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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by
HENRY N. HUDSON,
In the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
PRINTED BY JOHN WILSON AND SON.
INTRODUCTION TO HAMLET.
TAE Revenge of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, as it was lately
the Stationers' on the 26th of July, 1602. This entry undoubtedly refers to Shakespeare's tragedy, and is the first we hear of it. The tragedy was printed in 1603. It was published again in 1604; and in the title-page of that issue we have the words, “ enlarged to almost as much again as it was.” This latter edition was reprinted in 1605, and again in 1611; besides an undated quarto, which is commonly referred to 1607, as it was entered at the Stationers' in the Fall of that year. These are all the issues known to have been made before the play reappeared in the folio of 1623. The quartos, all but the first, have a number of highly important passages that are not in the folio; while, on the other hand, the folio has a few, less important, that are wanting in the quartos. It is agreed on all hands that the first issue was piratical. It gives the play but about half as long as the later quartos, and carries in its face abundant evidence of having been greatly marred and disfigured in the making-up. Mr. Dyce says, " It seems certain that in the quarto of 1603 we have Shakespeare's first conception of the play, though with a text mangled and corrupted throughout, and perhaps formed on the notes of some short-hand writer, who had imperfectly taken it down during representation." Nevertheless it is evident that the play was very different then from what it afterwards became. Polonius is there called Corambis, and his man Reynaldo is called Montano. Divers scenes and passages, some of then 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. 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. 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 be 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. As a late writer observes : “ The wars and treaties, the State councils and embassies, the players, the coroner's inquests and Christian burials, the awakened wits of the peasants, the refinements of the courtiers, and the education of the young nobles finished at the German University or the French capital, - all mark a state of advanced and vigorous national life, much like that which existed in Shakespeare's own day in England. Whether such a state of society has ever been actually found in Denmark is not the question; for it is one of the most undoubted rights of the Romantic Drama, that it shall be free from the laws of time and place, though subject ever to the no less real and binding, but very different, laws of the imagi. nation.”
We have seen that the Hamlet of 1604 was greatly enlarged. The enlargement, however, is mainly in the contemplative and inaginative 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 difference is literally immense, and of such a kind as to evince a most astonishing growth of intellectual power and resource. 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 verywhere replenished and glorified with large, rich volumes of thought and poetry; where all that is incidental and circumstantial is .nade subordinate to the living energies of mind and soul. So that the enlarged Hamlet probably marks the germination of that “thoughtful philosophy,” as Hallam calls it, which never after deserted the Poet, though time did indeed abate its excess, and reduce it under his control; whereas it here overflows all bounds, and sweeps onward unchecked.
Schlegel, therefore, might well describe this play as “a tragedy of thought.” Such is indeed its character; wherein it stands alone, and this, not only of Shakespeare's dramas, but of all the dramas in being. As for action, the play has but little that can properly be so called. The scenes are indeed well diversified with incident; but the incidents, for the most part, engage the attention chiefly as serving to start and shape the hero's far-reaching trains of reflection, themselves being lost sight of in the wealth of thought and sentiment which they call forth. Nor does any other of the Poet's dramas give 80 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. The very plan of the drama may almost be said to consist in the persons being without plans; for, as Goethe says, "The hero has no plan, but the play itself is full of plan.” And however the characters 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; and the liarshest discords of their plane of thought serve to enrich and deepen the harmonies of his.
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. Doubtless there are facts in the delineation which, considered by themselves, would sustain any one of these views; but none of them seems reconcilable with all the facts taken together. Yet, notwithstanding this diversity of opinions, all agree in thinking of Hamlet as an actual person. It is easy to invest with plausibility almost any theory respecting him, but very hard to make any theory comprehend the whole subject; and while all are impressed with the truth of the character, no one is satisfied with another's explanation of it. The question is, Why such unanimity as to his being a man, and at the same time such diversity as to what sort of a man he is ?
But the question of questions about Hamlet has reference to his "antic disposition.” Is his madness real or feigned, or partly the one, partly the other? This question cannot be discussed at any length here; but it would hardly be right to pass it without some reference to the opinions of those who probably have the best claim to be heard on the subject. Of late years, the medical men, in particular those of them whose specialty lies in the treatment of mental disease, have turned their attention a good deal to Shakespeare's delineations of insanity. Dr. Conolly, of England, Dr. Ray, late of Providence, and Dr. Kellogg, of Utica, have all published wellconsidered essays on the subject. They have brought the aids of a large science and a ripe experience to the discussion; and I cannot but think their judgment entitled to great deference. Dr. Ray, referring to the literary critics, says: These persons embrace the popular error of regarding madness as but another name for confusion and violence, overlooking the daily fact that it is compatible with some of the ripest and richest manifestations of intellect. In regard to this point, it is enough to state it as a scientific fact, that Hamlet's mental condition furnishes, in abundance, the pathological and psychological symptoms of insanity in wonderful harmony and consistency.' Dr. Kellogg fully concurs with Dr. Ray. “There are,” says he,
cases of melancholic madness, of a delicate shade, in which the reasoning faculties, the intellect proper, so far from being overcome or even disordered, are rendered more active and vigorous; while the will, the moral feelings, the sentiments and affections, seem alone to suffer from the stroke of disease. Such a case Shakespeare has given us in the character of Hamlet, with a fidelity to nature which continues more and more to excite our wonder and astonishment, as our knowledge of this intricate subject advances." I must also quote a brief passage from Dr. Conolly's Study of Hamlet, which draws somewhat more definitely into the particulars of the case. After referring to the soliloquy, “Oh, that this too-too solid flesh would melt,” &c., the writer goes on as follows: “ This soliloquy, the first full expression we have of Hamlet's actual feelings, deserves particular consideration from those who feel any interest in the question of his real state of mind throughout the play. It seems distinctly to reveal both his mental constitution and the already existing disturbance of his feel ings, amounting to a predisposition to actual unsoundness. His mind is morbidly and constantly occupied with one set of thoughts: the indecorous marriage of his uncle with his mother had usurped all his
attention. He is even at this time far advanced into that miserable condition which he describes much later : he has lost all his mirth; he is weary of all the uses of the world; he is weary of life. Of his father's ghost he has at this time heard nothing; of his father's murder no suspicion has ever been dreamed of by him. No thought of feigning melancholy can have entered his mind; but he is even now most heavily shaken and discomposed, - indeed, so violently, that his reason, although not dethroned, is certainly well-nigh deranged.”
Taking these authorities, together with the belief of all the persons in the play except the King, whose doubts spring from his own guilt, - and also with the solemn declaration of Hamlet himself to Laertes near the close, I must be excused for regarding them as decisive of the question. In plain terms, Hamlet is mad : deranged not indeed in all his faculties, nor perhaps in any of them continuously; that is, the derangement is partial and occasional; paroxysms of wildness and fury alternating with intervals of serenity and composure.
As to the general idea of Hamlet's character, I probably cannot better serve the purpose of this Introduction than by quoting the views of Goethe and Coleridge; these two best representing the different sets of opinions commonly held on the subject. “ To me it is clear,” says Goethe, “that Shakespeare meant in the present case to represent the effects of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it. In this view the whole piece seems to me composed. There is an oak-tree planted in a costly jar, which should have borne only pleasant flowers; the roots expand, the jar is shivered. A lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear, and must not cast away. All duties are holy for him; the present is too hard. Impossibilities have been required of him, not in themselves impossibilities, but such for him. He winds and turns and torments himself; he advances and recoils; is ever put in mind, ever puts himself in mind; at last does all but lose his purpose from his thoughts; yet still without recovering his peace of mind.” Coleridge's criticism, which is regarded by very many as altogether the best that has ever been given of the character, is as follows: “In Hamlet, Shakespeare seems to have wished to exemplify the moral necessity of a due balance between our attention to the objects of our senses, and our meditation on the workings of our minds, - an equilibrium between the real and the imaginary worlds. In Hamlet, this balance is disturbed : his thoughts and the images of his fancy are far more vivid than his actual perceptions; and his very perceptions, instantly passing through the medium of his contemplations, acquire as they pass a form and a colour not naturally their own.
Hence w6 see a great, an almost enormous intellectual activity, and a propor tionate aversion to real action consequent upon it, with all its symptoms and accompanying qualities. This character Shakespeare places in circumstances under which it is obliged to act on the spur of the moment: Hamlet is, brave, and careless of death ; but he vacillates from sensibility, and procrastinates from thought, and loses the power of action in the energy of resolve.”
Thus much for views of the subject more or less at variance with my own. The passage from Coleridge, especially, viewing the character, as it does, from within, is worthy of attentive study; and the large currency it has attained argues a good deal of truth in it. As for my own views of the subject, the fairest and fullest expression of them that I have met with, on the whole, is the following, from the London Quarterly Review, vol. Ixxix: