« ForrigeFortsæt »
other quartos; one in 1605, one undated [1607 ?], and one in 1611.
The text of the present edition of Hamlet has been freshly compared throughout with the texts of the First and Second Quarto and of the First Folio, this being the first of a series of interspersed volumes, through which the editor hopes to include in THE NATIONAL LIBRARY his own edition of Shakespeare's Plays. Each play will be in a handy volume by itself, giving what the editor believes to be the nearest attainable approach to Shakespeare's text. The only sources of the modern text of a play of Shakespeare's are the quartos in which some of them appeared before their collection, and the folio into which they were collected, seven years after Shakespeare's death, by friends of his who had access to the play-house copies. Printed books of their days abounded in errata, which were added to whatever faults there might be in the copy printed from. A prudent editor has, therefore, to avoid much risk of injuring the text with new corruptions of his own.
The text here given was obtained in this manner, which may be taken to represent the degree of attention that will be given to the text of future volumes: The play was first printed from the text of Professor Delius; it was then minutely compared with the texts of the First and Second Quarto and the Folio, and with the text of Dyce's last edition, which is, on the whole, the best yet issued. In one place an omitted line has been inserted; in one place a superfluous conjectural addition to the text, although it has been generally adopted, is struck out. In one place where there is an unquestionable misprint, "disasters in the sun," which various editors have sought in various unsatisfactory ways to correct, one more attempt has been made to give, if not the true reading, the true sense. Where a preceding correction is adopted, the adoption will, in all the little books of the plays of Shakespeare that appear from time to time among the volumes of the
NATIONAL LIBRARY, mean that the correction has been freshly considered and accepted. Where a change of word is not adopted, and the original text is fallen back upon, it means, and will mean, either that the present Editor takes the word in the original text to be the right word, or the error in the original_to be one that has not yet been finally corrected. In all cases of doubt as to the value of corrections, the original text will be preferred. But while in such matters conservative, these little books will not be found conservative of that overload of punctuation with which many editors have destroyed the pliancy and often the sense of Shakespeare's poetry. There are here discharged from the text many of the little hooked commas that tortured it, and also the whole of that cruel apparatus of hooks through which good verse is dragged for no crimes of its own. Does any one want the printer of either prose or verse to print 'hook'd" lest the reader should read hooked"? Surely it is enough if in the few cases where there is any variation from usage that is indicated by an accent, and in all other respects the verse of Shakespeare is left to be read as we read verse of Tennyson, or any other poet of the present day. The old butcherly array of hooks across a poet's lines remains to us now only as a superstition of the past in books that, by inadvertence, are still left, as Shakespeare has hitherto been left, encumbered with such useless furniture.
If life and health suffice to the completion of the plan here sketched, the series of the plays will be followed by three or four volumes of selected and original Notes. But the Introduction to each play will endeavour only to assist enjoyment of it as a whole.
The story of Hamlet actually originates in an old Danish Saga, which found its way, in 1570, from Saxo Grammaticus into the fifth volume of Histoires tragiques, by François de Belleforest, as a tale showing Avec quelle ruse Amleth, qui depuis fut roy de
Dannemarch, vengea la mort de son père Horvendille, occis par Fengon son frère, et autre occurrence de son histoire. An English version of the tale in Belleforest appeared as the Historie of Hamblet; and it was also made into an English play, now lost, that preceded Shakespeare's. This must have served as a starting point for Shakespeare's invention. In an epistle by Thomas Nash, before Robert Greene's novel of "Menaphon," in 1589, there is an allusion to the shifty playwrights, who from English Seneca may draw "whole Hamlets, I should say handfulls of tragical speeches;" and in the Diary of Henslowe, the actor, there is mention of a Hamlet represented, June 9th, 1594, in the theatre at Newington Butts, which was an old play, from which Henslowe only got eight shillings for his share of the proceeds.
Shakespeare's play opens with watch over the sea against attack by Fortinbras for the recovery of land lost thirty years before, when the father of Fortinbras, the King of Norway, lost the land, and with it his life, wagered by him in duel with the father of Hamlet. The time elapsed since that duel, which was on the day of Hamlet's birth, is precisely told in the fifth act (pages 166–7), where the grave-digger says that he became a grave-digger "that day that our last King Hamlet o'ercame Fortinbras," which was "the very day that young Hamlet was born," and presently adds, "I have been sexton here, man and boy, thirty years.' Thus Shakespeare clearly fixes Hamlet's age as thirty. Young Fortinbras can hardly be younger, since his father was killed on the day of Hamlet's birth. We can only think of him as a young child when his father's brother succeeded to rule in Norway, according to the old usage (illustrated also in Macbeth) that set aside direct succession if the king's son was not of age to be a leader of the people. But Hamlet was a man in years, though not in action, when he left his uncle free to take the throne.
Throughout the play, Fortinbras serves as a foil to Hamlet. Fortinbras is a man of action, who thinks little; Hamlet is a man of the highest intellectual culture, in whom thought is ever busy; in whom
"The native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
At the opening of the play there is stir of warlike preparation in Denmark, and strict watch against the sudden energies of Fortinbras, who is expected to make a bold dash for the lands his father lost. Into the midst of the watch comes one from the other world, to give Hamlet something that he must not only think upon, but do. As Shakespeare reads life, every one who has come to manhood has to do his work. In youth we prepare for our work; but after we have entered on life's active duties all study is but the care to keep our arms from rusting, arms that we have daily to use. Hamlet, when the play opens, has only been drawn from his enjoyment of the studious university life by his father's sudden death, followed within a month by his uncle's marriage with his mother. When the play opens he is still at Elsinore, his father "but two months dead; nay, not so much, not two,” and his mother had married
"Within a month,—
Let me not think on 't. Frailty, thy name is woman."
His mother's marriage pains him yet more than his father's death. When he hears of his father's spirit in arms, his thought flashes at once to suspicion of his uncle. The spirit confirms his suspicion. He has no doubt that it is his duty to avenge the murder of his father. But, in the first conviction, he plans already simulation of madness that shall give him opportunities of secret observation,
"As I perhaps hereafter shall think meet,
The device is that of a mind already "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." Had Fortinbras been so summoned to action, the king would have been dead in an hour. When, later in the play, by the killing of Polonius, Laertes, who serves also as a contrast to Hamlet, is in Hamlet's position, with a father killed, he is back from Paris in a whirlwind, beating at the palace gates. But at the close of the first act, Hamlet's exclamation, after he has learnt his duty is,
"The time is out of joint: O, cursed spite,
No man healthily active would in Hamlet's position either have felt it necessary to break from the woman whom he deeply loved, or to use the tricks of a feigned madness to cover self-indulgence in a long, last farewell look. Time passes, and much is thought and felt, but nothing done. When the players come, to whom, as delighting him with shadows of action, he had been a good patron at the University, and when one of the players loses himself in the griefs of Hecuba, Hamlet reproaches himself with self-comparison.
"What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
That I have?'
"About my brains!" is the result; and still only the brain works. The spirit may have been the devil in a pleasing shape. Hamlet will put its truth to test by the device of the play, in which the King shall see the image of his crime.
"If his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damnéd ghost that we have seen.'
It does unkennel itself. Hamlet absolutely knows his