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HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK
EDITED WITH NOTES, AN INTRODUCTION AND
L. A. SHERMAN
PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.
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THE play of Hamlet, in its accepted form, was first published in 1604. Shakespeare was then forty years old, and had lived in London, it is supposed, since 1586. During these eighteen years he seems to have been absorbed in the practical demands of theatrical life, and to have been essentially denied the literary means of enlarging his preparation for the playwright's work. That he was able thus to produce in Hamlet one of the most remarkable examples of secular literature in the world sufficiently proves the genius of the
Other plays of Shakespeare are more finished, or evince a nobler art; but none has aroused such interest, or become the subject of so much study, and comment, and discussion.
The groundwork of Hamlet is borrowed from the account of King Ambleth in the Historia Danica of Saxo Grammaticus, the earliest chronicler of Denmark, who died in 1204. It is not clear how Shakespeare became acquainted with the story. There are
reasons for supposing that the general plot had been treated by some one of the playwrights preceding Shakespeare, and that the present play is the product of a reworking. It is possible, nevertheless, that Shakespeare was the first to use the legend. The part of the Saxo chronicles dealing with Ambleth was translated and included in the Histoires Tragiques of Belleforest, published at Paris in 1570, and this in turn was rendered into English, under the title of The Hystorie of Hamblet, probably early enough for Shakespeare to use; that is, before 1589. Reference to a play of “Hamlet,” or at least to a character so named, is found in Greene's Menaphon, which was registered for publication in August of that year. The dramatist Nash makes the allusion, while paying his respects to certain "trivial translators," who were abandoning the standard Latin plays for Italian models, in a sort of introduction that he furnishes for this work. “It is a common practise now a daies," he says, “amongst a sort of shifting companions, that runne through euery arte and thriue by none, to leaue the trade of Nouerint (or lawyer] whereto they were borne, and busie themselues with the indeuors of Art, that could scarcelie latinize their necke-verse if they should haue neede; yet English Seneca read by candle