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most significant lines). I have shown in Note B that it is very unsafe to argue to Hamlet's youth from the words about his going back to Wittenberg.

On the whole I agree with Prof. Dowden that, apart from the statements in v. i., one would naturally take Hamlet to be a man of about five and twenty.

It has been suggested that in the old play Hamlet was a mere lad; that Shakespeare, when he began to work on it,1 had not determined to make Hamlet older; that, as he went on, he did so determine; and that this is the reason why the earlier part of the play makes (if it does so) a different impression from the later. I see nothing very improbable in this idea, but I must point out that it is a mistake to appeal in support of it to the passage in v. i. as found in Q1; for that passage does not in the least show that the author (if correctly reported) imagined Hamlet as a lad. I set out the statements in Q2 and Q 1.

Q2 says:

(1) The grave-digger came to his business on the day when old Hamlet defeated Fortinbras:

(2) On that day young Hamlet was born:

(3) The grave-digger has, at the time of speaking, been sexton for thirty years:

(4) Yorick's skull has been in the earth twenty-three years: (5) Yorick used to carry young Hamlet on his back.

This is all explicit and connected, and yields the result that Hamlet is now thirty.

QI says:

(1) Yorick's skull has been in the ground a dozen years:

(2) It has been in the ground ever since old Hamlet overcame Fortinbras:

(3) Yorick used to carry young Hamlet on his back.

From this nothing whatever follows as to Hamlet's age, except that he is more than twelve ! 2 Evidently the writer (if correctly reported) has no intention of telling us how old Hamlet is. That he did not imagine him as very young appears from his

1 Of course we do not know that he did work on it.

2I find that I have been anticipated in this remark by H. Türck Jahrbuch for 1900, p. 267 ff.)

making him say that he has noted 'this seven year' (in Q 2 'three years') that the toe of the peasant comes near the heel of the courtier. The fact that the Player-King in QI speaks of having been married forty years shows that here too the writer has not any reference to Hamlet's age in his mind.1



This passage has occasioned much difficulty, and to many readers seems even absurd. And it has been suggested that it, with much that immediately follows it, was adopted by Shakespeare, with very little change, from the old play.

It is surely in the highest degree improbable that, at such a critical point, when he had to show the first effect on Hamlet of the disclosures made by the Ghost, Shakespeare would write slackly or be content with anything that did not satisfy his own imagination. But it is not surprising that we should find some difficulty in following his imagination at such a point.

Let us look at the whole speech. The Ghost leaves Hamlet with the words, 'Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me'; and he breaks out:

O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else?

And shall I couple hell? O, fie! Hold, hold, my heart;
And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,

But bear me stiffly up. Remember thee!

Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat

In this distracted globe. Remember thee!

Yea, from the table of my memory

I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,

I do not know if it has been observed that in the opening of the PlayerKing's speech, as given in Q2 and the Folio (it is quite different in Q 1), there seems to be a reminiscence of Greene's Alphonsus King of Arragon. Act iv., lines 33 ff. (Dyce's Greene and Peele, p. 239):

Thrice ten times Phoebus with his golden beams

Hath compassed the circle of the sky,
Thrice ten times Ceres hath her workmen hir'd,
And fill'd her barns with fruitful crops of corn,

Since first in priesthood I did lead my life.

All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there;
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmix'd with baser matter: yes, by heaven !
O most pernicious woman!

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down,

That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
At least I'm sure it may be so in Denmark:
So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word;
It is Adieu, adieu! remember me.'

I have sworn 't.


The man who speaks thus was, we must remember, already well-nigh overwhelmed with sorrow and disgust when the Ghost appeared to him. He has now suffered a tremendous shock. He has learned that his mother was not merely what he supposed but an adulteress, and that his father was murdered by her paramour. This knowledge too has come to him in such a way as, quite apart from the matter of the communication, might make any human reason totter. And, finally, a terrible charge has been laid upon him. Is it strange, then, that he should say what is strange? Why, there would be nothing to wonder at if his mind collapsed on the spot.

Now it is just this that he himself fears. In the midst of the first tremendous outburst, he checks himself suddenly with the exclamation 'O, fie!' (cf. the precisely similar use of this interjection, ii. ii. 617). He must not let himself feel: he has to live. He must not let his heart break in pieces ('hold' means 'hold together'), his muscles turn into those of a trembling old man, his brain dissolve--as they threaten in an instant to do. For, if they do, how can he—remember? He goes on reiterating this 'remember' (the 'word' of the Ghost). He is, literally, afraid that he will forget—that his mind will lose the message entrusted to it. Instinctively, then, he feels that, if he is to remember, he must wipe from his memory everything it already contains; and the image of his past life rises before him, of all his joy in thought and observation and the stores they have accumulated in his memory. All that is done with for ever: nothing is to remain for him on the 'table' but the command, 'remember me.' He swears

it; 'yes, by heaven!' That done, suddenly the repressed passion breaks out, and, most characteristically, he thinks first of his mother; then of his uncle, the smooth-spoken scoundrel who has just been smiling on him and calling him 'son.' And in bitter desperate irony he snatches his tables from his breast (they are suggested to him by the phrases he has just used, 'table of my memory,' 'book and volume'). After all, he will use them once again; and, perhaps with a wild laugh, he writes with trembling fingers his last observation: 'One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.'

But that, I believe, is not merely a desperate jest. It springs from that fear of forgetting. A time will come, he feels, when all this appalling experience of the last half-hour will be incredible to him, will seem a mere nightmare, will even, conceivably, quite vanish from his mind. Let him have something in black and white that will bring it back and force him to remember and believe. What is there so unnatural in this, if you substitute a note-book or diary for the 'tables'?1

But why should he write that particular note, and not rather his 'word,' 'Adieu, adieu! remember me'? I should answer, first, that a grotesque jest at such a moment is thoroughly characteristic of Hamlet (see p. 151), and that the jocose 'So, uncle, there you are!' shows his state of mind; and, secondly, that loathing of his uncle is vehement in his thought at this moment. Possibly, too, he might remember that 'tables' are stealable, and that if the appearance of the Ghost should be reported, a mere observation on the smiling of villains could not betray anything of his communication with the Ghost. What follows shows that the instinct of secrecy is strong in him.

It seems likely, I may add, that Shakespeare here was influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by recollection of a place in Titus Andronicus (iv. i.). In that horrible play Chiron and Demetrius, after outraging Lavinia, cut out her tongue and cut off her hands, in order that she may be unable to reveal the outrage. She reveals it, however, by taking a staff in her mouth, guiding it with her arms, and writing in the

1 The reader will observe that this suggestion of a further reason for his making the note may be rejected without the rest of the interpretation being affected.

sand, 'Stuprum. Chiron. Demetrius.' Titus soon afterwards


I will go get a leaf of brass,

And with a gad of steel will write these words,

And lay it by. The angry northern wind

Will blow these sands, like Sibyl's leaves, abroad,

And where's your lesson then?

Perhaps in the old Hamlet, which may have been a play something like Titus Andronicus, Hamlet at this point did write something of the Ghost's message in his tables. In any case Shakespeare, whether he wrote Titus Andronicus or only revised an older play on the subject, might well recall this incident, as he frequently reproduces other things in that drama.



It has been thought that the whole of the last part of i. v., from the entrance of Horatio and Marcellus, follows the old play closely, and that Shakespeare is condescending to the groundlings.

Here again, whether or no he took a suggestion from the old play, I see no reason to think that he wrote down to his public. So far as Hamlet's state of mind is concerned, there is not a trace of this. Anyone who has a difficulty in understanding it should read Coleridge's note. What appears grotesque is the part taken by the Ghost, and Hamlet's consequent removal from one part of the stage to another. But, as to the former, should we feel anything grotesque in the four injunctions 'Swear!' if it were not that they come from under the stage a fact which to an Elizabethan audience, perfectly indifferent to what is absurdly called stage illusion, was probably not in the least grotesque ? And as to the latter, if we knew the Ghost-lore of the time better than we do, perhaps we should see nothing odd in Hamlet's insisting on moving away and proposing the oath afresh when the Ghost intervenes.

But, further, it is to be observed that he does not merely propose the oath afresh. He first makes Horatio and Marcellus swear never to make known what they have seen. Then, on shifting his ground, he makes them swear never to speak of

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