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But mere implorators of unholy suits,
SCENE IV. The Platform.
Enter HAMLET, HORATIO, and MARCELLUS.
21 The old copies have bonds instead of bawds. conjectured the latter to be the right word. The use of brokers, which formerly meant the same as bawd or pander, favours the change. It is not easy to see what bonds can have to do with the passage. See Troilus and Cressida, Act v. sc. 11, note 3.
22 I do not believe that in this or any other of the foregoing speeches of Polonius, Shakespeare meant to bring out the senility or weakness of that personage's mind. In the great ever-recurring dangers and duties of life, where to distinguish the fit objects for the application of the maxims collected by the experience of a long life, requires no fineness of tact, as in the admonitions to his son and daughter, Polonius is uniformly made respectable. It is to Hamlet that Polonius is, and is meant to be, contemptible, because, in inwardness and uncontrollable activity of movement, Hamlet's mind is the logical contrary to that of Polonius; and besides, Hamlet dislikes the man as false to his true allegiance in the matter of the succession to the crown. COLERIDGE. н.
1 Eager was used in the sense of the French aigre, sharp, biting. -The unimportant conversation," says Coleridge, "with which this scene opens, is a proof of Shakespeare's minute knowledge of human nature. It is a well-established fact, that on the brink of any serious enterprise, or event of moment, men almost invariably endeavour to elude the pressure of their own thoughts by turning aside to trivial objects and familiar circumstances. Thus the dialogue on the platform begins with remarks on the coldness
Ham. What hour now?
Mar. No, it is struck.
Hor. Indeed? I heard it not: it then draws near the season,
Wherein the spirit held his wont to walk.
[A Flourish of Trumpets, and Ordnance shot off, within. What does this mean, my lord?
I think it lacks of twelve.
Ham. The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse, 2
Keeps wassel, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
Is it a custom ?
of the air, and inquiries, obliquely connected indeed with the expected hour of visitation, but thrown out in a seeming vacuity of topics, as to the striking of the clock and so forth. The same desire to escape from the impending thought is carried on in Hamlet's account of, and moralizing on, the Danish custom of wassailing he runs off from the particular to the universal, and, in his repugnance to personal and individual concerns, escapes, as it were, from himself in generalisations, and smothers the impatience and uneasy feelings of the moment in abstract reasoning. Besides this, another purpose is answered; for, by thus entangling the attention of the audience in the nice distinctions and parenthetical sentences of this speech of Hamlet, Shakespeare takes them completely by surprise on the appearance of the Ghost, which comes upon them in all the suddenness of its visionary character. Indeed, no modern writer would have dared, like Shakespeare, to have preceded this last visitation by two distinct appearances; or could have contrived that the third should rise upon the former two in impressiveness and solemnity of interest."
2 To wake is to hold a late revel or debauch. - Rouse is the same as carouse. See sc. 2, note 15. Wassel originally meant a drinking to one's health; from was hæl, health be to you: hence it came to be used for any festivity of the bottle and the bowl. See Love's Labour's Lost, Act v. sc. 2, note 19; and Macbeth, Act i. sc. 7, note 10. - Up-spring probably means the same as upstart.
Ham. Ay, marry, is't:
But to my mind though I am native here,
More honour'd in the breach, than the observance. This heavy-headed revel, east and west,3
Makes us traduc'd and tax'd of other nations : They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase Soil our addition; and, indeed, it takes
From our achievements, though perform'd at height,
That, for some vicious mole of nature in them,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason;
3 This and the following twenty-one lines are wanting in the folio. They had probably been omitted in representation, lest they should give offence to Anne of Denmark.
4 Clepe is call; from the Saxon clypian. The Danes were indeed proverbial as drunkards, and well they might be, according to the accounts of the time. Heywood, in his Philocothonista, or The Drunkard Opened, 1635, speaking of what he calls the vinosity of nations, says of the Danes, that they have made a profession thereof from antiquity, and are the first upon record "that brought their wassel bowls and elbowe deepe healthes into this land." Roger Ascham, in one of his Letters, says, "The Emperor of Germany, who had his head in the glass five times as long as any of us, never drank less than a good quart at once of Rhenish wine."
5 That is, characterize us by a swinish epithet.
By complexion was meant the affections of the body.
7 That is, the influence of the planet supposed to govern our birth.
As infinite as man may undergo,
Shall in the general censure take corruption
Enter the Ghost.
Look, my lord! it comes! Ham. Angels and ministers of grace, defend us! Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn'd; Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell; Be thy intents wicked or charitable;
To dout is to do out, destroy, or extinguish. The word is still so used in some parts of England. As already stated, the passage is found only in the quartos, which have "dram of eale" for "dram of base," and of a doubt instead of often dout. Il is preferred by some, and bale by others, as corrections of eale; we prefer base as being the proper antithesis of noble. Doubt is also preferred by some, as meaning to bring into doubt, or throw doubt upon; but no instance is produced of the word so used. H.
9 In addition to all the other excellences of Hamlet's speech concerning the wassel-music, - s finely revealing the predominant idealism, the ratiocinative meditativeness of his character,— it has the advantage of giving nature and probability to the im- . passioned continuity of the speech instantly directed to the Ghost. The momentum had been given to his mental activity; the full current of the thoughts and words had set in; and the very forgetfulness, in the fervour of his argumentation, of the purpose for which he was there, aided in preventing the appearance from benumbing the mind. Consequently, it acted as a new impulse, a sudden stroke which increased the velocity of the body already in motion, whilst it altered the direction. The co-presence of Horatio and Marcellus is most judiciously contrived; for it renders the courage of Hamlet, and his impetuous eloquence, perfectly intelligible. The knowledge- the sensation of human auditors acts as a support and a stimulation a tergo, while the front of the mind, the whole consciousness of the speaker, is filled, yea, absorbed, by the apparition. Add, too, that the apparition itself has, by its previous appearances, been brought nearer to a thing of this world. This accrescence of objectivity in a ghost that yet retains all its ghostly attributes and fearful subjectivity, is truly wonderful.- -COLERIDGE.
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape,10
Hath op'd his ponderous and marble jaws,
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls ?
No, by no means.
Why, what should be the fear?
10 That is, a shape to be questioned or talked with, a shape inviting conversation. Such was the more common meaning of questionable in the Poet's time.
11 So the folio; all the quartos have interr'd instead of in-urn'd.
12 It appears from Olaus Wormius that it was the custom to bury the Danish kings in their armour.