The Two Hamlets

BY the two Hamlets I do not mean the Hamlets father and son, as to whom I have said quite all that need be said by me in The Case of Hamlet the Younger.1 The two Hamlets that will presently engage our attention are two editions of the great tragedy which were published respectively in the years 1603 and 1604, and in regard to which some notions have been adopted and painfully advocated which seem to me little more than fanciful conjecture, without any foundation in fact and reason. The examination of such a subject must from its nature be an exercise in textual criticism ; and those who have not an appetite for such entertainment would do well to act upon this warning. It is also proper to say that I shall necessarily go over ground upon which I have appeared previously;2 but to those who would in any case be interested in my subject this, I believe, will not be objectionable.

The tragedy of Hamlet is founded upon a story told by Saxo Grammaticus in his Historia Danica. Written about 1180-90, printed in 1514, retold in Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques in 1570, it found its way to England, and was there made the groundwork of a play before the year 1589. These points I shall assume as settled (they are undisputed), without troubling my present readers with regard to the evi-

dence upon which they rest. Of the English play performed in the sixteenth century no copy is known to exist. Should one be discovered, it would readily sell for twenty times its weight in gold to any one of a dozen buyers, among which would be the British Museum. But as in the walls and aisles of some of the beautiful old English churches there are found the scattered and broken remnants of ruder predecessors, which necessity, or choice, or chance caused to be adopted into their structure, so in the first known Hamlet, which bears the name of William Shakespeare, there are fragmentary remains of this ancient and vanished drama, which furnished our great dramatic architect not only with the occasion, but with the plan and even with some of the substance, of his marvelous work. He indeed was hindered from such adoption by no sense of intellectual importance and dignity, nor by ambition for the elevation of his art, as to which he showed himself supremely indifferent, He did not disdain or hesitate to use any material within his reach, if he could make it useful and fit it into the work that he had in hand. But in the present instance the remnants of the old play, upon whose outlines and foundation and with whose ruins he built, have been preserved to us by accident, through the greed — or, to use a more fashionable phrase, the enterprise — of a London bookseller of his day, and by the treachery of an actor in his company. The latter undertook to furnish the former surreptitiously with Shakespeare’s version of the tragedy; but not being able to get a copy of the whole, he attempted to give some parts of it from memory, and in other passages which he could not recollect at all he used the old play, which had been made worthless by the success of Shakespeare’s, if indeed he did not find this patching done to his hand in the stage copy.

This view of the first existing version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was first presented nineteen years ago, in the introductory essay to my edition of the tragedy before referred to ; but although it has received respectful, and I suppose I ought to say highly favorable, consideration from my fellow editors and critics, it has, to my surprise, not been adopted without question.3 But I am sure that the hesitation in adopting it is the result merely of my previous inability to treat the subject more thoroughly than it could be treated in the introduction to the tragedy in an edition of all of Shakespeare’s works, which, intended for the general public of intelligent readers, was necessarily confined within moderate limits.4 The conclusion seems to me, even after these nineteen years, and after reading, I believe, all that has since been written on the question, so clearly unavoidable as not to admit a doubt.

Two other views of this important subject have been taken. One supposes the copy of the first Hamlet to have been obtained merely by means of a short-hand reporter, who was able to furnish his employer with only a mangled and imperfect version of the play, a view first briefly, and without reason assigned. set forth by Mr. Collier ; the other, the difference of which from mine is much the more important, is that in the 1603 Hamlet we have the tragedy as Shakespeare first wrote it, and that in the second edition, published the next year, but within a few months, we have it recast, rewritten, and much enlarged by the author. This view has a great fascination for those who cannot be easy without pulling their Shakespeare to pieces, to see how he goes. For they think that by comparing the two Hamlets, first and second, they can trace the growth of his mind and the development of his thought; although they might as well undertake to trace the development of lightning from a thunder cloud. Wherefore this notion — it is the merest notion — has been, and perhaps may yet hereafter be, earnestly and ingeniously defended, either simply of itself, or in some modified form or other. The fact, however, as to which I am so sure is that, on the contrary, the first Hamlet, represents, in a mutilated form and with interpolations, the only Hamlet that Shakespeare ever wrote, and that about the year 1600 his tragedy existed in its first and last, its full and perfect form.

The first edition of Hamlet was entered on the Stationers’ Register in London — a mode of securing copyright — in 1602, and was published in 1603 with this title: “The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET Prince of Denmarke, by William Shake-speare. As it hath beene diverse times acted by his Highnesse servants in the Cittie of London : and also in the two Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and else-where.” This title is evidence of the public favor which the tragedy quickly attained, and it also bears upon the date of its composition and production. Written for Shakespeare’s company in London, in the year 1603, and probably in 1602, it had had the honor of being selected for performance at the two great universities, and had made its way elsewhere. The time in which it had risen to this popularity and distinction was short. For we know by its absence from a list of Shakespeare’s tragedies published by Francis Meres in 1598 that he had not then written his Hamlet; and allowing only a year or two for its success in London, in Oxford and Cambridge, and elsewhere, we are led to 1599 or 1600 as the time of its composition and production. Internal evidence, with the details of which it is not necessary to trouble the readers of this article, points to the latter year as that in which a certain scene of it was written. The question between 1599 and 1600 is on any account a trifling one ; and in comparison with the others which remain to be settled in regard to it dwindles into absolute insignificance.

A glance at the Hamlet of 1603 discovers to the most unobservant reader, first, that it is only about half as long as the tragedy now known as Shakespeare’s ; next, that it could not have been written by Shakespeare in the form in which it is presented in that edition. Much of it, indeed, varies little from the tragedy as it appears in later editions ; but no inconsiderable part of it is not only unlike that text in very many important particulars, but is such a jumble of confused, heterogeneous dullness and nonsense that it cannot be accepted as the work of any playwright of repute, not to say of Shakespeare. Moreover, in addition to these passages, and in addition to the others, already mentioned, which are unquestionably Shakespeare’s, and which bear the impress of his powers in their most transcendent development, there are some which, although coherent and clear, can not be accepted as having been written by him at any period of his career. The course of our inquiry will lead us to the examination of examples of all these varieties of text in this singular and supremely interesting version of the most peculiar, impressive, and thoughtful, if not the greatest, of the works of the world’s greatest poet and dramatist.

It is first remarkable that the texts of the two versions (for the text of the second edition, that of 1604, may be properly assumed, for our present purpose, as being the same with that of the folio of 1623 and of subsequent editions) are in the earlier scenes identical, to all intents and purposes, with notable exceptions in two or three passages. But this conformity diminishes as the play advances. The long first act comfortably completed, confusion begins to reign,— confusion in arrangement, confusion in thought, confusion in language. Thenceforward there are hardly half a dozen consecutive speeches which can be accepted even as badly copied or badly printed versions of Shakespeare’s work. This is admitted even by those who insist that the edition of 1603 represents, although imperfectly, the tragedy which Shakespeare first wrote, and which he afterwards developed into the version represented by the texts of the edition of 1604 and the folio of 1623. It is assumed by these critics that the text of the edition of 1603 is a mutilated version of a first sketch of an afterwards enlarged, elaborated, and highly finished drama. For our present purpose it is not here necessary to show that the text of 1603 is so grossly mangled and corrupted in the main that it cannot be accepted as a fair, or even as a tolerable, representation of any drama. That is admitted on all hands. The question is what drama it misrepresents, — the Hamlet that we know, or an earlier, shorter, and less admirable one ? It misrepresents the former. There was but one Hamlet written by William Shakespeare.

The title of the second edition, that of 1604, which contains the play as we know it, has a peculiarity which has done much to mislead those critics — many of them justly distinguished, and having at their head the venerable and enthusiastic editor, Charles Knight — who have adopted and ingeniously advocated the alluring theory of a revision, an enlargement, and an elaboration by Shakespeare of his first work. That title, in regard to the name of the play, is the same as the title of the edition of 1603; but to this there is made the very important addition that it is “newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much again as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie.” That the play is newly imprinted in this edition, and enlarged to almost as much again as it was in its predecessor, is plain enough. The question is as to the manner of the enlargement. The advocates of the development theory assume that this enlargement was the result of a rewriting by the author. But for this assumption, notwithstanding all the ingenious and painful arguments with which it has been supported, there is in my judgment no sufficient ground. And this the last phrase of the title in question seems to show very clearly. The enlargement was due to the printing of the play “ according to the true and perfect copy.” There was very good reason that this announcement should be made. Heminge and Condell, the sponsors, if not the editors, of the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, the folio of 1623, tell his readers that they had been theretofore “ abused with divers stolne and Surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds of injurious impostors ; ” and among these stolen and surreptitious copies none was so maimed and deformed as the Hamlet of 1603. Only those who have examined this edition carefully can imagine the horror and the indignation of Shakespeare and his friends and fellow theatrical proprietors at the publication of that book as his tragedy. It is the most monstrous caricature in the history of literature, and a caricature entirely devoid of humor ; for it was put forth in the grim sobriety of bookselling piracy. The publisher meant to make money out of the reputation of William Shakespeare and his great tragedy. The matter was very serious. But it was also serious in another sense to the said William Shakespeare and his theatrical partners, and therefore (not very willingly, we may be sure, but of necessity, — they had no remedy) they consented that he should furnish this same publisher with the real play ; and he, as his former edition was evidently to all readers false and imperfect, announced this one as being printed “ according to the true and perfect copy.” The enlargement was due to the fact that it was true and perfect.

If the edition of 1603 had represented an early form of the tragedy which Shakespeare had, after some years, rewritten and enlarged, we should have surely found in the enlarged and perfected work some traces of his improving hand. There would in that case have been new scenes, a suppression of parts of the earlier version, a higher development, or at least a subtler modification, of character, an enrichment of the dialogue ; in fine, a recasting and an elaboration of the work first produced. But nothing of this kind appears. The Hamlet of 1603, cruelly maimed and ridiculously perverted as it is, not only presents the Hamlet of 1604 and 1623 complete as to design in all essential points, but contains evidence which, considered in connection with that furnished by those later editions, shows that it was the result of a surreptitious and very imperfectly successful attempt to obtain the text of those very editions. If Shakespeare revised, rewrote, and enlarged Hamlet, and thus made the version which is more or less imperfectly represented in the edition of 1603 into that which is (for the time) well printed in the editions of 1604 and 1623, in looking for the evidence of the work of his polishing and perfecting hand and of his maturer mind we should without hesitation turn to those lofty, strongbuilt passages of the tragedy which present what may be called the Hamletian world philosophy. Of these the grandest and the subtlest, the most important in every way, are Hamlet’s soliloquies. Now it is remarkable that these soliloquies are found in the first version, 1603, in a form which shows at once that they then existed in the finished completeness in which we now know them, and that they were obtained by underhand means by some blundering, dull-brained knave. All the soliloquies are given with two exceptions ; and evidence is left both of the existence of these and of the reason for their omission. A somewhat detailed examination of Hamlet’s first soliloquy (Act I. Scene 2) as it appears in the edition of 1603, and a comparison of it with that of the editions of 1604 and 1623, shall illustrate and support this position. But I suggest that the reader who has not that soliloquy well in mind should refer to it before reading the following lines, which Hamlet speaks, according to the first version. I shall give them the benefit of a relief from all the grotesqueness of mere antiquated spelling.

“ O that this too much griev’d and sallied flesh
Would melt to nothing, or that the universal
Globe of heaven would turn all to a chaos!
O God, within two months; no, not two; married
Mine uncle: O let me not think of it. My father’s brother: but no more like
My father than I to Hercules.
Within two months, ere yet the salt of most
Unrighteous tears had left their flushing
In her galled eyes, she married : O God, a beast
Devoid of reason would not have made
Such speed: Frailty, thy name is woman.
Why, she would hang on him, as if increase
Of appetite had grown by what it looked on.
O wicked, wicked speed, to make such
Dexterity to incestuous sheets;
Ere yet the shoes were old
The which she followed my dead father’s corse,
Like Niobe, all tears: married; well it is not
Nor it cannot come to good.
But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.”

This speech is in twenty-one lines; that of the editions of 1604 and 1623, which the reader will find in his Shakespeare, has thirty-one, and so is longer by one balf; but the difference in the length of the two speeches is the least remarkable unlikeness between them ; and their unlikeness is not so remarkable, I may say so surprising, as their resemblance, which, indeed, is of an amazing and ridiculous sort. Criticism must give reasons ; but in this case may not the critic and his readers enjoy for a mutual moment the flash of intuitive conviction that — inapprehensive, or quickly allapprehensive, of details — decides at once that this speech is not one that Shakespeare wrote at any time, and afterwards worked up into the soliloquy as we know it. The 1603 soliloquy is a travesty of the real one. It is like the resemblance of himself that a solemn prig sees in a spoon, dwarfed, distorted, and all the gravity of the original made monstrous. Remark the first three lines, ending “ turn all to a chaos.” That Shakespeare wrote them, with their “ grieved flesh,” is a question not to be discussed. It is not even a question. And yet there is in them, from “ O ” to “ chaos,” a constant suggestion of the real soliloquy; and we feel that the wish that Hamlet is made to express as to “ the universal globe of heaven,” that it “ would turn all to a chaos,” is the result of the feeble-minded writer’s inability to receive a stronger impression than he thus reveals of the clear, sharp utterances of Hamlet’s despair in the last half of the first nine lines of the complete soliloquy. After this the speech goes, in the words of him who makes this abortive attempt to report it, “all to a chaos.” To apprehend the extent and the nature of the corruption and confusion which has taken place, we must compart: the two forms of the soliloquy in detail. I have found it impossible to do so with such particularity and deliberation as would enable the


1. O, that this too-too solid flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the everlasting had not fixed His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God ! God!

2. How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world ! Fie on 't! O fie! ’t is an unweeded garden That grows to seed: things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely. That it should come to this!

3. But two months dead! nay, not so much, not two!

4. So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr: so loving to my mother That he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!

5. Must I remember ?

6. Why, she would hang on him As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on;

7. and yet within a month — Let me not think on ’t.

8. —Frailty, thy name is woman. A little month,

9. or ere those shoes were old With which she followed my poor father’s body Like Niobe, all tears, why, she, even she —

10. O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason Would have mourned longer —

11. married with mine uncle,

12. My father’s brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules:

13. within a month;

Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,

She married.

14. O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!

15. It is not nor it cannot come to good:

But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.

The first in order of these texts, that of 1604, gives the soliloquy as it is known to the general reader of Shakespeare. The breaks in the lines, as, for example,

general reader to see all their likeness and their unlikeness, and the causes of both, except by printing them side by side, and by numbering the various passages in the two in such a manner that the transpositions of the reporter (who here and elsewhere manifestly worked from memory, aided by notes hastily made at the theatre) may be traced with ease, and his confused memory of the whole speech be made apparent.


1 i. O that this too much griev’d and sallied flesh Would melt to nothing, or that the universal Globe of heaven would turn all to a chaos !

2 ii. [wanting.]

3 iii. O God! within two months, no, not two,

4 iv. [wanting.]

11 v. Married Mine uncle!

5,7 vi. O let me not think of it,

12 vii. My father’s brother, but no more like My father than I to Hercules.

13 viii. Within two months, ere yet the salt of most Unrighteous tears had left the flushing In her galled eyes, she married.

10 ix. O God, a beast Devoid of reason would not have made Such speed.

8 x. Frailty, thy name is woman.

6 xi. Why, she would hang on him, as if increase

Of appetite had grown by what it looked on.

14 xii. O, wicked, wicked speed, to make such Dexterity to incestuous sheets !

9 xiii. Ere yet the shoes were old The which she followed my dead father’s corse, Like Niobe, all tears: married.

15 xiv. Well, ’t is not Nor it cannot come to good. But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.

“Must I remember?

Why, she would hang on him,”

do not occur in the original, but are, for the convenience of a division into sections, or rather into fragments, to exhibit the manner in which the speech is broken up in the version of 1603, which is in the opposite column. The fragments in the text of 1604 are numbered with Arabic numerals, those in the text of 1603 with small Roman numerals. Beside these, however, are placed the Arabic numerals of the corresponding passages in the version of 1604.

On comparing the two texts by the aid of this arrangement, we find that the text of 1603 corresponds to that of 1604 exactly in its first words, and generally in thought in its first phrase, and that the last lines of the two texts, although not at all striking in thought or in form, are identical. Between the extremities, however, there is the confusion of an intellectual earthquake; and yet, as after an earthquake, we see that, although some parts of what has gone to ruin have been lost in the catastrophe, we have around us the scattered fragments of the whole. The chaotic verse and a half — chaotic both in rhythm and in sense, as well as in phrase — about the universal globe of heaven turning to chaos represents the vague, confused impression which the writer or thieving reporter received of the first and second sections of the soliloquy, which express apostrophically Hamlet’s feeling that the world is out of joint. Then we find the exclamation “ O God ! ” displaced, and connected with the expression of his resentment at the speed of his mother’s new nuptials, in the third section. The fourth section or fragment is wanting in the text of 1603; and it is so, we may be sure, merely because it was not remembered. Indeed, it is surprising that a man undertaking to get the text in such a way did not forget more of a soliloquy so disconnected and so exclamatory. Continuing our comparison, we find that section eleven of 1604 becomes section three of 1603; that the fifth and seventh of the former are represented by the sixth of the latter ; that Hamlet’s comparison of his uncle with his father, and of himself with Hercules, is shifted from near the end of the soliloquy to the middle. the twelfth paragraph in the complete speech being his seventh in the incomplete ; that the comparison of Hamlet’s mother to Niobe drops down from being ninth in order to the thirteenth place ; and that the passage about the beast that would have mourned longer not only changes place, but is despoiled of its characteristic phraseology, — “ that wants discourse of reason” becoming “devoid of reason;” the reporter, we may be sure, not being able to apprehend the finer thought of the former phrase, which is the more remarkable as the phrase is not Shakespeare’s, but one which had been used before. Other confusion I leave to detection by the reader’s own observation : it is manifest enough. But it is equally manifest that the whole of the perfect soliloquy is confused in the text of 1603, in which are to be found all the thoughts, with most of the language, and fragments and suggestions of all the language, of the speech in its perfection. To suppose that the text of 1603 represents what was developed into the text of 1604 is quite preposterous. Remark also that the passage about the “ wicked speed ” of Hamlet’s mother, although it is out of place (it being blunderingly put before the comparison to Niobe), yet contains in perfection the very Shakespearean phrase, “dexterity to incestuous sheets,” in which, in a way peculiar to himself, and in his most matured manner, he strains the sense of the word “dexterity ” to the extreme of its capacity of endurance, — “ to post with such dexterity;” and that the reporter, unable quite to apprehend this connection of thoughts apparently remote, preserved the striking part of the phrase, but changed post to make. And now observe again that, after all this confusion and mutilation, the last two lines, although, as I before remarked, they contain no impressive thought, or word, are identical in the two versions. The reason of this is that they are a cue ; they are the sign for the entrance of Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo, and those last words of Hamlet’s speech were written out on the parts of the actors who played those three personages, They were therefore easily accessible, while the body of the speech, being only in Burbadge’s hands (he played Hamlet) or in the prompter’s book, was not easily accessible to a person who would make a surreptitious copy for piratical publication.

Two points are now to be remarked Upon : First, that the confusion and mutilation of this soliloquy is characteristic of the confusion and mutilation throughout the play ; in which displacement and proper arrangement, ruin and perfect preservation, compel attention side by side. Second, that throughout the play the cues which would be written out on the parts of minor actors are identical in both the texts. There could hardly be better circumstantial evidence of the identity of the originals of the two texts, or of the manner in which the text of 1603 was obtained. It is to be remarked also that rhyming couplets and tags at the ends of scenes are generally identical in both versions.

Let us now consider another very “ philosophical " passage of the tragedy, and one strongly characteristic of the perfected and completed Hamlet,— the great soliloquy of the first scene of the third act. This appears in the first, 1603, edition of the play in another place, distorted, mutilated, and patched, and in the following amazing fashion :5

“ To be or not to be. Aye, there ’s the point,
To die, to sleep; is that all ? aye, all:
No, to sleep, to dream : aye, marry, there it goes ;
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting Judge
From whence no passenger ever return’d,
The undiscovered country at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn’d.
But for this, the joyful hope of this,
Who’d bear the scorns and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich curs’d of the poor ?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong’d,
The taste of hunger, or a tyrant’s reign,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,
When that he may his full quietus make
With a base bodkin ? Who would thus endure
But for a hope of something after death,
Which puzzles the brain, and doth confound the sense,
Which makes us rather bear those evils we have
Than fly to others that we know not of ?
Aye that. O this conscience makes cowards of us all.
Lady in thy orisons, be all my sins remembered.”

There are some things that are past caricature, because they themselves reach the limit of the ridiculous : as, for example, Mr. Barnum’s calling his tightrope woman Queen of the Lofty Wire. The absurdity of incongruity can no further go. And so this misrepresentation of Hamlet’s solemn self-communing unites resemblance and distortion with an effect which surpasses that of intentional burlesque. The worthy reader of Shakespeare needs no help to the perception of its preposterousness, and I shall leave him to the enjoyment of a dissection of the monstrosity himself.6 But it should be remarked that the confusion and the mutilation are of the same sort as those in the previously cited soliloquy, and that every thought and almost every phrase of the perfect speech have their representatives in the version of 1603, which it would yet be beyond even Shakespeare’s mastery of thought and language to “ develop ” into the “ To be or not to be” soliloquy as we know it. Observe that the last words of the speech, also, are identical in both versions. These words were Ophelia’s cue to speak, and were written on the part of the young actor who played Polonius’s daughter. Actors often ask and give each other their cues.

Confusion of this sort pervades the 1603 Hamlet to such a degree that it need not be further remarked upon with particularity. It is the characteristic trait of that version. One passage may well be cited as showing that brevity may be not only the soul of wit, but of derangement and absurdity. It is again in Hamlet’s part, at the end of his reminiscence of the old play, Act II. Scene 2. The lines,

“ Bak'd and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and damned light
To their lord’s murther. Roasted in wrath and
And thus o'er-sized with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks,”

are thus represented in the first version :

“Bak'd and imparched in calagulate gore
Rifted in earth and fire, old grandsire Priam seeks.”

It will be seen that the whole of the former passage is represented in this ridiculous misrepresentation of it. Here again the cue, “ old grandsire Priam seeks,” is identical in both versions; this remarkable similarity between which need not be further particularly remarked upon.

Hamlet’s great " To be or not to be ” soliloquy is also misplaced in the 1603 version. In the 1604, or perfect, version it is the prince’s self-communing just before he meets Ophelia, as she is thrown in his way by her father, in pursuance of the arrangement made between him and the king: —

King. How may we try it further ?
Pol. You know he sometimes walks for hours together
Here in the lobby. Queen. So he does indeed.
Pol. At such a time I 'll loose my daughter to

This passage, which is in both versions, refers to a future uncertain time, one of the sometimes when Hamlet walks the lobby ; and in the version of 1604 and 1623 the arrangement is carried into ef-

fect in the next act and at a time which may be a day or two afterwards, or longer, as it would naturally be. But in the edition of 1603 the poor girl is let loose upon her lover immediately. That this is wrong, there is first the evidence of unfitness and the sense of rudeness of contrivance, which, however, will be admitted only by those who can feel it. Next there is the disagreement with the forward looking and uncertain time of Polonius’s proposal. Finally, there is Ophelia’s greeting to Hamlet on this occasion in the 1604 version: “How does your honor for this many a day ? ” — which corresponds to the indication in both versions at the arrangement for the interview. The reason of this misplacement is not far to seek. In both versions a book happens to furnish the incident of the scene which gives it what may be called its memorable local feature. Just after the future meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia is arranged the prince enters, in both versions, reading a book; and in the version of 1604 Polonius gives Ophelia a book to color her behavior just before the “ To be ” soliloquy. Now there was a Hamlet in one scene and a Hamlet in the other, and a book in both, and therefore this Fluellen of pirates transferred Ophelia and her book to the scene of Hamlet’s book, and with them his great soliloquy. Moreover, he was thus led to confuse and mix together the two scenes in question. For in his version, 1603, we find a brief and mutilated representation of the fine scene between Hamlet and Polonius (Act II. Scene 2), in which the prince pretends to take the old courtier for a fishmonger; and in this, as in the perfect version, Polonius asks, “ What do you read, my lord ? ” to receive the answer “ Words, words,” when, according to this version, Hamlet is not reading at all, but is just at the end of his long furious " Go to a nunnery ” interview with Ophelia. Nevertheless, the one scene of the 1603 version and the two of that of 1604 are full of unmistakable marks of identity and intermingling. How this furtive person could remember and yet misplace what he remembered in this manner is forcibly illustrated by the fate of a remarkable passage in one of the Ghost’s speeches in the first act (Scene 5) : —

“O Hamlet, what a falling off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage.”

This passage, which has upon it the Stamp of Shakespeare’s finest coinage, is transferred to the speech, toward the end of the play, in which (Act III. Scene 4) Hamlet reproaches his mother by a comparison of her present husband with her former ; where the reporter’s confused recollection and his miserable attempt to patch up and eke out his memories with his own language make this passage gleam like cloth of gold on raiment of rags and patches. Let the reader turn to the passage in the play, that he may read what follows with the genuine thing in his memory : —

“Why, this I mean. See here, behold this picture. It is the portraiture of your deceased husband. See here a face to outface man’s himself,
An eye at which his foes did tremble at,
A front wherein all virtues are set down
For to adorn a king and gild his crown. Whose heart went hand in hand even with that vow
He made to you in marriage ; and he’s dead. Murder’d,—damnably murder’d! This was your husband. Look you now, here is your husband ;
With a face like Vulcan. A look fit for a murder and a rape;
A dull, dead hanging look, and a hell-bred eye
To affright children and amaze the world.”

I need not quote more. The world, I am sure, is sufficiently amazed at this barefaced attempt to pass such stuff off as of Shakespeare’s making, at any time of his life or in any state of imperfection.

Other evidence of a like sort that the first, 1603, version is the fruit of a piratical enterprise, made when the second and complete, 1G04, version existed, appears in allusions in the former to incidents mention of which is to be found only in the latter. Thus, in the first version, in the first scene, just as the Ghost disappears : —

“Stay and speak. Stop it, Marcellus.
’T is here.
’T is here. [Exit Ghost.
’T is gone. O we do it wrong, being so majes-
tical, to offer it the shew of violence.”

But here no violence has been offered to the Ghost. There is no reason for this repentant exclamation. We find the reason of it, however, in the version of 1604, where, after “Stop it, Marcellus,” these two brief speeches come before “ ’T is here.”

Mar. Shall I strike it with my partizan?
Hor. Do, if it will not stand.”

Plainly, the former version is a mere imperfect representation of the same text which furnished the latter.

The same sort of evidence appears not only in this part of the play, where the two versions are so alike as to be almost identical, but in the very last, in which the confusion and the mutilation are flagrant. The point here is very noteworthy and of peculiar significance. In this scene (Act V. Scene 2), the king says in the perfect play : —

“The king shall drink to Hamlet’s better breath;
And in the cup an union shall he throw
Richer than that which four successive kings
In Denmark’s crown have worn.”

Upon the word union the editors of the Clarendon Press edition of this tragedy remark : —

“ So the folios. The quarto of 1604 has ' unice,’ which the later editions corrupted into ‘ onyx ’ variously spelt. Florio (Italian Dict.) gives, 'Union, . . . a great faire Orient pearl.’ ” This note is not quite so complete in its correctness as the editors of the Clarendon editions of the plays and of the Cambridge Shakespeare are wont to be. I remark here, however, no inaccuracy on their part, and even an incompleteness which is of the lightest and most trivial sort. My purpose is quite of another bearing. The fact is, however, that unice becomes onyx before the later editions. In the subsequent speech of Hamlet in this very scene, when he forces the king to drink the poison, —

“Drink off this potion. Is thy union here ?
Follow my mother,” —

the quarto of 1604 (perfect text) has neither union nor unice, but onixe. Now unice (manifestly, and also from evidence soon to be set forth) is merely a misreading of union. But it would be pronounced with the first syllable like un, fun, and with the c hard, — un-ik.7 Hence by a misprint of the ear (the compositor setting up the sound he had in mind, and not the letters before his eve), unice (un-ik) became a few lines below onyx ; and the latter, a word that needed no definition, was preserved by the later editions, until the appearance of the folio of 1623, with its authentic text printed from a stage copy, where we find, in place of unice and onyx, union. Now, however, is to be considered the very significant fact that in the mutilated version of 1603, although the king’s speech about drinking to Hamlet and throwing a pearl into the cup is, with others here, entirely omitted, Hamlet’s speech when he administers the poison refers to the king’s promise, and spellsunioncorrectly, just as it is spelled in the authentic folio. The passage is as follows in the 1603 version, which begins by dragging down “ Then venom to thy work ” a speech or two, and mutilating it: —

“ Then venom to thy venom. Die, damn’d villain.
Come! drink! Here lies thy union; here.”

The pronoun in “ thy union” shows Hamlet’s reference to the king’s promise ; and the correct form of the word, exactly that of the folio, unites with this reference to show that the text of the folio and that of the mutilated quarto had an identical origin. Better evidence of this fact than is furnished by this passage, it seems to me, could not be looked for.

There is more evidence of the same class as that just brought forward, but of converse character, to show that the version of 1603 and that of 1604 represent the same manuscript. Of this I shall mention but two of several instances. In the first, line of Hamlet’s first soliloquy there is not only mutilation, but a very remarkable misrepresentation of one word. The line stands there literally thus : —

“ O that this too much griev’d and sallied flesh.”

Now sallied here, we may be sure, is not a misprint for solid. It could hardly be that; but it might be, and not improbably is, a misprint or a miscopy of sullied, — a word which is in keeping with the pirate’s misapprehension and perversion of the line. But there is, moreover, the very noteworthy fact that in the “newly imprinted” edition of 1604, “enlarged to almost as much again as it was, according to the true and perfect copy,” the line, although it is very different from that of the 1603 edition in other respects, is identical as to this strange word : —

“ O that this too-too sallied flesh would melt! ”

When Shakespeare did all that wonderful enlarging, and developing, and finishing of his original sketch of 1603, it is very remarkable — is it not ? — that he carefully preserved the expression and the spelling, “sallied flesh.”

The other example which I shall mention is furnished by a word in Polonius’s advice to Laertes. In the folio we have the well-known lines, —

“ But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new hatch’d unfledged comrade.”

The version of 1603 gives, —

“ But do not dull the palme with entertain
Of every new unfledg’d courage.”

Again, courage is no mere misprint; for in the text of 1604, manifestly printed anew, and differing much from its predecessor, we have, —

“But do not dull thy palme with entertainment
Of each new hacht, unfledged courage, beware.”

Manifestly the copy for this passage was got for both these editions from the same text, in which comrade was so written that it looked like courage.

But I must bring this examination of my subject quickly to a close. I can merely mention here that the evidence of stage directions, of rhyming couplets, of words misapprehended in sound, of others miscopied, and other like circumstances all goes to support that furnished by the higher considerations to which we first gave our attention : that the texts of both the Hamlets, that of 1603 and that of 1604, represent, — the former in a mutilated, garbled, interpolated form, the latter more completely than that of any other version known to us, — the text of Shakespeare’s great philosophical tragedy in its perfected form, — in the only form in which it ever was known as his. Upon these points last mentioned, and upon the interpolation of passages from the old play which preceded Shakespeare’s, I must refer the reader to the introductory essay to this tragedy in my edition, published eighteen years ago, but printed and copyrighted twenty-one years ago.8 Rather, looking forward a little, let me refer him to an edition of the two texts of this play which I intend soon to present, in a form which I hope will settle this important question by common consent forever.

Meantime, in conclusion I will say that in my comparison of the two texts I found evidence which justifies the fixing of the charge of piracy upon a single unknown man, — the actor of the very small part of Voltimand. My reason for this conclusion is this, very briefly : The two texts show such an exact correspondence of the two or three speeches of this unimportant personage, and of his cues, and of all that is uttered while he is on the stage, as cannot be accounted for, under the circumstances, except on the assumption that they came from the man who had made himself letter perfect in the speeches, and had heard what immediately preceded and followed them again and again.

This, then, is the story of the two Hamlets. Shakespeare in 1599-1600 wrote his great tragedy, founding it upon the plot of an old play known as The Revenge of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which itself was founded on an old story told by Saxo Grammaticus. Shakespeare’s play, produced in 1600, made such an impression upon gentle and simple, upon the highly educated classes as well as upon the public in general, that it was acted not only at London, but at Oxford and Cambridge, and elsewhere. There was an eager desire to read it; but, according to the custom of the day, the text was jealously guarded by its theatrical proprietors. Under these circumstances a piratical printer named James Roberts set himself to get for publication a copy of this wonderful play, which all the world was going to and talking of ; and naturally applying to the minor actors in Shakespeare’s company, he succeeded in corrupting the man who played Voltimand, and induced him to undertake to get a copy. He, however, was able to get only fragments, great and small. Some parts of the play he gave from memory; some he got by surreptitious examination of the stage copy and of actors’ parts; and all this being still not enough, James Roberts had some of the play taken down in short-hand during the performance, which was very lamely done. Some passages were taken from the old play, which had the same plot. This mass of heterogeneous stuff, some of it just what the author wrote, but the greater part of it what no dramatist ever wrote, was pieced and patched together, and hurriedly published, to the horror of William Shakespeare, and so much to the injury of the tragedy, as it was thought, that a “ true and perfect copy,” containing much that never at any time was heard on Shakespeare’s stage, was immediately sent to the publisher, who soon issued it cured and perfect of its limbs and absolute in its members, as it had been conceived by its great creator.

Richard Grant White.

  1. The Galaxy, April, 1870.
  2. Introductory Essay to Hamlet. Works of Shakespeare, 1802, vol. xi. p. 5.
  3. Except, I should perhaps say, by the Rev. Mr. Fleay, the skillful and laborious developer, if not discoverer, of the rhythm and rhyme and syllable-ending test of dramatic authorship. He has abandoned the theory of the periods of the writing of Hamlet which he presented in his Shakespeare Manual, and has, moreover, come to the same conclusion with me in regard to the making up of the first version of the play. This I find by his valuable and interesting tables published in Dr. Ingleby’s Occasional Papers on Shakespeare. It has been pointed out in England that I have also the benefit of the support of his conclusions by rhyme and syllable test in my view of the mixed authorship of the Taming of the Shrew, set forth seventeen years before.
  4. I may also here not inappropriately remark that a certain inconsistency which the distinguished German critic, Professor Leo (Shakespeare Jahrbuch, vol. i.), has detected and commented upon, between the system of editing advocated in Shakespeare’s Scholar and that adopted in my edition, is due to the same consideration of ray public, — to reasons partly commercial. I gave my readers, to a certain degree, what I thought they wanted. More than once in the course of my work I remarked that I was not editing Shakes peare as if I were doing it for myself.
  5. For the full enjoyment of this astounding travesty I again suggest that the reader who has not the soliloquy well in mind should refresh his memory by reading it.
  6. I will, however, direct attention to the misapprehension of bourne, in “ the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns,” which was understood as borne ; and hence the astonishing passage about being borne before an everlasting judge, from whence no passenger ever returned.
  7. See Memorandums of English Pronunciation in the Elizabethan Era, in Appendix to mv edition of Shakespeare, vol. xii.
  8. The publication of vols. vi., vii., and viii. was delayed by the outbreak of the civil war.