Literary sources for this seminal play include Thomas Kyd’s (1558-94). Ur-Hamlet (c. 1589) and Francois de Belleforest’s (1530-83). Histories Tragiques Book 5 (1570). Presumed to have been written from 1600-01 and registered a year later on the26th July, 1602. Further editions are in 1603 (Q1), 1604 (Q2), 1611(Q3), and in the First Folio published in 1623(F1). Charlton Ogburn suggests that the play was probably written during the trial or soon after the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1586) as the Earl of Oxford served on the tribunal. Portia likewise “pleads for mercy” in the Merchant of Venice. Similarly, Thomas Nashe refers in an Epistle to Robert Greene’s Menaphon to “whole hamlets of tragical speeches” suggesting that Hamlet had already been written and performed by 1589 (Cairncross). Also significant in terms of authorship is that the Earl of Oxford’s brother-in-law, Peregrine Bertie was posted abroad in Denmark and would easily have supplied the playwright with the source material for the play. Hamlet was derived from an earlier lost Elizabethan play by Thomas Kydd (1558-94), a close friend of the playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe who used the Ur-Hamlet by the playwright Thomas Kyd that was inspired by a 12th century source Historiae Danicae (Saxo Grammaticus). This is largely a mixture of folklore and history but refers to an earlier Indo-European myth of a galactic or heavenly mill that churns the heavens (Milky Way). The mythical character of Hamlet is none other than Amlodhi or Amleth, a hero of Icelandic origin who with the assistance of two giantesses (Fenja & Menja), turned the mill of celestial time that inadvertently transformed into a maelstrom of devastation and then sank back into the bottom of the sea. The Greek myth concerning the “Madness of Orestes” may have also been a good source or permeating theme, although it is Ophelia who is also consumed by a “natural madness” inspired by Hamlet’s personal trauma of rejection. An earlier play presumed to be the work of the Earl of Oxford entitled “Horestes” published in 1567 by John Pickering is currently being examined as a proto-Hamlet. The brother-in-law of Edward de Vere, Peregrine Bertie (Lord Willoughby) was the ambassador to Federick II of Denmark in 1582 and compiled a report on behalf of Queen Elizabeth. Academic researchers attempting to validate the Oxfordian argument suggest the Earl of Oxford may have had access to such a report. There are startling similarities between the character Polonius and the Danish ambassador Henrick Ramel, mentioned in Holinshed’s Chronicles. However, Hamlet is partly inspired by the subject in England of the succession to the throne in the period when Queen Elizabeth neared the end of her reign, sometime around 1600. It appeared when revenge plays were all the fashion and as a performance in 1601 with the revised manuscripts being printed successively 1602-1603 and illustrates how revenge for an injustice can best be secured. In this sense the playwright explores the potentiality of drama to reveal a hidden truth. Retrospectively it is also considered to be, at least by literary academics, the most authentic autobiographical play that William Shakespeare has ever produced running to a colossal 3,965 lines in its popular abridged form produced for the stage. The director’s cut of Hamlet, produced by Maurice Evans in 1938, which is the entire un-cut script re-assembled, ran to some 5 hours on stage and received rapturous applause from an astounded audience. This being a far longer performance than an Elizabethan audience would have tolerated let alone a contemporary one. In this play therefore we may detect something quite personal and insightful about Shakespeare, the man plagued by all manner of philosophical dilemmas, immoral spectres and in some sense thwarted spiritual aspirations.
Shakespeare’s characters often struggle to understand the mechanics of fate and the role of man in forging his own destiny, despite their shortcomings. In the tragedy Hamlet for example, the young Danish Prince learns through the ghost of his recently departed father that the King died an untimely death, was then poisoned by his brother, Claudius who sought not only his throne but also to procure the pleasures and kingdom of his widowed wife, Queen Gertrude. It reads almost like a fairy tale. His father’s spirit commands:
“If thou didst ever thy father love, Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!”
Hamlet recognises that he is ultimately duty bound, that suicide would only deny his ultimate destiny, however loathsome but like Oedipus in Greek mythology, he laments his fate and peculiar destiny. The circumstances of his own lifetime, he begins to muse, seems somewhat out of kilter:-
“O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!”
The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Pathenogenesis” are as follows: