« AnteriorContinua »
much ambiguity by separating its natural from its artificial qualities, and both from those features which were induced by circumstances. The innate goodness of his heart, and the glowing warmth of his affections speak in his reverence to the memory of his father, his manly friendship for Horatio, and his tender attachment to Ophelia. What greater proof can be required of the refinement and high-toned morality of his mind, than the impassioned enforcement of his admonitions on the queen to abjure her disgusting association with his uncle? Let Hamlet's awful reverence of the Great Supreme, his reflections on man, and his admiration of the works of nature, testify the philosophic turn of his mind; let his mental accomplishments, his excursive inquisitiveness, his acute penetration, be estimated by his observations on an infinity of unconnected and dissimilar subjects; and, in glancing back on the whole, it will perhaps be found, that in his natural disposition Hamlet combined almost every quality that can elevate man into dignity.
Hamlet was yet young* when his mind re
The first scene of the fifth act makes Hamlet exactly thirty years by computation; but I much doubt whether Shakspeare seriously thought of these matters, and there
ceived a shock from the death of his father, the depravity of his mother, and the wreck of his own fortunes, which the tremulous sensitiveness of his nature was incapable of resisting. A morbid melancholy preyed upon his heart: his views of life were clouded. Doubts assailed him; and, in endeavouring to disentangle himself by the efforts of reason, he became perplexed in a maze of uncertainty, which deprived him of the power of action in a moment that demanded the most vigorous exertion. The operation of external causes modified, without essentially chang ing, Hamlet's character: he is still an amiable, reflecting, philosophic being, though the bril liancy of his virtues and the powers of his understanding are obscured. He yields himself a prey to unavailing sorrow, neglectful of his duties, unthankful for his existence, weary of the world, and disgusted with his fellow-creatures. Hence his regrets that his corporeal substance could not "resolve into a dew," that he was forbid by a canon of the Almighty to put a period at once to his sorrows and his life; and
fore prefer following his first idea, that of representing Hamlet a mere youth "going back to school in Wittenberg," Act I. sc. 2.
hence, in spite of conviction, he canvasses anew the question of self-murder, and is deterred from its perpetration only by doubts which assail him on the nature of a future state. Nor is the superinduced indecision of Hamlet's character less apparent in his actions than in his opinions. Hamlet, "the son of a dear father murdered," was solemnly pledged to revenge himself on the head of him who had "killed his king, whored his mother, popped in between the election and his hopes, and thrown out his angle for his proper life."* But when he should decide, he reasons; when he should act, he rails, "unpacks his heart with words, and falls a cursing like a very drab.” Under the impression of notions foolishly and fancifully refined, he allows opportunities most favourable to his purpose to pass; and though "he does not know why yet he lives to say This thing's to do," he procrastinates till his own life falls a sacrifice to his delay.t
Shakspeare makes Hamlet's dilatoriness of action proceed from the superinduced indecision of his character, and not from those reasons of
* Act V. sc. 2..
+ Act II. sc. 2.; Act III. sc. 1. and 3.; Act IV. sc. 4.; and Act V. sc. 2.
policy ascribed to the young prince in the history." The desire of revenging my father's death is so engraven in my heart, that, if I die not shortly, I hope to take such and so great vengeance that these countries shall for ever speak thereof. Nevertheless I must stay the time, means, and occasion; lest by making over great haste, I be now the cause of my own sudden ruin and overthrow, and by that means end before I begin to effect my heart's desire: he that hath to do with a wicked, disloyal, cruel, and discourteous man, must use craft and politic inventions, such as a fine wit can best imaginė, not to discover his enterprise; for seeing that by force I cannot effect my desire, reason alloweth me by dissimulation, subtlety, and. secret practices to proceed therein."
The conduct of Hamlet is, in a variety of instances, inconsistent with the mild and affectionate nature displayed by him on other occasions; instances which fall under the division of Hamlet's character already designated as its artificial features. Shakspeare has not marked, by a very broad distinction, the assumed from the natural disposition of Hamlet; and hence arises an obscurity which reference to the black-letter history will greatly contribute to remove. It is there, for instance, explained that Hamlet was induced
to put "an antick disposition on," as a protection against the danger which he justly apprehended from his uncle, and as a cloak for the concealment of his own meditated designs. "It was not without cause, and just occasion, that my gestures, countenances, and words seem to proceed from a madman, and that I desire to have all men esteem me wholly deprived of sense and reasonable understanding; because I am well assured, that he that hath made no conscience to kill his own brother (accustomed to murthers, and allured with desire of government without control in his treasons,) will not spare to save himself with the like cruelty, in the blood and flesh of the loins of his brother, by him massacred; and therefore it is better for me to feign madness, than to use my right senses as nature hath bestowed them on me: the bright shining clearness thereof I am forced to hide under this shadow of dissimulation, as the sun doth her beams under some great cloud, when the weather in summer-time overcasteth. The face of a madman serveth to cover my gallant countenance, and the gestures of a fool are fit for me; to the end that, guiding myself wisely therein, I may preserve my life for the Danes and the memory of my late deceased father.” It is, perhaps, inferible from the play that such