiving something to stir under them, he is made to cry out—'a rat, a rat,' and presently drawing his sword, thrust it into the hangings, which done, pulled the counsellor (half dead) out by the heels, made an end of killing him.' In the fourth chapter Hamlet is sent to England by Fengon, with secret letters to have him put to death ;' and while his companions slept, Hamlet counterfeits the letters willing the King of England to put the two messengers to death. Here ends the resemblance between the history and the play. The Hamlet of the history returns to Denmark, slays his uncle, burns his palace, makes an oration to the Danes, and is elected king. His subsequent adventures are rather extravagant. He goes back to England, kills the king of that country, returns to Denmark with two English wives, and finally, falls himself, through the treachery of one of these ladies.
“ It is scarcely necessary to point out how little these rude materials have assisted Shakespeare in the composition of the great tragedy of Hamlet. He found, in the records of a barbarous period, a tale of adultery and murder and revenge. Here, too was a rude indication of the character of Hamlet. But what he has given us is so essentially a creation from first to last, that it would be only tedious to point out the lesser resemblances between the drama and the history. That Shakespeare adopted the same period of action as related by Saxo Grammaticus, there can be no doubt. The following passage is decisive :
And England, if my love thou hold'st as aught,
Our sov’reign process.' “We have here a distinct indication of the period before the Norman Conquest, when England was either under the sovereignty of the Northmen, as in the time of Canute, or paid tribute to the Danish power."-C. Knight.
The tract above described was so rare, that the indefatigable editor just quoted seems to have been obliged to rely upon a second-hand, though accurate, account of it. It has since been reprinted in Collier's “ Shakespeare's Library,” just published in London, and received by the American editor after the above extract was in type. It is very interesting, as enabling us to trace out the slight hints which expanded in the poet's mind into the grandest conceptions of this drama. Thus, a passing phrase, of the Prince's “over-great melancholy,” is the germ from which Hamlet's whole character has been created; while the majestic spirit of the Royal Dane, and his revelation of his brother's guilt, seem to have been suggested only by the mention of “Hamlet's acquaintance with the art whereby the wicked spirit advertiseth him of things past."
The nearest resemblance is in the closet interview between Hamlet and his mother, the comparison of the two brothers, etc.; where, while the coarse and common-place thoughts of the original have been transmuted into glorious gold by the poet's alchemy, the forms of the original materials may still be traced. It is worthy of remark, that the poet has brought down the date of his plot to a later period than the novelist, and has given his personages the faith and usages of the Christianity of the middle ages, instead of dating, like the old novel, “Long time before Danemark embraced the faith of the Christians.”