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PRINCE OF DENMARK
In connection with the publication of the 1603 Quarto, reference must be made to the following entry in the Stationers' Registers :
" xxvj to Julij. James Robertes. Entered for his Copie vnder the handes of mas
ter Pasfield and master Waterson Warden A booke called 'the Revenge of HAMLETT Prince [of] Denmarke,' as yt was lateli Acted by the Lord Chamberlayne his servants
vjd." James Robertes, the printer of the 1604 edition, may also have been the printer of the Quarto of 1603, and this entry may have had reference to its projected publication; it is noteworthy that in 1603 “ the Lord Chamberlain's Servants” became “ The King's Players,” and the Quarto states that the play had been acted “by His Highness' Servants.” On the other hand, the entry may have been made by Roberts to secure the play to himself, and some inferior and nameless printer” may have anticipated him by the publication of an imperfect, surreptitious, and garbled version, impudently offering as Shakespeare's such wretched stuff as this:
“To be, or not to be, I there's the point,
To Die, to sleepe, is that all: I all?
The happy smile, and the accursed damn’d.” The dullest poetaster could not have been guilty of this nonsense: a second-rate playwright might have put these last words in Hamlet's mouth:
“Mine eyes haue lost their stght, my tongue his vse;
Farewell Horatio, heaven receive my soule: “The rest is silence"-Shakespeare's supreme touch is here.
A rapid examination of the First Quarto reveals the following among its chief divergences :-(i.) the difference in length; 2143 lines as against 3719 in the later Quarto; (ii.) the mutilation, or omission, of many passages “distinguished by that blending of psychological insight with imagination and fancy, which is the highest manifestation of Shakespeare's genius ”; (iii.) absurd misplacement and maiming of lines; distortion of words and phrases; (iv.) confusion in the order of the scenes; (v.) difference in characterisation; e.g. the Queen's avowed innocence (“ But as I have a soul, I swear by heaven, I never knew of this most horrid murder"), and her active adhesion to the plots against her guilty husband; (vi.) this latter aspect is brought out in a special scene between Horatio and the Queen, omitted in the later version; (vii.) the names of some of the characters are not the same as in the subsequent editions; Corambis and Montano, for Polonius and Reynaldo. What, then, is the history of this Quarto? In the first place it is certain that it must have been printed without authority; in all probability shorthand notes taken by an incompetent stenographer during the performance of the play formed the basis of the printer's “copy.” Thomas Heywood alludes to this method of obtaining plays in the prologue to his If you know not me, you know no bodie:
“ (This) did throng the Seats, the Boxes, and the Stage
The plot: put it in print: (scarce one word trew).” The main question at issue is the relation of this piratical version to Shakespeare's work. The various views may be divided as follows:-(i.) there are those who maintain that it is an imperfect production of an old Hamlet written by Shakespeare in his youth, and revised by him in his maturer years; (ii.) others contend that both the First and Second Quartos represent the same version, the difference between the two editions being due to carelessness and incompetence; (iii.) a third class holds, very
strongly, that the First Quarto is a garbled version of an old-fashioned play of Hamlet, written by some other dramatist, and revised to a certain extent by Shakespeare about the year 1602; so that the original of Quarto I represented Shakespeare's Hamlet in an intermediate stage; in Quarto 2 we have for the first time the complete metamorphosis. All the evidence seems to point to this third view as a plausible settlement of the problem; there is little to be said in favour of the first and second theories.
The Lost Hamlet. There is no doubt that a play on the subject of Hamlet existed as early as 1589, in which year there appeared Greene's Menaphon, with a prefatory epistle by Thomas Nash, containing a summary review of contemporary literature. The following passage occurs in his talk' with a few of our triviall translators':
" It is a common practice now a daies amongst a sort of shifting companions, that runne through every arte and thrive by none to leave the trade of Noverint (i.e. attorney) whereto they were borne, and busie themselves with the endevours of art, that could scarcelie latinize their neck verse if they should have neede; yet English Seneca read by candlelight yeeldes manie good sentences, as Bloud is a beggar, and so forth; and if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning, he will afoord you whole Hamlets, I should say Handfulls of tragical speaches. But O grief! Tempus edax rerum; what is it that will last always? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be drie; and Senaca, let bloud line by line, and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage. The play alluded to by Nash did not die to our stage till the end of the century; in Henslowe's Diary we find an entry:—“9. of June 1594.
R[eceiveld at hamlet. viijs: ' the play was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's men, the company to which Shakespeare belonged.