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The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke By William Shake-speare. As it hath beene diuerse times acted by his Highnesse seruants in the Cittie of London : as also in the two Vniuersities of Cambridge and Oxford, and else-where At London printed for N. L. and Iohn Trundell. 1603. 4to. 33
The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. By William Shakespeare. Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie. At London, Printed by I. R. for N. L. and are to be sold at his shoppe vnder Saint Dunstons Church in Fleetstreet 1604. 4to. 51 leaves.
The title-page of the edition of 1605 does not differ in the most minute particular from that of 1604.
The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke. By William Shakespeare. Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppy. At London, Printed for Iohn Smethwicke and are to be sold at his shoppe in Saint Dunstons Church yeard in Fleetstreet. Vnder the Diall. 1611. 4to. 51 leaves.
The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke. Newly Imprinted and inlarged, according to the true and perfect Copy lastly Printed. By William Shakespeare. London, Printed by W. S. for Iohn Smethwicke, and are to be sold at his Shop in Saint Dunstans Church-yard in Fleetstreet: Vnder the Diall. 4to. 51 leaves.
This undated edition was probably printed in 1607, as it was entered at Stationers' Hall on Nov. 19, in that year. An impression, by R. Young, in 4to, 1637, bas also John Smethwicke at the bottom of the title-page.
In the folio of 1623, “The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke,” occupies thirty-one pages, in the division of “ Tragedies ;” viz. from p. 152 to p. 280, inclusive, there being a mistake of 100 pages between p. 156 and what ought to have been p. 157.
The story upon which, there is reason to believe, Shakespeare founded his tragedy of “Hamlet,” has recently been reprinted, from the only known perfect copy', as part of a work called “Shakespeare's Library ;” and there is, perhaps, nothing more remarkable than the manner in which our great dramatist wrought these barbarous, uncouth, and scanty materials into the magnificent structure he left behind him. A comparison of “ The Historie of Hamblet," as it was translated at an early date from the French of Belleforest’, with “ The Tragedy of Hamlet,” is calculated to give us the most exalted notion of, and profound reverence for, the genius of Shakespeare : his vast superiority to Greene and Lodge was obvious in “ The Winter's Tale,” and “ As You Like It;" but the novels of “ Pandosto” and “ Rosalynde," as narratives, were perhaps as far above “The Historie of Hamblet,” as “The Winter's Tale” and “ As You Like It” were above the originals from which their main incidents were derived.
There is, however, some ground for thinking, that a lost play upon similar incidents preceded the work of Shakespeare: how far that lost play might be an improvement upon the old translated “ Historie” we have no means of deciding, nor to what extent Shakespeare availed himself of such improvement. A drama, of which Hamlet was the hero, was certainly in being prior to the year 1587, (in all probability too early a date for Shakespeare to have been the writer of it) for we find it thus alluded to by Thomas Nash, in his preliminary epistle to the “ Menaphon” of Robert Greene, published in that year :-“Yet English Seneca,
i Dr. Farmer had an imperfect copy, but it is preserved entire among Capell's books in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge: it was printed in 1608, by Richard Bradocke, for Thomas Pavier. “ There can be little doubt that it had originally come from the press considerably before the commencement of the seventeenth century, although the multiplicity of readers of productions of the kind, and the carelessness with which such books were regarded after perusal, has led to the destruction, as far as can now be ascertained, of every earlier copy."Introduction to Part IV. of “ Shakespeare's Library."
2 Belleforest derived his knowledge of the incidents from the “ History of Denmark," by Saxo Grammaticus, first printed in 1514.
3 We give the date of 1587 on the authority of the Rev. A. Dyce (Greene's Works, Vol. i. pp. xxxvii. and ciii.). We have never been able to meet with any impression earlier than that of 1589. Sir Egerton Brydges reprinted the tract from the edition of 1616 (when its name had been changed to “Greene's Arcadia"), in “ Archaica," Vol. i.
read by candlelight, yeelds many good sentences, as blood is a beggar, and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches.” The writer is referring to play-poets and their productions of that period, and he seems to have gone out of his way, in order to introduce the very name of the performance against which he was directing ridicule. Another piece of evidence, to the same effect, is to be found in Henslowe's Diary (p. 35), under the date of June 9th, 1594, when a “Hamlet” was represented at the theatre at Newington Butts : it was then an old play, and Henslowe's share of the receipts was only eight shillings. At that date, however, the company to which Shakespeare belonged was in joint occupation of the same theatre, and it is certainly possible, though improbable, that the drama represented on June 9th, 1594, was Shakespeare's “Hamlet.”
We feel confident, however, that the “Hamlet” which has come down to us in at least six quarto impressions, in the folio of 1623, and in the later impressions in that form, was not written until the winter of 1601, or the spring of 16024.
Malone, Steevens, and the other commentators, were acquainted with no edition of the tragedy anterior to the quarto of 1604, which professes to be "enlarged to almost as much again as it was:" they, therefore, reasonably suspected that it had been printed before ; and within the last thirty years two copies of an edition in 1603 have been discovered. This, in fact, seems to have been the abbreviated and imperfect edition, consisting of only about half as much as the impression of 1604: one of these copies belongs to the Duke of Devonshire. From whose press it came we have no information, but it purported to be “printed for N. L. and Iohn Trundell.” The edition of the following year was printed by I. R. for N. L. only; and why Trundell ceased to have any interest in the publication we know not. N. L. was Nicholas Ling; and I. R., the printer of the edition of 1604, was, no doubt, James Roberts, who, two years before, had made the following entry in the Registers of the Stationers' Company :
“ 26 July, 1602. James Roberts] A booke, The Revenge of Hamlett prince of
Denmarke, as yt was latelie acted by the Lord Chamber
layn his servantes." The words," as it was lately acted,” are important upon the question of date, and the entry farther proves, that the tragedy had been performed by the company to which Shakespeare
+ On 7 July, 1602, H. Chettle was paid 20s. in earnest of what is called in Henslowe's Diary (p. 224) "a Danish Tragedy"- possibly on the same story as Shakespeare's “ Hamlet," and intended to rival it.
belonged. In the spring of 1603 “the Lord Chamberlain's servants” became the King's players; and on the title-page of the quarto of 1603 it is asserted that it had been acted “by his Highness' servants.” On the title-page of the quarto of 1604 we are not informed that the tragedy had ever been acted.
Thus we see, that in July, 1602, there was an intention to print and publish a play called “ The Revenge of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark ;” and this intention, we may fairly conclude, arose out of the popularity of the piece, as it was then performed by “the Lord Chamberlain's servants," who, in May following, obtained the title of “ the King's players.” The object of Roberts in making the entry, already quoted, was to secure it to himself, being, no doubt, aware that other printers and booksellers would endeavour to anticipate him. It seems probable, that he was unable to obtain such a copy of “Hamlet” as he would put his name to ; but some inferior and nameless printer, who was not so scrupulous, having surreptitiously secured a manuscript of the play, however imperfect, which would answer the purpose, and gratify public curiosity, the edition bearing date in 1603 was published. Such, we have little doubt, was the origin of that impression, of which, probably, but a few were sold, and it was quickly entirely superseded by the enlarged impression of 1604.
As an accurate reprint was made in 1825 of “ The Tragicall Historie of Hainlet Prince of Denmarke," 1603, it will be unnecessary to go in detail into proofs to establish, as we could do without much difficulty, the following points :-1. That great part of the play, as it there stands, was taken down in short-hand. 2. That where mechanical skill failed the short-hand writer, he either filled up the blanks badly from memory, or employed an inferior writer to assist him. 3. That although some of the scenes were carelessly transposed, and others entirely omitted in the edition of 1603, the drama, as it was acted while the short-hand writer was employed in taking it down, was, in all its main features, the same as the more perfect copy of the tragedy printed with the date of 1604. It is true that in the edition of 1603 Polonius is called Corambis, and his servant Montano, and we may not be able to determine why these changes were made in the immediately subsequent impression ; but we may perhaps conjecture that they were names in the older play on the same story, or names which Shakespeare at first introduced, and subsequently thought fit to reject. We know that Ben Jonson changed the whole dramatis persone of his “Every Man in his Humour.”
But although we entirely reject the quarto of 1603 as an 5 It has Ling's device on the title-page, and possibly was from his types: the edition of 1604 was printed for, not by, him.