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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 Arcadia, 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 necke. verse 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 Handfulls 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 ( Pariorum, 1821, vol. ii, p. 372), after 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.


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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 professed translation from the French or 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 Hamlet 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 alluderl to as having left the trade of Noverint (that is, of attorney, from the Latin formula with which deeds began : Noverint Universi, 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 slum

i bering Euphucs, in his melancholie Cell at Silexedra, &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 Menaphon 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 • sounded 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


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Hamlet had been played: the word in Italics, “ Hamlets,” proving that Hamlet was then on the stage, and that it had been written by a “Noverint,” or lawyer's clerk ; while the examples which I have given of Shakespeare's law.phrases, and which might be multiplied tenfold at least, if sought in all his works, prove that such must have been the employment of his early days.'

KNIGHT agrees with Brown, and sees nothing, on the score of Shakespeare's youth, 'extravagant in his [Brown's] belief,' adding: •Let it be remembered that in that very year (1589], when Shakespeare was twenty-five, it has been distinctly proved by Collier that he was a sharer in the Blackfriars theatre with others, and some of note, below him in the list of sharers.'

In reference to this Epistle of Nash's, STAUNTON says: “Here the “shifting companions, that runne through every arte,” brings so distinctly to mind the epithet “an absolute Johannes Factotum,which Nash's sworn brother, Greene, in his Groatsworth of Wit, &c., 1593, applied to Shakespeare; and “the trade of Noverintso well tallies with the received tradition of his having passed some time in the office of an attorney, that, primâ facie, the allusion to Hamlet would seem directly levelled at our author's tragedy. But then interposes a difficulty on the score of dates. Shakespeare, in 1589, was only twenty-three [sic] years old,—too young, it


be well objected, to have earned the distinction of being satirized by Nash as having “ run through every art." It is asserted, too, on good authority that an edition of the Menaphon was published in 1587, and if that earlier copy contained Nash's Epistle, the probability of his reserring to Shakespeare is considerably weakened.'


Just as Malone's edition of 1790 was issuing from the press, there was found at Dulwich College a large Folio MS volume, containing valuable information respecting theatrical affairs from the year 1591 to 1609. The volume is in the handwriting of Philip Henslowe, a proprietor, or joint lessee, of more than one theatre during that period, and contains, among others, his accounts of receipts and expenditures in connection with his theatrical management. Malone reprinted copious extracts from this MS in the first volume of his edition; but it was reprinted entire by the "Shakespeare Society' in 1845, with a valuable Preface by Collier, from which the following extracts are given, which, although not strictly germane to the First Quarto of Hamlet, contain much important aid in estimating the value of the theories respecting it. But, first, a few words as to the Diary itself: • Henslowe,' says Collier, was an ignorant man, even for the time in which he lived, and for the station he occupied; he wrote a bad hand, adopted any orthography that suited his notions of the sound of words, especially of proper names (necessarily of most frequent occurrence), and he kept his book, as respects dates in particular, in the most disorderly, negligent, and confused manner. Sometimes, indeed, he observes a sort of system in his entries; but often, when he wished to make a note, he seems to have opened his book at random, and to have written what he wanted in any space he found vacant. He generally used his own pen, but, as we have stated, in some places the hand of a scribe or clerk is visible; and here and there the dramatists and actors themselves wrote the item in which they were concerned, for the sake, perhaps, of saving the old manager trouble; thus, in various parts of the manuscript, we meet with the handwriting, not merely the signatures, of Drayton, Chapman, Dekker, Chettle, Porter, Wilson, Hathaway, Day, S. Rowley, Haughton, Rankins, and Wadeson; but, although frequently mentioned, we have no specimen of the handwriting of Nash, Ben Jonson, Middleton, Webster, Marston, or Heywood.' Where the names

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of nearly all dramatic poets of the age are to be frequently found, we might certainly count on finding that of Shakespeare, but the shadow within which Shakespeare's earthly life was spent envelops him here, too, and his name,' as COLLIER says, 'is not met with in any part of the manuscript.' * At various times and for uncertain periods, Henslowe was more or less interested in the receipts obtained by players acting under the names of the Queen, Lord Nottingham, Lord Strange, Lord Sussex, Lord Worcester, and the Lord Chamberlain. The latter was the company of which Shakespeare was a member, either as actor or author, from his first arrival in, until his final retirement from, London; which company, after the accession of James I, was allowed to assume the distinguishing title of The King's Players.'

So much for the general character of this interesting volume; the portion of the contents that is most important is the period which it covers from 3 June, 1594, to 18 July, 1596; during the whole of this time the Lord Admiral's Players were jointly occupying, or possibly playing in combination at, the theatre at Newington Butts with the Lord Chamberlain's Players ; "and here we find by Henslowe that no fewer than forty new plays were got up and acted. For about ten days of the two years the companies ceased to perform, on account, perhaps, of the heat of the weather, and the occurrence of Lent; so that two years are the utmost upon which a calculation can be made, and the result of it is, that the audiences of that day re. quired a new play upon an average about every eighteen days, including Sundays. The rapidity with which plays must then have been written is most remarkable, and is testified beyond dispute by later portions of Henslowe's manuscript, where, among other charges, he registers the sums paid, the dates of payment, and the authors who received the money. Nothing was more common than sor dramatists to unite their abilities and resources, and when a piece on any account was to be brought out with peculiar dispatch, three, four, five, and perhaps even six poets engaged themselves on different portions of it. Evidence of this dramatic combination will be found of such frequent occurrence that it is vain here to point out particular pages where it is to be met with. The union of the two companies of players just referred to lasted a little more than two years. Possibly it may have been merely a joint occupation of the same theatre while the Globe was building, but at any rate it is singular that while it lasted, whatever may have been its character, • most of the old plays which our great dramatist is supposed, more or less, to have employed, and of the stories of which he availed himself, are found in Henslowe's list of this period. Here we find a Titus Andronicus, a Lear, a Hamlet, a Henry V, and a Henry VI, a Buckingham, the old Taming of a Shrew, and several others. For aught we know, Shakespeare may have had originally some share in their authorship, or if he had not, as he probably acted in them, he may have felt himself authorised, as a member of the company, to use them to the extent that answered his purpose. No fact is more clearly made out, and very much by the evidence Henslowe furnishes, than that it was a very common practice for our early dramatists to avail themselves of the materials, whether of plot, character, or language, supplied by their immediate predecessors, and even by their actual contemporaries.'

Five lines before the entry in Henslowe's diary there is this memorandum : •In the name of God Amen, beginninge at Newington, my Lord Admeralle and my Lorde chamberlen men, as foloweth. 1594. (It is to be borne in mind that Shake. speare was one of the Lorde chamberlen men’ at this date.') The entry itself is as follows: 9 of June 1594, Rd at hamlet ....


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In a note MALONE says: 'In the Essay on the Order of Shakespeare's Plays, I have stated my opinion [quote ove), that there was a pl on the subject of Hamlet prior to our author's, and here we have a full confirmation of that conjec. ture. It cannot be supposed that our poet's play should have been performed but once in the time of this account, and that Henslowe should have drawn from such a piece but the sum of eight shillings, when his share in several other plays came to three and sometimes four pounds. It is clear that not one of our author's plays was played at Newington Butts; if one had been performed, we should certainly have found more.'

Collier's note (p. 35, ed. Sh. Soc.) is as follows : “ Malone contends, we think correctly, that this was the old Hamlet, and not Shakespeare's play. [If this be the case), our great dramatist might adopt the story, and feel that he had a better right to do so, because the old play had been acted by his friends and fellows, or perhaps with their assistance.'

Among other peculiarities of Henslowe's diary is the custom which he adopted of marking each new play with the abbreviation ne. The above entry has no such mark; it is therefore to be inferred that it was not a first performance.

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The next trace that we find of the old tragedy is in Lodge's Wits miserie, which also was discovered by Dr FARMER (Essay, &c., p. 75, second edition, 1767), who, however, supposed that the allusion by Lodge referred to Shakespeare's own play, and not to any older tragedy. Aubrey having said that Shakespeare did act exceedingly well,' Farmer denies that we have any reason to suppose so, because • Rowe tells us from the information of Betterton, who was inquisitive into this point, and had very early opportunities of inquiry from Sir W. Davenant, that he was no extraordinary actor, and that the top of his performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet. Yet this chef d'æuvre did not please; I will give you an original stroke at it. Dr Lodge, who was for ever pestering the town with pamphlets, published in the year 1596, Wits miserie, and the Worlds madnesse, discovering the Devils incarnat of this Age. One of these Devils is Hate-Virtue, or Sorrow for another mans good Success, who, says the Doctor, is "a foule lubber, and looks as pale as the visard of ye ghost, which cried so miserally [sic] at ye theator, like an oisterwise, Hamlet reuenge.

This phrase, · Hamlet, revenge! made a deep impression on the popular mind, and is referred to more than once before the present Hamlet appeared and obliterated the memory of it.

Dyce (Preliminary Note to Hamlet, p. 100): My own conviction is .... that the piece alluded to by Nash and Lodge, and acted at Newington, was an earlier tragedy on the same subject, which no longer exists, and which probably (like many other old dramas) never reached the press.

STAUNTON remarks: “After duly weighing the evidence on either side, we incline to agree with Dyce, that the play alluded to by Lodge and Nash was an earlier production on the same subject; though we find no cause to conclude that the first sketch of Shakespeare's Hamlet, as published in 1603, was not the piece to which llenslowe refers in his entry, connected with the performance at Newington Butts.'

In the Variorum of 1773, STEEVENS says: 'I have hitherto met with no earlier edition of this play [Hamlet] than the one in the year 1605 (1604,— Var. 1778], tho' it must have been performed before that time, as I have seen a copy of Speght's

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