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TABLE OF CONTENTS
245, 247, 248, 269
Campbell, Thomas .
Editions Collated, List of .. 394 Hystorie of Hamblet
English Comedians in Germany 114 Insanity, Real or Feigned ..
THE DATE, AND THE TEXT
The year in which Shakespeare first wrote Hamlet has given rise to much discussion.
From fourteen to sixteen years before the date of the first edition that has come down to us of this tragedy, allusions to a Play apparently bearing the same title, and containing the same plot, are to be found in contemporary literature.
The question that still divides the Shakespearian world is, stated broadly, whether or not this older drama be one of Shakespeare's earliest works.
The earliest allusion to it was pointed out by Dr FARMER, in his Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare (ed. ii, p. 85). The allusion is contained in an Epistle • To the Gentlemen Students of both Universities,' written by Nash, and prefixed to Greene's Menaphon, or Arcadin, printed in 1589. Nash, referring to the makers of plays of that day, says: Ile turne backe to my first text, of studies of delight, and talke a little in friendship 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 whereto they were borne, and busie themselves with the indevours of art, that could scarcelie latinize their neckeverse if they should have neede; yet English Seneca read by candle-light yeeldes manie good sentences, as Blould is a begger, and so foorth: and if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning, he will affoord you whole Hamlets, I should say Hand. fulls 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 Seneca, let bloud line by line, and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage.'
MALONE (Variorum, 1821, vol. ii, p. 372), aster quoting this passage, continues: Not having seen the first edition of this tract till a few years ago, I formerly doubted whether the foregoing passage referred to the tragedy of Hamlet ; but the word Hamlets being printed in the original copy in a different character from the rest, I have no longer any doubt upon the subject. It is manisest from this passage that some play on the story of Hamlet had been exhibited before the year 1589; but I am inclined to think that it was not Shakespeare's drama, but an elder performance, on which, with the aid of the old prose Hystorie of Hamblet, his tragedy was formed. The great number of pieces which we know he formed on the performances of preceding writers, renders it highly probable that some others also of his dramas were
* Thus far in this extract I have followed Staunton; the rest is as Malone quotes it. Ed.
constructed on plays that are now lost. Perhaps the original Hamlet was written by Thomas Kyd; who was the author of one play (and probably of more) to which no name is affixed. The only tragedy to which Kyd's name is affixed (Cornelia) is a prosessed translation from the French of Garnier, who, as well as his translator, imitated Seneca. In Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, as in Shakespeare's Hamlet, there is, if I may say so, a play represented within a play; if the old play of Ilamlet should ever be recovered, a similar interlude, I make no doubt, would be found there; and somewhat of the same contrivance may be traced in the old Taming of a Shrew, a comedy which perhaps had the same author as the other ancient pieces now enumerated. Nash seems to point at some dramatic writer of that time who had originally been a scrivener or attorney, and instead of transcribing deeds and pleadings, had chosen to imitate Seneca's plays, of which a translation had been published many years before. Shakespeare, however freely he may have borrowed from Plutarch or Holinshed, does not appear to be at all indebted to Seneca; and therefore I do not believe that he was the person in Nash's contemplation.' Malone was inclined to believe at first that the person alluded to as having. lest the trade of Nozerint (that is, of attorney, from the Latin formula with which deeds began : Noverint l'niversi, and of which our know all men is a translation) could not have been Shakespeare ; but afterwards, on a review of the numerous legal terms and phrases used by Shakespeare, he changed his opinion, and suspected that Shakespeare was early initiated in at least the forms of law; and was employed, while at Stratford, in the office of some country attorney who was at the same time a petty conveyancer, and perhaps also the Seneschal of some manor-court.'
In reference to the date of this Epistle of Nash's, Dyce in his edition of Greene's Works (vol. i, p. ciii), after citing the title of Menaphon. Camillas alarum to slumbering Euphues, in his melancholie Celi at Silexeira, &c., &c., 1589, 4to, adds: • First printed 1587,' but gives no authority in the way of title or imprint. This date of 1587 has been followed, on Dyce's authority, by Collier and one or two others, but Knight thinks it is a mistake, and Dyce himself seems to have had a misgiving on the subject, for in his second edition of Shakespeare he gives the date of Greene's Nenaphon as 1589 with •[qy if first printed in 1587?]' after it. The surer date, therefore, is 1589. This date is of importance; it makes Shakespeare twenty-five years old, instead of twenty-three, when Nash thus alluded to him,--no small gain for those who maintain that this older Hamlet was written by him.
C. A. BROWN (Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems, p. 254) maintains emphatically that Shakespeare's tragedy was referred to in the phrase "whole Hamlets of tragical speaches,' and that Shakespeare himself was alluded to as having left the trade of Noverint; and further, that his reason for assigning 1589 as the date of the composition of Hamlet is founded solely on this passage from Nash. It is to be understood as regarding its original state before the alterations and enlargements had taken place.'. *If there exists a description of that elder play, I do not hesitate in saying it is Shakespeare's and no other's, provided the Ghost appears in it. According to the old black-letter Quarto, whence the tragedy is derived, the killing of the Prince's father was public; consequently, no Ghost was employed to reveal it to the son. Now the change from an open slaying, with some show of cause, to a secret murder, involving the necessity of the Ghost's appearance to seek revenge, is so important, so wonderful an invention for the dramatic effect of the story, that I cannot imagine it belonged to any but Shakespeare. Should I be mistaken in this opinion, still I appeal to Nash's authority, published in 1589, that Shakespeare's