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HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK.] The original story on which this play is built, may be found in Saxo Grammaticus the Danish hiftorian. From thence Belleforeft 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 Hyftorie of Hamblett, quarto, bl. I. 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 wifer 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 Eastward 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 afks him-"'Sfoote, Hamlet, are you mad?”
The frequent allufions of contemporary authors to this play fufficiently how its popularity. Thus, in Decker's Bel-man's Nightwalkes, 4to. 1612, we have-" But if any mad Hamlet, hearing this, fmell villainie, and rufh in by violence to see what the tawny diuels [gypfies] are dooing, then they excufe the fact" &c. Again, in an old collection of Satirical Poems, called The NightRaven, 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 Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare, p. 85, 86, fecond edition :
"Greene, in the Epiftle 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 verfe if they should have neede, yet English Seneca read by candlelight
yeelds many good fentences-hee will afford you whole Hamlets, I fhould fay, handfuls of tragicall fpeeches.'-I cannot determine exactly when this Epiftle was firft published; but, I fancy, it will carry the original Hamlet fomewhat further back than we have hitherto done and it may be obferved, that the oldeft copy now extant, is faid to be enlarged to almost 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 Nab's Epistle muft have been previous to thefe, as Gabriel is quoted in it with applaufe; and the Foure Letters were the beginning of a quarrel. Nab 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.”—Nash died before 1606, as appears from an old comedy called The Return from Parnaffus. STEEVENS.
A play on the fubject of Hamlet had been exhibited on the stage 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. The 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. See An Attempt to ascertain the Order of his Plays Vol. I. MALONE.
Claudius, King of Denmark.
Hamlet,* fon to the former, and nephew to the prefent,
Francifco, a foldier.
Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, and mother of Hamlet.
Lords, Ladies, Officers, Soldiers, Players, Gravediggers, Sailors, Meffengers, and other Attendants.
* Hamlet,] i. c. Amleth. The b transferred from the end to the beginning of the name. STEEVENS.