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THE original ftory on which the play of HAMLET is built, may be found in Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish hiftorian. From thence Belleforest adopted it in his collection of novels, in feven volumes, which he began in 1564, and continued to publish through fucceeding years. From this work, The Hiftorye of Hamblett, quarto, bl. 1. was tranflated. 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 feen 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 fet down Hamlet, as a performance with which he was well acquainted, in the year 1598. His words are thefe: "The younger fort 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 fort, 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 fervantes."
In Eaftrvard Hoe, by George Chapman, Ben Jonfon, 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 allufions of contemporary authors to this play, fufficiently show its popularity. Thus, in Decker's Bel-man's Nightwalkes, 4to. 1611, we have" But if any mad Hamlet, hearing this, fmell villainie, and rush in by violence, to fee what the tawny diuels [gypfics] are dooing, then they excufe 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,
Surely no fatire 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 Effay on the Learning of Shakspeare, P. 85, 86, fecond edition:
"Greene, in the Epistle prefixed to his Arcadia, hath a lash at fome vaine glorious tragedians,' and very plainly at Shakspeare in particular.-I leave all these to the mercy of their mothertongue, that feed on nought but the crums that fall from the tranflator's trencher.-That could fcarcely latinize their neck verse if they should have neede, yet English Seneca read by candlelight yeelds many good fentences-hee will afford you whole Hamlets, I fhould fay, bandfuls of tragicall speeches.'-I cannot determine exactly when this Epiftle was firft publifhed; but, I fancy, it will carry the original Hamlet fomewhat further back than we have hitherto done and it may be observed, that the oldest copy now extant, is faid to be enlarged to almoft 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 Nafb's Epiftle must have been previous to thefe, as Gabriel is quoted in it with applaufe; and the Foure Letters were the beginning of a quarrel. Naf replied in Strange News of the intercepting certaine Letters, and a Convoy of Verfes, as they were going privilie to victual the Low Countries, 1593.' Harvey rejoined the fame year in Pierce's Supererogation, or a new Praife of the old Affe.' And Nash again, in Have with you to Saffron Walden, or Gabriell Harvey's Hunt is up;' containing a full anfwer to the eldest fonne of the halter-maker, 1596."-Nab died before 16c6, as appears from an old comedy, called The Return from Parnaffus. STEEVENS.
A play on the fubject of Hamlet had been exhibited on the ftage before the year 1589, of which Thomas Kyd was, I believe, the author. On that play, and on the bl. letter Hiftorie of Hamblet, our poet, I conjecture, conftructed the tragedy before us. earliest edition of the profe-narrative which I have feen, was printed in 1608, but it undoubtedly was a republication.
Shakspeare's Hamlet was written, if my conjecture be well founded, in 1596. Sce An Attempt to ascertain the order of bis Plays. MALONE,
CLAUDIUS, King of Denmark.
HAMLET, fon to the former, and nephew to the prefent, king. POLONIUS, Lord Chamberlain.
HORATIO, friend to HAMLET.
LAERTES, fon to POLONIUS.
GERTRUDE, Queen of Denmark, and mother of HAMLET. OPHELIA, daughter of POLONIUS.
Lords, Ladies, Officers, Soldiers, Players, Gravediggers, Sailors, Messengers, and other Attendants.
ACT I. SCENE I.
ELSINORE. A Platform before the Cafle.
FRANCISCO on his Poft.
Enter to him BERNARDO.
Fran. Nay, anfwer me: ftand and unfold yourself. Ber. Long live the King!
Fran. Bernardo ?
Fran. You come moft carefully upon your hour.
Ber. 'Tis now ftruck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco, Fran. For this relief, much thanks; 'tis bitter cold, And I am fick at heart.
Ber. Have you had quiet guard?
Fran. Not a mouse stirring.
Ber. Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
Enter HORATIO and MARCELLUS.
Fran. I think I hear them.-Stand, ho! Who is there?
Hor. Friends to this ground.
Mar. And liegemen to the Dane.
Fran. Give you good night.
Mar. O, farewell, honeft foldier: Who hath reliev'd you?
Fran. Bernardo hath my place.
Give you good night.
Mar. Holla! Bernardo!
What is Horatio there?
Hor. A piece of him.
Ber. Welcome, Horatio: welcome, good Marcellus. Hor. What, has this thing appear'd again to-night? Ber. I have feen nothing.
Mar. Horatio fays, 'tis but our fantasy;
And will not let belief take hold of him,
Touching this dreaded fight, twice feen of us:
Therefore I have entreated him, along
With us to watch the minutes of this night,
He may approve our eyes, and speak to it.
And let us once again affail your ears,
Hor. Well, fit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.
Ber. Last night of all,
When yon fame ftar, that's weftward from the Pole,
The bell then beating one,
Mar. Peace, break thee off; look where it comes again!
Ber. In the fame figure, like the King that's dead.