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for actual occurrences. The world having lost its reality, the mind could not worship it in its customs. Hamlet is abstracted, and the usual result of such a state—as seen in scholars is imprudence in temporal affairs, and forgetfulness in courtesy, both of which he exhibiis in an extraordinary degree, because the subject of his contemplation was more absorbing, and he is lunatic only in the consequent exaggeration of a tendency to which his studious habits may have predisposed his nature.
Yet on abstract questions Hamlet can philosophize with soundest argument; and this has been the stumbling-block to the understanding of his character; for men ask, “How can we deem him mad who can on reason thus refine?” Strange as this seems when stated, looking to Nature for an explanation, it will be found no anomaly in her laws, though it is opposed to the rules of art, especially the Dramatic, in which there pervades an unfortunate love of one thing entirely. We appear slow to learu there can be no such reality as a straight line, and unwilling to admit the belief in the possibility depends simply on the defectiveness of our vision, as there are few substances so compact but the microscope can show their surfaces to be ragged. No less the mind, however polished, can never be made smooth or completely level. The component particles will still present innumerable curves which, though the congregate, indicate the straight direction, all must break the line; and this perceived in soundest intellects, in the exceptions, we shall find the subtlest sanity and most decided madness may in the same brain be housed; for Clare, the living stain on England's charity, from the asylum has sent forth a volume which reason reads to wonder at, and, as he in poetry, so on abstract questions, Hamlet is more than sane, whose philosophy sports not with the subject of his grief; and what does the word monomania represent if such be pronounced a fiction ?
The mystery which has been supposed to involve this character, was made by the scholar endeavouring to make it couform to bis refinements; for as Shakspeare's plays are truths, so are all simple in their clearness; and had the interpretation been sought in the right spirit, it surely had been found, there being no attempt to mystify, but on the contrary, the feelings tutored to help the understanding. It being, the essential of Dramatic writing, of which this Play is the paragon-to be profound only in simplicity, therefore Shakspeare has interspersed such intimations of his intent as, had not theory confounded judgment, could not for this long period have been mistaken.
The uncle and the mother of the Prince, were they alone, who could have that familiar knowledge of his disposition, wanted to judge its waywardness; and, added to this, they alone knew those facts which were needed to aid the judgment. Their testimony is therefore most important, and the Queen, when told by Polonius he has found “The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy,” spite of the confidence expressed, 10 her consort says,
“ I doubt it is no other than the main,
Act II. Scene 2.
To which the guilty conscience of the King, before the Play informed it, adds all the deeper reasons :
“There's something in his soul
Act III. Scene 1. The importance of the speakers to the Drama, the principal characters being necessarily devoted to exemplify the passion which the inferior therefore explain, throws additional weight on the ideas they promulgate, which clearly indicate the general design, and fully prepare for the developement, and therefore without gathering together the numerous testimonies—all of similar description to support a fact these appear sufficient to establish, we shall pass on to notice what has been generally regarded as the strange and unjustifiable bearing of the Prince towards Polonius.
One who from the customs of the Tudors had imbibed his notions of a palace, might conceive the possibility of the amenities being wholly discarded from a Court—but set that aside-and neither in reality nor poetry is it imperative an admiration for the daughter should generate or spring from an affection for the father. The two feelings are distinct, and not unusually in opposition; therefore Polonius, who loves not Hamlet's person, has no positive claim to regard beyond what his personal merit could advance, which is not such as might win respect.
The old man displays only the worst features of senility; and had not his vices been weakened down to follies, and so relieved by humour, the character would provoke no emotion, save disgust, in its exhibition. Eathly business is well nigh over with him, yet, like a hearted courtier, Polonius bows lowest at the parting. He is mean, conceited, garrulous, uncharitable, and officious—indeed, as Hamlet truly terms him, a
“Wretched, rash, intruding fool.” Act III. Scene 4. The condition of grief makes the Prince jealous of his privacy-the only subject on which Hamlet
“Niggard of questions,” Act III. Scene 1. expresses any curiosity being concerning the motives of those who appear about him for seeking his presence. Thus,
“What make you from Wittenberg, Horatio ?” Act I. Scene 2. And to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,“But in the beaten way of friendship, what make you at Elsinor?"
Act II. Scene 2. while of persons who in ordinary moods might have escaped particular notice :“What players are they?”—“How chances it they travel ?”
Act II, Scene 2. each inquiry followed up with an untiring interest—the first answer in no case giving satisfaction.
Painfully offensive, therefore, must be the impertinence of Polonius, the self-constituted spy on, and would-be showman of poor Hamlet
lunacy; incessantly hovering about the Prince, and arrogating all the privileges of the physician, with every licence of the father. So long as he lives, Hamlet cannot move without encountering Polonius's annoyance. The meddling dotard every where intrudes only to confuse and irritate; not content to do this alone, he sets others on, and becomes the head and chief of the Prince's torments-twice behind the arras—incessantly playing with his victim's feelings-fumbling soreness with a palsied hand till agony strikes out and hits the chafer.
And what was to charm endurance? Hamlet could not even find the poor palliation of good intentions to allay his anger. The good master, so recently worshipped, Polonius had consigned to the perfect rest of“ blessed memory:" and towards the Prince, who as heir apparent, had formerly been courted with genuflexions, though habit preserves some outward ceremony, the old man betrays a total forgettulness of the feeling in which loyalty formed etiquette, which insensibility the fawning to the usurper could not recommend to the favourable notice of Hamlet: a token of whose natural urbanity is perceived whenwhile passion leaves him reason the most painful provocations call forth no rebuke, beyond a few hasty words do not breed a rooted hate, cannot tempt to retaliation —but satisfied to repel the nuisance, others are forbid to bate it-nay, charity casts protection round its weakness“Follow that Lord, and look you mock him not."
Act II, Scene 2. Moreover, Hamlet's brief retorts are either unbeard, or the known magnanimity of the Prince restrains the other characters, for they presume to no rejoinder, and Polonius's most hippopotamus conceit never feels the shaft. The death being unintentional, the cruelty of Hamlet's treatment of Polonius cannot be established, because it causes do suffering ; but, on the other hand, Polonius's foolery subjects the Prince to irritation, is the main cause of aggravating his distemper, the means of his involvement, and ultimately the reason of his death.
The character of Polonius has been considerably admired as wisdoin in decay-not yet decayed—the idea being derived from the advice given to his son when about to resume his travel; but excellent as that counsel is, he were a very silly parent who had not a few saws ready for such an occasion. The maxims too were book ones in Elizabeth's time, and from the term with which they are announced, were certainly intended to be heard as quoted proverbs the weakest minds being ever best furnished with such material. “And these few precepts in thy memory.”
Act I. Scene 3. The glibness with which they are delivered, plainly shows the memory and not the mind at work.
The daughter is glorified by her age and death; for without her youth and her misfortunes, which tint her character, Ophelia had never been received into that high admiration in which she is now almost universally held, even as an ideal saint. They who in her case also dwell on Hamlet's cruelty, assume her love for him—but it would be hard to elucidate such a feeling on her part from the Drama,
- Her remarks after the scene which has been so often commented on, are not pregnant with deep passion, and may be thought altogether deficient, as little more than a stranger to affection must have spoken. She has no responsive assurance of Hamlet's truth, though “all the vows of Heaven" had given it countenance. Without attempting its defence, she hears it slandered by them who had never heard it sword : and for a suspicion based only on general inference, on the first occasion consents to renounce it. Wanting the confidence which hallows affection, and makes it secret in its sacredness, she literally reports on Hamlet's conduct, and could not prize the trust she so abused.
She acts under the guidance of her father-so far she behaves with propriety-but she proves herself deficient in that elevated devotion which had endued her with a purer principle of action : for after she has mentally destroyed her privilege, she accepts his letters and exposes what was written in the abandonment of faith, to the known illiberality of her father and the court. Vanity she inherited as Polonius's daughter, and proves her birth in the over-haste to attribute Hamlet's distraction to the splendours of her beauty“ Polonius. Mad for thy love? Ophelia.
My Lord, I do not know,
Act II. Scene 1. By which she thrice convicts her nature-of falsehood, having by her silence libelled the affection she never thought was base-of hardness of heart, having lived beside his sufferings without conceiving he had cause to grieve-of want of love, having by her terror proved the source of truest courage was not in her heart,-all which to confirm, and add the lack of charity, she subsequently tampers with his supposed affliction, and seemingly of herself aggravates the severity of the trial,
During the Play she evinces no sensibility-the presence restrained her—but earthly forms are gauze on human feelings—and no etiquette compelled her to coquette in a manner which her own thoughts, and Hamlet's position to herself, render distasteful to every conception of ideal virginity. And when mad, he holds no place in her shattered fancy. Hamlet's image never recurs, though her mind does occasionally revert to the past; wherefore it is reasonable to conclude love affected not her intellect, but the death of her father happening at a period of excitement, overpowered a very weak mind, joined to prettily inclined fancy-as to such a nature her wanderings perceptibly belong.
To explain Ophelia's character, the constituents of the human mind must be considered, which are mainly those faculties that for perspicuity may be classed as the imaginative and the sympathetic; the last being the connecting link between mankind and nature; the first the aids to the perception of abstract truth or religion. In the higher order of minds these faculties are balanced and united, each elevating the other, but in the lower kind one usually predominates and engrosses the other, both being debased. Thus, persons who have the sympathetic faculty in the greatest intensity, always lend their imaginations to the literal; and persons who have the imaginative, inva. riably sympathize only with the fictitious : instances of which last disposition may be commonly remarked in those who can weep over a narration, but who will look upon misery unmoved. Minds of the latter description, unable to reach the highest rule of action, seek a guide in what is termed“ propriety." Their imaginations form rules of conduct, which their feelings never tempt them to violate. So Ophelia perceives filial duty, and this her unaided imagination makes her regard as the whole of virtue. She does not see that the same LAW which makes every individual personally responsible, insists that every creature must dictate the act by which that responsibility is to be incurred. She scrupulously obeys her father, without daring to question whether so awful a trust as moral responsibility can be resigned to mortal dictation, or whether he, who was her parent, was fitted to accept it. She cannot attain that sphere of morality, frequently declared in passages of the New Testament, which contemplates the possibilitty of the parent being righteously abandoned for the truth, but continues the slave of man, incapable of being the child of God. She is a creature of a mean intellect, and beings of her nature are they who most flagrantly violate the poor standard of conduct they set up for their religion. She would be immaculate, but is only insensible, When Hamlet is mad, she treats him as one who had lost all claim on humanity, not seeing that affliction is a bond to affection. She has no feeling with his passion, there is not an expression of her's that speaks any warmth of sympathy-and people of this apparently cold disposition, commonly revel in imagination ;-so though in sympathy Ophelia is ice, in imagination she is fire. It is in secret only she can contemplate affection or indulge in sorrow,-all candour would be against propriety; and again, with persons of this mood, though their feelings are dumb, their sufferings are long, and naturally tend to insanity. Hamlet's resentments, vented in insults, could not but pain her, the more as they were outrages on propriety. Yet the symptoms of agony are suppressed, and we never learn she has suffered, or know the pature of her musings, till reason has ceased to guard her speech.
Hamlet's deportment towards Ophelia was characterized by all those attributes which she wanted. When he has resolved to put on what he believes to be an antic disposition, the first person he seeks is the lady, lady, lest the report of his insanity should too deeply pain her; and though he doubtless had some further object, he gallantly foregoes it to relieve her of his presence the instant be perceives she is distressed; but writes immediately on his retiring, to assure her the sentiment in which he thought her interested was unaltered. That letter, released from the running commentary, far from justifies the conclusion the father would extract from it. “ Beautified" is a vile phrase, seen through Polonius's spectacles-who, wrong in all his premises, was not likely to be very right in any of his deductions, and certainly was not in this instance; for read in conjunction with the breathing of the whole, “ beautified," is a term as elegant as it is delicate; and the passion that speaks throughout gives to it a meaning, the fulness of which no other word in the English language could convey.