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The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark A Study with the Text of the Folio of 1623 online

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"What would you gracious figure?"












_Christmas_, 1884


The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:
a study of the text of the folio of 1623
By George MacDonald
[Motto]: "What would you, gracious figure?"

Dr. Greville MacDonald looks on his father's commentary as the "most
important interpretation of the play ever written... It is his intuitive
understanding ... rather than learned analysis - of which there is yet
overwhelming evidence - that makes it so splendid."

Reading Level: Mature youth and adults.


By this edition of HAMLET I hope to help the student of Shakspere to
understand the play - and first of all Hamlet himself, whose spiritual
and moral nature are the real material of the tragedy, to which every
other interest of the play is subservient. But while mainly attempting,
from the words and behaviour Shakspere has given him, to explain the
man, I have cast what light I could upon everything in the play,
including the perplexities arising from extreme condensation of meaning,
figure, and expression.

As it is more than desirable that the student should know when he is
reading the most approximate presentation accessible of what Shakspere
uttered, and when that which modern editors have, with reason good or
bad, often not without presumption, substituted for that which they
received, I have given the text, letter for letter, point for point, of
the First Folio, with the variations of the Second Quarto in the margin
and at the foot of the page.

Of HAMLET there are but two editions of authority, those called the
Second Quarto and the First Folio; but there is another which requires

In the year 1603 came out the edition known as the First Quarto - clearly
without the poet's permission, and doubtless as much to his displeasure:
the following year he sent out an edition very different, and larger in
the proportion of one hundred pages to sixty-four. Concerning the former
my theory is - though it is not my business to enter into the question
here - that it was printed from Shakspere's sketch for the play, written
with matter crowding upon him too fast for expansion or development, and
intended only for a continuous memorandum of things he would take up and
work out afterwards. It seems almost at times as if he but marked
certain bales of thought so as to find them again, and for the present
threw them aside - knowing that by the marks he could recall the thoughts
they stood for, but not intending thereby to convey them to any reader.
I cannot, with evidence before me, incredible but through the eyes
themselves, of the illimitable scope of printers' blundering, believe
_all_ the confusion, unintelligibility, neglect of grammar,
construction, continuity, sense, attributable to them. In parts it is
more like a series of notes printed with the interlineations horribly
jumbled; while in other parts it looks as if it had been taken down from
the stage by an ear without a brain, and then yet more incorrectly
printed; parts, nevertheless, in which it most differs from the
authorized editions, are yet indubitably from the hand of Shakspere. I
greatly doubt if any ready-writer would have dared publish some of its
chaotic passages as taken down from the stage; nor do I believe the play
was ever presented in anything like such an unfinished state. I rather
think some fellow about the theatre, whether more rogue or fool we will
pay him the thankful tribute not to enquire, chancing upon the crude
embryonic mass in the poet's hand, traitorously pounced upon it, and
betrayed it to the printers - therein serving the poet such an evil turn
as if a sculptor's workman took a mould of the clay figure on which his
master had been but a few days employed, and published casts of it as
the sculptor's work.[1] To us not the less is the _corpus delicti_
precious - and that unspeakably - for it enables us to see something of
the creational development of the drama, besides serving occasionally to
cast light upon portions of it, yielding hints of the original intention
where the after work has less plainly presented it.

[Footnote 1: Shakspere has in this matter fared even worse than Sir
Thomas Browne, the first edition of whose _Religio Medici_, nowise
intended for the public, was printed without his knowledge.]

The Second Quarto bears on its title-page, compelled to a recognition of
the former, - 'Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as
it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie'; and it is in truth a
harmonious world of which the former issue was but the chaos. It is the
drama itself, the concluded work of the master's hand, though yet to be
once more subjected to a little pruning, a little touching, a little
rectifying. But the author would seem to have been as trusting over the
work of the printers, as they were careless of his, and the result is
sometimes pitiable. The blunders are appalling. Both in it and in the
Folio the marginal note again and again suggests itself: 'Here the
compositor was drunk, the press-reader asleep, the devil only aware.'
But though the blunders elbow one another in tumultuous fashion, not
therefore all words and phrases supposed to be such are blunders. The
old superstition of plenary inspiration may, by its reverence for the
very word, have saved many a meaning from the obliteration of a
misunderstanding scribe: in all critical work it seems to me well to
cling to the _word_ until one sinks not merely baffled, but exhausted.

I come now to the relation between the Second Quarto and the Folio.

My theory is - that Shakspere worked upon his own copy of the Second
Quarto, cancelling and adding, and that, after his death, this copy
came, along with original manuscripts, into the hands of his friends the
editors of the Folio, who proceeded to print according to his

These friends and editors in their preface profess thus: 'It had bene a
thing, we confesse, worthie to haue bene wished, that the Author
himselfe had liu'd to haue set forth, and ouerseen his owne writings;
But since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, and he by death departed from
that right, we pray you do not envie his Friends, the office of their
care, and paine, to haue collected & publish'd them, as where (before)
you were abus'd with diuerse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed,
and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of iniurious impostors, that
expos'd them: euen those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, and
perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as
he conceiued th[=e]. Who, as he was a happie imitator of Nature, was a
most gentle expresser of it. His mind and hand went together: And what
he thought, he vttered with that easinesse, that wee haue scarse
receiued from him a blot in his papers. But it is not our prouince, who
onely gather his works, and giue them you, to praise him. It is yours
that reade him.'

These are hardly the words of men who would take liberties, and
liberties enormous, after ideas of their own, with the text of a friend
thus honoured. But although they printed with intent altogether
faithful, they did so certainly without any adequate jealousy of the
printers - apparently without a suspicion of how they could blunder. Of
blunders therefore in the Folio also there are many, some through mere
following of blundered print, some in fresh corruption of the same, some
through mistaking of the manuscript corrections, and some probably from
the misprinting of mistakes, so that the corrections themselves are at
times anything but correctly recorded. I assume also that the printers
were not altogether above the mean passion, common to the day-labourers
of Art, from Chaucer's Adam Scrivener down to the present carvers of
marble, for modifying and improving the work of the master. The vain
incapacity of a self-constituted critic will make him regard his poorest
fancy as an emendation; seldom has he the insight of Touchstone to
recognize, or his modesty to acknowledge, that although his own, it is
none the less an ill-favoured thing.

Not such, however, was the spirit of the editors; and all the changes of
importance from the text of the Quarto I receive as Shakspere's own.
With this belief there can be no presumption in saying that they seem to
me not only to trim the parts immediately affected, but to render the
play more harmonious and consistent. It is no presumption to take the
Poet for superior to his work and capable of thinking he could better
it - neither, so believing, to imagine one can see that he has been

A main argument for the acceptance of the Folio edition as the Poet's
last presentment of his work, lies in the fact that there are passages
in it which are not in the Quarto, and are very plainly from his hand.
If we accept these, what right have we to regard the omission from the
Folio of passages in the Quarto as not proceeding from the same hand?
Had there been omissions only, we might well have doubted; but the
insertions greatly tend to remove the doubt. I cannot even imagine the
arguments which would prevail upon me to accept the latter and refuse
the former. Omission itself shows for a master-hand: see the magnificent
passage omitted, and rightly, by Milton from the opening of his _Comus_.

'But when a man has published two forms of a thing, may we not judge
between him and himself, and take the reading we like better?'
Assuredly. Take either the Quarto or the Folio; both are Shakspere's.
Take any reading from either, and defend it. But do not mix up the two,
retaining what he omits along with what he inserts, and print them so.
This is what the editors do - and the thing is not Shakspere's. With
homage like this, no artist could be other than indignant. It is well to
show every difference, even to one of spelling where it might indicate
possibly a different word, but there ought to be no mingling of
differences. If I prefer the reading of the Quarto to that of the Folio,
as may sometimes well happen where blunders so abound, I say I
_prefer_ - I do not dare to substitute. My student shall owe nothing of
his text to any but the editors of the Folio, John Heminge and Henrie

I desire to take him with me. I intend a continuous, but ever-varying,
while one-ended lesson. We shall follow the play step by step, avoiding
almost nothing that suggests difficulty, and noting everything that
seems to throw light on the character of a person of the drama. The
pointing I consider a matter to be dealt with as any one pleases - for
the sake of sense, of more sense, of better sense, as much as if the
text were a Greek manuscript without any division of words. This
position I need not argue with anyone who has given but a cursory glance
to the original page, or knows anything of printers' pointing. I hold
hard by the word, for that is, or may be, grain: the pointing as we have
it is merest chaff, and more likely to be wrong than right. Here also,
however, I change nothing in the text, only suggest in the notes. Nor do
I remark on any of the pointing where all that is required is the
attention of the student.

Doubtless many will consider not a few of the notes unnecessary. But
what may be unnecessary to one, may be welcome to another, and it is
impossible to tell what a student may or may not know. At the same time
those form a large class who imagine they know a thing when they do not
understand it enough to see there is a difficulty in it: to such, an
attempt at explanation must of course seem foolish.

A _number_ in the margin refers to a passage of the play or in the
notes, and is the number of the page where the passage is to be found.
If the student finds, for instance, against a certain line upon page 8,
the number 12, and turns to page 12, he will there find the number 8
against a certain line: the two lines or passages are to be compared,
and will be found in some way parallel, or mutually explanatory.

Wherever I refer to the Quarto, I intend the 2nd Quarto - that is
Shakspere's own authorized edition, published in his life-time. Where
occasionally I refer to the surreptitious edition, the mere inchoation
of the drama, I call it, as it is, the _1st Quarto_.

Any word or phrase or stage-direction in the 2nd Quarto differing from
that in the Folio, is placed on the margin in a line with the other:
choice between them I generally leave to my student. Omissions are
mainly given as footnotes. Each edition does something to correct the
errors of the other.

I beg my companion on this journey to let Hamlet reveal himself in the
play, to observe him as he assumes individuality by the concretion of
characteristics. I warn him that any popular notion concerning him which
he may bring with him, will be only obstructive to a perception of the
true idea of the grandest of all Shakspere's presentations.

It will amuse this and that man to remark how often I speak of Hamlet as
if he were a real man and not the invention of Shakspere - for indeed the
Hamlet of the old story is no more that of Shakspere than a lump of coal
is a diamond; but I imagine, if he tried the thing himself, he would
find it hardly possible to avoid so speaking, and at the same time say
what he had to say.

I give hearty thanks to the press-reader, a gentleman whose name I do
not know, not only for keen watchfulness over the printing-difficulties
of the book, but for saving me from several blunders in derivation.

BORDIGHERA: _December_, 1884.

[Transcriber's Note: In the paper original, each left-facing page
contained the text of the play, with sidenotes and footnote references,
and the corresponding right-facing page contained the footnotes
themselves and additional commentary. In this electronic text, the
play-text pages are numbered (contrary to custom in electronic texts),
to allow use of the cross-references provided in the sidenotes and
footnotes. In the play text, sidenotes towards the left of the page are
those marginal cross-references described earlier, and sidenotes toward
the right of the page are the differences noted a few paragraphs later.]

[Page 1]





[Page 2]


_Enter Barnardo and Francisco two Centinels_[1].

_Barnardo._ Who's there?

_Fran._[2] Nay answer me: Stand and vnfold yourselfe.

_Bar._ Long liue the King.[3]

_Fran._ _Barnardo?_

_Bar._ He.

_Fran._ You come most carefully vpon your houre.

_Bar._ 'Tis now strook twelue, get thee to bed _Francisco_.

_Fran._ For this releefe much thankes: 'Tis
[Sidenote: 42] bitter cold,
And I am sicke at heart.[4]

_Barn._ Haue you had quiet Guard?[5]

_Fran._ Not a Mouse stirring.

_Barn._ Well, goodnight. If you do meet _Horatio_ and
_Marcellus_, the Riuals[6] of my Watch, bid them make hast.

_Enter Horatio and Marcellus._

_Fran._ I thinke I heare them. Stand: who's there?
[Sidenote: Stand ho, who is there?]

_Hor._ Friends to this ground.

_Mar._ And Leige-men to the Dane.

_Fran._ Giue you good night.

_Mar._ O farwel honest Soldier, who hath [Sidenote: souldiers]
relieu'd you?

[Footnote 1: - meeting. Almost dark.]

[Footnote 2: - on the post, and with the right of challenge.]

[Footnote 3: The watchword.]

[Footnote 4: The key-note to the play - as in _Macbeth_: 'Fair is
foul and foul is fair.' The whole nation is troubled by late events at

[Footnote 5: - thinking of the apparition.]

[Footnote 6: _Companions_.]

[Page 4]

_Fra._ _Barnardo_ ha's my place: giue you good-night. [Sidenote: hath]
_Exit Fran._

_Mar._ Holla _Barnardo_.

_Bar._ Say, what is Horatio there?

_Hor._ A peece of him.

_Bar._ Welcome _Horatio_, welcome good _Marcellus_.

_Mar._ What, ha's this thing appear'd againe to [Sidenote: _Hor_.[1]]

_Bar._ I haue seene nothing.

_Mar._ Horatio saies, 'tis but our Fantasie,
And will not let beleefe take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seene of vs,
Therefore I haue intreated him along
With vs, to watch the minutes of this Night,
That if againe this Apparition come,
[Sidenote: 6] He may approue our eyes, and speake to it.[2]

_Hor._ Tush, tush, 'twill not appeare.

_Bar._ Sit downe a-while,
And let vs once againe assaile your eares,
That are so fortified against our Story,
What we two Nights haue seene. [Sidenote: have two nights seen]

_Hor._ Well, sit we downe,
And let vs heare _Barnardo_ speake of this.

_Barn._ Last night of all,
When yond same Starre that's Westward from the Pole
Had made his course t'illume that part of Heauen
Where now it burnes, _Marcellus_ and my selfe,
The Bell then beating one.[3]

_Mar._ Peace, breake thee of: _Enter the Ghost_. [Sidenote: Enter Ghost]
Looke where it comes againe.

_Barn._ In the same figure, like the King that's dead.

[Footnote 1: Better, I think; for the tone is scoffing, and Horatio is
the incredulous one who has not seen it.]

[Footnote 2: - being a scholar, and able to address it as an apparition
ought to be addressed - Marcellus thinking, perhaps, with others, that a
ghost required Latin.]

[Footnote 3: _1st Q._ 'towling one.]

[Page 6]

[Sidenote: 4] _Mar._ Thou art a Scholler; speake to it _Horatio._

_Barn._ Lookes it not like the King? Marke it _Horatio_.
[Sidenote: Looks a not]
_Hora._ Most like: It harrowes me with fear and wonder.
[Sidenote: horrowes[1]]

_Barn._ It would be spoke too.[2]

_Mar._ Question it _Horatio._ [Sidenote: Speak to it _Horatio_]

_Hor._ What art thou that vsurp'st this time of night,[3]
Together with that Faire and Warlike forme[4]
In which the Maiesty of buried Denmarke
Did sometimes[5] march: By Heauen I charge thee speake.

_Mar._ It is offended.[6]

_Barn._ See, it stalkes away.

_Hor._ Stay: speake; speake: I Charge thee, speake.
_Exit the Ghost._ [Sidenote: _Exit Ghost._]

_Mar._ 'Tis gone, and will not answer.

_Barn._ How now _Horatio_? You tremble and look pale:
Is not this something more then Fantasie?
What thinke you on't?

_Hor._ Before my God, I might not this beleeue
Without the sensible and true auouch
Of mine owne eyes.

_Mar._ Is it not like the King?

_Hor._ As thou art to thy selfe,
Such was the very Armour he had on,
When th' Ambitious Norwey combatted: [Sidenote: when he the ambitious]
So frown'd he once, when in an angry parle
He smot the sledded Pollax on the Ice.[8] [Sidenote: sleaded[7]]
'Tis strange.

[Sidenote: 274] _Mar._ Thus twice before, and iust at this dead houre,
[Sidenote: and jump at this]

[Footnote 1: _1st Q_. 'horrors mee'.]

[Footnote 2: A ghost could not speak, it was believed, until it was
spoken to.]

[Footnote 3: It was intruding upon the realm of the embodied.]

[Footnote 4: None of them took it as certainly the late king: it was
only clear to them that it was like him. Hence they say, 'usurp'st the

[Footnote 5: _formerly_.]

[Footnote 6: - at the word _usurp'st_.]

[Footnote 7: Also _1st Q_.]

[Footnote 8: The usual interpretation is 'the sledged Poles'; but not to
mention that in a parley such action would have been treacherous, there
is another far more picturesque, and more befitting the _angry parle_,
at the same time more characteristic and forcible: the king in his anger
smote his loaded pole-axe on the ice. There is some uncertainty about
the word _sledded_ or _sleaded_ (which latter suggests _lead_), but we
have the word _sledge_ and _sledge-hammer_, the smith's heaviest, and
the phrase, 'a sledging blow.' The quarrel on the occasion referred to
rather seems with the Norwegians (See Schmidt's _Shakespeare-Lexicon:
Sledded_.) than with the Poles; and there would be no doubt as to the
latter interpretation being the right one, were it not that _the
Polacke_, for the Pole, or nation of the Poles, does occur in the play.
That is, however, no reason why the Dane should not have carried a
pole-axe, or caught one from the hand of an attendant. In both our
authorities, and in the _1st Q_. also, the word is _pollax_ - as in
Chaucer's _Knights Tale_: 'No maner schot, ne pollax, ne schort
knyf,' - in the _Folio_ alone with a capital; whereas not once in the
play is the similar word that stands for the Poles used in the plural.
In the _2nd Quarto_ there is _Pollacke_ three times, _Pollack_ once,
_Pole_ once; in the _1st Quarto_, _Polacke_ twice; in the _Folio_,
_Poleak_ twice, _Polake_ once. The Poet seems to have avoided the plural

[Page 8]

With Martiall stalke,[1] hath he gone by our Watch.

_Hor_. In what particular thought to work, I know not:
But in the grosse and scope of my Opinion, [Sidenote: mine]
This boades some strange erruption to our State.

_Mar_. Good now sit downe, and tell me he that knowes
[Sidenote: 16] Why this same strict and most obseruant Watch,[2]
So nightly toyles the subiect of the Land,
And why such dayly Cast of Brazon Cannon
[Sidenote: And with such dayly cost]
And Forraigne Mart for Implements of warre:
Why such impresse of Ship-wrights, whose sore Taske
Do's not diuide the Sunday from the weeke,
What might be toward, that this sweaty hast[3]
Doth make the Night ioynt-Labourer with the day:
Who is't that can informe me?

_Hor._ That can I,
At least the whisper goes so: Our last King,
Whose Image euen but now appear'd to vs,
Was (as you know) by _Fortinbras_ of Norway,
(Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate Pride)[4]
Dar'd to the Combate. In which, our Valiant _Hamlet_,
(For so this side of our knowne world esteem'd him)[5]
[Sidenote: 6] Did slay this _Fortinbras_: who by a Seal'd Compact,
Well ratified by Law, and Heraldrie, [Sidenote: heraldy]
Did forfeite (with his life) all those his Lands [Sidenote: these]
Which he stood seiz'd on,[6] to the Conqueror: [Sidenote: seaz'd of,]
Against the which, a Moity[7] competent
Was gaged by our King: which had return'd [Sidenote: had returne]
To the Inheritance of _Fortinbras_,

[Footnote 1: _1st Q_. 'Marshall stalke'.]

[Footnote 2: Here is set up a frame of external relations, to inclose
with fitting contrast, harmony, and suggestion, the coming show of
things. 273]

[Footnote 3: _1st Q_. 'sweaty march'.]

[Footnote 4: Pride that leads to emulate: the ambition to excel - not
oneself, but another.]

[Footnote 5: The whole western hemisphere.]

[Footnote 6: _stood possessed of_.]

[Footnote 7: Used by Shakspere for _a part_.]

[Page 10]

Had he bin Vanquisher, as by the same Cou'nant
[Sidenote: the same comart]
And carriage of the Article designe,[1] [Sidenote: desseigne,]
His fell to _Hamlet_. Now sir, young _Fortinbras_,
Of vnimproued[2] Mettle, hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway, heere and there,
Shark'd[3] vp a List of Landlesse Resolutes, [Sidenote: of lawlesse]
For Foode and Diet, to some Enterprize
That hath a stomacke in't[4]: which is no other
(And it doth well appeare vnto our State) [Sidenote: As it]
But to recouer of vs by strong hand
And termes Compulsatiue, those foresaid Lands [Sidenote: compulsatory,]
So by his Father lost: and this (I take it)
Is the maine Motiue of our Preparations,
The Sourse of this our Watch, and the cheefe head
Of this post-hast, and Romage[5] in the Land.

[A]_Enter Ghost againe_.

But soft, behold: Loe, where it comes againe:

[Footnote A: _Here in the Quarto_: -

_Bar._ I thinke it be no other, but enso;
Well may it sort[6] that this portentous figure
Comes armed through our watch so like the King
That was and is the question of these warres.

_Hora._ A moth it is to trouble the mindes eye:
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest _Iulius_ fell
The graues stood tennatlesse, and the sheeted dead

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