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ON THE TOMB OF HIM,
WHO WAS AT ONCE
ENGLAND'S AND MANKIND'S GREATEST POET,
I LAY THIS HUMBLE OFFERING :
WELL KNOWING THAT IT LACKS MUCH IN MERIT,
BUT HOPING THAT SOME OF ITS FAULTS MAY BE ATONED FOR
BY THE LOVE AND REVERENCE WHICH INSPIRED IT.
“WHAT! another book on 'Hamlet!'” I seem to hear many, both critics and students of Shakespeare, exclaim with somewhat of a jaded air. “What can you have that is new to say about 'Hamlet ?'” they ask—not unreasonably. My answer is that I hope I have something to say which is worth hearing, whether it be quite new, or whether it be old truths presented in a new guise; though I must confess I have not hazarded any theories, or indulged in any criticisms, simply because I thought they were new. To those who seek for abstruse verbal commentaries, or for ingenious, but, to my mind, paltry attempts to nibble away our greatest poet's reputation, this book will not be welcome. I leave to others the task of treating our author like a prisoner arrested for felony, of turning his pockets inside out, and stripping him to the skin, in order to see if they can discover a rag or two which might have belonged to some one else.
Those I would fain have as my readers are those who love Shakespeare as one who has added to the beauty and happiness of life; who reverence his mind as one of those precious gifts of God to this world, whence beings, born of Fancy indeed, but none the less real in their nobleness and purity, may spring, to gladden the hearts of those whose earthly lot it is to find few friends save in the realms of imagination. These persons
will grudge neither time nor trouble if, by their own efforts, or by the aid of others, they can gain a clearer insight into the beauties of Shakespeare's creations.
This book had its origin in a lecture which I was asked to give before the Catholic Young Men's Association. I chose “Hamlet” for my subject; but I found it impossible to say what I wanted to say in the space even of two lectures. The greater portion of the First and Second Parts of this work formed the matter of those lectures. It was always my ambition to give a series of lectures on Shakespeare, accompanied with readings; but I have learnt to doubt my capacity for such a task. Though I have studied “Hamlet” more or less for the last fourteen years, I never knew, till I began seriously to finish this work, how scanty was my knowledge of the grand subject I had undertaken to illustrate. One of my principal objects will have been gained, if I can induce any of my readers to study the text of Shakespeare's plays more carefully, and with a higher aim than mere verbal criticism; they will find that he is himself his best commentator, and that such study will open to them new fields of enjoyment.
I have made frequent allusions to the acting of three of the most distinguished representatives of Hamlet on the stage that I have had the pleasure of seeing---namely, Tommaso Salvini, Ernesto Rossi, and Henry Irving. I had intended to have entered into a somewhat elaborate comparison of their respective interpretations of the character ; but for many reasons, some of which I will mention, I thought it better not to do so. Signor Salvini has as yet only appeared in a version of the play, so unsatisfactory to an English student of Shakespeare, that it would be scarcely possible to do justice to his great talents as displayed in the part of Hamlet ; the more especially as he intends to give us the privilege of seeing him in a fuller and more faithful translation. Signor Rossi has yet to appear before an English public; he also may be enabled to correct some of the deficiencies of the