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The intrinsic value of Fratricide Punished is small indeed, but two points of historical interest are noteworthy:-(i) Polonius, as in the First Quarto, is here represented by Corambus, and (ii) a prologue precedes the play, the persons represented therein being Night, Alecto, Thisiphone, Miegera. A strong case can, I think, be made out for the view that this thoroughly Senecan Prologue represents a fragment of the pre-Shakespearean play to which Nash and others made allusion: herein lies the chief merit of this soulless and coarse production.


This question has been indirectly touched upon in the previous paragraphs, and it follows from what has been said that the date of revision, as represented by the Second Quarto, may be fixed at about 1603, while the First Quarto, judging by the entry in the Stationers' Books, belongs to about 1601; at all events a version of Hamlet, recognized as Shakespeare's, was in existence before 1602. It is significant that the play is not mentioned in Meres' Palladis Tamia, 1598. In the matter of the date of the play "the traveling of the players" (Act II, sc. ii, 353, etc.) is of interest. It must be noted that we have three different forms of the passage in question:-(i) the reason for the "traveling" in Q. 1 is the popularity of a Company of Children; (ii) in Q. 2 “their inhibition comes by the means of the late innovation"; (iii) in the Folio (the reading in the text) both causes (i) and (ii) are combined.

Now it is known that (i) in 1601 Shakespeare's Company was in disgrace, perhaps because of its share in the Essex Conspiracy; (ii) that during this year the Children of the Chapel Royal were acting at Blackfriars; (iii) that towards the end of the year the Globe Company were "traveling." Two views are possible, either that “inhibition" is used technically for "a prohibition of theatrical performances by authority"; and "innovation" = "the political innovation," or that inhibition "non-residence," and

“innovation" refers to the Company of Children (vide Halliwell-Phillips' Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare; Fleay's Chronicle History of the London Stage).

Over and above these points of evidence in fixing the date there is the intimate connection of Hamlet and Julius Cæsar.


The ultimate source of the plot of Hamlet is the Historia Danica of Saxo Grammaticus (i. e. "the Lettered"), Denmark's first writer of importance, who lived at the close of the twelfth century.1 Saxo's Latinity was much admired, and even Erasmus wondered "how a Dane at that day could have such a force of eloquence.' Epitomes in Latin and Low-German were made during the fifteenth century, and Saxo's materials were utilized in various ways, until at length the first printed edition appeared in the year 1514; a second was issued in 1534, and a third in 1576. The tale of Hamlet, contained in the third and fourth books, is certainly the most striking of all Saxo's mythical hero-stories, quite apart from its Shakespearean interest, and Goethe, recognizing its dramatic possibilities, thought of treating the subject dramatically on the basis of Saxo's narrative. It is noteworthy that already in the fifteenth century the story was well known throughout the North, "trolled far and wide in popular song"; but its connection with the English drama was due to the French version given in Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques; the Hamlet story first appeared in the fifth volume, published in 1570, and again in 1581, 1582, 1591, etc. A blackletter English rendering is extant, but the date of the

1 There is an allusion to Hamlet in Icelandic literature some two hundred years before Saxo; and to this day "Amlothe" (i. e. Hamlet) is synonymous with "fool" among the folk there. The history of Hamlet in Iceland is of great interest (vide the Ambales-saga, edited by the present writer, published in 1898 by David Nutt). According to Zinzow and others the Saga is originally a naturemyth (vide Die Hamletsage).

unique copy is 1608, and in certain points shows the influence of the play. There is no evidence that an earlier English version existed. The author of the pre-Shakespearean Hamlet, and Shakespeare too, may well have read the story in Belleforest's Histoires.1 Few studies in literary origins are more instructive than to examine how the "rich barbarous tale" of the Danish historian has become transformed into the great soul-tragedy of modern literature. In Saxo's Amleth we have at least the frame-work of Shakespeare's Hamlet:-the murder of the father by a jealous uncle; the mother's incestuous marriage with the murderer; the son's feigned madness in order to execute revenge; there are the vague originals of Ophelia and Polonius; the meeting of mother and son; the voyage to England; all these familiar elements are found in the old tale. But the ghost, the play-scene, and the culmination of the play in the death of the hero as well as of the objects of his revenge, these are elements which belong essentially to the machinery of the Elizabethan Drama of vengeance. It is of course unnecessary to dwell on the subtler distinction between the easily understood Amleth and "the eternal problem" of Hamlet.2 Taine has said that the Elizabethan Renaissance was a Renaissance of the Saxon genius; from the point of view it is significant that its crowning glory should be the presentment of a typical Northern hero,-an embodiment of the Northern character;

'dark and true and tender is the North."

1 To Mr. Oliver Elton, Prof. York Powell, and the Folk-Lore Society, we owe the first English rendering of the mythical portion of Saxo's work, and a valuable study of Saxo's sources (published by David Nutt, 1894).

2 A résumé of Hamlet criticism is given in Vol. II. of Furness' noble edition of the play (London and Philadelphia, 1877).



The story on which Shakespeare founded The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, was told by Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish historian, whose work was first printed in 1514, though written as early as 1204. The incidents as related by him were borrowed by Belleforest, and set forth in his Histoires Tragiques, 1564. It was probably through the French version of Belleforest that the tale first found its way to the English stage. The only English translation that has come down to us was printed in 1608; and of this only a single copy is known to have survived. The edition of 1608 was most likely a reprint; but, if so, we have no means of ascertaining when it was first printed: Mr. Collier thinks there can be no doubt that it originally came from the press considerably before 1600. The only known copy is preserved among Capell's books in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, and has been lately republished by Collier in his Shakespeare's Library. It is entitled The History of Hamblet.

As there told, the story is, both in matter and style, uncouth and barbarous in the last degree; a savage, shocking tale of lust and murder, unredeemed by a single touch of art or fancy in the narrator. Perhaps there is nothing of the Poet's achieving more wonderful than that he should have reared so superb a dramatic structure out of materials so scanty and so revolting. The scene of the incidents is laid before the introduction of Christianity into Denmark, and when the Danish power held sway in England: further than this, the time is not specified. So

much of the story as was made use of for the drama is soon told.

Roderick, king of Denmark, divided his kingdom into provinces, and placed governors in them. Among these were two valiant and warlike brothers, Horvendile and Fengon. The greatest honor that men of noble birth could at that time win, was by exercising the art of piracy on the seas; wherein Horvendile surpassed all others. Collere, king of Norway, was so wrought upon by his fame, that he challenged him to fight body to body; and the challenge was accepted on condition that the vanquished should lose all the riches he had in his ship, and the vanquisher should cause his body to be honorably buried. Collere was slain; and Horvendile, after making great havoc in Norway, returned home with a mass of treasure, most of which he sent to King Roderick, who thereupon gave him his daughter Geruth in marriage. Of this marriage proceeded Hamblet, the hero of the tale.

All this so provoked the envy of Fengon, that he determined to kill his brother. So, having secretly assembled certain men, when Horvendile was at a banquet with his friends, he suddenly set upon him and slew him; but managed his treachery with so much cunning that no man suspected him. Before doing this, he had corrupted his brother's wife, and was afterwards married to her. Young Hamblet, thinking that he was likely to fare no better than his father had done, went to feigning himself mad, and made as if he had utterly lost his wits; wherein he used such craft that he became an object of ridicule to the satellites of the court. Many of his actions, however, were so shrewd, and his answers were often so fit, that men of a deeper reach began to suspect somewhat, thinking that beneath his folly there lay hid a sharp and pregnant spirit. So they counselled the king to try measures for discovering his meaning. The plan hit upon for entrapping him was, to leave him with some beautiful woman in a secret place, where she could use her art upon him. To this end they led him out into the woods, and arranged that the

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