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appetite was to drink it? So infuriated is he, to do horror is his pleasure, reckless on whom-almost without the power to distinguish the person his phrenzy springs at. To expect him to feel remorse or express pity, charity being banished from his nature, is to express ourselves strangely ignorant of our own impulses. The spirit of the tigress raging for her young has taken possession of his heart, and his revenge rates life as nothing, nor feels more for having killed than for a casual act, which over, is forgotten--for, turning to his mother, Hamlet, with bloody hands, upbraids her for the lack of charity.
As this scene is read, and the spirit lashing its own phrenzy is perceived, each speech a climax, wonder is excited that the hand forbears to strike; every sentence appears the herald to assault: and but for the timely counsel of the Ghost, there seems no other possible ending than retribution consummated by the dagger of the son. The apparition, however, absorbs the strength of Hamlet's furor, but does not give him back to humanity. The mind is held by one idea, and beyond that he can neither feel nor think. Though in that single conception his sympathies are tender unto madness, beyond its limits he has no sensation. He pulls the body of Polonius after him with a jeer, and rejoices in the hope that his voyage to England will expose him to a contest with villany, the anticipation being as unnatural as the act, only not so frequently remarked, because it is not so abhorrently developed.
While Hamlet remains in the palace he does not recover any placidity of temper. In the subsequent scenes, the two brief ones in the fourth act, to offend, provoke, and defy, is the purpose of all his replies. But when he gets without the walls, and looking on new scenes in some degree subsides his irritation, then, meeting the army led to a dispute of honour, his thoughts recur to his own'acts, and he cannot conceal from himself a great incentive has been answered by no result. For this want of action he reproaches himself, attributing his dulness to a cowardice engendered by a too nice moral caution.
If, however, the present view of his character be correct, Hamlet's is perhaps the very last evidence which, unless strongly corroborated, should be permitted to influence our judgments; yet from this soliloquy the majority of the commentators have substracted their premises, and all seem to have agreed upon one point of his character, namely, that Hamlet constantly delays. Such, however, appears to be a false conclusion. Hamlet nowhere delays, but rather hinders his progress by over-impetuosity than anywhere pauses to deliberate. Had he possessed a capability for deliberation, he is deficient in none other of the faculties needful for the attainment of his purpose :
“ Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
Act IV. Scene 4. To all which his conduct adds a heart that made joy of danger, and a mind that had lost conception of personal peril.
Hamlet never forms any plan, and it is obviously impossible to prove he delayed what was never proposed. He is resolved to do something, but cannot collect his thoughts so as to definitely determine what that something shall be, though he is decided as to the colour of the result. The usurper is to die ; but by what means his death is to
be accomplished, when, where, or how, the prince never even essays to conjecture. Glimpses of the necessity of concocting a plot occur to him, yet there is nothing like arrangement in his ideas; but conceiving a part —without debating its relative importance or judging it otherwise than with his predilections—he devotes all to its realization. The whim of the moment is followed as it were his destiny, and no prudential whisperings, or spoken cautions can tempt him to delay; thus, for instance, the message from the Queen, desiring him "to use some gentle entertainment to Laertes before you fall to play,"
Act V. Scene 2. points a meaning which Hamlet's heart reads rightly, foreboding evil; to which double warning Horatio adds entreaty
“ If your mind dislike anything, obey it.” Act V. Scene 2. No! He defies augury; and, as ever, without touching on the subject he should investigate, finds very subtle arguments to justify his inclination ; for, though nearly sane and free from passion, he cannot even then poise his patience against his will, but hastes to meet his fate.
Hamlet is an illustration of how great grief intoxicates the purest minds, and thereby unfits for action. He is always doing, yet does nothing but exhaust himself, and waste the energies which alone could help him to achieve.
In conclusion, to confirm the truth of this, the present, view, we will attempt to show that Hamlet was of a disposition likely to be powerfully worked upon by sorrow; and that his affections, which induced insanity, were also the check upon his madness, keeping it from raging into phrensy or total darkness of mind.
When first he grieved, Hamlet sought his chamber, to conceal the weakness of his sorrow; and while there locked in, the world deserted him, not he the world, for the paroxysm having past, he came forth resentless to endure. Though still afficted, he bad no man forbear because the noise of mirth was painful to his brain-he marred not the society he could not participate, nor interrupted the business it fatigued him to see transacted; he moved quietly, shunning nothing, hating nothing, demanding no observance for his state. His misery, devoid of pride or petulance, humbly requesting leave to seek a retirement where contemplation might restore the sympathies calamity had stunned; for Hamlet wished not to escape from his affections, which, faint to death, their health absorbed, were yet capable of being revived. The mimicry of feeling, the actor's tear, recalls them to sensation; and he, thus awakened, startles at the image of himself, shrinks from the sight of that he has become, and, in the wonder he expresses at the change, greatly paints the likeness of that beauty which his soul once bore. How finely Shakspere has here instanced the dramatic purpose as in this very play declared-making its hero in the mimic glass behold himself-seeing affection acted, to perceive the torpor stealing o'er his heart :
“0, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous, that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion," VOL. XCVI.
Could force his soul so to his own conceit,
What is all this but the heart lamenting over its sympathies; Hamlet in memory as he was abhorring Hamlet in feeling as he is-teaching us the store he set by those affections over whose diminution he now exclaims? A kind and noble nature is declared by his perfect confidence in Ophelia's faith after all others had proved treacherous. His young blood had lost the heat that warms desire ; his mind had been deprived of the ideal that gives the highest grace to beauty; yet, as if to love were an instinct of his nature which madness or reason could not banish, Hamlet retains the feeling undiminished, and by his fury for its loss proves how dearly it was treasured. Nor does he afterward neglect Ophelia ; he cannot conceal the passion of his regret which time seems not to tame. At the play, when every thing concurred to distract his thoughts, to her he speaks alone, showing the heart was with her; and if his speech be harsh, is there no pathos in the rudeness of great sorrow? He does not speak her name after he quits her grave, but his silence breathes the thought, for he resolves to seek
Laertes's pardon, and humbly does so; the last word of his concession tremblingly insinuating the wedded memory which rendered it.
“ Pree me so far in your most generous thoughts,
That I have shot my arrow o'er the house,
Act V. Scene 2. Yet, perhaps, the brightest evidence of the native purity of Hamlet's mind, is given immediately after his repulse from Ophelia, when-she having discarded all have proved treacherous-obis gentle heart, like a child, terrified at loneliness, hastens to fling itself upon the breast of Horatio. The greatness of Hamlet's soul could not be tutored to suspect. Such a nature could not be goaded to misanthropy. But how deeply-rooted must have been that goodness, which, on the top of so great and such numerous treasons, could form new friendships and never waver after in them; for the unity between the friends is perfect, as the imprudence of the selection is beautiful; poverty and good spirits not being those qualities, prudence would have commended most in the sole confidant of a prince beset with danger and seeking to dethrone a tyrant. The imprudence of the choice is the evidence of its sincerity; and the return once sought, worldly considerations, state and title, though a prince interested and educated to insist on ceremony, stand not between Hamlet and the object of his trust. The love that is asked is also given without reservation. Friendship makes the prince and the soldier of fortune level. Horatio is the equal in the compact; his inferiority is entirely of mind-wholly apart from station.
And as though the causes which inflamed his passions also warmed his virtues, when made demoniac by his rage, Hamlet then in love appears most heavenly. Execrating his mother's sin, who does not feel Hamlet implores her to repent, that purified she may be restored to his affections ? The goodness in distraction still predominates ; and when most unlike himself yet Hamlet bears the impress which nothing but annihilation can eradicate.
How beautiful, too, is the want of resentment for his wrongs! Consciousness of his great injuries lost in sorrow for his parent's suffering. What an engrossing love it speaks, and what an exalted nature ! There springs his insanity which, had his character been less pure, had mounted into madness or settled in misanthropy. There originates that imperfect action which has been mistermed delay. The recollection of his father's death is to his mind the acutest anguish. He never refers to the subject but with passion ; yet, in all his attempts to plan his retribution, that is, the goal from which he starts, because the remembrance was imperative to reconcile a deed his heart recoiled from. The cause that justified revenge, must be present to his mind to fit him for its act. Then deeming it a duty, he wants no resolution to fulfil it, but he has dispelled the reason which would guide him to its fulfilment. His father's murder is the ground from which he argues, but his affection renders him unable to regard that horror as the premises of argument, in which position his nature places it. He grows instantly excited, and Hamlet is thus most unfitted to deliberate, whenever he attempts to reason on his future actions. So by his affections Hamlet is made insane, and by the power of those affections to seek new friendships, he is restrained in his insanity; or, in other words, the effect is regulated by the cause.
Presuming we have explained the misconceptions, supposed to be mysteries, in which the character of Hamlet was involved, it will be our endeavour the ensuing month to remove an impression now very prevalent, that, as an acting play, this Tragedy is indebted to some influence apart from its dramatic excellence. Such an opinion appears to us a gross mistake, only to be accounted for by referring to the general ignorance, alike with the public as the players, that now exists as to the requirement of dramatic composition; the perfection of which Hamlet seems, to our judginent, to illustrate ; and it will be our aim to prove to our readers, that the objections taken to its popularity are frivolous and unfounded; and that its success as an acting play is wholly attributable to the consummate skill of its construction, entirely independent of adventitious influences; that it is acted only because it is actable, and popular only because it contains within itself the elements of popularity.
MR. EDITOR.-An apt parallel passage often contains a better explanation of an obsolete word than the most laborious illustration of a glossarist or commentator. If you agree with me in thinking so, you will, perhaps, insert the following extract from “ Hall's Chronicle," p. 490, edit. 1809, in explanation of the word MEACOCK. Shakspere, as you know, uses that word in “ The Taming of the Shrew," Act II. Scene 1, where Petruchio, describing his first interview with Katherine, exclaims
“O! you are novices : 'tis a world to see How tame, when men and women are alone,
A meacock wretch can make the curstest shrew." Hall, detailing the treasonable conspiracy of Friar Patrick and Raufe Wilford, in the 15th year of Henry VII., relates that the friar having instilled into the too willing ear of Wilford the foolish conceit that he could raise him to the throne of England, the ambitious boy vehemently urged him to explain the means by which this great result could be accomplished ;
“ Saiyng, what mecocke or dastard is so sore afearde of transgressing the law or tymerous of punishment, the which for to obteine a kingdom will not attempt to do and suffre all things that be possible to be assayed and tasted ?".
“ Tasted,” I may add, is here used in the sense of suffered, in which sense the same word in another form is found in the authorised translation of the Bible, Heb. ii. 9, where we read that our blessed Saviour was made a little lower than the angels, “ that he should taste death for every man;" and in “ Henry V.," Act II, Scene 2
* Is it not a misprint for tested ?-ED.