Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

The Cock that is the trumpet to the morne,
Doth with his earley and shrill crowing throate
Awake the god of day, and at his sound, etc.

These lines have become, in the Second Quarto, the following:

The cock that is the trumpet to the morne,

Doth with his lofty and shrill sounding throat
Awake the God of day, and at his warning, etc.

It is clear at a glance that the change from "shrill crowing" to "shrill sounding" has made it necessary to substitute another word for sound in the next line. But the word actually substituted (warning) introduces at once a rime with morning two lines before. The further change from morning to morne of course grows out of the necessity of avoiding such a rime. The interest of comparisons like these is endless. For us, however, in our study, its chief value lies in the light it throws on one reason for Shakespeare's success-his capacity, that is, for taking pains, which is one ingredient even of genius such as his.

His career, moreover, was successful, even when judged by other than literary standards. For his creative power was not inconsistent with a keen and practical business sense. His income as an actor, as a shareholder in two remunerative theaters, and as the most popular playwright of his day was a large and growing one. In 1597, only eleven years after he came up to London, he bought the largest house in Stratford, known as New Place, and during the following years improved it, making at in

tervals other investments in and about the town. In 1611, at the height of his fame, he returned to Stratford, twentysix years after he had left it, and lived there, on his own estate, until his death at the age of fifty-two, April 23, 1616.

After his death his friend and greatest rival, Ben Jonson, wrote of him: "I loved the man and do honor his memory, on this side idolatry, as well as any. He was, indeed, honest and of an open and free nature." It is useless to try to piece out the facts of his biography from his plays; but the more thoroughly one studies them, the profounder is one's conviction of the soundness and wholesomeness of character, and of the deepening moral insight, of the man who wrote them.

II

HAMLET

THE first question about a Shakespearean play has to do with its text-with the form and manner, that is, in which the play has come down to us. Shakespeare's plays were published in two different forms. Sixteen of them appeared in small volumes called quartos, each containing a single play. And all of them, except Pericles, were published (the remaining twenty for the first time) in 1623, in a large volume known as the First Folio. For a number of the sixteen plays referred to there are two or more quartos (in two cases as many as six); and

three folios (dated 1632, 1663, and 1685) followed the first. The play of Hamlet exists in three forms: one, known as the First Quarto, published in 1603; another, known as the Second Quarto, published in 1604; the third is the text that is found in the First Folio of 1623.

These three forms of the play differ from one another in many ways. The First Quarto is little more than half as long as the Second, and the text is evidently imperfect, and in many passages incorrect. In the Second Quarto the arrangement of the scenes is different, and in addition to the fact that the play is "enlarged to almost as much againe as it was" (as the title-page states), the characterization and the treatment in general are vastly improved. The text of the First Folio is essentially that of the Second Quarto, but a number of passages that occur in the Second Quarto are omitted in the Folio, and the Folio contains a few passages that do not appear in the Quartos. The text of the play as it is found in modern editions is made up by combining the texts of the Second Quarto and First Folio, with some aid, here and there, from the First Quarto.

The relations of the two Quartos to each other, and of the Folio to both, have been much disputed. But it seems fairly clear that the First Quarto represents a pirated edition of the first form of Shakespeare's play, probably taken down hastily and surreptitiously in shorthand by some agent of the publishers, and possibly pieced out to a slight degree from actors' copies; that the Second Quarto represents an authorized (but not very well printed) edition of the play as Shakespeare had meantime

thoroughly revised it; and that the differences between the First Folio and the Second Quarto are in the main to be accounted for by supposing that the omissionsnow in the one, now in the other-represent cuts for acting purposes, due to the great length of the play. Even to-day the ordinary stage performance of Hamlet never includes the full text.

But after we know how the play has reached us, we have still to ask how the story that it tells reached Shakespeare. For the great dramatists, whose supreme originality lies in giving new form and meaning to what is already known, rarely, if ever, invent their own plots, and Hamlet offers no exception. The story of the play is very old. It appears first about the beginning of the thirteenth century, in the History of the Danes by Saxo Grammaticus.1 The story, as it is there told, is very different from the one we know, four hundred years later, in Shakespeare. It is a rude and brutal tale, with elements in it that go back to a still more primitive stage of civilization. But certain essential facts of the play are present in the history. The fratricide on which the drama is based; the marriage between the murderer and Hamlet's mother; Hamlet's feigned madness in order to accomplish his revenge; the device (in a very different form, however, from that of the play) of using his love for a woman in order to lead him to betray himself; the killing of an eavesdropper (who has hidden under the rushes

Translated (in part) from the Latin in The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus, by Oliver Elton (Folk Lore Society, 1893), pp. 106-130.

1

on the floor); the dispatch of Hamlet to England with two companions; the altering of the letter, and Hamlet's return (not, however, through the aid of the pirates),all these details are present in the older story. But there is no ghost, and Hamlet's savage revenge is wholly differ ent, while he himself lives to become king, and is later killed through the treachery of his second wife. Saxo's story was retold in French in 1570, in Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques, which was not translated into English until five years after the First Quarto was published. Shakespeare may possibly have known Belleforest; he almost certainly did not know Saxo. The story seems to have reached him in another way.

At least fifteen of Shakespeare's thirty-seven playsincluding the Merchant of Venice, King John, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Cæsar, and King Lear-are more or less directly based upon earlier plays, and no clearer insight into Shakespeare's genius and originality can be gained than that which comes from a study of what he has done with the crude materials at his hand. In the case of Hamlet we know, from a number of interesting contemporary allusions, that there was an earlier play, although, unfortunately, it has not come down to us. But its author was very probably Thomas Kyd, and from an extremely popular play of Kyd's that is extantThe Spanish Tragedy-we can guess something of the character of the older Hamlet.. For both plays-the Spanish Tragedy and the earlier Hamlet, which Shake

1

Translation in Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library, Part L Vol. II, pp. -279.

« ZurückWeiter »