Imatges de pÓgina

were the motives which induced Hamlet to shrowd his intellectual brightness under the garb of madness; but the fact is by no means so clear as to render unacceptable the illustration afforded by the black-letter history.

It admits not of a doubt that Hamlet's attachment to Ophelia is ardent and sincere; but it is left a problem why he treats a woman of honour and delicacy, whom he loves, with a severity and violence from which her sex should have protected even an unworthy object. A satisfactory solution of the difficulty is derived from the history; whence it is learnt, what is not to be learnt from the play, that Hamlet was aware that Ophelia was purposely thrown in his


that spies were about them; and that it was necessary, for the preservation of his life, to assume a conduct which he thought could be attributed to madness only.

Shakspeare was certainly influenced by the novel in his delineation of the artificial part of Hamlet's character, and it is curious to notice his improvements. It was necessary, indeed, when the dramatist had conceived the character of a prince who could be called

• The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword;

The expectancy and rose of the fair. state ;

The glass of fashion and the mould of form;

The observ'd of all observers ;" to elevate him, even in madness, above the level of idiocy — rolling on the ground and wallowing in filth, till contamination became personal disguise. How different, but yet not entirely dissimilar, is the poet's striking picture of Hamlet's wild and disordered air

“ his doublet all unbraced ;
No hat upon his head ; his stockings fould,
Ungarter’d, and down-gyved to his ancle;
Pale as his shirt ; his knees knocking each other;
And with a look so piteous in purport,
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors.” +

There is little accordance between the debased and disgusting exterior of the Danish prince in the narrative, and the depth and acuteness of his understanding : at the first view, though irrational and irrelavent, beneath his outward guise of folly a pregnant meaning is generally discoverable in his conversation; which, in fact, leaves an impression that the utterer is much more justly chargeable with craft than mental imbecility.

Between such enigmatical colloquy, and the sublime and enlarged, but wild and irregular


Act III. sc. 1.

+ Act II. sc. I.

remark, keen satire, and high-toned irony of the dramatic Hamlet, no comparison can, of course, be instituted; but it is, nevertheless, observable, that ambiguous expressions and obscure allusions are resorted to by both characters, to induce a belief of insanity; that the imperfect assumption of madness is productive, in both cases, of the same results : a conviction that Hamlet only counterfeited madness; that the king's safety demanded the sacrifice of the prince's life; and a determination to send him to England, to meet a death treacherously prepared for him.

The Hystorie of Hamblet, then, contributes much towards the illustration of a character deemed peculiarly difficult. It assigns rational motives for actions otherwise unintelligible, and lays the foundation for the necessary distinction that has been made between the natural and artificial character of Hamlet; a clue to the interpretation of his actions which, carefully pursued, leaves little in his conduct dubious or obscure. Above all things, the reason for his deportment to Ophelia is explained.

The general adherence of Shakspeare to the novel necessitated him to engraft on his play the principal agents of the story. The dramatic importance of the queen is so small, that but for a curious question that has been raised relative

to the extent of her criminality, she would not require notice. Of her infidelity to her first husband there is no doubt: the ghost calls the usurper an “ adulterate beast,” speaks of the queen's seduction,” and denominates her “ seeming virtuous.” But the apparition does not even insinuate her privity to the murder. Hamlet, indeed, almost directly charges her with the crime t, but apparently without authority, for he neither reiterates nor attempts to prove his accusation. No sure conclusion can be drawn from the queen's exclamation , for it may be as well considered as an ejaculation of horror at such an imputation, as of wonder at Hamlet's knowledge of her guilt. It is singular, that in the blackletter history the same point is left in equal ambiguity. In both works, the adultery is indisputable; and the black-letter history, therefore, justly calls the queen an “unfortunate and wicked woman.” And with regard to the murder, it is alleged against her, that she married “ him that had been the tyrannous murderer of her lawful husband; which made divers men think, that she had been the causer of the murder, thereby

* Act I. sc. 5.
+ “ Almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king and marry with his brother."

Act III. sc. 4. I "As kill a king !"

to live in her adultery without control.” In her interview with Hamlet, she solemnly protests against being insulted by the accusation of ever

having consented to the death and murder of her husband; swearing by the majesty of the gods, that if it had lain in her to have resisted the tyrant, although it had been with the loss of blood, yea, and of life, she would surely have saved the life of her lord and husband.” With the exception, therefore, of the omission of this extenuating declaration, Shakspeare left the character of the queen just such as he found it; but he has carefully heaped obloquy on the king, hy ascribing to him nothing but low qualifications and disgustingly vicious propensities; a striking contrast, indeed, to the man whose perfections were such, that Hamlet had no hope of ever looking “ on his like again.”

In Polonius is, of course, recognized “ the counsellor who entered secretly into the queen's chamber, and there hid himself behind the arras ;' but it would be difficult to point out any further obligation of the poet to the history, for a character which boasts great originality in its conception and excellence in its execution. The commentators have not always been so successful as they proved themselves in their

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