by William Empson


The Sewanee Review, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Winter, 1953), pp. 15-42


ONE feels that the mysteries of Hamlet are likely to be more or less exhausted, and I have no great novelty to offer here, but it has struck me, in the course of trying to present him in lectures, that the enormous panorama of theory and explanation falls into a reasonable proportion if viewed, so to speak, from Pisgah, from the point of discovery by Shakespeare. To do that should also have a relation with the impressions of a fresh mind, meeting the basic legend of the play at any date. I was led to it from trying to answer some remarks of Hugh Kingsmill, in The Return of William Shakespeare, who said that Hamlet is a ridiculously theatrical and therefore unreal figure, almost solely concerned with scoring off other people, which the dialogue lets him do much too easily, and attractive to actors only because "they have more humiliations than other men to avenge." A number of critics seem to have felt like this, though few have said it so plainly; the feeling tends to make one indifferent to the play, and over rides any "solution of its problems," but when followed up it leads to more interesting country. I discussed it in my book Complex Words by the way, but only so far as suited the theme of the book, a theme I am ignoring here. It seems to give a rather direct route to a reconsideration of the origins, along which one might even take fresh troops into the jungle warfare over the text.


The experts mostly agree that Kyd wrote a play on Hamlet about 1587, very like his surviving Spanish Tragedy except that it was about a son avenging a father instead of a father avenging a son. The only record of a performance of it is in 1594, under conditions which make it likely to have become the property of Shakespeare's company; jokes about it survive from 1589, 1596, and 1601, the latter two regarding it as a standard out-of-date object. A keen sense of changing fashion has to be envisaged; when Shakespeare's company were seduced into performing Richard II for the Essex rebels, they said they would have to be paid because it was too old to draw an audience, and it wasn't half as old as Hamlet. A gradual evolution of Hamlet, which some critics have imagined, isn't likely under these conditions. We have to consider why Shakespeare re-wrote a much laughed-at old play, and was thus led on into his great Tragic Period, and the obvious answer is that he was told to; somebody in the Company thumbed over the texts in the ice-box and said "This used to be a tremendous draw, and it's coming round again; look at Marston. All you have to do is just go over the words so that it's life-like and they can't laugh at it."


Kyd had a powerful but narrow, one might say miserly, theatrical talent, likely to repeat a success, so his Hamlet probably had a Play-within-the-Play like The Spanish Tragedy; we know from a joke it had a Ghost; and he would have almost all the rest of the story as we know it from the sources. For all we know, when Shakespeare created a new epoch and opened a new territory to the human mind, he did nothing but alter the dialogue for this structure, not even adding a scene. The trouble with this kind of critical approach, as the experienced reader will already be feeling with irritation, is that it can be used to say "That is why the play is so muddled and bad." On the contrary, I think, if taken firmly enough it shows how, at the time, such a wonderful thing as Shakespeare's Hamlet could be conceived and accepted.


Globe Audience in 1601


The real "Hamlet problem," it seems clear, is a problem about his first audiences. This is not to deny (as Professor Stoll has sometimes done) that Hamlet himself is a problem; he must be one, because he says he is; and he is a magnificent one, which has been exhaustively examined in the last hundred and fifty years. What is peculiar is that he does not seem to have become one till towards the end of the eighteenth century; even Dr. Johnson, who had a strong natural grasp of human difficulties, writes about Hamlet as if there was no problem at all. We are to think, apparently, that Shakespeare wrote a play which was extremely successful at the time (none more so, to judge by the references), and continued to hold the stage, and yet that nearly two hundred years had to go by before anyone had even a glimmering of what it was about. This is a good story, but surely it is rather too magical. Indeed, as the Hamlet Problem has developed, yielding increasingly subtle and profound reasons for his delay, there has naturally developed in its wake a considerable backwash from critics who say "But how can such a drama as you describe conceivably have been written by an Elizabethan, for an Elizabethan audience?" Some kind of mediating process is really required here; one needs to explain how the first audiences could take a more interesting view than Dr. Johnson's, without taking an improbably profound one.


The political atmosphere may be dealt with first. Professor Stoll has successfully argued that even the theme of delay need not be grasped at all by an audience, except as a convention; however, Mr. Dover Wilson has pointed out that the first audiences had a striking example before them in Essex, who was, or had just been, refusing to make up his mind in a public and alarming manner; his attempt at revolt might have caused civil war. Surely one need not limit it to Essex; the Queen herself had long used vacillation as a major instrument of policy, but the habit was becoming unnerving because though presumably dying she still refused to name a successor, which in itself might cause civil war. Her various foreign wars were also dragging on indecisively. A play about a prince who brought disaster by failing to make up his mind was bound to ring straight on the nerves of the audience when Shakespeare rewrote Hamlet; it is not a question of intellectual subtlety but of what they were being forced to think about already. It seems to me that there are relics of this situation in the text, which critics have not considered in the light of their natural acting power. The audience is already in the grip of a convention by which Hamlet can chat directly to them about the current War of the Theatres in London, and then the King advances straight down the apron-stage and urges the audience to kill Hamlet:


                              Do it, England,
For like the hectic in my blood he rages,
And thou must cure me.


None of them could hear that without feeling it was current politics, however obscure; and the idea is picked up again, for what seems nowadays only an opportunist joke, when the Gravedigger says that Hamlet's madness won't matter in England, where all the men are as mad as he. Once the idea has been planted so firmly, even the idea that England is paying Danegeld may take on some mysterious weight. Miss Spurgeon and Mr. Wilson Knight have maintained that the reiterated images of disease somehow imply that Hamlet himself is a disease, and this gives a basis for it. Yet the audience might also reflect that the character does what the author is doing: altering an old play to fit an immediate political purpose. This had to be left obscure, but we can reasonably presume an idea that the faults of Hamlet (which are somehow part of his great virtues) are not only specific but topical; so far from being an absurd old play, it is just what you want, if you can see what is at the bottom of it. The insistence on the danger of civil war, on the mob that Laertes does raise, and that Hamlet could raise but won't, and that Fortinbras at the end takes immediate steps to quiet, is rather heavy in the full text though nowadays often cut. Shakespeare could at least feel, when the old laughingstock was dragged out and given to him as a new responsibility, that delay when properly treated need not be dull; considered politically, the urgent thing might be not to let it get too exciting.


Such may have been his first encouraging reflection, but the political angle was not the first problem of the assignment, the thing he had to solve before he could face an audience; it was more like an extra gift which the correct solution tossed into his hand. The current objection to the old play Hamlet, which must have seemed very hard to surmount, can be glimpsed in the surviving references to it. It was thought absurdly theatrical. Even in 1589 the phrase "whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches" treats Hamlet as incessantly wordy, and the phrase of 1596, "as pale as the vizard of the ghost which cried so miserably at the Theatre, like an oyster wife, Hamlet Revenge," gets its joke from the idea that her dismal bawling may start again at any moment, however sick of her you are (presumably she is crying her wares up and down the street). The objection is not against melodrama, which they liked well enough, but against delay. You had a hero howling out "Revenge" all through the play, and everybody knew he wouldn't get his revenge till the end. This structure is at the mercy of anybody in the audience who cares to shout "Hurry Up," because then the others feel they must laugh, however sympathetic they are; or rather, they felt that by the time Shakespeare re-wrote Hamlet, whereas ten years earlier they would only have wanted to say "Shush." This fact about the audience, I submit, is the basic fact about the re-writing of Hamlet.


The difficulty was particularly sharp for Shakespeare's company, which set out to be less ham than its rivals, and the Globe Theatre itself, only just built, asked for something impressively new. And yet there was a revival of the taste for Revenge Plays in spite of a half-resentful feeling that they had become absurd. Now Kyd had been writing before the accidental destruction of the Spanish Armada, therefore while facing a more immediate probability of conquest with rack and fire; the position had remained dangerous, and the Armada incident didn't seem as decisive to them as historians make it seem now; but I think the wheel seemed to be coming round again, because of the succession problem, so that we ought not to regard this vague desire to recover the mood of ten years earlier as merely stupid.


I suspect indeed that the fashion for child actors, the main complaint of the Players in Hamlet, came up at this moment because children could use the old convention with an effect of charm, making it less absurd because more distanced. Shakespeare himself had hardly written a tragedy before. To have had a hand in Titus Andronicus, ten years before, only brings him closer to his current audience; his own earlier tastes, as well as theirs, were now to be re-examined. Romeo does not suggest an Aristotelian "tragic flaw." As a writer of comedies, his main improvement in technique had been to reduce the need for a villain so that the effect was wholly un-tragic, and meanwhile the series of History Plays had been on the practical or hopeful theme "How to Avoid Civil War"; even so he had maneuvered himself into ending with the cheerful middle of the series, having written its gloomy end at the start. What Shakespeare was famous for, just before writing Hamlet, was Falstaff and patriotic stuff about Henry V. Julius Caesar, the play immediately previous to Hamlet, is the most plausible candidate for a previous tragedy or indeed Revenge Play, not surprisingly, but the style is dry and the interest mainly in the politics of the thing. One can easily imagine that the external cause, the question of what the audience would like, was prominent when the theme was chosen. If Essex came into the background of the next assignment, Shakespeare's undoubted patron Southampton was also involved. I am not trying to make him subservient to his public, only sensitive to changes of taste in which he had an important part; nor would I forget that the misfortunes of genius often have a wild luck in their timing. But he must have seemed an unlikely person just then to start on a great Tragic Period, and he never wrote a Revenge Play afterwards; we can reasonably suppose that he first thought of Hamlet as a pretty specialized assignment, a matter, indeed, of trying to satisfy audiences who demanded a Revenge Play and then laughed when it was provided.


I think he did not see how to solve this problem at the committee meeting, when the agile Bard was voted to carry the weight, but already did see how when walking home. It was a bold decision, and probably decided his subsequent career, but it was a purely technical one. He thought:


The only way to shut this hole is to make it big. I shall make Hamlet walk up to the audience and tell them, again and again, ‘I don't know why I'm delaying any more than you do; the motivation of this play is just as blank to me as it is to you; but I can't help it.' What is more, I shall make it impossible for them to blame him. And then they daren't laugh."


It turned out, of course, that this method, instead of reducing the old play to farce, made it thrillingly life-like and profound. A great deal more was required; one had to get a character who could do it convincingly, and bring in large enough issues for the puzzle not to appear gratuitous. I do not want to commit the Fallacy of Reduction, only to remove the suspicion that the first audiences could not tell what was going on.


Looked at in this way, the plot at once gave questions of very wide interest, especially to actors and the regular patrons of a repertory company; the character says: “Why do you assume I am theatrical? I particularly hate such behavior. I cannot help my situation. What do you mean by theatrical?” Whole areas of the old play suddenly became so significant that one could wonder whether Kyd had meant that or not; whether Hamlet really wants to kill Claudius, whether he was ever really in love with Ophelia, whether he can continue to grasp his own motives while “acting a part” before the Court, whether he is not really more of an actor than the Players, whether he is not (properly speaking) the only sincere person in view. In spite of its great variety of incident, the play sticks very closely to discussing theatricality. Surely this is what critics have long found so interesting about Hamlet, while an occasional voice like Kingsmill's says it is nasty, or Professor Stoll tries to save the Master by arguing it was not intended or visible at the time.


But, so far from being innocent here, what the first audiences came to see was whether the Globe could re-vamp the old favorite without being absurd. To be sure, we cannot suppose them really very "sophisticated," considering the plays by other authors they admired; to make The Spanish Tragedy up-to-date enough for the Admiral's Company (which was paid for in September, 1601, and June, 1602, in attempts to catch up with Shakespeare's Hamlet presumably; indeed I think with two successive Hamlets) only required some interesting "life-like" mad speeches. But that they imagined that they were too sophisticated for the old Hamlet does seem to emerge from the surviving jokes about it, and that is all that was required. We need not suppose, therefore, that they missed the purpose of the changes; “he is cunning past man's thought” they are more likely to have muttered unwillingly into their beards, as they abandoned the intention to jeer.


Breaking the 4th Wall


As was necessary for this purpose, the play uses the device of throwing away dramatic illusion much more boldly than Shakespeare does anywhere else. (Mr. S. L. Bethell, in Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition, has written what I take to be the classical discussion of this technique.) A particularly startling case is planted early in the play, when the Ghost pursues Hamlet and his fellows underground and says "Swear" (to be secret) wherever they go, and Hamlet says


Come on, you hear this fellow in the cellarage,
Consent to swear.


It seems that the area under the stage was technically called the cellarage, but the point is clear enough without this extra sharpening; it is a recklessly comic throw-away of illusion, especially for a repertory audience, who know who is crawling about among the trestles at this point (Shakespeare himself, we are told), and have their own views on his style of acting. But the effect is still meant to be frightening (it is like  Zoo in Back to Methusaleh, who says "This kind of thing is got up to impress you, not to impress me"; and it is very outfacing for persons in the audience who come expecting to make that kind of joke themselves.


Following out this plan, there are of course satirical misquotations of the Revenge classics, as in "Pox! leave thy damnable faces and begin. Come, the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge'" (probably more of them than we realize, because we miss the contrast with the old Hamlet), but there had also to be a positive dramatization of the idea, which is given in Hamlet's scenes with the Players. Critics have wondered how it could be endurable for Shakespeare to make the actor of Hamlet upbraid for their cravings for theatricality not merely his fellow actors but part of his audience (the term "groundlings" must have appeared an insult and comes nowhere else), but surely this carries on the central joke, and wouldn't make the author prominent. I agree that the Player's Speech and so forth was a parody of the ranting style of the Admiral's Company (and when Hamlet praised it, his actor had to slip in and out of real life, without turning the joke too much against the Prince), but even so the situation is that the Chamberlain's Company are shown discussing how to put on a modern-style Revenge Play, which the audience knows to be a problem for them. The "mirror" was being held close to the face. As to the talk about the War of the Theatres, people were curious to know what the Globe would say, and heard its leading actor speak for the Company; they were violently prevented from keeping their minds on "buried Denmark." What is technically so clever is to turn this calculated collapse of dramatic illusion into an illustration of the central theme.


The first problem was how to get the audience to attend to the story again, solved completely by "O what a rogue" and so forth, which moves from the shame of theatrical behavior and the paradoxes of sincerity into an immediate scheme to expose the King. Yet even here one might feel, as Mr. Dover Wilson said (with his odd power of making a deep remark without seeing its implications), that “the two speeches are for all the world like a theme given out by the First Violin and then repeated by the Soloist.” Hamlet has only proved he is a better actor, and indeed "rogue" might make him say this, by recalling that actors were legally rogues and vagabonds. We next see Hamlet in the "To be or not to be" soliloquy, and he has completely forgotten his passionate and apparently decisive self-criticism, but this time the collapse of interest in the story comes from the Prince, not merely from the audience; then when Ophelia enters he swings away from being completely disinterested into being more disgracefully theatrical than anywhere else (enjoying working up a fuss about a very excessive suspicion, and thus betraying himself to listeners he knows are present); next he lectures the Players with grotesque hauteur about the art of acting, saying that they must always keep cool (this is where the word groundlings comes); then, quite unexpectedly, he fawns upon Horatio as a man who is not "passion's slave," unlike himself, and we advance upon the Play-within-the-Play. The metaphor of the pipe which Fortune can blow upon as she pleases, which he used to Horatio, is made a symbol by bringing a recorder into bodily prominence during his moment of triumph after the Play scene, and he now boasts to the courtiers that he is a mystery, therefore they cannot play on him; we are meant to feel that there are real merits in the condition, but he has already told us he despises himself for it. Incidentally he has just told Horatio that he deserves a fellowship in a "cry" of players (another searching joke phrase not used elsewhere) but Horatio only thinks "half of one." The recovery from the point where the story seemed most completely thrown away has been turned into an exposition of the character of the hero and the central dramatic theme. No doubt this has been fully recognized, but I do not think it has been viewed as a frank treatment of the central task, that of making the old play seem real by making the hero life-like.


Mr. Dover Wilson rightly points out the obsessive excitability of Hamlet, as when in each of the scenes scolding one of the ladies he comes back twice onto the stage, each time more unreasonable, as if he can't make himself stop. "But it is no mere theatrical trick or device," he goes on, "it is meant to be part of the nature of the man"; and meanwhile psychologists have elaborated the view that he is a standard "manic-depressive" type, in whom long periods of sullen gloom, often with actual forgetfulness, are followed by short periods of exhausting excitement, usually with violence of language. By all means, but the nature of the man grows out of the original donnee (given); his nature had (first of all) to be such that it would make the old story "life-like." And the effect in the theatre, surely, is at least prior to any belief about his nature, though it may lead you on to one; what you start from is the astonishment of Hamlet's incessant changes of mood, which also let the one actor combine in himself elements which the Elizabethan theatre usually separates (e.g. simply tragedy and comedy). Every one of the soliloquies, it has been pointed out, contains a shock for the audience, apart from what it says, in what it doesn't say: the first in having no reference to usurpation; the second ("rogue and slave") no reference to Ophelia, though his feelings about her have been made a prominent question; the third ("To be or not to be") no reference to his plot or his self-criticism or even his own walk of life, he is considering entirely in general whether life is worth living, and it is startling for him to say no traveller returns from death, however complete the "explanation" that he is assuming the Ghost was a devil; the fourth ("now might I do it pat") no reference to his obviously great personal danger now that the King knows the secret; the fifth ("How all occasions do inform") no reference to the fact that he can't kill the King now, or rather a baffling assumption that he still can; and one might add his complete forgetting of his previous self-criticisms when he comes to his last words. It is this power to astonish, I think, which keeps one in doubt whether he is particularly theatrical or particularly "life-like": a basic part of the effect, which would be clear to the first audiences.


However, the theme of a major play by Shakespeare is usually repeated by several characters in different forms, and Hamlet is not the only theatrical one here. Everybody is "acting a part" except Horatio, as far as that goes; and Laertes is very theatrical, as Hamlet rightly insists over the body of Ophelia ("I'll rant as well as thou"). One might reflect that both of them trample on her, both literally and figuratively, just because of their common trait. And yet Laertes is presented as opposite to Hamlet in not being subject to delay about avenging his father or to scruples about his methods; the tragic flaw in Hamlet must be something deeper or more specific. We need therefore to consider what his "theatricality" may be, and indeed the reader may feel I am making too much play with a term that Elizabethans did not use; but I think it makes us start in the right place.


The Elizabethans, though both more formal and more boisterous than most people nowadays, were well able to see the need for sincerity; and it is agreed that Shakespeare had been reading Montaigne about how quickly one's moods can change, so that to appear consistent requires "acting," a line of thought which is still current. But to understand how it was applied here one needs to keep one's mind on the immediate situation in the theatre. The plot of a Revenge Play seemed theatrical because it kept the audience waiting without obvious reason in the characters; then a theatrical character (in such a play) appears as one who gets undeserved effects, "cheap" because not justified by the plot as a whole. However, theatrical behavior is never only "mean" in the sense of losing the ultimate aim for a petty advantage, because it must also "give itself away"; the idea "greedy to impress an audience" is required. Now the basic legend about Hamlet was that he did exactly this and yet was somehow right for it; he successfully kept a secret by displaying he had got one. The idea is already prominent in Saxo Grammaticus, where it gives a triumphant story not a tragic one; and "the Saxon who could write" around 1200 is as genuine a source of primitive legend as one need ask for. I am not sure whether Shakespeare looked up Saxo; it would easily be got for him if he asked, when he was given the assignment, but Kyd would have done it already; we think of Kyd as crude, but he was a solidly educated character. If Shakespeare did look up Saxo, he only got a firm reassurance that his natural bent was the right one; the brief pungent Latin sentences about Hamlet are almost a definition of Shakespeare's clown, and Mr. Dover Wilson is right in saying that Shakespeare presented Hamlet as a kind of generalization of that idea ("they fool me to the top of my bent" he remarks with appalling truth). Here we reach the bed-rock of Hamlet, unchanged by the local dramas of reinterpretation; even Dr. Johnson remarks that his assumed madness, though entertaining, does not seem to help his plot.


Kyd would probably keep him sane and rather tedious in soliloquy but give him powerful single-line jokes when answering other characters; the extreme and sordid pretence of madness implied by Saxo would not fit Kyd's idea of tragic decorum. I think that Shakespeare's opening words for Hamlet, "A little more than kin and less than kind," are simply repeated from Kyd; a dramatic moment for the first-night audience, because they wanted to know whether the new Hamlet would be different. His next words are a passionate assertion that he is not the theatrical Hamlet. "I know not seems." Now this technique from Kyd, though trivial beside the final Hamlet, would present the inherent paradox of the legend very firmly: why are these jokes supposed to give a kind of magical success to a character who had obviously better keep his mouth shut? All Elizabethans, including Elizabeth, had met the need to keep one's mouth shut at times; the paradox might well seem sharper to them than it does to us. Shakespeare took care to laugh at this as early as possible in his version of the play. The idea that it is silly to drop hints as Hamlet does is expressed by Hamlet himself, not only with force but with winning intimacy, when he tells the other observers of the Ghost that they must keep silence completely, and not say "I could an I would, there be an if they might" and so on, which is precisely what he does himself for the rest of the play. No doubt he needs a monopoly of this technique. But the first effect in the theatre was another case of "closing the hole by making it big"; if you can make the audience laugh with Hamlet about his method early, they aren't going to laugh at him for it afterwards. Instead they can wonder why he is or pretends to be mad, just as the other characters wonder; and wonder why he delays, just as he himself wonders. No other device could raise so sharply the question of "what is theatrical behavior?" because here we cannot even be sure what Hamlet is aiming at. We can never decide flatly that his method is wrong, because the more it appears unwise the more it appears courageous. There seem to be two main assumptions, that he is trying to frighten his enemies into exposing themselves, and that he is not so frightened himself as to hide his emotions though he hides their cause. I fancy Shakespeare could rely on some of his audience to add the apparently modern theory that the relief of self-expression saved Hamlet from going finally mad, because it fits well enough onto their beliefs about the disease "melancholy." But in any case the basic legend is a dream glorification of both having your cake and eating it, keeping your secret for years, till you kill, and yet perpetually enjoying boasts about it. Here we are among the roots of the race of man; rather a smelly bit perhaps, but a bit that appeals at once to any child. It is ridiculous for critics to blame Shakespeare for accentuating this traditional theme till it became enormous.


The view that Hamlet "is Shakespeare," or at least more like him than his other characters, I hope falls into shape now. It has a basic truth, because he was drawing on his experience as actor and playwright; these professions often do puzzle their practitioners about what is theatrical and what is not, as their friends and audiences can easily recognize; but he was only using what the theme required. To have to give posterity, let alone the immediate audiences, a picture of himself would have struck him as laying a farcical extra burden on an already difficult assignment. I think he did feel he was giving a good hand to actors in general, though with decent obscurity, when he worked up so much praise for Hamlet at the end, but you are meant to be dragged round to this final admiration for Hamlet, not to feel it all through. To suppose he "is Shakespeare" has excited in some critics a reasonable distaste for both parties, because a man who models himself on Hamlet in common life (as has been done) tends to appear a mean-minded neurotic; whereas if you take the plot seriously Hamlet is at least assumed to have special reasons for his behavior.


We should now be able to reconsider the view which Professor Stoll has done real service by following up: Hamlet's reasons are so good that he not only never delays at all but was never supposed to; the self-accusations of the Revenger are always prominent in Revenge Plays, even classical Greek ones, being merely a necessary part of the machine, to make the audience continue waiting with attention. Any problem we may invent about Shakespeare's Hamlet, on this view, we could also have invented about Kyd's, but it wouldn't have occurred to us to want to. In making the old play "life-like" Shakespeare merely altered the style, not the story; except that it was probably he who (by way of adding "body") gave Hamlet very much better reasons for delay than any previous Revenger, so that it is peculiarly absurd of us to pick him out and puzzle over his delay. I do not at all want to weaken this line of argument; I think Shakespeare did, intentionally, pile up all the excuses for delay he could imagine, while at the same time making Hamlet bewail and denounce his delay far more strongly than ever Revenger had done before. It is the force and intimacy of the self-reproaches of Hamlet, of course, which ordinary opinion has rightly given first place; that is why these legal arguments that he didn't delay appear farcical. But the two lines of argument are only two halves of the same thing. Those members of the audience who simply wanted to see a Revenge Play again, without any hooting at it from smarter persons, deserved to be satisfied; and anyhow, for all parties, the suspicion that Hamlet was a coward or merely fatuous had to be avoided. The ambiguity was an essential part of the intention, because the more you tried to translate the balance of impulses in the old drama into a realistic story, the more peculiar this story had to be made. The old structure was still kept firm, but its foundations had to be strengthened to carry so much extra weight. At the same time, a simpler view could be taken; whatever the stage characters may say, the real situation in the theatre is still that the audience knows the revenge won't come till the end. Their own foreknowledge is what they had laughed at, rather than any lack of motive in the puppets, and however much the motives of the Revenger for delay were increased he could still very properly blame himself for keeping the audience waiting. One could therefore sit through the new Hamlet (as for that matter the eighteenth century did) without feeling too startled by his self-reproaches. But of course the idea that "bringing the style up to date" did not involve any change of content seems to me absurd, whether held by Shakespeare's committee or by Professor Stoll; for one thing, it made the old theatrical convention appear bafflingly indistinguishable from a current political danger. The whole story was brought into a new air, so that one felt there was much more "in it." This effect, I think, requires a sudden feeling of novelty rather than a gradual evolution, but it is still possible that Shakespeare wrote an earlier draft than our present text.


Variant Texts: Q1, Q2 and the Folio


To discuss two lost plays at once, by Kyd and Shakespeare, is perhaps rather tiresome, but one cannot imagine the first audiences without forming some picture of the development of the play, of what struck them as new. Mr. Dover Wilson, to whom so much gratitude is due for his series of books on Hamlet, takes a rather absurd position here. He never edits a straightforward Shakespeare text without finding evidence for two or three layers of revision, and considering them important for a full understanding of the play; only in Hamlet, where there is positive evidence for them, and a long-recognized ground for curiosity about them, does he assume they can be ignored. He rightly insists that an editor needs to see the problems of a text as a whole before even choosing between two variant readings, and he sometimes actually asserts in passing that Shakespeare wrote earlier drafts of Hamlet and yet his basis for preferring Q2 to F is a picture of Shakespeare handing in one manuscript (recorded by Q2) from which the Company at once wrote out one acting version (recorded by F), making drastic cuts and also verbal changes which they refused to reconsider. He says he is not concerned with "sixteenth century versions of Hamlet," a device of rhetoric that suggests a gradual evolution, too hard to trace. I am not clear which century 1600 is in (there was a surprising amount of quarrelling over the point in both 1900 and 1800), but even writing done in 1599 would not be remote from 1601. I postulate one main treatment of the play by Shakespeare, first acted in 1600, and then one quite minor revision of it by Shakespeare, first acted in 1601, written to feed and gratify the interest and discussion which his great surprise had excited the year before. To believe in this amount of revision does not make much difference, whereas a gradual evolution would, but it clears up some puzzling bits of evidence and I think makes the audiences more intelligible.


Mr. Dover Wilson's two volumes on The Manuscript of Shakespeare’s Hamlet are magnificently detailed and obviously right most of the time. I am only questioning this part of his conclusions: “we may venture to suspect that (always assuming Shakespeare to have been in London) Hamlet was not merely a turning-point in his career dramatically, but also marks some kind of crisis in his relations with his company.” The idea that Shakespeare wasn't in London, I take it, is inserted to allow for the theory that he was in Scotland drafting his first version of Macbeth, which need not delay us. The cuts for time in the Folio seem to be his main argument, because he ends his leading volume (Manuscript, p. 174) by saying that Shakespeare discovered his mistake if he imagined that the Company would act such a long play in full. "If" here is a delicacy only, because the purpose of the argument is to answer critics who had called our full-length Hamlet "a monstrosity, the creation of scholarly compromise" between rival shorter versions. I agree with Mr. Dover Wilson that Shakespeare did envisage a use for this whole text. But Mr. Dover Wilson had just been giving an impressive section (pp. 166-170) to prove that some of the Folio cuts are so skilful that Shakespeare must have done them himself, perhaps unwillingly, but at least he was not being ignored. Another part of the argument for a quarrel is that “the producer did not trouble to consult the author when he could not decipher a word or understand a passage," but this section argues that Shakespeare did make a few corrections in the Prompt Copy, when a mistake happened to lie near the bits he had looked up to make his cuts. Surely this makes the author look culpably careless over details rather than in a huff because he hadn't been consulted over details. Another argument uses errors which are unchanged in the quartos and folio to suggest that the Company repeated the same bits of petty nonsense blindly for twenty years. But Mr. Dover Wilson also argues that the Prompt Copy used for the Folio was "brought up to date" in later years, at least on such points as the weapons fashionable for dueling; the same might apply to some slang terms which were already out of date when the Folio was published, though he labors to restore them now from the Quarto. I think he presumes an excessive desire to save paper in this quite wealthy company; they are not likely to have kept the same manuscript Prompt Copy of their most popular play in constant use for twenty years. There would have to be a copying staff, in any case, to give the actors their parts to learn from. The baffling question is how the Folio Hamlet with its mass of different kinds of error could ever occur; and the theory of Mr. Dover Wilson is that it was badly printed from a copy of the Company's (irremovable) Prompt Copy made by a Company employee who was careless chiefly because he knew what was currently acted, so that his mind echoed phrases in the wrong place.


Surely I may put one more storey onto this card castle. Heming and Condell, I suggest, set this man to copy the original Prompt Copy, which so far from being in current use had become a kind of museum piece; they tried to get a basic text for the printer, and only failed to realize that it isn't enough in these matters to issue an order. The basic object to be copied had neither the later corrections nor the extra passages which had been reserved for special occasions, and the interest of the man who copied it is that he could scribble down both old and new errors or variants without feeling he was obviously wrong. It seems improbable that the Globe actors, though likely to introduce corruptions, would patiently repeat bits of unrewarding nonsense for twenty years; my little invention saves us from believing that, without forcing me to deny that Mr. Dover Wilson's theory has produced some good emendations. We cannot expect to recover a correct text merely from an excess of error in the printed versions of it; and in no other Shakespeare play are they so confused. But surely this fact itself must have some meaning. I suggest that, while Shakespeare's Hamlet was the rage, that is, roughly till James became king without civil war, it was varied a good deal on the night according to the reactions of the immediate audience. This would be likely to make the surviving texts pretty hard to print from; also it relieves us from thinking of Shakespeare as frustrated by the Company's cuts in his first great tragedy. Surely any man, after a quarrel of this sort, would take some interest in "at least" getting the printed version right. No doubt there was a snobbery about print, to which he would probably be sensitive, and also the text belonged to the Company; but neither question would impinge here. The Company must have wanted a large text for the Second Quarto, and even the most anxious snob can correct proofs without attracting attention. Indeed there was at least one reprint of it (1611), and probably two, during his lifetime; they can be observed trying to correct a few mistakes, but obviously without help from the author.


You might think he fell into despair over the incompetence of the printers, but they could do other jobs well enough, and were visibly trying to do better here. The only plausible view is that he refused to help them because he wouldn't be bothered, and I do not see how he could have felt this if he had been annoyed by the way Hamlet had been mangled at the Globe. I think he must have felt tolerably glutted by the performances? Critics have long felt that the First Quarto probably contains evidence for a previous draft by Shakespeare which is hard to disentangle. I am not trying to alter the points of revision usually suggested, and need not recall the arguments in their lengthy detail.  I am only trying to give fresh support for them against Mr. Dover Wilson's view that Ql is a perversion of the standard Globe performance. One must admit, on his side, that a text published in 1603 cannot be trusted to be unaffected by changes in the performance supposedly made in 1601; the idea that this was a travelling version, suited to audiences less experienced than the Globe ones, seems a needed hypothesis as well as one suggested by the title-page. Also, though often weirdly bad in detail, it is a very workmanlike object in broad planning; somebody made a drastically short version of the play which kept in all the action, and the effect is so full of action that it is almost as jerky as an early film, which no doubt some audiences would appreciate. There seems no way to decide whether or not this was done independently of the pirating reporters who forgot a lot of the poetry. The main change is that the soliloquy "To be or not to be" and its attendant scolding of Ophelia is put before the Player scene, not after it; but a producer wanting a short plain version is wise to make that change, so it is not evidence for an earlier draft by Shakespeare.


The variations in names might only recall Kyd's names, perhaps more familiar in the provinces. What does seem decisive evidence, and was regularly considered so till Mr. Dover Wilson ignored rather than rebutted it, is that this text gives a sheer scene between Horatio and the Queen alone, planning what to do about Hamlet's return to Denmark; surely this would be outside the terms of reference of both the potting adapter and the pirating hack. The text seems particularly "cooked up" and not remembered from Shakespeare; but then, what these people wanted was "action," and it is less like action to have Horatio report Hamlet's adventures than to let the hero boast in person; and it is not inherently any shorter. Also this change fits in with a consistently different picture of the Queen, who is not only made clearly innocent of the murder but made willing to help Hamlet. Mr. Dover Wilson does not seem to deal with this familiar position beyond saying "Shakespeare is subtler than his perverters or his predecessors," assuming that the Ql compiler is his first perverter; and he argues that the Queen is meant to appear innocent even of vague complicity in the murder in our standard text of Hamlet. But surely it is fair to ask what this "subtlety" may be, and why it deserves such a fine name if it only muddles a point that was meant to be clear.


Why, especially, must the Queen be given an unexplained half-confession, "To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is ....," a fear of betraying guilt by too much effort to hide it? Mr. Richard Flatter, I think, did well to emphasize how completely this passage has been ignored by critics such as A. C. Bradley and Mr. Dover Wilson, whose arguments from other passages to prove that she was meant to seem innocent are very convincing. Surely the only reasonable view is that Shakespeare in his final version wanted to leave doubt in the minds of the audience about the Queen. You may say that the adapter behind Ql simply got rid of this nuisance, but you are making him do an unlikely amount of intelligent work. It is simpler to believe that he is drawing on an earlier version, which made the Queen definitely on Hamlet's side after the bedroom scene.


Mr. Dover Wilson used to believe in two versions by Shakespeare and apparently does so still, or if not he must be praised for giving the evidence against his later view with his usual firmness. Harvey's note praising a Hamlet by Shakespeare, he recalls, needs to predate the execution of Essex in February 1601, whereas the remarks about the War of the Theatres, and perhaps a hint at the seige of Dunkirk in the soliloquy "How all occasions do inform against me," belong to the summer of that year. If we are to believe in a revision for 1601, then, it should include these items, and probably the rest of the soliloquy, also the new position for "To be or not to be" and the scolding of Ophelia, and a number of changes about the Queen, not long in bulk. The idea that the main text was written before the death of Essex and the revision after it should perhaps have more meaning that I can find; perhaps anyway it corresponds to a certain darkening of the whole air.


But there is no need to make this revision large or elaborate; the points just listed seem to be the only ones we have direct evidence for, and are easily understood as heightening the peculiar effect of Hamlet for a public which had already caught on to it. May I now put the matter the other way round: I do not believe that our present text of Hamlet, a weirdly baffling thing, could have been written at all except for a public which had already caught on to it.


The strongest argument is from the soliloquy “How all occasions.” '* Mr. Dover Wilson says that the Company omitted this "from the very first" from the Fortinbras scene, "which was patently written to give occasion to the soliloquy." But no producer would leave in the nuisance of an army marching across the stage after removing the only point of it. Fortinbras had anyway to march his army across the stage, as he does in Ql as well as F, and presumably did in Kyd's version. The beginning of the play is a mobilization against this army and the end a triumph for it; the audience thought in more practical terms than we do about these dynastic quarrels. But that made it all the more dramatic, in the 1601 version, to throw in a speech for Hamlet hinting that the troops at Dunkirk were as fatuous for too much action as he himself was for too little. It is only a final example of the process of keeping the old scenes and packing into them extra meaning. What is reckless about the speech is that it makes Hamlet say, while (presumably) surrounded by guards leading him to death, "I have cause and will and strength and means To do it," destroying a sheer school of Hamlet Theories with each noun; the effect is so exasperating that many critics have simply demanded the right to throw it away.


Hamlet’s Magnificence


Nobody is as annoying as this except on purpose, and the only reasonable view of why the speech was added is that these Hamlet Theories had already been propounded, in long discussions among the spectators, during the previous year. But the bafflement thrown in here was not the tedious one of making a psychological problem or a detective story insoluble; there was a more obvious effect in making Hamlet magnificent. He finds his immediate position not even worth reflecting on; and he does get out of this jam, so you can't blame him for his presumption at this point. His complete impotence at the moment, one might say, seems to him "only a theatrical appearance," just as his previous reasons for delay seem to have vanished like a dream. Here as elsewhere he gives a curious effect, also not unknown among his critics, of losing all interest for what has happened in the story; but it is more impressive in him than in them. By the way, I would like to have one other passage added by Shakespeare in revision, the remarks by Hamlet at the end of the bedroom scene (in Q2 but not F) to the effect that it will only cheer him up to have to outwit his old pals trying to kill him; this seems liable to sound merely boastful unless afterwards proved genuine by his private thoughts, but if the soliloquy is being added some such remark is needed first, to prepare the audience not to find it merely unnatural. One might suppose that this dream-like though fierce quality in Hamlet, which became perhaps his chief appeal two centuries later, was only invented for the 1601 revision. I think one can prove that this was not so. The moral effect is much the same, and hardly less presumptuous, when he insists at the end of the play on treating Laertes as a gentleman and a sportsman, though he has already told the audience (in high mystical terms) that he is not such a fool as to be unsuspicious; and the moral is at once drawn for us; this treatment unnerves Laertes so much that he almost drops the plot. The fencing-match no less than the Play Scene is an imitation which turns out to be reality, but that is merely a thing which one should never be surprised by; Laertes ought still to be treated in the proper style. "Use them after your own honour and dignity; the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty"; this curious generosity of the intellect is always strong in Hamlet, and indeed his main source of charm. One reason, in fact, why he could be made so baffling without his character becoming confused was that it made him give a tremendous display of top-class behavior, even in his secret mind as expressed in soliloquy. Now the paradoxical chivalry towards Laertes (which commentators tend to regard as a "problem" about how much Hamlet understood) is well marked in Ql, which fairly certainly didn't bother about the 1601 revision. On the other hand it wouldn't be in Kyd's version, because Kyd wasn't interested in this kind of startlingly gentlemanly behavior, as well as not wanting to use it as an explanation of the delay. It really belongs, I think, to the situation of continuing to claim a peculiar status as an aristocrat after the practical status has been lost, like Dukes in Proust; the casual remark by Hamlet in the graveyard that all the classes are getting mixed seems to me to have a bearing on his behavior. By the way, the reason why Hamlet apologizes to Laertes merely by claiming to be mad, which many commentators have felt to be a shifty way to talk about his killing of Laertes' father (since we have seen that that was not done when mad), is that he is uneasy about the incident "I'll rant as well as thou"; to have scuffled with Laertes while they both kicked the body of his sister in her grave was disgustingly theatrical, and he is ashamed of it. This seems to him much more real than having caused the deaths of both father and sister, a thing he couldn't help, and even when dying beside Laertes he refuses to admit any guilt for it. To have allowed his situation to make him theatrical is serious guilt, and (according to Q2) he snatches the occasion to throw in a separate apology to his mother, for the way he behaved to her on the occasion when Polonius happened to get killed. This emphasis on style rather than on one's incidental murders seems now madly egotistical, but it would then appear as consistently princely behavior. It seems clear that Shakespeare used this as a primary element in his revivification of Hamlet.


In this kind of way, he got a good deal of mystery into his first version of Hamlet, starting with the intention of making it life-like. Then, when the audiences became intrigued by this mystery, he made some quite small additions and changes which screwed up the mystery to the almost torturing point where we now have it: the sky was the limit now, not merely because the audiences wanted it, but because one need only act so much of this "shock troops" material as a particular audience seemed ripe for. No wonder it made the play much too long. The soliloquy "How All Occasions" is a sort of encore planned in case an audience refuses to let the star go, and in the big days of Hamlet they would decide back-stage how much, and which parts, of the full text to perform when they saw how a particular audience was shaping. This view gives no reason to doubt that the whole thing was sometimes acted, ending by torchlight probably, with the staff of the Globe extremely cross at not being allowed to go home earlier.


I am not clear how much this picture alters the arguments of Mr. Dover Wilson from the surviving texts, but it clearly does to a considerable extent. Everyone says that the peculiar merit of the Elizabethan theatre was to satisfy a broad and varied clientele, with something of the variability of the Music Hall in its handling of the audience; but the experts do not seem to imagine a theatre which actually carried out this plan, instead of sticking to a text laid down rigidly beforehand. It is unlikely to have happened on any scale, to be sure, except in the very special case of Hamlet. But if you suppose it happened there you need no longer suppose a quarrel over some extras written in for occasional use. And there is the less reason to suppose a quarrel, on my argument, because the Company must have accepted Shakespeare's 1601 revision as regards both Ophelia and the Queen, for example treating the new position for "To be or not to be" as part of the standard Prompt Copy, eventually recorded in the Folio. (One would never swap back the order of scenes "on the night.") I imagine that this excitement about the play, which made it worthwhile keeping bits for special audiences, had already died down by 1605, when the Company sent plenty of Shakespeare's manuscript to the printer (as Mr. Dover Wilson says) just to outface the pirate of Ql; one no longer needed to keep extras up one's sleeve. But I should fancy that the claim on the title-page, "enlarged to almost as much again as it was," does not only refer to the extreme shortness of the pirate's version; advertisements even when lying often have sources of plausibility, and it would be known that a few of the Globe performances had also been almost recklessly enlarged.


The criticism of Hamlet has got to such a scale that it feels merely pokey to say one thing more; a library on the topic would completely fill an ordinary house. But I feel that the line of thought I have been following here is one which many recent critics have taken, and yet without their taking it as far as it will go.



Part II


THE first part of this essay argued that the 1600 Globe audiences would have laughed at the Kyd version of Hamlet simply because they could shout "Hurry Up"; thus the first problem for Shakespeare in re-writing it was to find how to stop them, by making the delay itself a subject of interest. From this point of view, I maintained, it is reasonable to revive the idea that he wrote two versions of Hamlet} and that the mangled First Quarto gives indirect evidence about the first one; an idea common among Victorian critics, but blown upon since then by Sir Edmund Chambers and Professor Dover Wilson. The first version, for 1600, solved the technical pro blem so well that it established Hamlet as a "mystery" among the first audiences; then a minor revision for 1601 gratified this line of interest by making him a baffling one and spreading mystery all round. Thus the soliloquy "How all occasions," which seems to defy the commentators deliberately, was written as an extra for audiences especially fascinated by Hamlet; our full text was meant to be used sometimes but not regularly.


These assertions, I would claim, fit in with the textual evidence, which is very confusing, better than anything else; but the main reason for believing them is that they explain how such an extraordinary play could get written at all. We need some picture of the first audiences even to understand what was intended. I assume, then, that the First Quarto gives evidence about the first draft, so that the main changes for the second concern Ophelia and the Queen; whom I will consider in turn. The scolding of Ophelia by Hamlet, and the soliloquy "To be or not to be" before it, were put later in the play. The main purpose in this, I think, was to screw up the paradoxes in the character of Hamlet rather than to affect Ophelia herself. I tried to describe in the first part of this essay a sort of Pirandello sequence in his behavior from meeting the Players to the Recorder scene, which raises problems about whether he is very theatrical or very sincere, and this is much heightened by putting his hysterical attack on Ophelia in the middle of it; especially beside the utter detachment of "To be or not to be," which J. M. Robertson found so incredible in its new position as to demand grotesque collaboration theories. The first version by Shakespeare must have carried the main point of this sequence, because even the First Quarto makes him take an actual "pipe" after the Play scene and use it to claim he is a mystery ("though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me"); but this was a crucial part to "heighten" if you wanted to heighten the mystery as a whole.


One might also feel that the change had another purpose; combined with the new doubts about the Queen it gives the play a concentrated anti-woman central area. In any case, the worst behavior of Hamlet is towards Ophelia, whether you call it theatrical or not; the critics who have turned against him usually seem to do so on her behalf, and his relations with the two women raise more obvious questions about whether he is neurotic than the delay. The first question here is how Shakespeare expected the audience to take the scolding of Ophelia, admitting that an audience has different parts. We can all see Hamlet has excuses for treating her badly, but if we are to think him a hero for yielding to them the thing becomes barbaric; he punishes her savagely for a plot against him when he has practically forced her to behave like a hospital nurse. I feel sure that Mr. Dover Wilson is getting at something important, though as so often from a wrong angle, when he makes a fuss about adding a stage direction at II, ii, 158, and insists that Hamlet must visibly overhear the King and Polonius plotting to use Ophelia against him. No doubt this is better for a modern audience, but we need to consider the sequence of changes in the traditional play. In our present text, even granting Mr. Dover Wilson his tiny stage direction, what Hamlet overhears is very harmless and indeed what he himself has planned for; it was he who started using Ophelia as a pawn, however much excused by passion or despair. Kyd, I submit, would give solid ground for Hamlet's view that Ophelia is working against him; the merits of Kyd, as I am assuming all along, have nothing to do with leaving motives obscure. She would do it highmindedly, in ringing lines, with distress, regarding it as her duty since her lover has become mad, and never realizing what deep enmity against him she is assisting; but still she would do something plain and worth making a fuss about. Hamlet's scolding of her for it would follow at once. The agile Bard, with gleaming eye, merely removed the adequate motivation for the scolding of Ophelia, a habit to which he was becoming attached. Then for his revision he took the scolding far away even from the trivial bit of plotting, no more than was essential to explain the sequence, that he had left in for his Hamlet to overhear; thus making Mr. Dover Wilson's view harder for a spectator to invent. One can respect the struggle of Mr. Dover Wilson to recover one rag of the drapery so much needed by Hamlet, but if this was the development the Globe Theatre is not likely to have given any. We should recall here, I think, the rising fashion in the theatres for the villain-hero, who staggers one by being so outrey and the love-poems of Donne, already famous in private circulation, which were designed to outrage the conventions about chivalrous treatment of women. Also the random indecency of lunatics, a thing the Elizabethans were more accustomed to than we are, since they seldom locked them up, is insisted on in the behavior of Hamlet to Ophelia whether he is pretending or not.


The surprising instruction of the Ghost, "Taint not thy mind", was bound to get attention, so that one was prepared to think his mind tainted. I think Hamlet was meant to be regarded by most of the audience as behaving shockingly towards Ophelia, almost too much so to remain a tragic hero; to swing round the whole audience into reverence for Hamlet before he died was something of a lion-taming act. This was part of the rule that all his behavior must be startling, and was only slightly heightened in revision. But to see it in its right proportion we must remember another factor; the theatre, as various critics have pointed out, clung to an apparently muddled but no doubt tactical position of both grumbling against Puritans and accepting their main claims. The Victorians still felt that Hamlet was simply high-minded here. D. H. Lawrence has a poem describing him with hatred as always blowing and snoring about other folks' whoring, rightly perhaps, but in Hamlet's time this would feel like the voice of lower-class complaint against upper class luxury, as when he rebukes the Court for too much drink.

All Malcontents rebuked luxury; this aspect of him would not need to be "brought out."


Here I think we have the right approach to another Victorian view of Hamlet, of which Bernard Shaw is perhaps the only representative still commonly read: that he was morally too advanced to accept feudal ideas about revenge, and felt, but could not say, that his father had given him an out-of-date duty; that was why he gave such an absurd excuse for not killing the King at prayer. (Dr. Johnson thought it not absurd but too horrible to read.) Without this obscure element of "discussion drama," Shaw maintained, the nineteenth century would never have found Hamlet interesting; and of course Shaw would also feel it high minded of him to be a bit rough with the women in a Puritan manner. This Hamlet Theory has been swept away by ridicule too easily, and I was glad to see Mr. Harbage defend it recently with the true remark that no moral idea was "remote from the Elizabethan mind", indeed, the most available source for Hamlet, the version by Belleforest, itself objects in principle to revenge. The word "feudal" needs to be removed (as so often); it is royal persons who cannot escape the duty of revenge by an appeal to public justice; this is one of the reasons why they have long been felt to make interesting subjects for plays. But I think Shakespeare's audiences did regard his Hamlet as taking a "modern" attitude to his situation, just as Bernard Shaw did. This indeed was one of the major dramatic effects of the new treatment. He walks out to the audience and says "You think this an absurd old play, and so it is, but I’m in it and what can I do?" The theatrical device in itself expresses no theory about the duty of revenge, but it does ask the crowd to share in the question. No wonder that one of the seventeenth-century references, dropped while describing someone else, says "He is like Prince Hamlet, he pleases all."


This trait of his character has rightly irritated many critics, most recently perhaps Senor Madariaga, whose lively book on Hamlet has at least the merit of needing some effort to refute

it. He finds him a familiar Renaissance type of the extreme "egotist," as well as a cad who had been to bed with Ophelia already. The curious indifference of Hamlet to the facts does make him what we call egotistical, but this would be viewed as part of his lordliness; "egotism," I think, is only a modern bit of popular psychology, quite as remote from medical science as the Elizabethan bit about "melancholy" and much less likely to occur to the first audiences. The argument that Hamlet has been to bed with Ophelia gives an impression of clearing the air, and I think greatly needs refuting; I am glad to have a coarse enough argument to do it without being suspected of undue chivalry. We need a little background first. Senor Madariaga points out that the corresponding lady in the sources did enjoy Hamlet's person on a brief occasion, and argues that the audience would take the story for granted unless it was firmly changed; he then easily proves that the actress of Ophelia can make all references to her virginity seem comic, but this doesn't prove she was meant to. The only "source" which most of the audience would know about is the play by Kyd which we have lost, and there is a grand simplicity about the drama of Kyd which is unlikely to have allowed any questionable aspect to his hero. The legend itself, I agree, gives Hamlet a strong "Br'er Fox" smell, and Shakespeare had a nose for this, but the tradition of the theatre would let him assume that Ophelia represented pure pathos and was somehow betrayed. Kyd would be likely to introduce the idea that this lady, who is undignified in the sources, had a high position and was regarded as Hamlet's prospective Queen. Shakespeare gave this a further twist; he implies at her first appearance that her brother and father are angling to make her Queen; they don't say that to the girl, and still less to Hamlet's parents, but we need not believe their over-eager protestations about the matter; the situation is a well-known one for the audience. (The placid lament of the Queen over the grave of Ophelia, that she had expected her to marry Hamlet, sounds as if she had long known it was in the wind.) They both tell her that the urgent thing is not to go to bed with him too quickly, and the audience will assume that this important family plan is being carried through; unless, of course, she leers and winks as Senor Madariaga recommends, but that would only make her seem a fool. The impact of the poetry that introduces the character has a natural right to interpret her; it is hauntingly beautiful and obviously does not interpret the father and brother who speak it:


The chariest maid is prodigal enough

If she unmask her beauty to the moon


and so forth; the whole suggestion is that she must hold off from Hamlet, as part of her bid for grandeur, and yet that tragedy may come of it. However, I agree that these vast poetic gestures towards all human experience could easily suggest just the opposite, that she is sure to have done what she is advised against; a more definite argument is required. In thePlay scene, when Hamlet is offensively jeering at her for her supposed lust, and she is trying to laugh it off (pathetically and courageously; it is unfair of Senor Madariaga to say this proves she is used to such talk), she says "you are keen, my lord, you are keen," meaning to praise his jokes as high-minded general satire against the world, though they are flat enough bits of nastiness, and he answers:


It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.


Now the conviction that it is fun to make a virgin scream and bleed was far too obvious to the Elizabethans for this to mean anything else; I can imagine alternatives, but do not believe in them and will wait for them to be advanced by some opponent. The point is not that Hamlet's remark has any importance on the stage, but that the first audiences took for granted one view of her or the other, from the production if not from the tradition (an ambiguity here, I think, would only confuse the production), whereas we have to learn what they took for granted by using details which at the time merely seemed to fit in. This detail, I submit, is enough to prove they assumed her to be a virgin.


I am not trying to whitewash Hamlet; he is jeering at the desires of the virgin which he is keen to excite and not satisfy, and this is part of what sends her mad. But to jeer at a prospective Queen for having yielded to him already would be outside the code; the more loose the actual Court habits were (a point Senor Madariaga uses) the more ungentlemanly it would seem, and Hamlet never loses class, however mad. He also keeps a curious appeal for the lower classes in the audience as a satirist on the upper class, as I have tried to describe; even here, some of the audience would probably enjoy having jeers against an aggressively pure young lady whose family are angling for a grand marriage; but for this purpose too he needs to be unworldly rather than to have been to bed with her already. What seems more important to us is his "psychology," and that gives the same answer; the whole point of his bad temper against her, which he builds up into feverish suspicions, is that it arises because she has shut him out, not because she has yielded to him.


In the Nunnery scene, when he runs back for the second time onto the stage because he has just thought of a still nastier thing which he can't bear not to say, he says "I have heard of your paintings, too," heard that women in general paint their faces. It is almost a Peter Arno drawing. Pie calls her obscene because all women are (like his mother) and a prostitute because she is plotting against him (like a nurse). To allow any truth to his accusations against her seems to me throwing away the whole dramatic effect.


But of course there is a grave solemn truth, never denied, which is simply that Ophelia did want to marry him and ought not to have been accused of lust for it. Senor Madariaga regards her behavior when mad as proof of incontinence when sane, an idea which strikes me as about equally remote from an Elizabethan audience and a modern doctor. She sings a song in which the man says to the woman "I would have married you, as I promised, if you had not come to my bed," which seems to ask for application to her own case; but many of the parallels in her mad talk work by opposites; indeed the agony of it (as in the mad speeches added to The Spanish Tragedy, for instance) is that we see her approaching recognition of the truth and then wincing far away again. "They say a made a good end" is her comment on the father who died unshriven, and "Bonny sweet Robin is all my joy" deals with her appalling lover before she walks out to death. Well might she reflect that the girls in the ballads, who came to a simpler kind of disaster by giving too early, met a less absolute frustration than the girl who held off because she was being groomed for queenhood; and surely this idea is the point of her vast farewell: "Come, my coach; . . . Good night, good ladies". But we can argue more directly than from the poetry of the thing. When she brings out this ballad the wicked King, who never falls below a certain breadth of sentiment, says "Pretty Ophelia," a quaintly smoking-room comment which directly tells the audience what to feel. Soon after, her brother echoes the word in a rage, saying that even in the madness forced upon her by Hamlet she turns Hell itself to favour and to prettiness, but the King saw that "pretty" is right at once. Recently I was being asked by a student in Peking what to make of the long purples


Which liberal shepherds give a grosser name

But our cold maids do Dead Men's Fingers call them.


Why are the obscene thoughts of these peasants necessary in the impossible but splendid description of her death? At the time, I could only say that the lines seemed to me very beautiful, and in the usual tone about Ophelia, so I felt sure they didn't carry any hint that would go outside it. Also, no doubt, the maids give the flower this unmentioned name "when they laugh alone," and here the Love of a maid did become Death and fumble at her, but there is a broader, and one might well say a prettier, suggestion behind all these hints at her desire; that nobody wants her to be frigid. A certain amount of teasing about the modesty required from her would be ordinary custom, but the social purpose behind both halves of this little contradiction is to make her a good wife. Indeed to struggle against these absurd theories about her is to feel as baffled as she did by the confusions of puritanism; it makes one angry with Hamlet, not only with his commentators, as I think we are meant to be. Being disagreeable in this way was part of his "mystery."


Turning now to the Queen: Mr. Dover Wilson argued that the First Quarto was merely a perversion of the single play by Shakespeare, with a less "subtle" treatment of the Queen. I do not think we need at once call it subtle of Shakespeare to make her into an extra mystery by simply cutting out all her explanations of her behavior. The idea of a great lady who speaks nobly but is treacherous to an uncertain degree was familiar on the stage, as in Marlowe's Edward II, not a new idea deserving praise. No doubt the treatment is subtle; several of her replies seem unconscious proofs of complete innocence, whereas when she says her guilt "spills itself in fearing to be spilt" she must imply a guilty secret. But we must ask why the subtlety is wanted. An important factor here is the instruction of the Ghost to Hamlet, in the first Act, that he must contrive nothing against his mother. I think this was supplied by Kyd; he would see its usefulness as an excuse for the necessary delay, and would want his characters to be high-minded. Also he had to give his Ghost a reason for returning later, because the audience would not want this interesting character to be dropped. In Kyd's first act, therefore, the Ghost said Claudius must be killed and the Queen protected; then in the third Act, when Hamlet was questioning her suspiciously, the Ghost came back and said she hadn't known about his murder, supporting her own statement to that effect; meanwhile he told Hamlet that it would be dangerous to wait any longer about killing Claudius, because the Play Scene has warned him. Hamlet had felt he still ought to wait till he knew how much his mother was involved. The Ghost had already forgiven her for what she had done, perhaps adultery, probably only the hasty re-marriage to his brother, but had not cared to discuss it much; the tragic effect in the third act is that he clears up too late an unfortunate bit of vagueness in his first instructions. This makes him a bit absurd, but the motives of Ghosts seldom do bear much scrutiny, and he is better than most of them. (On this account, Hamlet is still liable to have different motives in different scenes for sparing the King at prayer, but that seems a normal bit of Elizabethan confusion.) Thus there is no reason why Kyd's Queen should not have satisfied the curiosity of the audience fully; she would admit to Hamlet that her second marriage was wrong, clear herself of anything else, offer to help him, and be shown doing it. Shakespeare, in his first treatment of the play, had no reason not to keep all this, as the First Quarto implies; his problem was to make the audi ence accept the delay as life-like, and once Hamlet is surrounded by guards that problem is solved. But if we next suppose him making a minor revision, for audiences who have become interested in the mystery of Hamlet, then it is clearly better to surround him with mystery and make him drive into a situation which the audience too feels to be unplumbable.


Mr. Richard Flatter, in an interesting recent book (Hamlet's Father) has done useful work by taking this re-interpretation of the Ghost as far as it will go. He points out that the Ghost must be supposed to return in the bedroom scene to say something important, and yet all he does is to prevent Hamlet from learning whether the Queen helped in his murder; such then was his intention, though he had to deny it. After this Hamlet does up his buttons (stops pretending to be mad) and has nothing left but a high-minded despair about his duties to his parents; that is why he talks about Fate and refuses to defend himself. In effect, he can now only kill Claudius after his mother is dead, and he has only an instant to do it in before he himself dies, but he is heroic in seizing this moment to carry out an apparently impossible duty with pedantic exactitude. To accuse him of delay, says Mr. Flatter with considerable point, is like accusing Prometheus of delay while chained to the Caucasus. This result, I think, is enough to prove that the Flatter view was never a very prominent element in a play which hides it so successfully. He produces interesting evidence from stage history that her complicity in the murder was assumed as part of the tradition; but I can't see that the German version has any claim to echo a pre-Shakespearean play, whereas the First Quarto gives evidence that it was Shakespeare who first started this hare, in his revision of 1601. He goes on to claim that the theme of a Ghost who, so far from wanting Revenge, wants to save his unfaithful wife from being punished for murdering himself, wants even to save her from the pain of confessing it to their son, is an extraordinary moral invention, especially for an Elizabethan; and so it is, for a playwright in any period, if he keeps it so very well hidden. Here, surely, we are among the vaguely farcical "Solutions of the Hamlet Problem" which have been cropping up for generations. But we need also to consider why they crop up, why the play was so constructed as to excite them. I think the Flatter theory did cross the keen minds of some of the 1601 audiences, and was intended to; but only as a background possibility in a situation which encouraged a variety of such ideas. I think the fundamental reason why the change was "subtle," to recall the term of Mr. Dover Wilson, was something very close to the Freudian one which he is so quick at jumping away from; to make both parents a mystery at least pushes the audience towards fundamental childhood situations. But it would have a sufficient immediate effect from thickening the atmosphere and broadening the field.


There is a question about the staging of the bedroom scene which opens out in interesting directions. By all the rules of an enthusiast for the balcony, Hamlet must scold his mother on the balcony; whereas a modern producer usually feels it absurd to put such a long and dramatic scene in such a remote cramped space. One side says: "Hamlet walks straight on through one private room (the inner stage, the King at prayer) to a still more private room (the Queen's 'closet,' the balcony); anything else would break the dramatic tension"; the other side says "How are you going to get four actors and a double bed and all the rest of it onto this balcony? How can the audience see them properly, let alone feel close enough to them?" We must also recognize and salute the splendid invention of J. C. Adams, a Globe Theatre in which the balcony was the most prominent stage, so that Desdemona could die on it actually touching the back wall of the whole building. This machine ought to be constructed, but the actual Globe could hardly be such a thrillingly specialized instrument; the plays had to be ready for use under rougher circumstances. I think there is evidence that, here and in other cases, Shakespeare wanted to use the balcony more than the Company would let him, but that, even so, he regarded it as a "distancing" stage, like the modern producer and unlike J. C. Adams. The Folio, to begin the next scene, just says "Enter King," whereas Q2 says "Enter King and Queen with Rosencrantz and Guilderstern." Mr. Dover Wilson finds the Quarto odd here, because "not only is an entry for the Queen superfluous when she is already 'on', but Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are quite obviously in the way, so much so that the Queen has to get rid of them at once." However, they are called back in a moment to search for Hamlet, and Ql brings them on here without bothering to move them out and back. Mr. Dover Wilson suggests an intervening scene cut by Shakespeare while revising his manuscript, but this I think only follows from his curious lack of interest in the Globe Theatre. Surely the Q2 version means that the inner-stage curtain is opened, "discovering" the King plotting with R. and G., and that the Queen at once walks downstairs from the balcony; the purpose of the Folio version, where the King walks into the bedroom alone and calls for R. and G. thirty lines later, is to keep the whole bedroom scene on the inner stage, not the balcony. This is a clumsy plan, because it forces the incident of the King at prayer out onto the apron stage, whereas how a King can be caught in private is one of the

traditional lines of interest of Revenge Plays-- here it happens because the Queen wants to speak to Hamlet privately just when the King urgently needs solitude to recover from the shock: of the Mouse-Trap, and her room is only reached through his. This must also be how Hamlet can assume that the King has crept behind the arras in her room to spy on him. To make these points clear on the stage urgently needs two private rooms, and if the Company opposed using the balcony for such a definite purpose they must have opposed using it for any major scene.

Now, on the theory of Mr. Dover Wilson about Q2 and F, this means that Shakespeare wrote the scene for the balcony but was never allowed to put it there. Presumably he had just built the instrument he wanted; he must have been on the committee about the technical requirements of the new Globe, as a major shareholder, and the wishes of the leading author about the shape of the balcony would have to be heard. It is an intriguing idea that, perhaps for the first big use of the Globe, he was not allowed to play with his toy as much as he wanted. One may suspect that the mysterious quarrel, which Mr. Dover Wilson can somehow smell in his dealings with Hamlet, was not about cuts in the text but about where to put the double bed.


There is a parallel case over the blinding of Gloucester in King Lear, with the opposite relation between Folio and Quarto. Here the Quarto is supposed to be a reconstruction of what was acted, the Folio to be mainly a record of Shakespeare's manuscript, and the Quarto but not the Folio gives a soliloquy of fourteen lines by Edgar before the blinding scene. The previous scene is a shed for hiding from the storm, so has to be the inner stage, and the curtain needs to open on a "bench" and some "joint-stools," one of them "warped." The next gives the blinding of Gloucester in his own castle, and the irony of this requires grandeur, his own coat-of-arms on a hanging cloth, and at least one grand chair facing away from the audience on which he is blinded. Edgar is ignored by the supporters of the now unconscious Lear but presumably leaves the hut when they do; so the back curtain can be closed behind him, and his speech is just long enough for a simple change of furniture. Neither scene requires the balcony. But his words are so clumsy that many critics have suspected interpolation, also they break the rule that he never talks sanely at length while dressed as mad; yet they make quite good dramatic irony and are obviously by Shakespeare. I think this is a decisive bit of evidence as far as it goes, apart from any theory about the Folio and Quarto; Shakespeare wrote these extra lines in cold blood for convenience in staging a performance without a balcony; therefore in his first draft, written in hot blood, he must have presumed the use of one for the blinding of Gloucester. But I am not sure how much we can build on this fact. If we suppose he had a major quarrel with the producer over the balcony in Hamlet, surely it is odd to have him running bull-headed into the same trouble six years later in Lear, when he can have been in no mood for negotiations with producers. The obvious view, it seems to me, is simply that the Company always required a version, less important than the one for the Globe Theatre, which could be acted where there wasn't a big balcony, for instance at Court. They wouldn't much care which version eventually hit print.


I cannot be decisive here but feel the questions need to be raised. It is clear from Q2 that Shakespeare wanted the bedroom scene in Hamlet on the balcony, because otherwise the peculiar requirements of that text would not have got written down. But are we to suppose that Kyd already had it on the balcony, or contrariwise that Shakespeare himself only wanted it there in his 1601 revision, as a way of adding to the general mystery? It seems probable that Kyd already had the crucial sequence of scenes here; first sparing the King at prayer, then testing the Queen and being interrupted by the Ghost. This requires the balcony already. Kyd had a balcony, but a small one used only for short scenes or as part of a general effect; if he used it for this scene he would not also kill Polonius on it. There is a direct theatrical or symbolical reason for putting the scene on the balcony; Hamlet has drifted away from the obvious necessity of killing Claudius, so he is next shown bellowing in a remote place, and when the Ghost arrives the effect is like some animal in the near-by bear-pit being driven back from a hiding-place to its death in the ring. (It is thus a rehabilitation for Hamlet when he fights his own way back from England.) Besides, any stage Ghost is safer from ridicule when kept a bit remote. So I think it likely that Kyd already had the scene there, without Polonius and with less prolonged scolding by Hamlet. Anyhow Shakespeare would have it there in his first version, because it is required by his dramatic sequence, not merely by his later desire to add extra mystery about the Queen. Probably he told the Company he was only following tradition by putting it on the balcony, whereas he had made the scene so much bigger, to fit the new balcony of the Globe, that the effect was quite different. I do not think the Folio is adequate evidence that they refused, but they may have done.


The more important question is what Shakespeare wanted from his balcony, and therefore how we should build theatres for acting him. There is a large practical difference between the "distancing" theory of the balcony which is commonly assumed and the theory of J. C. Adams that it was simply the most prominent stage. One must suppose a gradual development; no doubt, the Globe of 1599 might have made a startling break with previous theatrical construction, but if so it is odd that that didn't get mentioned. The current view of experts seems to be that the balcony came to be used more and more in the seventeenth century, for the "public" theatres. The year before the theatres were closed for the Rule of the Saints a hopeful man published a play with a stage direction requiring two double beds and other French farce material saying he hoped it could all be done on the balcony, and this may encourage us to believe that the forward-looking vision of Shakespeare was eventually justified.


Even the Folio text of Lear is generally supposed to be checkmg its version by the Quarto etc., not copying a fifteen-year old manuscript blindly; one could argue that the copyist in many of his cuts was leaving out the parts he knew were never spoken "nowadays"; for instance, you didn't want those tiresome extra lines for Edgar because nowadays the balcony was used. The whole subject is confusing, but my impression is that Shakespeare regarded his balcony as a "distancing" stage, even while arranging for a bigger one and trying to use it more. We tend to feel that the obscenity and jealousy of Hamlet towards his mother are in themselves unpleasant enough to be the better for "distancing," but squeamishness is not the main point; as I have tried to argue, there would already be a dramatic reason for putting it there in the 1580's, which Shakespeare might well want to carry further. In the same way, we would prefer to feel farther off from the blinding of Gloucester, but also the function of the scene is to "sum up the eye imagery" and what not, rather than to emphasize his pain, since he does not become a major character till after it. Of course, as so often happens in a quarrel about how to use a new object, both sides may have been wrong in making the same basic assumption; J. C. Adams may be right in saying that the balcony was in fact the most prominent stage of the 1600 Globe, and yet everyone concerned may have failed to recognize this at the time. I imagine there is a good deal yet to be discovered about the staging, which may help to clear up our views about the first audiences; this makes a contrast with what may be called the basic point of Hamlet, which does seem to have been pursued, in the last century and a half, about as far as it will go.


I ought finally to say something about the Freudian view of Hamlet, the most extraordinary of the claims that it means something very profound which the first audiences could not know about. I think that literary critics, when this theory appeared, were thrown into excessive anxiety. A. C. Bradley had made the essential points before; that Hamlet's first soliloquy drives home (rather as a surprise to the first audiences, who expected something about losing the throne) that some kind of sex nausea about his mother is what is really poisoning him; also that in the sequence around the Prayer scene his failure to kill Claudius is firmly and intentionally tied up with a preference for scolding his mother instead. I have been trying to argue that his relations with the two women were made increasingly oppressive as the play was altered, but in any case the Freudian atmosphere of the final version is obvious even if distasteful. Surely the first point here is that the original legend is a kind of gift for the Freudian approach (even if Freud is wrong) ; it need not be painful to suppose that Shakespeare expressed this legend with a unique power. There is a fairy-story or childish fascination because Hamlet can boast of his secret and yet keep it, and because this crazy magical behaviour kills plenty of grown-ups; to base it on a conflict about killing Mother's husband is more specifically Freudian but still not secret.


The Freudian theory makes a literary problem when its conclusions oppose what the author thought he intended; but it seems clear that Shakespeare wouldn't have wanted to alter anything if he had been told about Freud, whether he laughed at the theory or not. Then again, what is tiresome for the reader about the Freudian approach is that it seems to tell us we are merely deluded in the reasons we give for our preferences, because the real grounds for them are deep in the Unconscious; but here the passage to the underground is fairly open. A feeling that this hero is allowed to act in a peculiar way which is yet somehow familiar, because one has been tempted to do it oneself, is surely part of the essence of the story. There is a clear contrast with Oedipus, who had no Oedipus Complex. He had not wanted to kill his father and marry his mother, even "unconsciously"; if he came to recognize that he had wanted it, that would weaken his bleak surprise at learning he has done it. The claim is that his audiences wanted to do it unconsciously; that is why they were so deeply stirred by the play, and why Aristotle could treat it as the supreme tragedy though in logic it doesn't fit his case at all, being only a bad luck story. This position is an uneasy one, I think; one feels there ought to be some mediation between the surface and the depths, and probably the play did mean more to its first audiences than we realize. But Hamlet is himself suffering from the Complex, in the grand treatment by Ernest Jones, though the reactions of the audience are also considered when he makes the other characters "fit in." And this is not unreasonable, because Hamlet is at least peculiar in Saxo, and Shakespeare overtly treats him as a "case" of Melancholy, a specific though baffling mental disease which medical textbooks were being written about.

What does seem doubtful is whether his mental disease was supposed to be what made him spare the King at prayer. We may take it that Kyd already had the scene, and gave the reason (that this might not send him to Hell), and meant it to be taken seriously; and also meant its effect to be seen as fatal, a tragic failure of state-craft. A moral to this, that a desire for excessive revenge may sometimes spoil a whole design, would seem quite in order. But, by the time Shakespeare had finished raising puzzles about the motives, even the motive for this part, though apparently taken over directly, might well come into doubt; for one thing, the failure of Hamlet even to consider his own danger, now that the King knows his secret, is so very glaring. Even the wildly opposite reason suggested by Mr. Dover Wilson, that he feels it wouldn't be sporting though he can't tell himself so, might crop up among contemporary audiences; in any case, the idea that there was some puzzle about it could easily occur to them. And the idea of a man grown-up in everything else who still acts like a child towards his elder relations is familiar; it could occur to a reflective mind, not only be sensed by the Unconscious, as soon as behavior like Hamlet's was presented as a puzzle. The trouble with it if made prominent would be from making the hero contemptible, but Hamlet has many escapes from that besides his claim to mental disease.

That his mother's marriage was considered incest made his initial disturbance seem more rational then than it does now; but his horror and jealousy are made to feel, as Mr. Eliot pointed out for purposes of complaint, a spreading miasma and in excess of this cause. I do not think Mr. Dover Wilson need have suspected that Mr. Eliot hadn't heard about incest, even for a rival effort at dodging Freud; there was admittedly an excess, because the old play was admittedly theatrical.


Unconscious resistance to killing a King is what the audience would be likely to invent, if any; for Claudius to talk about the divinity that doth hedge a king is irony, because he has killed one, but we are still meant to feel its truth; there may be some echo of the current view of Hamlet, as a recent critic has suggested, in the grand scene of Chapman with the repeated line "Do anything but killing of a King." It would fit well onto the high minded aspect of Hamlet, as having an unmentioned doubt about the value of his revenge. But none of this is a rebuttal of the Freudian view; the feeling about a King is derived very directly from childhood feelings about Father. We have to consider, not merely how a play came to be written which allows of being searched so deeply so long after, but why it has steadily continued to hold audiences who on any view do not see all round it. The Freudian view is that it satisfies the universal Unconscious, but one feels more practical in saying, as Hugh Kingsmill did, that they enjoy the imaginative release of indulging in very "theatrical" behavior, which in this case is hard to distinguish from "neurotic" behavior. The business of the plot is to prevent them from feeling it as an indulgence, because the assumption that Hamlet has plenty of reasons for it somehow is always kept up. If we leave the matter there, I think, the play appears a rather offensive trick and even likely to be harmful. Indeed common sense has decided that people who feel encouraged to imitate Hamlet, or to follow what appear to be the instructions of Freud, actually are liable to behave badly. But the first audiences were being asked to consider this hero of legend as admittedly theatrical (already laughed at for it) and yet unbreakably true about life; in one way because he illustrated a recognized neurosis, in another because he extracted from it virtues which could not but be called great however much the story proved them to be fatal. So far as the spectator was tempted forward to examine the "reasons" behind Hamlet he was no longer indulging a delusion but considering a frequent and important, even if delusory, mental state, and trying to handle it. If one conceives the play as finally rewritten with that kind of purpose and that kind of audience, there is no need to be astonished that it happened to illustrate the Freudian theory. Indeed it would seem rather trivial, I think, to go on now and examine whether the successive versions were getting more Freudian. The eventual question is whether you can put up with the final Hamlet, a person who frequently appears in the modern world under various disguises, whether by Shakespeare's fault or no. I would always sympathize with anyone who says, like Hugh Kingsmill, that he can't put up with Hamlet at all. But I am afraid it is within hail of the more painful question whether you can put up with yourself and the race of man.