Imatges de pÓgina
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essays on this full-grown baby.” Warburton ingeniously struck upon a right chord for the interpretation of the character; but he "gamboled from” it, when he should have pushed it to its application. With somewhat unusual candour, Johnson acknowledged his predecessor's merit, while he rectified his error; defining Polonius as “ a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with observation, confident in his knowledge, proud of his eloquence, and declining into dotage. Such a man is positive and confident, because he knows his mind was once strong, and knows not that it is become weak. Such a man excels in general principles, but fails in the particular application. He is knowing in retrospect, and ignorant in foresight. While he depends upon his memory, and can draw from his repositories of knowledge, he utters weighty sentences, and gives useful counsel; but as the mind in its enfeebled state cannot be kept long busy and intent, the old man is subject to sudden dereliction of his faculties : he loses the order of his ideas, and entangles himself in his own thoughts, till he recovers the leading principle, and falls again into his former train. This idea of dotage encroaching upon wisdom, will solve all the phænomena of the character of Polonius. His

mode of oratory ridicules the practice of Shakspeare's times, of prefaces that made no introduction, and of method that embarrassed rather than explained.”

As a prototype of “ the most beautified Ophelia,” must be quoted “ the fair and beautiful woman employed to discover the intent and meaning of the young prince, ' by flattering speeches, and all the craftiest means she could. The lady, from her infancy, had loved and favoured Hamblet, who was himself wholly in affection for her.” The skill with which Shakspeare has availed himself of this hint for the introduction of a female character is eminently deserving of notice. A young, delicate, and accomplished lady, tenderly loved by a prince who commanded the admiration of all hearts, but whose exalted station forbad even a hope that his vows could be listened to with honour, excites an interest which ripens into the deepest sympathy, when the preservation of his life forces on Hamlet the necessity of taunting, insulting, and upbraiding her. It was an additionally refined stroke of art to make Ophelia the daughter of Polonius.

He who lately bowed in adoration to her charms, had just abjured his faith ; the lips that had ever previously flowed with “words of sweetest breath,"

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had scarcely ceased from the utterance of a torrent of cruel mockery, when the hand that had proffered her “ remembrances” was violently and fatally raised against the bosom of her father. In the madness naturally resulting from the pressure of such accumulated misfortunes, Ophelia is still distinguished by her artlessness of thought and tenderness of feeling: with a beautiful attention to nature, the griefs of her heart are betrayed in the simple and affecting airs which she chants of the perjuries of lovers and of images of death. All that renders Ophelia interesting was the work of Shakspeare, and it is to be wished that he had dismissed her from the scene

“ When down her weedy trophies, and herself,

Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid like, a while they bore her up:
Which time, she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indu'd
Unto that element: but long it could not be,
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death."

It is difficult to imagine any motive that could subsequently induce the poet to degrade this

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interesting maniac into a suicide narrowly escaping interment in “ ground unsanctified,” with “ shards, fints, and pebbles,” heaped on her, in lieu of the prayers of the charitable and the pity of the good. *

Hamlet's animating eulogy on the manly virtue of Horatio t exalts him above all praise ; otherwise it might have been said, that he exhibits few qualities not readily suggested by the description of the “ gentleman who had been nourished with Hamblet, and showed himself more affectioned to the bringing up he had received with him, than desirous to please the tyrant.”

It scarcely requires to be mentioned, that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are “ the two faithful ministers of Fengon, who bore Hamblet company to England.”

Laertes, unknown to the original novel, necessarily sprung out of the alteration which the poet made in the story. In his desire of bringing the tragedy to a conclusion, Shakspeare appears to have lost sight of the idea he originally

*

Act V. sc. 1.
+ Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man

As e'er my conversation cop'd withal.

Since my dear soul, &c.” Act. III. sc. 2.

entertained of creating an impression highly favourable to Laertes, or he never could have imputed to him an act so treacherous and cowardly as that by which Hamlet is deprived of life. Never were professions of friendship more vilely prostituted than by Laertes ; never a more iniquitous falsehood uttered than his declaration —

" I am satisfied in nature,
Whose motive, in this case, should stir me most
To my revenge : but in my terms of honour,
I stand aloof; and will no reconcilement,
Till by some elder masters, of known honour,
I have a voice and precedent of peace,
To keep my name ungor’d: But till that time,
I do receive your offer'd love like love,
And will not wrong it.*

Hamlet, indeed, is not himself free from the imputation of falsehood: he apologises for his violence on Laertes on the plea of madness : + this is a meanness; but the lie of Laertes is a crime of the blackest dye, inconsistent with any sense of honour, or acknowledgement of moral obligation.

Scarcely a play can be mentioned, in which there are not insipid personages who walk through the scene, with no other view than that

Act V. sc. 2.

† Act V. sc. 2.

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