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“ To the celestial, my soul's idol, the most beautified Ophelia, in her excellent white bosom, these, &c.
“ Doubt that the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
But never doubt I love. “ 0, dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers ; I have no art to reckon my groans; but that I love thee best, О most best, believe it. Adieu. “ Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this machine is in him.
“ Hamlet.” Pity and admiration are the feelings excited in us by these exquisite lines, and neither extend to her who could read them with indifference, or resign them to the cold speculation of disinterested eyes. The seniences were penned in sincerity; and to an unbiassed mind, though they confess the heart is ill at rest, bear no evidence of insanity in the one feeling to which they are devoted.
Ophelia was the sole creature whom Hamlet could regard as unchanged ; and from his contemplative disposition, the hopes that were synonymous in his thought with her name, would grow more endeared by their loneliness. She made the quiet spot where his soul could expect to rest, if the tumult of present passion should ever pass away from him. All around-all in his own breast- was the contrast of that devotion which he bore her. Fearful would sound the voice which told him she also was faithless; for it would tear hope from the wretched, and cast him forth to utter desolation.
That halo love throws round the sex his mother had destroyed ; that ideal of feminine perfection which the passion conjures up, and which not only makes man seem better, striving to assimilate his nature to the sweet belief he worships, but purifies his heart, making his anger strengthless, held not possession of Hamlet's mind; but in its stead insanity was lurking there to spur wrath to furor. A quarrel now provoked and what is there to temper his resentment? Therefore if, in his reproaches, Hamlet please not our conceptions of the Prince, let us remember what he has endured-think what then he feels, and, in his suffering, judge him as a man.
Deep reflections have withdrawn his thoughts from strife, and his mind is soothed when he perceives Ophelia, to whom there is a gentle gladness in his greeting :“ Hamlet.
Soft ye now!
Be all my sins remembered.
Good, my Lord.
To this point Hamlet is the perfect lover, joying in his mistress's sight. Here, however, it is the action commences by Ophelia saying
“ My lord, I have remembrances of yours
That I have long longed to redeliver :
I pray you now receive them." To which Hamlet replies, –
“ No, not I; I never gave you ought."
The want of the ease and flow of the preceding speeches observable in this last line, betrays emotion, and shows a sudden revulsion has been caused in Hamlet's feelings. What did Ophelia say to thus startle Hamlet? What did she? She returned, or offered to retura to him those “ remembrances” which, as the lover, he had presented, and which she had received in token of her acceptance of his love. What construction is now and ever was put upon a lady returning the presents of her suitor ? Ophelia, by this conduct, plainly intimates she will no more consent to his addressing her, and unnecessarily adds, it has “long” been her wish to make her determination known to him.
He amazed, incapable of belief, shrinks back, and cannot take the proofs that nothing loves him, expressing his unwillingness to receive the gifts under a form of speech not unusual in similar circumstances. Ophelia, however, sees not, or will not comprehend his feeling. “Ophelia. My honoured lord, you know right well you did;
And with them words, of such sweet breath composed,
With repeated determination, positiveness, self-praise, and inferred re. proach, she here tells Hamlet of his affection for her, and insists on its warmth at the instant she is rejecting it for ever. When in distraction he assumed his madness, she had been the foremost consideration in his thoughts; and now, the first time he conversed with her, she declares, in calmness, he had no place in hers. If she believed him mad, her act was inconsistent with her belief-it was against nature she should torture him;—if she though thim sane, his letter bad assured her of his sincerity. He would not pause to reflect how far a prince, though injured, might still be a desirable consort for the lady of the Court; he could not view himself with another's eyes, but looking with his own, would remember how he had been received when the expectant heir of Denmark, and contrast the smiles then lavished on him, with the cold composure with which he was discarded, now his hope was plundered. No brief word of introduction—no womanly pity or generous sympathy for his feelings or his misfortunes; but the subject rudely and tersely forced on by her whom he had expected to cling to him, and to whom, when calamity, like a raging sea, beat over him, he had firmly clung.
“ Hamlet. Ha! ha!— Are you honest?
Hamlet. That if you be honest and fair, you should admit no discourse to your beauty.
Ophelia. Can beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty ?
Hamlet. Ay, truly : for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd, than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness : this was some time a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once."
The transparent device of reading on a book to cover loneliness with show of such an exercise could not deceive the sharpened eye of Hamlet, who would conceive instantly Ophelia was acting in obedience to her father's policy; and the thought would for a moment ease the bitterness of his passion—wherefore he cautions her to admit no discourse to her beauty-not to allow Polonius to tamper with her better feelings, by inflaming her mind with hopes drawn from her personal attractions, and so induce her to release herself from an engagement, the realization of which Hamlet's condition made uncertain, though in pity the more binding. The complacent Aippancy of Ophelia's reply-appropriating the personal compliment without regarding the purport of the speech-dispels the doubt, and Hamlet becomes assured of her inconstancy, accusing her that her beauty has made her vain, and corrupted her sincerity.
In this view, the application of the subsequent speeches becomes apparent, and the actuating jealousy intelligible. We understand Hamlet's offensive slander of his love: his taunts at Ophelia's marriage, which, in his rage, he might conclude was to speedily follow his rejection : his wish she should enter a nunnery : his contempt for her father's foolery : bis after reference to woman's love as the exemplification of brevity: his frequently quitting, and the impulse which recalls him : and the reason of the king's remark upon his conduct, who perceived the motive for excitement was great enough to excuse in some degree the violence of its expression ;-though ignorant of the depth of Hamlet's affection, he of course could not recognize its purity in the eccentricities of its resentment,
“ Love! his affections do not that way tend;
And what he spake, though it lacked form a little,
Was not like madness." To those who insist a Drama should display the continuity of the Epic, and hold it imperative to sustain the passion each character on re-entrance should speak from the last line of the previous exit, the total change in Hamlet's bearing, from the raving of the discarded lover to the self-possession of the lecturer, may read somewhat discordant. Such violent transitions, however, are natural to grief, in the mysteries of which Shakspere-- who seems to have bestowed on Hamlet much of what we conceive to have been his own nature—may have been sadly initiated by the loss of his only son, Hamnet, who was taken from him at that age when the buds of a father's hope begin to swell and show their future colour—for so perfect a picture of engrossing sorrow it is hard to conceive could have resulted from unenforced observation.
The necessity for schooling the players will be found in the reason which caused them to be employed. That the design might produce its effect, it was essential to have it properly executed ; yet the nature of the plot forbad Hamlet to pay any close attention to the rehearsals of the play-he could not direct a mean tampering with the horrid reality of his father's murder as it were a common pageant; but he was interested to have the exhibition freed from the distortions of the stage; therefore he lays down rules whereby the actors may regulate their art, and so secures his object without attracting attention tr what he desired should be unobserved; a prudence into which he was forced more by the state of his inclination than by any perception of the danger an opposite conduct must have provoked.
We now arrive at a portion of the Drama which several of our foremost critics have agreed in pronouncing so blemished as to warrant their attributing its supposed defects to the impertinent garrulity of the players, a reason which, falling in with prejudice, has generally been held sound. Against the conjecture, however, stands the fact, that the tragedians who have ever represented Hamlet, are that class among actors least disposed to embellish their author ; nevertheless candour acknowledges the character appears not to have been always performed in the modern style of heavy tragedy, as by Johnson's remark, which seems to refer only to the effect produced in the theatre“ The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth"-an intimation is given of a very different reading of the part to that now adopted by the stage. Wherefore, after all, perhaps the conclusion must be sought in those reasons which can be adduced to reconcile to nature those passages that are deemed objectionable ; and these appear so numerous, strong, and applicable, that we perceive no blemish, but a higher beauty; no falling off, but a sustained perfection; no defect, but a grace beyond the reach of art.
There is a desire natural to man to laugh out of season, an excitement which approaches so close to the truth of jocularity, as only to be separated from it by detecting the absence of kindliness in its expression, instances of which are found in the huzza of charging armies -the jests that mostly prelude murders, and the mirth called up in multitudes by spectacles of unmitigated horror. Such merriment is in its nature an indecency; and as it had prostituted the mind-verbal proprieties and courteous observances are always discarded in its exhibition-for charity being dethroned, the impulses are in rebellion, and find an unholy stimulant to anarchy, rioting over all minor dictations.
During this scene, before Hamlet sits the inother who had disgraced him by the murderer of his father, on the throne of his inheritance; around stands the court, which had betrayed him in his sorrow, greedy of the pleasure he could never again enjoy; at his side was she who had latest injured him, and whose cruelty suffering had left his manhood no sternness to endure ; and in this presence he beheld enacted all that had made him mad, while danger hung suspended on the issue. The combination was too powerful for a stoic's firmness; and to excite the unnatural laughter before alluded to as common to mankind, was the hysterical disposition of his malady, when reference was pointedly made to the inflamed sympathies out of which it originated. În malicious latitude of speech he finds a relief; but by the turbulence of his gaiety betrays the fierceness of the revengeful spirit it disguised. His jests are all unkindly; with every better feeling Hamlet is then at war, striving to shock and pain ; and reckless of all save as it may minister to his savageness. Who has not, though in a less degree, felt the temptations of this evil spirit ? We have seen children worked on by its impulse.
Hamlet indulges his humour till he becomes wholly subjected to its influence. It acts upon him like an inspiration ; and when the King
retreats before him he is rendered by it less than human-his rage is as the roaring of an animal-passion in sound but not in sense portrayed.
If the dialogue be investigated subsequent to the flight of the usurper, throughout this scene Hamlet will be found teeming with irrepressible rancour: his temper wholly changed, the sweetness of his disposition entirely soured, and he in that frightful mood which alone could introduce the following appalling soliloquy :
“ 'Tis now the very witching time of night
When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out
Act III. Scene 2. The commencement declares a zest for blood, and afterwards the danger he prays to escape from announces the peril in which Hamlet stands. Nature is absent from his heart, and the soul of Nero has possession of his bosom. He is unnatural. The mildest resolve he can adopt is to speak daggers. He cannot contemplate being otherwise than cruel. Not to slay his parent will be a forced hypocrisy, and the possibility of his mother's prostration before him he regards only as a temptation to his savageness. Remembering what Hamlet by nature is, we see what passion has transformed him to. Every word he utters bespeaks him wrought past human stops. He has become demoniac; in which horror Hamlet surprises the King, and has the power of instant revenge ; but having firmly resolved not to deal with death in the confusion of his mind, he is duped by this determination, and his subtle fancy readily invents an argument to pacify his resisting judgment, adopting as a certainty the superstition that men slain in prayer were thereby pardoned, whereon he decides to wait till
“He is drunk asleep, or in his rage ;
Act III. Scene 3. A motive so repulsive that many have judged it unnatural to Hamlet and a blot upon the Drama; but regarded in the conception of the prevailing passion its truth cannot be disputed. Hamlet being the slave of an unnatural rage, his mind has become depraved and can contemplate only horror. He has even a relish for its rankness, and a gentle thought would have been as tempting to his malignity as confections to the palate of the hyena.
Many also have wondered that Hamlet shows no remorse upon Polonius's death ; but what would the sight of blood be to him whose