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never solve the "mystery" of Hamlet in the world.
It will not do to follow the modern method of looking at the characters "in the round." If you want to understand Hamlet you have got to look at things from Hamlet's standpoint. And this, not in the light of a priori theory but of the facts themselves just as Shakespeare presents them. In every In every case Shakespeare will explain himself utterly, in every scene and passage, to entire consistency; it is only necessary for us to furnish the sympathetic insight and feeling. Hamlet is not a mystery. To say that it must be so, for all time, because "life is a mystery" is entirely beside the point. The same might be said of some other play just as well, so long as it represents life. Anyone can write a play which is a mystery, inscrutable and inconsistent; but great men do not write mysteries. They elucidate. And while I have not space, while engaged upon cruxes, to go fully into Hamlet, I believe that to anyone who has a real desire to understand the play I have here furnished the most valuable first step.
Death is my Sonne in law, death is my Heire,
Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir;
As will be observed, the first collected edition of Shakespeare's works (1623) has the griefstricken Capulet say that, as Death is his heir in taking his daughter Juliet, he will now die along with her and leave Death "all life living."
In the standard text of today, he first says he will leave death "all" and then goes on to specify what that all consists of, namely — life, living. Looking at this latter in the effort to find out what it means, we find ourselves feeling about for the distinction intended between those similar words, life, living. As we have to understand the distinction, the best we can make of it, according to all proper word usage, is that "life" means his physical life or existence, and "living" refers to his estate, his means of subsistence. We therefore have Capulet saying that he will die and leave death his all,
namely his life and fortune. That is to say own personal all; — else what can it mean?
But Shakespeare does not mean that. Imagine the grief-stricken Capulet, at the supreme moment of his passionate and inconsolable sorrow, saying that he will leave Death his heir to all and then going on in a spirit of specification with such a nonsensical distinction! This is not the language of passion. The line of the Folio has been discarded in favor of an ingenious quibble at a complete sacrifice of vocal delivery; it halts and boggles over its petty point so that no actor could bring it forth as from the human heart.
The Folio says the right thing in just the right way. Death is the heir of all life. The distracted father says that because there is consolation in including the whole world in Juliet's doom and his own. He dies and leaves the whole world to Death, its ultimate heir. It is characteristic of Shakespeare's work (and hereby he is strikingly true to our human nature) that in time of deep bereavement the whole universe is swept along in the stream of personal woe. Lear considers the storm as sighing and weeping in his behalf, Othello addresses the stars, Romeo says, "What less than doomsday is the prince's doom?" We see the world with our own eyes. In such a time old Capulet looks on his daughter and sees Death the universal heir. "I will die and leave him all life. living" this simple remark, at such a time,
is the grand speech of passion. Consider him, on the other hand, perplexing English with anything like this: "I will die and leave him all; life, living." If he means his own personal life and property merely, it is not Shakespearean, for Shakespeare never wrote like that; besides which the statement made here is a truism that is little short of ridiculous. Naturally if he died he would leave his life; and if he left his life he would be most likely to leave his living.
For some reason, possibly because they could not get the point of view, editors have not been able to accept and print this line according to the Folio rendition. Capell (1760) made it "I will die and leave him all; life leaving, all is death's." This became the standard for generations; more recently it has settled into the form that we have now. Some early editor evidently thought - for what he thought we can only imagine that Capulet did not own the world and therefore could not logically leave it to death; for which reason the heritage must be limited to Capulet's personal possessions. At least the line in its present twist does not seem to say anything else. The work of editing Shakespeare has always been done by very conscientious persons.
The most scholarly of modern editions of the play are "based" on the Second Quarto instead of the Folio because the Folio is considered to have been based on it. As a matter of fact
this mental method of "basing" an edition of a play on this early edition or that is largely a fallacy. The Folio has at least 10,000 typographical errors and the printers of the Quartos were no more dependable. All of them are useful for reference and comparison, but that is all; for we know too little about the authority of any of them. The final edition of Shakespeare will have to be based on good judgment and Shakespearean insight.