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“ The spirit I have seen . May be a Devil, and the Devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape.”
Act II. Scene 2. The doubt, too lately entertained to be of help, is not here put forth in faith, as Hamlet through the whole speech assumes his uncle's guilt, and proves himself most convinced when, to justify his inclination he pretends to suspect. The perverted mind magnifies a remote improbability into a positive authority, to reconcile the judgment to its likings—arguments being sought only in one direction. The way he desires not to go, Hamlet refuses to look, else he could not but have perceived those objections which stood obviously opposed to his design.
The play was so broad a device, and so publicly expressed, that even if the King were guiltless, majesty would be compelled to punish the open insinuation against its dignity; therefore, if the charge were groundless, the stratagem which conveyed it would peril the liberty of Hamlet. Under the best circumstances, it was a wild and dangerous expedient; but when the circumstances are contemplated as Hamlet viewed them, the resort can only be regarded as the act of madness. That a strong-minded man, wearing a crown, should fall on his knees and openly confess, was just possible ; but any less result could answer no end,- for sudden indisposition would reasonably account for the simple interruption of the performance. All was therefore staked on an extreme possibility and how far Hamlet sought to favour that by his conduct will be afterwards observed on. It was probable some symptoms of uneasiness—from which the truth might with apparent certainty be deduced, and which, if generally observed, might lead to a sudden retribution-should be displayed ; yet, to defeat the effect of such evidence, Hamlet conceals his design from all but Horatio. None, therefore, watched the countenance of the King, who was, indeed, shielded from general observation by the attention of those present being fixed on the scene. The workings of conscience would therefore be unnoticed by the Court; and if inferences drawn from appearances were afterwards to be employed against the monarch, this was a kind of proof few men would be able to receive upon report; and such, as has been shown, as could be easily met by counter assertion.
The play told all Hamlet thought-in such a manner that it became in its mystery a confidential communication. It would leave no doubt as to the nature of Hamlet's feelings, his suspicions, or his intentions. The Prince's fortunes were not so desperate as to require so rash an expedient, nor his position such as gave to it any countenance. He was in no present danger, and had no party ready to protect him against future peril; for the man who had murdered the father would be compelled to sacrifice the son, who, aware of the crime, declared a resolution to revenge. If Hamlet were mad, the motives for his removal were not the less-if sane, the greater : therefore, after the play, the King could not remain inactive; and, unless some sudden blow was to anticipate the consequence, Hamlet obtained conviction of a truih, by casting away with his life the power to accomplish the end for which he sought it.
The quarrel with Ophelia occurs to distract his mind. Yet the sense of security gained from the compact of friendship he makes with Horatio brings the calmness which enables Hamlet ultimately to discern that the stratagem, however successful, cannot be final in its result. He perceives the necessity there is for deliberation, and expresses a desire to consult with Horatio : yet his impatience incapacitating him for reflection, he puts off the time of counsel to a period which ought to have been devoted to speediest action-as danger would then have been incurred. His impatience also leads him, if possible, into a greater imprudence. It was his intent to watch in secret, and from observation to draw conclusions. Such an intent imposed strictest silence; but, unable to continue passive, Hamlet betrays his stratagem, implicates himself, and warns the enemy, who could be attacked only with perfect success if surprised. “ Have you heard the argument? Is there no offence in it?”
Act III. Scene 2. His object is, in its great aim, by himself defeated, though, so far as his personal conviction was concerned, attended with success. Such conviction, however, is the only benefit he derives; for, catching the infection he sought to communicate, over-excitement renders him unable to consult with Horatio; and beyond a casual allusion, he does not refer to the subject. The excess of his emotion, however, rendering bim conscious to its existence, he orders music, hoping with harmonious sounds to soothe his turbulence; but the entrance of persons he dislikes rekindles all his passion, and the instruments of the musicians are, with fatal aptitude, converted into a means to exemplify and feed his humour. Then dismissing those about him, insensible to personal danger, he bestows not a thought on his present peril, but prepares to obey the summons of his mother. With quiet, a partial consciousness returns. Again Hamlet becomes aware of his condition ; he recognizes it in all its deformity; and grows alarmed, lest the savageness be discerns in his nature should impel his hand against the person of his mother. The desire for blood is so strong, and his fear of matricide so great, that to escape the crime he resolves to take no life; and quits the scene, repeating this to impress it on his mind, exclaiming as it were to himself,—" I will not kill! no, I will not kill! I will not kill!"--an expression which he virtually delivers no less than seven times, and with the reiteration of which the soliloquy concludes :
“Now to my mother-
To give them seals, never my soul consent.” Act IV. Scene 2. Fixed in this determination Hamlet departs to seek his mother, but on his way encounters the King, whose death, self-defence, added to conviction, now made politic as well as just; yet the dupe of any impression of the moment, the Prince applies the resolution called up to protect the Queen, to spare the usurper's life.
Of the reason he assigns to excuse his ill-timed forbearance, no further notice may be taken here, than to direct attention to its perfect coincidence with those brought forward to justify the play-portraying the same affection for theoretical over-refining the same leaning to remotest improbabilities, and the same obliviousness to all obvious arguments.
The restraint he had imposed upon his impulses for the preservation of the King exhausting his constancy of purpose, and the rankling dissatisfaction inseparable from mistaken motives acting on his irritability, Hamlet appears before the Queen, with a rudeness which alarms her fears; and her terror increasing his excitement, recalls the fierceness he had sought to banish from his breast. Confusion arising, the Prince becomes wild, and no longer able to control his thirst for blood, slays Polonius, asking—" Is it the King ?” forgetting he had crossed the usurper, spared his life, and left him kneeling, in his passage to the chamber; and preluding a meditated exhortation on the sin of murder, with the wanton sacrifice of human life.
This last act gave a timely pretext to the King to seize the person of the Prince, and force him to leave the kingdom; no compulsion, however, being needed, as Hamlet was a consenting party to his quitting Denmark, ever infatuated by his madness to cross his own intents. After the daring accusation of the play, the King could be considered but as a powerful enemy, interested in the death of Hamlet, who could no more be ignorant of the hatred he had provoked, than he might hope to fulfil the mission to which he had devoted his hand, when removed from the presence of him against whose breast it was directed; yet he is eager for the voyage to England ; his wilfulness being swayed by a bribe, which a sound mind would have found reasons only to contemn. He sees danger in the distance, and with the impulse of insanity, overturns all the important matters that surround him, in his ardour to embrace it. “Hamlet. I must to England. You know that? Queen.
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd-
Act III. Scene 4. The same delirious courage, making him over-hasty in the attack on the pirates, restores him to his native shores. Thus the very fat of his disorder is the antidote to its poison; while upon his course success attends, such as Providence oft deigns to weak and blinded minds, to make intelligence distrust its strength, and wisdom doubt the pride of human prudence.
The voyage, however, has a beneficial effect upon the mind of Hamlet; a consequence which the speech of the King prepares us to anticipate.
“Haply the seas and countries different,
Act III. Scene 1. Change of scene restores him to something of his originally gentle disposition. In the churchyard he lingers near the palace, as uowilling to enter again the precincts of his misery; and, insinuating how sweet a mind sorrow in him had wrecked, he loiters, indulging contemplations interesting to humanity, but most unimportant to every business that should have occupied his thoughts. Travel has only made him forgetful of present pain. It has not restored him to happiness; but for a period made him less conscious of affliction. He sleeps in agony, and dreams of peace ; yet this transient repose is but the pause in the tempest-let the wind shake the curtain, and the maniac will start into fierceness—for now is Hamlet's lunacy at its height, since he has stooped to the level of the villain, and laughed to be triumphant in cunning and in malice. When first the Prince appeared, though faded by affliction, yet the nobility of his soul was such as predicated no low encounter; but now suffering has made him foreign to himself
“ Hamlet from himself” is “ta'en away;" Act V. Scene 2. who could not, in his natural mind, insult the brother in the grave of her whose death he had occasioned, and whose father be had slain.
The manner of the incident demands particular attention. Since the opening of the Drama the Prince has not appeared so calm ; his mind is composed : but a funeral approaching, to indulge his train of thought, and delay a little longer his return, Hamlet stays to observe. Tlie earth thrown up to form the grave is upon his shoes-he has listened to the songs and jests of the clowns who dug it, and so far participated in their spirit, as to speculate on the remnants idly cast forth from their sanctuary. The revulsion of feeling is thus prepared for, and Hamlet first remarks the
-“maimed rites! This doth betoken The corse they follow did with desperate hands Fordo its own life.”
Act V. Scene I. Hamlet's opinion on suicide is more than once expressed; but in the first act it was particularly marked—when supplicating for death. He rejected it as unholy
“ O that this too, too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew;
Act I. Scene 2. Which sentiment, when applied to Ophelia, was terribly enforced by the lamentation of his Father's spirit
“ Cut off, even in the blossom of my sin,
Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd,
Thus, there were many circumstances combining to render the contemplation of the self-murderer's grave a subject of fearful interest to Hamlet; and when the vehemence of his moral convictions, and his devotion to his religious opinions, are together with these circumstances considered—the spectacle now rendered more awful by the severe curtailment of the rites, is at once perceived to be such as his shattered nerves were unfitted to endure ; much less, therefore, was his susceptibility calculated to sustain any augmentation of the trial; to witness the passionate reprobation of Laertes; and in the language of excitement be suddenly informed Ophelia had sought the forbidden refuge he had shrunk from, and was, by the religion which he reverenced, in her grave donounced. At such a moment, the memory turns traitor to the judgment, and all recollections then accuse, no extenuating circumstance being revived to soften the anguish of selfreproach; and Hamlet could not but remember he had parted with Ophelia in anger; his latest words to her were not spoken in kindness; and his last act, before quitting Denmark, had been to rob her aged parent of his life ; while to afflict his thoughts, his mother, unconscious of his presence, scattering flowers on the body, recalls the hopes that once had made him happy
“ Sweet to the sweet, farewell !
I hoped thou should'st have been my Hamlet's wife!
And not have strewed thy grave.” Act V. Scene 1. The hardest nature must have lost its firmness at that moment; and Hamlet, most affectionate by disposition, with madness caused by sor row lurking in his brain, stands incapable of act or speech, immersed in sharpest anguish ; and in this state he hears himself, over the body of that being to whom he had in the singleness of his nature devoted his heart of hope, cursed as the cause of Ophelia's having suffered the most terrible of calamities, and the most horrible of deaths. The brain becomes inflamed, frenzy ensues, and reason is o'erthrown. All things grow confused ; Ophelia's dead! That he feels-feels he has loved her best, and wronged her most-has deepest cause and greatest right to mourn her. Who has a grief that can compare with his? His sorrow has a mighty claim to precedence, and in its presence all others should be mute. Does Laertes usurp his office, and grieve in insolent defiance of his woe ?
“ Dost thou come here to whine ? To outface me with leaping in her grave ?” Act V. Scene 1. What can a brother feel worthy of exclamation, when Hamlet's by ?.
“ Forty thousand brothers Could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum.”
Act V. Scene 1. Such grief is savage, and cannot look upon a rival. The great intensity makes all others' woe seem hollow protestation ; an insult to the anguish that must of itself express its nature. It cannot accept or listen to another's voice ; it can allow no sympathy. It will yield nothing, but asserts its right to all; so in the imperiousness of the frenzy, Hamlet refuses to recognize Laertes, whom he has just before