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from which in general his plots were derived. But even if we were to recognise Mr. Steevens's new code of poetical justice, it appears to me, that there is sufficient evidence in the play itself to satisfy the minds of good criticks and true. Hamlet has, I think, very clearly intimated that he knew of their being engaged in some conspiracy against him, although he was unacquainted with its precise object till he had discovered it by an inspection of the letters which they conveyed. He speaks of them as "adders fanged," a term which would scarcely be applied to them if they were merely sycophants.
'tis the sport to have the engineer "Hoist with his own petar."
This could not be said of the king, for he does not suffer from his own treachery being turned against him. What follows is still more explicit :
it shall go hard,
"But I will delve one yard below their mines,
The rapidity with which their execution is directed to take place, not shriving time allowed, is remarked by Mr. Steevens as "another proof of Hamlet's christian-like disposition." The answer is, that his own safety required it. If any delay had been allowed, the truth would probably have come out. The ambassadors might have had other credentials; but at all events, the story which they would have had to tell, would at once, by its evident probability, have overthrown that which it was necessary for Hamlet to produce. It might well be credited that the King of Denmark might wish the next heir to his crown to be secretly taken off; but it would have been hard to believe, if time had been allowed for consideration, that he should send an embassy of which his own nephew formed a part, with no higher object than the destruction of two obscure individuals. I need scarcely remind the reader that Hamlet's contrivance was formed when he expected to continue his voyage, which was only prevented by the attack from pirates. His conduct at the grave of Ophelia, has, I think, been much misunderstood. It appears to have been the first intelligence he had received of his mistress's death; the tumult of feelings which oppress him at that time, put him into "a towering passion," a frenzied state of excitement, which is evinced by the tumour of his language, so different from his usual style of speech, which, in general, as Johnson has truly observed, is not strained by poetical violence above the natural sentiments of man. At such a moment we cannot be surprised if the hasty insult offered to him by Laertes, should urge him to adopt conduct which he afterwards candidly and kindly regrets. I cannot entirely pass over the scene of the grave-diggers, which shows, in a striking point of view, his good-natured affability. The reflections which follow afford new proofs of his amiable character. The place where he stands,
the frame of his own thoughts, and the objects which surround him, suggest the vanity of all human pursuits; but there is nothing harsh or caustick in his satire; his observations are dictated rather by feelings of sorrow than of anger; and the sprightliness of his wit, which misfortune has repressed, but cannot altogether extinguish, has thrown over the whole a truly pathetic cast of humourous sadness. Those gleams of sun-shine, which serve only to show us the scattered fragments of a brilliant imagination, crushed and broken by calamity, are, to me at least, much more affecting than a long uninterrupted train of monotonous woe. Mr. Steevens concludes by saying, that it must be obvious to the most careless spectator or reader, that he kills the king at last to revenge himself, and not his father. If this be so, I must be careless indeed, for I cannot perceive it. When he finds that he is poisoned by his uncle's contrivance, he knows that if the present opportunity of revenging his father's death is not seized upon, it will be lost for ever; and the pressing emergency supplies, as I have before observed, that stimulus which is necessary to rouse him into exertion. Not one word of reproach escapes him against the treachery of Laertes, which he would naturally have inveighed against had his own fate been uppermost in his mind; and in his dying address to Horatio, no regret is expressed for the loss of life, but only an anxiety belonging to an honourable and lofty spirit lest he should leave behind him a wounded name.
A celebrated writer of Germany (Goethé) has very skilfully pointed out the defects in Hamlet's character which unfit him for the dreadful office to which he is called. "It is clear to me (he says), that Shakspeare's intention was to exhibit the effects of a great action, imposed as a duty upon a mind too feeble for its accomplishment. In this sense I find the character consistent throughout. Here is an oak tree planted in a china vase, proper only to receive the most delicate flowers. The roots strike out, and the vessel flies to pieces. A pure, noble, highly moral disposition, but without that energy of soul which constitutes the hero, sinks under a load which it can neither support, nor resolve to abandon altogether. All his obligations are sacred to him; but this alone is above his powers! An impossibility is required at his hands; not an impossibility in itself, but that which is so to him. Observe how he turns, shifts, hesitates, advances, and recedes! how he is continually reminded and reminding himself of his great commission, which he, nevertheless, in the end, seems almost entirely to lose sight of, and this without ever recovering his former tranquillity." William Meister's Apprenticeship, b. iv. ch. 13.
With this extract I was favoured by my friend Mr. Talbot. To look for all the qualities which constitute the character of Hamlet, in any individual, would be nearly as hopeless as to seek
for a Falstaff in real life; but observation and history will readily supply us with examples of men, who, like him, though possessed of great talent, have been unequal to the difficulties of the situation into which they were thrown. Our own unfortunate monarch, Charles the First, may be cited as an instance. Had that prince been born in the eighteenth century, when our constitution was accurately defined, instead of being placed on an isthmus, between absolute prerogative and speculative freedom, he would probably have been a happy and a popular king. His taste, his love of literature, the goodness of his heart, and the purity of his private life, might have procured him some portion at least of that affectionate reverence which attended the career, and still hallows the memory, of GEORGE THE THIRD. BOSWELL.
END OF VOL. VII.
C. Baldwin, Printer,