Just as The Tempest shows
the closest relations to the first essay on natural history, viz.to
the History of the Winds, so does The Tragedy of Hamlet
stand in connection with the second section,namely with the
History of Life and Death. This scientific work appeared in
the same year (1623) as the Folio-edition of the dramas. Its first
pages bear the greeting to Present and Future Ages
which presents to us a long row of thoughts parallel with the
first Hamlet monologue. The 32 Rules already referred to form
the conclusion thereof. These Rules, so far as they affect the
imperishability and circulation of matter, the substance of the
spirit, melting, putrefacation,change of form and coming to life,
stand in constant interchange of thought and are, nevertheless,
closely bound up with the tragedy. Moreover, that which the book says
anent the duration of life (Claudius, Polonius, Cloister-life), about
nourishment, generation, youth and old age is in complete harmony of
thought with the drama.
The Encyclopedy, De Augmentis Scientiarum, shows that the whole of the fourth book on the science of the human body and the human soul is so filled with Hamlet thoughts, or let us rather say the reverse : the tragedy contains so many thoughts answering to Bacon's anthropology, that this section of the scientific work may be described as a complete commentary to Hamlet. All other Hamlet commentaries melt into collections of secondary remarks in comparison with this elucidation of the tragedy. Furthermore, the science of the human body is treated of in Hamlet from the same four points of view, namely : health, beauty, strength, and pleasure. In Hamlet, likewise, medicine and the spirit-science are treated exactly in the same sense as the ideas of Paracelsus, Telsius and Severinus Danus . Here, as in the parable of Proserpina, or the Spirit (Wisdom of the Ancients), we find things which can only be recognised as direct hints concerning the progress of the plot of the tragedy. Again, we meet in subsequent parts of the Encyclopedy with much which reminds us of Hamlet, p.e. the story about the player of old who moved a whole host to tears by means of a fictitious tale (compare this with Hecuba). And we cannot leave the book without having recalled to our memory , through the closest list of future sciences, a large number of Hamlet ideas.
The New Organon offers us simultaneously in its explanation of the term Errors of the Cave an elucidation of the parabolic meaning of the expression Denmarke is a prison. The human body is the cave in which spirit is confined. Hamlet, the physician and anthropologist, whose training is in the sense of the Dane Severinus and in the sense of Bacon's natural science, is the prince of this Den-marke of this cave. The closing words of the New Organum give us a list of sciences which even exceeds that of De Augmentis Scientiarum in respect of elaboration and expressions bearing a Hamlet colouring.
Sylva Sylvarum gives us those delightful paragraphs concerning the mimic-art and presents, furthermore, the remarks upon drunkenness, upon deception of the senses, in addition to many minutiae. The close of this work also consists of a list similar to the others and is full of of Hamlet-Bacon sciences-of-the-future.
The two essays Of Death constitute an enlargement of the ideas conveyed by the two Hamlet monologues, and all this is made still more clear in so far as the contemplation of the shortening of life is concerned by Bacon's reflections with regard to the prolongation thereof. The shoe simile is used in both contemplations.
Lastly,we find in Bacon's self-written manuscripts, which he did not intend for publication, a large sheet which is full of words and thoughts. This sheet is filled from top to bottom with notes. These notes show such close connection with The Tragedy of Hamlet as to challenge the reader to recognise them as a work preparatory to the poem. Anyhow, it is a draft of ideas, all of which are utilised in the drama, and in exactly the same sense.
The concord of thought subsisting between the tragedy and Bacon's natural-scientific observations(even to the extent of adopting the latter's errors) is so manifold and so distributed throughout all the various scientific works of the thinker that the same mental threads which run through each may be counted by hundreds and thousands, indeed one may liken them to the threads of an artistically woven spider's web, so innumerable are they. In no single instance is a deviation from the Baconian ideas to be found.
Let us now shortly consider in what relation The Tragedy of Hamlet stands to the older literary works of similar contents and title which have come down to us.
The oldest discoverable source of the Hamlet legend is the Historia Danica of Saxo Grammaticus (about 1200). The Frenchman, Belle Forest (1564) utilised the material in his novel entitled:
With what cunning Amleth, subsequently king of Denmark, avenged the death of his father Horvendille, whom Fengon, his brother, had murdered
This novel was translated into
English with sundry alterations and additions and appeared as the
Historie of Hamblet, (first known edition, 1608).
The tragedy has only the salient features (namely the title, the fraticide and the cunning madness of Hamlet) in common with the French novel. The tragedy only adopts four characters directly, and even these with altered names. In Saxo Grammaticus th old murdered king is called Horwendillus, not Hamlet, and the fraticide is named Fengo, not Claudius. The queen bears the name Gerutha, not Gertrude, while the hero is called Amlethus.
All three fore-runners of the tragedy do not let the hero die as prince but cause him to ascend the throne after having avenged his father's death. Horwendile is slain by his brother with a sword during a feast, whereas the old Hamlet is murdered secretly and with poison in his orchard. But the following is specially noteworthy, viz. the spirit of Hornwendile is at rest, it does not appear in the story. The Spirit is therefore, the absolute invention of the tragedy poet. We find the characters, Marcellus, Barnardo and Francisco, whom we recognise as figures used in illustration of the spirit-theory, associated with this Spirit. They are created soley on account of the central Spirit and the poet does away with them entirely after the first act.Amlethus has a faithful friend. The vigourous figure of Horatio is created there from. The courtiers are little characterised and nameless in the old sources. Instead of the loveable figure of Ophelia we only find a maiden who is to seduce the prince. Thus, with the exception of the rough outlines of the fable, almost everything is the invention of the tragedy-poet and it is for this reason that he has created nearly all the names according to his own will and given them characters that are invariably in accord with the sense of Bacon's scientific theories.