This cumulative evidence is conclusive of the existence of a play on the subject of Hamlet at an earlier date than any surviving Shakespeare quarto.
The general consensus of opinion is that the earlier play was by Thomas Kyd, the author of the Spanish Tragedie. Nash's preface to Greene's Menaphon, already alluded to, contains a punning reference to "the Kidde in Aesope's fable." Kyd's known plays show marked Senecan influence. The probability that Kyd was the author of the earlier Hamlet is further substantiated by resemblances between the Spanish Tragedie and Shakespeare's Hamlet. In both the motive is revenge; the ghost of the victim relates his story; the hero feigns madness; in each play there is a faithful friend named Horatio; each contains a play within a play; the innocent and guilty alike are involved in the catastrophes.
Although no actual trace of this earlier play has been found, many scholars believe that a German manuscript, dated October 27, 1710, and published in 1781, preserves some material from the original version. This manuscript is possibly a modernized copy of an older one which was first translated when a troupe of English actors visited Germany at the end of the sixteenth century. The German play is entitled, Der Bestrafte Brudermord oder: Prinz Hamlet aus Dänemark. (Fratricide Punished, or Prince Hamlet of Denmark). It opens with an allegorical prologue which shows unmistakable Senecan influence. Likewise Polonius is here called Corambus, which corresponds with his name 'Corambis' in the first Quarto. Otherwise this German play is exceedingly crude and coarse, although the outline
- He was also the translator of a Seneca-like tragedy entitled Cornelia, by the French tragic writer Garnier.
- On the other hand, the earliest reference known to a performance of Hamlet by English actors in Germany is in the year 1626.