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And from his mouth whose voice will draw on
more: a But let this same be presently perform’d, Even while men's minds are wild," lest more mis
chance, On plots, and errors, happen. FORT.
Let four captains Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage ; For he was likely, had he been put on, To have prov’d most royally: and, for his passage, The soldier's musick, and the rites of war, Speak loudly for him. Take up the bodies : Such a sight as this Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss. Go, bid the soldiers shoot. [A dead March.
[Exeunt, bearing off the dead Bodies; after
which, a Peal of Ordnance is shot off.'
• I shall have always cause-whose voice shall draw on more] From Hamlet's, whose dying voice or suffrage will produce or draw in its train many more. For always, the quartos read also. The fo. of 1632 gives the line
“ Of that I shall alwayes cause to speak.” are wild) Unsettled.
On plots and errors happen] i.e. in consequence, the effect of. put on] Put to the proof, tried.
for his passage] As to order taken for the ceremony of conveying him.
'If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be characterised, each by the particular excellence which distinguishes it from the rest, we must allow to the tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety The incidents are so numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably diversified with merriment and solemnity: with merriment that includes judicious and instructive observations; and solemnity not strained by poetical violence above the natural sentiments of man. New characters appear from time to time in continual succession, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes of conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness, and every personage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that in the first Act chills the blood
with horror, to the fop in the last, that exposes affectation to just contempt.
The conduct is perhaps not wholly secure against objections. The action is indeed for the most part in continual progression, but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of sanity. He plays the madman most, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
Hamlet is, through the whole piece, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem of the play, convicted the King, he makes no attempt to punish him; and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet had no part in producing
The catastrophe is not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necessity, than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily be formed to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
The poet is accused of having shown little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained, but by the death of him
that was required to take it; and the gratification, which would arise from the destruction of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.
Johnson. “ To conform to the ground-work of his plot, Shakespeare makes the young prince feign himself mad, I cannot but think this to be injudicious; for so far from securing himself from any violence which he feared from the usurper, it seems to have been the most likely way of getting himself confined, and consequently debarred from an opportunity of revenging his father's death, which now seemed to be his only aim; and accordingly it was the occasion of his being sent away to England; which design, had it taken effect upon his life, he never could have revenged his father's murder. To speak truth, our poet by keeping too close to the ground-work of his plot, has fallen into an absurdity; for there appears no reason at all in nature, why the young prince did not put the usurper to death as soon as possible, especially as Hamlet is represented as a youth so brave, and so careless of his own life.
“ The case indeed is this. Had Hamlet gone naturally to work, as we could suppose such a prince to do in parallel circumstances, there would have been an end of our play. The poet, therefore, was obliged to delay his hero's revenge: but then he should have contrived some good reason for it." MALONE.
Of this play, a modern writer, with just conception of the interest it raises, has said ; “ Such an infinite and subtle discrimi
nation of character, such feeling, is displayed in it; it is rendered so exquisitely interesting, yet without the help of a regular plot, almost without a plan; so like is it in its simplicity to the progress of nature itself, that it appears to be an entire effusion of pure genius alone.”
There are in the last editions some representations of the character of Hamlet, which, though in our judgment unfounded, yet being to such an extent injurious to it as in some measure to throw reproach upon our author, we have thought fit, without going more at large into his character, to give our view of the subject, as applicable to these points.
Mr. Steevens charges, 1. “ Hamlet, at the command of his father's ghost, undertakes with seeming alacrity to revenge the murder; and declares he will banish all other thoughts from his mind. He makes, however, but one effort to keep his word, and that is, when he mistakes Polonius for the King; on another occasion he defers his purpose, till he can find an opportunity of taking his uncle when he is least prepared for death, that he may ensure damnation to his soul.”
We answer, that a compliance with the injunction from his father to revenge his death, is deferred at first to enable him to satisfy himself of the truth of the ghost's representation, and whether (as he intimates an apprehension at the close of A. II.) he might not, in the broken state of his spirits, have been abused by a fiend. It must here also be taken into consideration, that if Hamlet's vengeance had been presently executed, the curtain must at once have dropped; no art or address could, after such event, have much longer sustained the drama, and carried it on to a fifth act. Having made choice of such a subject, our author was, therefore, obliged to give his character the features of irresolution, and afterwards to cover this blemish with such a veil and train of circumstances as he had address enough to introduce and throw over them. A hesitating and indecisive mind would, by these considerations, be naturally led to pause; and even if this view of the subject should not be thought fully satisfactory in a strict investigation of character by a biographer, yet as he was to fall, to reconcile the audience to his fate, and do poetical justice, some part of his character should be left imperfect, or, at least, questionable. To the remaining charge, it is answered, that the principle under which he afterwards waves a fair opportunity of effecting his purpose, was in conformity with prevailing notions, insisted upon, however revolting, by all popular authors, and the best dramatic writers of that and the succeeding age (see note at the close of III. 3.), and thence to a degree imperative upon the playwright; and this sentiment is again found and insisted upon in Othello.
Then, as is above admitted, the first opportunity that early offered was eagerly seized: and though the blow fell upon a wrong person, the act done was in some sense an answer to this charge.
2.“ He deliberately procures the execution of his school-fellows, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who appear not, from any circumstances in this play, to have been acquainted with the treacherous purposes of the mandate they were employed to carry. To embitter their fate, and hazard their punishment beyond the grave, he denies them even the few moments necessary for a brief confession of their sins. Their end (as he declares in a subsequent conversation with Horatio) gives him no concern; for they obtruded themselves into the service, and he thought he had a right to destroy them.”
Though it does not distinctly appear in any part of this drama that Hamlet knew that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were privy to this murderous project, yet throughout he perfectly well understood their insidious aims, under the mask of an old school friendship, and that they were creatures of the King, placed and brought from a distance for the sole purpose of being spies upon him: but it was not till after he discovered that his own murder was to be effected by means in which they were at least chosen agents and instruments, that“ benetted round," as he says he was," with villanies,” in the moment of discovery and resentment, he retorts upon them as principals, and takes the course of retaliation which that moment naturally suggested, the death to which he was himself destined.
Mr. Malone presumes, that Shakespeare, who “ has followed the novel of the Hystorie of Hamblet pretty closely, probably meant to describe Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the representatives of the ministers of the King in the novel, and who were apprised of the contents of their packet, as equally criminal with those ministers, and combining with the King to deprive Hamlet of life.” The passage runs thus : “ Now to beare him company were assigned two of Fengon's faithful ministers, bearing letters ingraved in wood, that contained Hamlet's death. But the subtil Danish prince, being at sea, whilst his companions slept, having read the letters, and knowing his uncle's great treason with the wicked and villainous mindes of the two courtiers, that led him to the slaughter, raced out the letters that concerned his death, and instead thereof graved others, with commission to the king of England to hang his two companions; and not content to turn the death they had devised against him upon
their own neckes, wrote further that king Fengon willed him to give his daughter to Hamblet in marriage.” Signat. G 2.
3. “ From his brutal conduct towards Ophelia, he is not less accountable for her destruction and death."
Now it does not appear that any part of his conduct to her was the occasion of either. On his most offensive carriage to. wards her (III. 1.), she is so perfectly satisfied that it proceeded from distraction, that immediately upon it, she twice implores heaven to help and restore him; and, upon his leaving her, exclaims,
“0, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown.".
So far, then, as respects Ophelia and her personal feelings, these declarations prove that she was no otherwise a sufferer from this supposed offensive carriage, than as by sympathy partaking in his sufferings : and so far as respected himself and his main purpose, this carriage towards a beloved object, and such a personage, was the surest method to impress a belief of his madness upon all, and particularly upon the father of that beloved object, the confidential minister of the King; whose apprehensions might by such device be laid asleep, till Hamlet should find his scheme ripe for execution,
And this charge is still further unjust, as the distraction of Ophelia, under which she met her death, is throughout this drama represented to have been the consequence of her father's sudden and melancholy end.
4. “He interrupts the funeral designed in honour of this lady, at which both the King and Queen were present; and, by such an outrage to decency, renders it still more necessary for the usurper to lay a second stratagem for his life, though the first had proved abortive."
As the interruption to this ceremony, and in this presence, was first given by Laertes, who first leapt into the grave, and who immediately, upon Hamlet's so doing, became the aggressor in an assault there, it seems little less than wilfully injurious both to overlook this assault, and otherwise charge the interruption upon Hamlet; and the more so, as his conduct in this assault was also temperate and meritorious.
It is still more strange to say that Hamlet's offence, at the worst not even charged as amounting to more than a violation of decency, could become an argument for the “ necessity" of the King's “ laying a second stratagem for his life," i. e. for assassinating him. Further, even if this strange consequence were admitted, the thing is without foundation in point of fact; for that second stratagem was concerted before the time of the funeral.
5. “ He insults the brother of the dead, and boasts of an af. fection for his sister, which before he had denied to her face ;
yet at this very time must be considered as desirous of supporting the character of a madman, so that the openness of his confession is not to be imputed to him as a virtue.”
We have already noticed, that to this denial of his love, the party interested at the time the denial was made, herself attached no credit to it. This open avowal of it, and the whole of his conduct at the grave, were natural ebullitions of that passion in an ardent mind; and had nothing of resemblance to a designed insult
upon the brother of the dead. They were, on the contrary, in the highest degree conciliatory; and as far as he dared, true : and such qualities, wherever found and disclosed, are of the character of virtue.
6. “He apologizes to Floratio afterwards for the absurdity of this behaviour, ti vhich, he says, he was provoked by that