Hamlet in three stages

The plots of the German Prinz Hamlet and of Shakespeare’s Hamlet are essentially the same. In this respect these plays form a unit that differs markedly from the Amlets of Sakse and Belleforest and also from the Italian L’Ambleto. (More about this neglected play in the Appendix at the bottom of this file). But "Shakespeare’s Hamlet", as we call it, is not a well-defined, unambiguous phenomenon such as we often prefer to think. When it comes to details, we find that Shakespeare has left us with three different versions of his most celebrated play. These are the First Quarto (Q1), the Second Quarto (Q2) and the First Folio (F1). Admittedly, Q2 and F1 differ only in minor details, and may for the purpose of this chapter be regarded as practically identical. On the other hand, we must accept that Q2 differs from Q1 almost as much as the latter differs from Prinz Hamlet.

Therefore, there are in fact three versions of Hamlet sharing the same main plot but differing in language, in design and in numerous details. We don’t know when Shakespeare’s Hamlet was begun. However, already in Q1 we find the reference to the so-called Gonzaga murder case, a historical event that took place in 1592. The Q1 version was first published in 1603, soon to be followed by the publication of Q2 in 1604. It is generally held that no English play Hamlet existed as early as 1585. Therefore, and also because of the many references to Kronborg Castle, Prinz Hamlet seems to be an original play, not based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But before we proceed to inquire further into the relationship between the latter and the German play, let us establish the composing order between Q1 and Q2. According to the titlepage of Q2 it is a revised version of Q1, "enlarged to almost as much againe as it was"--and there is much to vindicate this statement, for Q2 is about 80 percent longer than Q1.

Another indicator is the difference in spelling. Apparently, a modernization of the spelling has taken place between Q1 and Q2, as the following example indicates (Act I, scene 1, lines 162-173):

 

 

 

Hamlet Q1

Hamlet Q2

wholesome

wholsome

Fairie

fairy

Powre

power

deaw

dewe

hie

high

Spirite

spirit

needeful

needfull

An even more decisive argument comes from the study of the vocabularies of Q1 and Q2. For instance, Shakespeare created many new derivatives by adding -al, -ful, -ing, -ish, -ment and other endings to existing words. Q1 has six created derivatives of this kind and there are no less than 63 in Q2. It is highly improbable that any reviser of Q2 would clear away as much as 90 % of all the created derivatives simply to compose a shorter version of the play. On the other hand, if we assume that Q1 is the older version, the difference in the number of derivatives becomes explicable. The author would have written Q1 when he was still rather conventional in his stylistics. Consequently, he would have created only six new derivatives in composing the first version of his Hamlet. Several years later, when revising the play and elaborating it, he would have created 57 more derivatives, now writing in a much more untrammeled mood.

All this makes it rather likely that the order of composition of the three versions discussed was: Prinz Hamlet, Q1, Q2. Indeed, there is much evidence that will establish this sequence as almost absolutely certain. For example, the length of the three versions, measured in the number of running words, amounts to roughly:

Prinz Hamlet

Hamlet Q1

Hamlet Q2

8,000 words

17,000 words

30,000 words

     

This corresponds with the hypothesis that Prinz Hamlet served as an origin which was successively elaborated to produce the masterpiece that we know. The hypothesis is further corroborated by the relationship of some personal names in the three versions:

 

 

Prinz Hamlet

Hamlet Q1

Hamlet Q2

Corambus

Corambis

Polonius

Leonhardus

Leartes

Laertes

Jeptha

Iepha

Ieptha

Ophelia

Ofelia

Ophelia

Fortempras

Fortenbrasse

Fortinbrasse

Francisco

-

Francisco

The name Corambus/Corambis points at a close connection between Q1 and Prinz Hamlet. On the other hand, the fact that the name Francisco is missing in Q1 indicates a relationship between Prinz Hamlet and Q2. Leonhardus has gone via Leartes to Laertes.

The most revealing circumstance is the order of scenes in the various versions, as noted by E.E. Stoll. Let us analyze the order of eight key scenes that occur in all three versions. In order to represent the scenes in a table, each scene is designated with one of the following symbols: NUNN = nunnery scene, SUSP = King suspects Hamlet’s madness, ARRI = arrival of players, TREA = Hamlet proposes generous treating of players, GONZ = Hamlet requires performance of Gonzago murder, OBSE = Hamlet asks Horatio to observe the King, CERT = King certifies the performance, DUMB = dumb show. The table shows how these eight scenes have been moved.

Prinz Hamlet

Hamlet Q1

Hamlet Q2

NUNN =

NUNN

 

SUSP =

SUSP

 

ARRI =

ARRI =

ARRI

 

TREA =

TREA

GONZ =

GONZ =

GONZ

OBSE

   

CERT =

CERT =

CERT

   

NUNN

   

SUSP

 

OBSE =

OBSE

DUMB =

DUMB =

DUMB

TREA

   

It is obvious that Q1 occupies an intermediate position between Prinz Hamlet and Q2. This same pattern is repeated in the scene where the King addresses Hamlet in the beginning of the play.

Prinz Hamlet

Hamlet Q 1

Hamlet Q 2

… sehet hier Eure Frau Mutter, wie traurig und betrübt dass sie ist über Eure Melancholie.

And now princely Sonne Hamlet, What meanes these sad and melancholy moodes?

But now Cosin Hamlet, and my sonne. (…) How is it that the clowdes still hang on you.

We note that the word melancholy is common to Prinz Hamlet and Q1, while instead the word son is shared by Q1 and Q2. Before the performance of the play-within-the-play, Hamlet asks his friend Horatio to observe the King. In the two early versions Hamlet speaks about the facial changes that he expects, while the ghost is the common mark of Q1 and Q2.

Prinz Hamlet

Hamlet Q 1

Hamlet Q 2

Horatio, gieb wohl acht auf den König: wo er sich entfärbt oder alterirt, so hat er gewiss die Tat verrichtet

Marke thou the King, doe but obserue his lookes, For I mine eies will riuet to his face: And if he doe not bleach, and change at that, It is a damned ghost...

Obserue my Vncle, if his occulted guilt Doe not it selfe vnkennill inone speech, It is a damned ghost...

The stage directions for the dumb show are even more revealing. The vessel containing the poison is mentioned in Prinz Hamlet and Q1 but not in Q2. On the other hand, in both the "late" versions the dumb show is played "to the bitter end", so to speak. In these versions the King has to wait until the performance of the spoken version of the play-in-the-play before he is allowed to break of the play and show his annoyance.

 

Below follows the stage directions of the scenes of the dumb show, synoptically arranged:

Prinz Hamlet

Hamlet Q 1

Hamlet Q 2

Hier kommt die Comödie: der König mit seiner Gemahlin

 

 

Er will sich schlafen

legen: die Königin

bittet, er soll es nicht tun, er legt sich doch nieder die Königin nimmt ihren Abschied mit einer Kuss und geht ab, Des Königs Bruder kommt mit einem Gläschen, giesst ihm was ins Ohr, und geht ab

Enter in a dumb Shew; the King and the Queene,

 

 

he sits down in an Arbor she leaues him: then enter Lucianus with poyson in a Viall, and powres it in his eares, and goes away: Then the Queene commeth and findes him dead: and goes away with the other

Dumbe show followes: Enter a King and a Queene, the Qeene embracing him, and he her, he takes her up and declines his head upon her necke.

he lays down upon a bancke of flowers, she seeing him asleepe,

leaues him: anon come in an other man, takes off his crowne, kisses it, pours poyson in the sleepers eares, and

leaues him: the Queene returnes, finds the King dead, (...)the poysoner wooes the Queene with gifts, she seemes harsh awhile, but in the end accepts loue.

 

 

The fact that the interrupted dumb show is the only play-within-the-play in Prinz Hamlet is one of the indications of its originality. There is no trace of a spoken play.

Another such indication of originality is to be found in the scene where the King and Laertes conspire to murder Hamlet. The King’s instructions to Laertes are very detailed in Prinz Hamlet and reveal the inexperienced dramatist, insofar as the King explains things that the audience will later see for themselves. In both the early versions the entire plot is conceived by the King, and it is only the experienced author of Q2 who hits upon the idea to let Laertes take an active part in the plotting. The King and Laertes conspire:

 

Prinz Hamlet

Hamlet Q 1

Hamlet Q 2

Wir wollen zwischen dir und ihm einen Wettstreit anstellen

Aber in mitten diesem Gefecht sollt ihr euer Rapier fallen lassen, und anstatt desselben sollt ihr einen scharf gespitzten Degen bey der Hand haben, welcher dem Rapier ganz ähnlich gemacht muss seyn, die Spitze desselben aber must du mit staraken Gift bestreichen

I'le lay a wager, Shalbe on Hamlet's side…

When you are hot in midst of all your play,

Among the foyles shall a keene rapier lie,

Steeped in a mixture of deadly poyson That if it drawes but the least dramme of blood…

... bring you in fine together And wager ore your heads; he ...

will not peruse the foyles. so that with ease, Or with a little shuffling you may choose A sword unbated, and in a pace of practice Requite him for your Father. I will doo’t, And for purpose, Ile annoynt my sword.

I bought an vnction of a Mountibanck So mortall that but dippe a knife in it, Where it drawes blood ...

 

Finally, there is the scene in which Hamlet persuades a certain braggart that it is alternately cold and hot. We notice how dramatically inferior lines are removed in Q1 and how the dialogue is then again supplemented with more apt matter in Q2 (V:2):

Prinz Hamlet

Hamlet Q 1

Hamlet Q 2

-

 

 

 

Sehet nur, Signora Phantasmo, es ist greulich kalt.

- Nun ist es schon

nicht so kalt mehr.

- Ja, ja, es ist recht

so ins Mittel.

- Aber nun ist eine grosse Hitze.

O welch eine greuliche Hitze.

 

Nun ists nicht recht

kalt, auch nicht

recht warm.

- Ja es ist nun eben

recht temperirt.

-

 

 

 

By my troth me thinkes tis very colde.

 

 

 

T'is hot me thinkes

 

Very swoltery hote:

.. your bonnet to his right vse, tis for the head.

- I thanke your Lordship, it is very hot.

- No beliue me, tis very cold, the wind is Northerly

 

 

 

But yet me thinkes it is very sully hot, or my complection.

- Exceedingly my Lord, it is very soultery, as t’were I cannot tell how: ...

With these examples the mutual relationship between the three versions of Hamlet should be satisfyingly documented. The reader should be able to draw his or her own conclusions about how the composing of Hamlet Q1 and Hamlet Q2 came about. Regarding the version known as Prinz Hamlet, however, there are even further connections to heed.

There are at least three dramatic ideas in Prinz Hamlet that turn up anew in Shakesperian plays other than Hamlet. The first one appears in the prologue of Prinz Hamlet and in Macbeth. We call it the "Theme of Hecate". Nine points of it are identical in both plays:

1. The plot is presented as incited by supernatural beings.

2. The beings are Hecate and her three assistants.

3. The beings operate at night.

4. They cause evil things among the humans.

5. The moon is involved.

6. The pit of Acheron is named (not the usual river of Acheron)

7. The evil beings use poison.

8. They exhort each other to make hurry.

9. Music is played when they disappear.

Another dramatic theme common to Prinz Hamlet and acknowledged Shakespearian plays is the reception of a troupe of actors at a palace. This theme is part of the plot in Hamlet Q1 and Q2 and it also constitutes the frame story of The Taming of the Shrew. The points of agreement are especially striking between Prinz Hamlet and "The Shrew". They are best taken stock of in the enumeration below (where the signs PH, Q2 and SHR indicate that the detail is present in Prinz Hamlet, Hamlet Q 2 and The Taming of the Shrew, respectively.

1. A prince invites the actors

PH

SHR

2. Actors offer their services

PH

 

SHR

3. Prince intends to influence "victim"

PH

Q2

SHR

4. Prince criticizes the actors

PH

Q2

 

5. Prince orders good recompense

PH

Q2

 

6. Prince says they came in happy time

PH

 

SHR

7. Prince recommends naturalness in acting

PH

 

SHR

8. Prince faintly recalls a certain play

PH

Q2

SHR

9. Actor confirms and gives name of play

PH

 

SHR

10. Prince requires a play about murder

PH

Q2

 

11. Prince requires the play "to-night"

PH

 

SHR

12. The name Pyrrhus is mentioned

PH

Q2

 

13. Actor thanks prince for favor

PH

 

SHR

14. "Victim" asks questions, hesitates

PH

SHR

15. A subordinate announces the performance

PH

 

SHR

The text of The Taming of the Shrew was first printed in 1623, but it was probably written in the 1590’s (before Hamlet Q2).

The third theme from Prinz Hamlet that pops up in Shakespeare’s plays may be called "murder by deputy". We find this theme in Pericles, Prince of Tyre and and in The Life and Death of King Richard III. In this case there are striking concordances concerning plot, dialogue and significant words. The main points of agreement are as follows (where the signs PH, PER and R3 are self-evident):

 

1. The victim (V.) is of high station

PH

PER

R3

2. There are two murderers (M.)

PH

 

R3

3. The M. are low-born

PH

PER

R3

4. They act on order from a highborn

PH

PER

R3

5. They are rewarded with money

PH

PER

R3

6. The murder has to be done quickly

PH

PER

R3

7. V. is allowed to pray before his death

PH

PER

R3

8. The attempted murder fails

PH

PER

 

9. The M. inform V. of their aim

PH

PER

R3

10. V. asks for the reason

PH

PER

R3

11. V.: "I don’t deserve to die"

PH

PER

R3

12. V. reminds of his rank

PH

 

R3

13. The M.: "we have our order"

PH

PER

R3

14. V.: "murder is a grave sin"

PH

 

R3

15. V.: "repent, save your souls"

PH

 

R3

16. V.: "spare my life"

PH

PER

R3

Richard III is from the 1590’s and Pericles was completed in 1608, but much seems to indicate that this drama was begun already in the 1580’s. Many accordances, the detailed points of agreement between Prinz Hamlet and five of Shakespeare’s plays cannot possibly be due to mere chance. There must needs be some kind of an organic connection between Prinz Hamlet and Shakespeare, and it has long been maintained that a hypothetical (now lost) English play would have served as a model for Prinz Hamlet as well as for Hamlet Q1 and Hamlet Q2. A closer examination reveals that this theory cannot be supported. Admittedly, Shakespeare could have used material from such a hypothetical play in several of his dramas. But, as we have seen, there are a number of features in Prinz Hamlet that evidently were created especially for this play. These features made sense in connection with the inauguration of Kronborg Castle in the summer of 1585. Most of them are repeated in Hamlet Q1 and Q2, where they appear as rather irrelevant. For instance, the text of Hamlet states that the scene is laid in the Royal Castle at Elsinore. This place is definitely not taken from Sakse or Belleforest. Both of them lay the scene in Jutland. The only place appropriate as the scene for Prinz Hamlet was, of course, the castle at Elsinore.

The guard duty and the relief of the guard in the opening of Hamlet is entirely irrelevant to the main plot. The play could have begun in many different ways, e.g. with something taken from Sakse’s Amlethus. Hardly anything else than the inauguration of a well guarded castle, being the "Lock of the Sound" and the pride of the King, could motivate such a forceful apostrophe to the guard duty in Prinz Hamlet.

There is much fuss about the toasts drunken by the King in Hamlet. This too is a reminiscence from the inauguration play. Of course, toasts had to be drunk at the celebration of a new Royal Castle! Besides, the drinking habits of King Frederick II of Denmark were certainly a topic of widespread discussion.

In the first act of Hamlet the voice of the ghost is heard thrice to exclaim "Swear!", without the action requiring such an intervention in the least. This voice is readily explained as a relic from Prinz Hamlet. In this play Horatio and Francisco loudly pronounce "Wir schwören" (’we swear’) and this is immediately followed by another "Wir schwören" from behind the scene. The same sequence is then repeated thrice--after a change of position. Hamlet then suggests that the sound is an echo, but finally declares that it is the voice of the ghost. At the inauguration it was natural to apostrophize the impressing echo from each of the four walls of the castle.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the former King has been murdered in his garden. Also this place originates in Prinz Hamlet, where it belongs to the vicinity of Kronborg. History tells us that King Frederick himself used to have a daily nap in this garden.

As is well known, Shakespeare makes Hamlet exhort Ophelia to "go to a nunnery" without giving any reason for it. This irrelevant appeal looks like a manifestation of Hamlet’s more or less faked insanity. But where did the author chance upon the idea of a nunnery among all imaginable kinds of nonsense? Well, from Prinz Hamlet, of course. In this play the nunnery had its given place as a reminder of a well-known scandal in the "maidens’ nunnery" at Maribo (a boarding school for girls) in the 1570’es. We notice that Hamlet’s little sermon to Ophelia in Prinz Hamlet ends with his asking her to go to a nunnery--"but not to a nunnery where there are two pairs of slippers before the bed".

The performance of a play and its preparations play a part out of all proportion of Hamlet Q1 and Q2. The main plot would come off well without this play-in-the-play. The overlong Q2 would even have gained by some judicious editing. King Claudius could have revealed his bad conscience in some less sophisticated context. So where did the author get the idea for lengthening his drama with someting as unusual as a play-within-the-play? Again from Prinz Hamlet. This play was intended to depict activities that were topical at the time of inauguration. And what would have been more in the limelight in those days than the preparations for the inauguration play? These preparations were probably the main topic of conversation within the court during the weeks preceding the celebrating.

In Belleforest’s Amblet the Lord Chamberlain hides under a bedspread when spying on Amblet in the Queen’s chamber. Shakespeare makes him hide behind a piece of tapestry, an "Arras". This too is a reminiscence from Prinz Hamlet. The newly procured woven hangings in Kronborg Castle were something uniquely excellent and certainly had to play a part in the inauguration play. In this play, incidentally, Hamlet points to the woven portraits of the Queen’s both consorts on the wall. All the Kings of Denmark were to be seen on the pieces of tapestry (in the 1580’s). Due to lack of knowledge of the original source, it has been something of a problem for theater directors to produce from nowhere two Royal portraits in the bedchamber scene.

With these details in mind, there is hardly any other conclusion to be drawn than regarding Prinz Hamlet as an original play, written in German. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is, after all, a translation, but certainly "a damned good translation"--to quote Leslie Howard in the film Pimpernel Smith. It was not only translated but also revised and prolonged beyond the suitability for performance on the stage. This indicates that the the translator and reviser might have had some kind of personal relation to the main character of Hamlet. You can read about that in Hamlet and Shakespeare.

Prinz Hamlet was probably preceded by the Italian play L'Ambleto, that displays certain Shakesperian traces, see Appendix below.

Sources:

Cohn, Albert, Shakespeare in Germany in the Sixteenth and Seven- teenth Centuries, Wiesbaden 1967.

Hart, Alfred, "The Vocabulary of the First Quarto of Hamlet", The Review of English Studies 7, 1931.

Shakespeare, William, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Collins Clearetype Press, London.

Stoll, Elmer Edgar, Hamlet: An Historical and Comparative Study, Minneapolis, 1919.

Vietor, Wilhelm (publ.), Hamlet, Parallel Texts of the First and Second Quartos and the First Folio (part 2 of Shakespeare Reprints), Marburg 1913.

 

 

Appendix

The Italian play L’Ambleto

There is an early Italian play titled L’Ambleto. This is to some extent based on the Amlethus theme in the Gesta danorum by Saxo Grammaticus. The names Hervendillus and Fengo are retained, but they are promoted from governors to kings. L’Ambleto was edited as a book in London in 1712 (called an "Opera"). Just as in the case of the German Prinz Hamlet, L’Ambleto also appears in two parallel versions, the other one written in sixteenth century English (titled Hamlet). The book is dedicated to the Earl of Portland (Henry Bentinck, 1682-1726, later Duke of Portland). The Dedication in Italian is signed "Cavaliere Nicolino Grimaldi". The English version is idiomatically correct, the Italian one shows faint traces of English influence. (Copy in British Museum.)

The plot:

King Orvendillo of Denmark has been murdered by his brother Fengone, who has married Orvendillo’s widow, Gerilda. Her son, Prince Ambleto is in fear of his life and therefore feigns madness. Siffrido, Captain of the Guard and secretly a foe of Fengone advises the latter to make sure if Ambleto’s madness is real or feigned. Fengone and Ambleto are both in love with Princess Veremonda of Allanda (i.e. Halland, one of the counties of Denmark). Princess Ildegarde loves Ambleto. Fengone makes Veremonda meet Ambleto, while he hides in order to eavesdrop. Veremonda writes something on the ground and Ambleto speaks to her in a roundabout way.

Fengone grows suspicious. He courts Veremonda and says that marriage is not binding for a King. He divorces Gerilda. Then he tells Princess Ildegarde that he does not love her either any more. She returns a gift that Fengone has given her. Fengone sends a courtier to eavesdrop a conversation between between Ambleto and Gerilda. Ambleto goes behind the scene and kills the eavesdropper. Valdemaro, the General, loves Veremonda and takes her away. Ambleto finds them and asks Valdemaro to give up Veremonda. He wants her and he claims his right to the throne as well. Ambleto, Valdemaro and Siffrido conspire against Fengone. When the latter celebrates his divorce and his new bride Veremonda, Ambleto offers him a sleeping draught whereupon Siffrido kills him with his sword. Ambleto and Veremonda become King and Queen of Denmark, and Ambleto says his mother will reign with him.

Comment:

It is obvious that many details are taken from Sakse (or Belleforest). Others seem to be freely invented. Fengone’s position as King of Denmark (rather than Governor of Jutland) and the incident with the returning of a gift connects L’Ambleto with the German Prinz Hamlet. In addition to this, there is nothing that would connect the Italian play with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We may therefore consider L’Ambleto as an intermediate between Sakse’s Amblethus and the German Prinz Hamlet.

The language of the English version, however, shows a distinguished likeness to the usage of Shakespeare, as can be seen from the sample below.

L’Ambleto, English text

Shakespeare

Beauteous face

Beauteous face (2H6)

Celebrates his joy

Celebrates the joy (1H6)

Eternal calm

Eternal peace (1H6)

Forfeit your lives

The forfeit of my servant’s life (R3)

Glittring sword

Glittring arms (R2)

Sable night

Sable night (LUC)

Too, too

Too, too (passim)

Troubled sea

Troubled ocean (LUC)

Trophy of your valour

Trophy of predeceased valour (H5)

 

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