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THE original story on which this play is built, may be found in Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish historian. From thence Belleforest adopted it in his collection of novels, in seven volumes, which he began in 1564, and continued to publish through succeeding years. From this work, The Hystorie of Hamblett, quarto, bl. 1. was translated. I have hitherto met with no earlier edition of the play than one in the year 1604, though it must have been performed before that time, as I have seen a copy of Speght's edition of Chaucer, which formerly belonged to Dr. Gabriel Harvey, (the antagonist of Nash) who, in his own hand-writing, has set down Hamlet, as a performance with which he was well acquainted, in the year 1598. words are these: "The younger sort take much delight in Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis; but his Lucrece, and his tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, have it in them to please the wiser sort, 1598."
In the books of the Stationers' Company, this play was entered by James Roberts, July 26, 1602, under the title of "A booke called The Revenge of Hamlett, Prince of Denmarke, as it was lately acted by the lord chamberlain his servantes."
In Eastward Hoe, by George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, 1605, is a fling at the hero of this tragedy. A footman named Hamlet enters, and a tankard-bearer asks him-"'Sfoote, Hamlet, are you mad?"
The frequent allusions of contemporary authors to this play sufficiently show its popularity. Thus, in Decker's Bel-man's Nightwalkes, 4to. 1612, we have-" But if any mad Hamlet, hearing this, smell villainie, and rush in by violence to see what the tawny diuels [gypsies] are dooing, then they excuse the fact," &c. Again, in an old collection of Satirical Poems, called The Night-Raven, is this couplet:
"I will not cry Hamlet, Revenge my greeves,
"But I will call Hangman, Revenge on thieves." Steevens. Surely no satire was intended in Eastward Hoe, which was acted at Shakspeare's own playhouse, (Blackfriers) by the children of the revels, in 1605. Malone.
The following particulars relative to the date of this piece are borrowed from Dr. Farmer's Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare, p. 85, 86, second edition :
"Greene, in the epistle prefixed to his Arcadia, hath a lash at some vaine glorious tragedians,' and very plainly at Shakspeare in particular. I leave all these to the mercy of their mother-tongue, that feed on nought but the crums that fall from the translator's trencher.-That could scarcely latinize their neck verse if they should have neede, yet English Seneca, read by candlelight yeelds many good sentences-hee will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say, handfuls of tragicall speeches.'I cannot determine exactly when this Epistle was first published; but, I fancy, it will carry the original Hamlet somewhat further back than we have hitherto done: and it may be observed, that
the oldest copy now extant is said to be enlarged to almost as much againe as it was.' Gabriel Harvey printed at the end of the year 1592, Foure letters and certaine Sonnetts, especially touching Robert Greene in one of which his Arcadia is mentioned. Now Nash's Epistle must have been previous to these, as Gabriel is quoted in it with applause; and the Foure Letters were the beginning of a quarrel. Nash replied in 'Strange News of the intercepting certaine Letters, and a Convoy of Verses, as they were going privilie to victual the Low Countries, 1593.' Harvey rejoined the same year in Pierce's Supererogation, or a new Praise of the old Asse.' And Nash again, in 'Have with you to Saffron Walden, or Gabriell Harvey's Hunt is up' containing a full answer to the eldest sonne of the haltermaker, 1596.'-Nash died before 1606, as appears from an old comedy called The Return from Parnassus. Steevens.
A play on the subject of Hamlet had been exhibited on the stage before the year 1589, of which Thomas Kyd was, I bəlieve, the author. On that play, and on the bl. 1. Historie of Hamblet, our poet, I conjecture, constructed the tragedy before us. The earliest edition of the prose-narrative which I have seen, was printed in 1608, but it undoubtedly was a re-publication.
Shakspeare's Hamlet was written, if my conjecture be well founded, in 1596. Malone.
Cladius, king of Denmark.
Hamlet,1 son to the former, and nephew to the present, king.
Polonius, lord chamberlain.
Osric, a courtier.
Gertrude, queen of Denmark, and mother of Hamlet.
Lords, ladies, officers, soldiers, players, grave-diggers, sailors, messengers, and other attendants,
1 Hamlet,] i. e. Amleth. The h transferred from the end to the beginning of the name. Steevens.
PRINCE OF DENMARK.
ACT I....SCENE I.
Elsinore. A Platform before the Castle.
FRANCISCO on his Post.
Ber. Who's there?
Ber. Long live the king!s
Nay, answer me :2 stand, and unfold
Fran. You come most carefully upon your hour. Ber. 'Tis now struck twelve ;4 get thee to bed, Francisco.
Fran. For this relief, much thanks: 'tis bitter cold, And I am sick at heart.
Ber. Have you had quiet guard?
Not a mouse stirring.
Ber. Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
2me:] i. e. me who am already on the watch, and have a right to demand the watch-word. Steevens.
3 Long live the king!] This sentence appears to have been the watch-word. Malone.
4'Tis now struck twelve;] I strongly suspect that the true reading is-new struck &c. So, in Romeo and Juliet, Act I, sc. i: "But new struck nine." Steevens.
5 The rivals of my watch,] Rivals for partners. Warburton. Rival is constantly used by Shakspeare for a partner or assoMalone.
Enter HORATIO and MARCELLUS.
Fran. I think, I hear them.-Stand, ho! Who is there?
Fran. Give you good night.
Who hath reliev'd you?
Give you good night.
What, is Horatio there?
A piece of him."
Ber. Welcome, Horatio; welcome, good Marcellus.
Mar. Horatio says, 'tis but our fantasy;
And liegemen to the Dane.
O, farewel, honest soldier:
Bernardo hath my place.
6 Hor. A piece of him.] But why a piece? He says this as he gives his hand. Which direction should be marked. Warburton.
A piece of him, is, I believe, no more than a cant expression. It is used, however, on a serious occasion in Pericles:
"Take in your arms this piece of your dead queen."
7 Hor. What, &c.] Thus the quarto, 1604. Steevens. These words are in the folio given to Marcellus. Malone.
8 the minutes of this night;] This seems to have been an expression common in Shakspeare's time. I find it in one of Ford's plays, The Fancies chaste and noble, Act V:
"I promise ere the minutes of the night." Steevens. approve our eyes,] Add a new testimony to that of our eyes. Johnson.
So, in King Lear :
this approves her letter,
That she would soon be here."
See Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, sc. i. Steevens.
He may approve our eyes,] He may make good the testimony of our eyes; be assured by his own experience of the truth of that which we have related, in consequence of having been eye