Imagens das páginas

entrances him in meditation on the awful realities of the invisible world ; so that, while nerved by a sense of the duty, he is at the same time shaken by a dread of the responsibility. Thus the Ghost works in Hamlet a sort of preternatural development: its disclosures bring forth into clear apprehension some moral ideas which before were but dim presentiments in him. It is as if he were born into the other world before dying out of this. And what is thus developed in him is at strife with the injunction laid upon him.

Thus it appears, that Hamlet is distracted with a purpose which he is at once too good a son to dismiss, and too good a man to perform. Under an injunction with which he knows not what to do, he casts about, now for excuses, now for censures, of his nonperformance; and religion still prevents him from doing what filial piety reproves him for leaving undone. Not daring to abandon the design of killing the King, he is yet morally incapable of forming any plan for doing it he can only go through the work, as indeed he does at last, under a sudden frenzy of excitement, caused by some immediate provocation; not so much acting, as being acted upon; rather as an instrument of Providence, than as a selfdetermining agent.

Properly speaking, then, Hamlet, we think, does not lack force of will. In him, will is strictly subject to reason and conscience; and it rather shows strength than otherwise in refusing to move in conflict with them. We are apt to measure men's force of will only by what they do, whereas the true measure thereof often lies rather in what they do not do. On this point, Mr. E. P. Whipple suggests, that will is a relative term; and, even admitting that Hamlet possessed more will than many who act with decision, the fact that his other powers were larger in proportion justifies the common belief, that he was deficient in energy of purpose." But this, it strikes us, does not exactly meet the position; which is, that force of will is shown rather in holding still, than in moving, where the moral understanding is not satisfied; and that Hamlet seems to lack rather the power of seeing what he ought to do, than of doing what he sees to be right. The question is, whether the peculiarity of this representation is not meant to consist in the hero being so placed, that strength of will has its proper outcome rather in thinking than in acting; the working of his whole mind being thus rendered as anomalous as his situation; which is just what the subject requires. Will it be said, that Hamlet's moral scruples are born of an innate reluctance to act? that from defect of will he wishes to hold back, and so hunts after motives for doing so? We should ourselves be much inclined to say so, but that those scruples seem to be the native and legitimate offspring of reason. There being, as we think, sufficient grounds for them out of him, we cannot refer them to any infirmity of his as their source.

It is true, Hamlet takes to himself all the blame of his indicision. This, we think, is one of the finest points in the delinea


tion. For true virtue does not publish itself: radiating from the heart through the functions of life, its transpirations are so free and smooth and deep as to be scarce heard even by the subject of them. Moreover, in his conflict of duties, Hamlet naturally thinks he is taking the wrong one; the calls of the claim he meets being hushed by satisfaction, while those of the other are increased by disappointment. The current that we go with is naturally unnoticed by us; but that which we go against compels our notice by the struggle it puts us to. In this way Hamlet comes to mistake his clearness of conscience for moral insensibility. For even so a good man is apt to think he has not consience enough, be cause it is quiet; a bad man, that he has too much, because it troubles him; which accounts for the readiness of bad men to supply their neighbours with conscience.

But perhaps the greatest perplexity of all in Hamlet's character turns on the point of his "antic disposition." Whether his madness be real or feigned, or sometimes the one, sometimes the other, or partly real, partly feigned, are questions which, like many that arise on similar points in actual life, perhaps can never be finally settled either way. Aside from the common impossibility of deciding precisely where sanity ends and insanity begins, there are peculiarities Hamlet's conduct, resulting from the minglings of the supernatural in his situation, which, as they transcend the reach of our ordinary experience, can hardly be reduced to any thing more than probable conjecture. If sanity consists in a certain harmony between a man's actions and his circumstances, it must be hard indeed to say what would be insanity in a man so circumstanced as Hamlet.

[ocr errors]

That his mind is thrown from its propriety, shaken from its due forms and measures of working, excited into irregular, fevered action, is evident enough: from the deeply-agitating experiences he has undergone, the horrors of guilt preternaturally laid open to him, and the terrible ministry enjoined upon him, he could not be otherwise. His mind is indeed full of unhealthy perturbation, heing necessarily made so by the overwhelming thoughts that press upon him from without; but it nowhere appears enthralled by illusions spun from itself; there are no symptoms of its being torn from its proper holdings, or paralyzed in its power of steady thought and coherent reasoning. Once only, at the grave of Ophelia, does he lose his self-possession; and the result in this case only goes to prove how firmly he retains it everywhere else.

It is matter of common observation, that extreme emotions naturally express themselves by their opposites; as extreme sorrow, in laughter, extreme joy, in tears; utter despair, in a voice of mirth; a wounded spirit, in gushes of humour. Hence Shakespeare heightens the effect of some of his awfulest scenes by making the persons indulge in flashes of merriment; for what so appalling as to see a person laughing and playing from excess of

anguish or terror? Now, the expressions of mirth, in such cases, are plainly neither the reality nor the affectation of mirth. People, when overwhelmed with distress, certainly are not in a condition either to feel merry or to feign mirth; yet they do sometimes express it. The truth is, such extremes naturally and spontaneously express themselves by their opposites. In like manner, Hamlet's madness, it seems to us, is neither real nor affected, but a sort of natural and spontaneous imitation of madness; the triumph of his reason over his passion naturally expressing itself in the tokens of insanity, just as the agonies of despair naturally vent themselves in flashes of mirth. Accordingly, Coleridge remarks, that "Hamlet's wildness is but half false; he plays that subtle trick of pretending to act, only when he is very near really being what he acts."

Again: It is not uncommon for men, in times of great depression, to fly off into prodigious humours and eccentricities. We have known people under such extreme pressure to throw their most intimate friends into consternation by their extravagant playings and frolickings. Such symptoms of wildness are sometimes the natural, though perhaps spasmodic, reaction of the mind against the weight that oppresses it. The mind thus spontaneously becomes eccentric in order to recover or preserve its centre. Even so Hamlet's aberrations seem the conscious, half-voluntary bending of his faculties beneath an overload of thought, to keep them from breaking. His mind being deeply disturbed, agitated to its centre, but not disorganized, those irregularities are rather a throwing-off of that disturbance than a giving-way to it.

On the whole, therefore, Goethe's celebrated criticism seems quite beside the mark: nevertheless, as it is the calm judgment of a great mind, besides being almost too beautiful in itself not to be true, we gladly subjoin it. "It is clear to me," says he, "that Shakespeare'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 planted in a china vase, proper to receive only 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."

Still we have to confess, as stated before, that there is a mystery about Hamlet, which baffles all our resources of criticism; and our remarks should be taken as expressing rather what we have thought on the subject than any settled judgment. We will dismiss the theme by quoting what seems to us a very admirable passage from a paper in Blackwood's Magazine, vol. ii., signed

"T. C." The writer is speaking of Hamlet: "In him, his character, and his situation, there is a concentration of all the interests that belong to humanity. There is scarcely a trait of frailty or of grandeur, which may have endeared to us our most beloved friends in real life, that is not found in Hamlet. Undoubtedly Shakespeare loved him beyond all his other creations. Soon as he appears on the stage, we are satisfied when absent, we long for his return. This is the only play which exists almost altogether in the character of one single person. Who ever knew a Hamlet in real life? yet who, ideal as the character is, feels not its reality? This is the wonder. We love him not, we think of him not, because he was witty, because he was melancholy, because he was filial; but we love him because he existed, and was himself. This the grand sum-total of the impression. I believe that of every other character, either in tragic or epic poetry, the story makes a part of the conception; but, of Hamlet, the deep and permanent interest is the conception of himself. This seems to belong, not to the character being more perfectly drawn, but to there being a more intense conception of individual human life than perhaps in any other human composition; that is, a being with springs of thought, and feeling, and action, deeper than we can search. These springs rise up from an unknown depth, and in that depth there seems to be a oneness of being which we cannot distinctly behold, but which we believe to be there; and thus irreconcileable circumstances, floating on the surface of his actions, have not the effect of making us doubt the truth of the general picture."

From the same eloquent paper we must make another extract touching the apparition of " that fair and warlike form, in which the majesty of buried Denmark did sometimes march: ""With all the mighty power which this tragedy possesses over us, arising from qualities now very generally described; yet, without that kingly shadow, who throws over it such preternatural grandeur, it could never have gained so universal an ascendancy over the minds of men. Now, the reality of a ghost is measured to that state of imagination in which we ought to be held for the fullest powers of tragedy. The appearance of such a phantom at once throws open those recesses of the inner spirit over which flesh was closing. Magicians, thunder-storms, and demons produce upon me something of the same effect. I feel myself brought instantaneously back to the creed of childhood. Imagination then seems not a power which I exert, but an impulse which I obey. Thus does the Ghost in Hamlet carry us into the presence of eternity.

"Never was a more majestic spirit more majestically revealed. The shadow of his kingly grandeur and his warlike might rests massily upon him. He passes before us sad, silent, and stately. He brings the whole weight of the tragedy in his disclosures. His speech is ghost-like, and blends with ghost conceptions. The

popular memory of his words proves how profoundly they sink into our souls. The preparation for his first appearance is most solemn. The night-watch, the more common effect on the two soldiers, the deeper effect on the next party, and their speculations,- Horatio's communication with the shadow, that seems as it were half-way between theirs and Hamlet's, his adjurations, the degree of impression which they produce on the Ghost's mind, who is about to speak but for the due ghost-like interruption of the bird of morning; · all these things lead our minds up to the last pitch of breathless expectation; and while yet the whole weight of mystery is left hanging over the play, we feel that some dread disclosure is reserved for Hamlet's ear, and that an apparition from the world unknown is still a partaker of the noblest of all earthly affections."

Horatio is a very noble character; but he moves so quietly in the drama, that his modest worth and solid manliness have not had justice done them. Should we undertake to go through the play without him, we should then feel how much of the best spirit and impression of the scenes is owing to his presence and character. For he is the medium through which many of the hero's finest and noblest traits are conveyed to us; yet himself so clear and transparent that he scarcely catches the attention. Mr. Verplanck, we believe, was the first to give him his due. "While," says he, "every other character in this play, Ophelia, Polonius, and even Osrick, has been analyzed and discussed, it is remarkable that no critic has stept forward to notice the great beauty of Horatio's character, and its exquisite adaptation to the effect of the piece. His is a character of great excellence and accomplishment; but while this is distinctly shown, it is but sketched, not elaborately painted. His qualities are brought out only by single and seemingly-accidental touches; the whole being toned down to a quiet and unobtrusive beauty that does not tempt the mind to wander from the main interest, which rests alone upon Hamlet; while it is yet distinct enough to increase that interest, by showing him worthy to be Hamlet's trusted friend in life, and the chosen defender of his honour after death. Such a character, in the hands of another author, would have been made the centre of some secondary plot. But here, while he commands our respect and esteem, he never for a moment divides a passing interest with the Prince. He does not break in upon the main current of our feelings. He contributes only to the general effect; so that it requires an effort of the mind to separate him for critical admiration."

The main features of Polonius have been seized and set forth by Dr. Johnson with the hand of a master. It is one of the best pieces of personal criticism ever penned. Polonius," says he, "is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with observation, confident in his knowledge, proud of his eloquence, and


« AnteriorContinuar »