Previously in Hamlet, Drama’s Apex. And now James Halliwell-Phillipps.
Place: London, Globe Theater
Assorted Shakespeare characters. Public domain image from Wikipedia.
The tragedy of Hamlet is familiarly alluded to more than once in the play of Eastward Hoe, printed in 1605, in a manner which indicates that the former drama was very well established in the memories of the audience. There is a parody on one of Ophelia's songs which is of some interest in regard to the question of the critical value of the quarto of 1604; the occurrence of the word "all" before "flaxen" showing that the former word was incorrectly omitted in all the early quartos excepting in that of 1603. One of the subordinate characters in Eastward Hoe is a running-footman of the name of Hamlet, who enters in great haste to tell the coachman to be ready for his mistress, whereupon Potkin, a tankard-bearer, says: "Sfoote, Hamlet, are you madde? Whether run you nowe? You should brushe up my olde mistresse."
There is an unsupported statement by Oldys to the effect that Shakespeare received but five pounds for his tragedy of Hamlet, but whether from the company who first acted it or from the publisher is not mentioned. This is the only information that has reached us respecting the exact emolument received by Shakespeare for any of his writings, but it cannot be accepted merely on such an authority. It is, however, worthy of remark that Greene parted with his Orlando to the Queen's Players for twenty nobles; so the sum named appears to have been about the usual amount given for a play sold direct from the author to a company, but in all probability, when Hamlet was produced, Shakespeare was playing at the Globe Theatre on shares.
Notwithstanding the extreme length of the tragedy of Hamlet, there is such a marvelously concentrative power displayed in much of the construction and dialogue that, in respect to a large number of the incidents and speeches, a wide latitude of interpretation is admissible, the selection in those cases from possible explanations depending upon the judgment and temperament of each actor or reader. Hence it may be confidently predicted that no esthetic criticisms upon this drama will ever be entirely and universally accepted, and as certainly that there will remain problems in connection with it which will be subjects for discussion to the end of literary time. Among the latter the reason or reasons which induced Hamlet to defer the fulfillment of his revenge may perhaps continue to hold a prominent situation, although the solution of that special mystery does not seem to be attended with difficulties equal to those surrounding other cognate inquiries which arise in the study of the tragedy.
In respect to this drama, as to many others by the same author, the prophetic words of Leonard Digges may be usefully remembered--"Some second Shakespeare must of Shakespeare write." Until this miracle occurs, it is not likely that any esthetic criticism on the tragedy will be successful; and certainly at present, notwithstanding the numbers of persons of high talent and genius who have discussed the subject, nothing has been, nor is likely to be, produced which is altogether satisfactory. The cause of this may perhaps to some extent arise from the latitude of interpretation the dramatic form of composition allows, to the appreciation of the minor details of a character, and the various plausible reasons that can often be assigned for the same line of action; something also may be due to the unconscious influence exercised by individual temperament upon the exposition of that character, and again much to the defective state of the text; but the reason of the general failure in Hamlet criticism is no doubt chiefly to be traced to the want of ability to enter fully into the inspiration of the poet's genius.
Continued on Sunday, April 26th.
Text of play here.