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finite antiquity. The earlier play was not Shakespeare's only source. In his time the old story had figured anew in the Histoires Tragiques of Belleforest, to which it is most probable that he had access, either in the original or in an English version of part of them, entitled The Hystorie of Hamblet, Prince of Denmark.
Following his usual practice, Shakespeare ad- Treatment hered as closely as he conveniently could to the of material. intrigue and the action of his sources. But through that action, which in the sources was that of a barbarian, he has put an intensely civilized and sophisticated modern (i. e., Elizabethan) gentleman, thereby creating an abundant supply of perplexities for the critic. He has also removed the old motive for certain acts, while retaining the acts themselves. Why, for instance, should Hamlet feign madness? In the Hystorie, there is a very evident reason — namely, to protect himself from the revenge of the usurping King. That usurper's guilt was known; and therefore Hamlet, if he remains sane, must either overcome his supporters and slay him or be slain by him. Here we have a sufficient motive for the assumption of insanity; one, however, which Shakespeare's subtler presentation of the situation destroys and does not replace. But he leaves his hero adopting a line of conduct prompted by, and only intelligible upon, the motive that he has removed.
The real reason, no doubt, is the simple fact that Hamlet's sham madness makes excellent playing, and had already been popular in the older play; while the piquancy of the whole situation is greatly enhanced by making the King's guilt unknown to his entourage. Shakespeare was not out primarily
to solve complex problems in psychology. His first business was to make a play that would crowd the Globe with the kind of “groundlings ” (i. e., stand
ing auditors in the pit) for whom he had the same III ii 9, 10. amount of respect as Hamlet expresses: "ground
lings who for the most part are capable of [i. e., can understand] nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise.” And so for him the first question was not, Is it consistent that Hamlet should feign madness, when in the modified situation he could be safer and could plan his revenge without any such antic behaviour? It was, Shall we get a full house by showing him as he appears to Ophelia and as he
mocks Polonius? Contradic The fact that the play was huddled together tions evi
hastily and from hand to mouth is further shown dencing hasty work- by such inconsistencies, “gross as a mountain," as manship:
those of Hamlet's relations with Horatio and of his
remarks about immortality after his interview with (1) The the Ghost. He at first greets Horatio as one with
whom he had previously had but the slightest acHoratio, I ii 161. quaintance: “Horatio,- or I do forget myself?
How is this possible, when Horatio has been about the Court for not less than two months, having come from Wittenberg to see the late King's
funeral? Consistently with this, however, Horatio Iiv 7, 12 ff. appears as a foreigner in Denmark, and to him as
such Hamlet explains the barbaric customs of his native country. Why should Horatio, if he too were native there and to the manner born (as Hamlet's differential description of himself clearly implies that Horatio is not), have to ask whether it was the custom for the ordnance to be fired when the King “keeps wassail, and the swaggering upspring reels”? And yet, in the second scene of
Act III, Horatio is deep in Hamlet's most intimate III ii 47ff.
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice, Ibid. 56-59.
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing, &c. Hamlet has even confided to him the circumstances Ibid. 70. of his father's death, although after his interview with the Ghost he had put off Horatio, just as he had put off Marcellus, with chaff, and with “wild 1 v 133 ff. and whirling words," swearing them both to secrecy as to what they had seen and disclosing no syllable of what he had heard. At the very end of the play, Vii 319 ff. this lifelong friendship is again presupposed, and Horatio, like an antique Roman (though now, in spite of Act I, scene iv, a born Dane!), wishes to die with his adored prince and friend. It is idle to resort to subtle theories to explain away a frank and obvious inconsistency, and one that is quite naturally accounted for by the hypothesis of hasty or careless workmanship.
Now let us turn to the second gross self-contra- (2) The diction above mentioned. Hamlet, at the very out- Ghost and
the “ To be" set of the play, hears of a ghost, which presently soliloquy. he sees and talks with. Whatever may be the nature of the later appearance in his mother's chamber, III iv. this first apparition is certainly no mere creation of his own subjective fantasy, for it is seen by Marcellus, Bernardo and Horatio, as well as by himself. Yet, in the famous “To be” soliloquy, Hamlet speaks of what lies beyond death as "the undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveller re- III i 79-80. turns.” It would need a reconciler of Kantian antinomies to explain the utterance of these words
by a man whose whole course of life is due to a conversation with a returned traveller from the said country. And when the reconciler had done his work, he would only have made a small addi
tion to the world's collection of jokes. Shakespeare Here again the most obvious explanation is the forgets both
best. Shakespeare becomes interested, as he well Hamlet and the Ghost, might, in the theme of the soliloquy; and in the and ex
act of writing it, carried away by the joy of selfhimself. expression, he forgets all about the ghost. He also
forgets that Hamlet is a prince, and makes him talk like an unsuccessful man of the middle classes, familiar with all kinds of discouraging experiences which can never have crossed the path of an heirapparent to the Danish throne. What do princes know of “the proud man's contumely,
the law's delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes”? Shakespeare was evidently not incapable of forgetting for the moment who the inappropriate speaker of these lines was supposed to be. And how, if not by sheer carelessness, did he manage to mix the metaphors
as he does in the opening lines of the soliloquy? Do The initial we need any other explanation than carelessness or mixture of
haste, when a man of Shakespeare's known powers metaphors.
speaks of taking arms against a sea of troubles, and makes a character, who has talked with a ghost from purgatory, call the after-life inscrutable? And what of the earlier soliloquy, in which Hamlet
speaks of the Everlasting having "fix'd His canon (3) Hamlet's 'gainst self-slaughter," when there is no such
canon” in the Bible ? with Ophelia: I iii 5- Further perplexities confront us regarding the 51, and 88 ff. relations between Hamlet and Ophelia, and also II i 75 ff.
regarding Ophelia's fate. The conversations of
Ophelia with Laertes, and immediately afterwards with Polonius, imply a fairly continuous recent intercourse between her and the Prince. Somewhat later (a few weeks or months at most) she again describes to her father an interview, that moment ended, between herself and Hamlet, whom she describes as palpably insane both in demeanour and in conduct. Yet, at her next appearance, presum- III i 90 ff. ably but a day or two afterwards, she has no notion when she meets him that there is anything the matter with his mind, until his astounding questions provoke the discovery, which overwhelms her with horror and despair. Observe, too, that this interview commences by her asking him,
How does your honour for this many a day? and by her offering to return his presents,
That I have longèd long to re-deliver. The death of Ophelia, again, is described by the IV vii 164 ff. Queen to Laertes and the King, in the plainest possible language, as an accident, for which the griefmaddened girl was in no wise responsible: the bough of the willow-tree broke and precipitated her into the brook. Yet on the very next page we find the two Grave-Diggers questioning whether it was not suicide, and concluding that it was — the Second speaking for both when he declares: “If this had not been Vi 22. a gentlewoman, she should have been buried out o' Christian burial.” The Church concurred with its lowly retainers, for the “maimed rites” accorded to the corpse betokened that its owner had been guilty of self-slaughter. To the protest of Laertes the Priest replies:Her obsequies have been as far enlarg'd
Ibid. 208 ff. As we have warrantise: her death was doubtful;