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COPYRIGHT, 1883 AND 1897, BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY ALEXINA B. WHITE
All rights reserved.
THE story of the tragedy which has added more than any other of his works to Shakespeare's fame (although it neither is his greatest play nor contains his greatest poetry), was well known in England long before it was made the subject of dramatic representation. Indeed, it was turned into a play for the very reason that it was an old story.' The chief interest of the audiences for which Shakespeare wrote was in events which they already had in mind. These they liked to have vividly set before their eyes and made impressive by living men seeming the actual personages of legend or of history. They delighted to hear these creatures of flesh and blood utter their joys and their sorrows with that soul-stirring union of homely strength and poetical elevation which came and vanished in the Elizabethan era. But the great point was always the story; and that having popular interest, if it were well known, so much the better. The legend of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, made its first appearance, we have reason to believe, in the Historia Danica of Saxo Grammaticus, who wrote about the end of the twelfth century. This was translated into French, and published in Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques at Paris in 1570. The French version was translated into English; when, we do not know. The earliest edition known is dated 1608; but we may be sure that it had been printed in English long before that year. From this story that of our tragedy differs in some important details and in its ending; but the variation is due only in part to Shakespeare. We have evidence that before 1587 an English play founded on the story of Hamlet was well known in London; and in this play there was important variation from the old legend. For a very striking incident in this old tragedy was the incitement of young Hamlet to revenge by the ghost of his father, of which the tale told by Saxo Grammaticus says nothing. Indeed, in this earlier play the crying out of "Revenge!" by the ghost and by Hamlet was so impressive that that exclamation became associated with Hamlet's name, and was almost a byword. Shakespeare took the old play in hand and entirely rewrote it, modifying the action yet again in his turn; and the result was the famous tragedy now known the world over. His dramatic version of this favorite story was so successful that it was eagerly sought by readers; and to meet this demand an edition of it was published in quarto in 1603. Except in its first scenes, however, this edition is a