Page images

Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul, that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions:
For murder, though it hath no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ. I'll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father,
Before mine uncle: I 'll observe his looks;
I'll tent him to the quick; if he do blench,5
I know my course. The spirit, that I have seen,
May be a devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and, perhaps,
Out of my weakness, and my melancholy,
(As he is very potent with such spirits)
Abuses me to damn me: I 'll have grounds
More relative than this :6 The play 's the thing,
Wherein I 'll catch the conscience of the king: [Exit.


A Room in the Castle.

King. And can you, by no drift of conference,?
Get from him, why he puts on this confusion;
Grating so harshly all his days of quiet


“ She was so mooued with the sight thereof,
“ As she cryed out, the play was made by her,
" And openly confest her husbands murder.” Todd.

tent him -] Search his wounds. Fohnson.

if he do blench,] If he shrink, or start. The word is used by Fletcher, in The Night Walker :

Blench at no danger, though it be a gallows." Again, in Gower, De Confessione Amantis, Lib. VI, fol. 128:

“ Without blenchinge of mine eie.” Chaucer, in his Knightes Tale, v. 1080, seems to use the verb to blent in a similar senge :

“ And there withal he blent and cried, a!" Steevens. See Vol. VI, p. 188, n. 1. Malone. 6 More relative than this :] Relative, for convictive. Warburton.

Convictive is only the consequential sense. Relative is nearly related, closely connected. Johnson.

conference -] The; folio reads-circumstance. Steevens:


With turbulent and dangerous lunacy?

Ros. He does confess, he feels himself distracted;
But from what cause he will by no means speak.

Guil. Nor do we find him forward to be sounded;
But, with a crafty madness, keeps aloof,
When we would bring him on to some confession
Of his true state.
Qucen. .

Did he receive you well?
Kos. Most like a gentleman.
Guil. But with much forcing of his disposition.

Ros. Niggard of question; but, of our demands,
Most free in his reply.

Did you assay him
To any pastime?

Ros. Madam, it so fell out, that certain players
We o'er-raught on the way :' of these we told him;
And there did seem in him a kind of joy
To hear of it: They are about the court;

8 Niggard of question ; but, of our demands,

Most fi'ee in his reply.] This is given as the description of the conversation of a man whom the speaker found not forward to be sounded; and who kept aloof when they would bring him to confession: but such a description can never pass but at cross-pur. poses. Shakspeare certainly wrote it just the other way:

Most free of question; but, of our demands,

Niggard in his reply. That this is the true reading, we need but turn back to the preceding scene, for Hamlet's conduct, to be satisfied. Warburton.

Warburton forgets that by question, Shakspeare does not usually mean interrogatory, but discourse ; yet in which ever sense the word be taken, this account given by Rosencrantz agrees but ill with the scene between him and Hamlet, as actually represented.

M. Mason. Slow to begin conversation, but free enough in his answers to our demands. Guildenstern has just said that Hamlet kept aloof when they wished to biing him to confess the cause of his distraction : Rosencrantz therefore here must mean, that up to that point, till they touch'd on that, he was free enough in his answers.

Malone. o'er-raught on the way:] O'er-raught is over-reached, that is, over-took. Johnson. So, in Spenser's Fairy Queen, B. VI, c. iii:

“ Having by chance a close advantage view'd,

“ He over-raught him,” &c. Again, in the 5th Book of Gawin Douglas's translation of the Æneid :

“ War not the samyn mysfortoun me over-raucht.Steevens.

And, as I think, they have already order
This night to play before him.

'Tis most true: And he beseech'd me to entreat your majesties, To hear and see the matter.

King. With all my heart; and it doth much content me To hear him so inclin'd. Good gentlemen, give him a further edge, And drive his purpose on to these delights.

Ros. We shall, my lord. [ Exeunt Ros. and Guil, King.

Sweet Gertrude, leave us too :
For we have closely sent for Hamlet hither;
That he, as 'twere by accident, may here?
Affront Ophelia :
Her father, and myself (lawful espials)
Will so bestow ourselves, that, seeing, unseen,
We may of their encounter frankly judge ;
And gather by him, as he is behav'd,
H't be the affliction of his love, or no,
That thus he suffers for.

I shall obey you:
And, for your part,4 Ophelia, I do wish,
That your good beauties be the happy cause
Of Hamlet's wildness: so shall I hope, your virtues
Will bring him to his wonted way again,
To both your honours.

Madam, I wish it may. [Exit Queen.



may here --] The folio, (I suppose by an error of the press) reads-may there Steevens.

Affront Ophelia:) To affront, is only to meet directly. Johnson.
Affrontare, Ital. So, in The Devil's Charter, 1607:

Affronting that port where proud Charles should enter." Again, in Sir W. D'Avenant's Cruel Brother, 1630 :

“ In sufferance affronts the winter's rage ?" Steevens.
espials] i. e. spies. So, in King Henry VI, P. I:

as he march'd along,
" By your espials were discovered

“ Two mightier troops." See also Vol. X, p. 30, n. 9. The words " lawful espials,” are found only in the folio.

Steevens. - And, for your part,] Thus the quarto, 1604, and the folio. The modern editors, following a quarto of no authority, read.. for my part. Malone.

Pol. Ophelia, walk you here:-Gracious, so please you, We will bestow ourselves :—Read on this book; [To Oph. That show of such an exercise may colour Your loneliness, 6 — We are oft to blame in this, 'Tis too much prov’d, 6—that, with devotion's visage, And pious action, we do sugar

The devil himself.

O, 'tis too true! how smart
A lash that speech doth give my conscience!
The harlot's cheek, beautied with plast'ring art,
Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it,
Than is my deed to my most painted word:
O heavy burden!

[ Aside, Pol. I hear him coming; let 's withdraw, my lord.

[Exeunt King and Pol.

Ham. To be, or not to be, that is the question :-

5 Your loneliness.] Thus the folio. The first and second quartos readlowliness. Steevens. 6 'Tis too much prov’d,] It is found by too frequent experience.

Fohnson. 7-more ugly to the thing that helps it,] That is, compared quith the thing that helps it. Johnson. So, Ben Jonson:

“ All that they did was piety to this.” Steevens. 8 To be, or not to be,] Of this celebrated soliloquy, which bursting from a man distracted with contrariety of desires, and overwhelmed with the magnitude of his own purposes, is connected rather in the speaker's mind, than on his tongue, I shall endeavour to discover the train, and to show how one sentiment produces another.

Hamlet, knowing himself injured in the most enormous and atrocious degree, and seeing no means of redress, but such as must expose him to the extremity of hazard, meditates on his situation in this manner: Before I can form any rational scheme of action under this pressure of distress, it is necessary to decide, whether, after our present state, we are to be, or not to be. That is the question, which, as it shall be answered, will determine, whether 'tis nobler, and more suitable to the dignity of reason, to suffer th outrages of fortune patiently, or to take arms against them, and by opposing end them, though perhaps with the loss of life. If to die, were to sleep, no more, and by a sleep to end the miseries of our nature, such a sleep were devoutly to be wished; but if to sleep in death, be to dream, to retain our powers of sensibility, we must pause to consider, in that sleep of death what dreams may come. This consideration makes calanity so long endured; for who would

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind, to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune;
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

mind upon


bear the vexations of life, which might be ended by a bare bodkin, but that he is afraid of something in unknown futurity? This fear it is that gives efficacy to conscience, which, by turning the

this regard, chills the ardour of resolution, checks the vigour of enterprize, and makes the current of desire stagnate in inactivity.

We may suppose that he would have applied these general observations to his own case, but that he discovered Ophelia.

Fohnson. Dr. Johnson's explication of the first five lines of this

passage is surely wrong. Hamlet is not deliberating whether after our present state we are to exist or not, but whether he should continue to live, or put an end to his life: as is pointed out by the second and the three following lines, which are manifestly a paraphrase on the first : “ whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer, &c. or to take arms." The question concerning our existence in a future state is not considered till the tenth line:-" To sleep! perchance, to dream;" &c. The train of Hamlet's reasoning from the middle of the fifth line, “ If to die, were to sleep,” &c. Dr. Johnson has marked out with his usual accuracy.

In our poet's Rape of Lucrece we find the same question stated, which is proposed in the beginning of the present soliloquy:

with herself she is in mutiny, To live or die, which of the tzvain were better." Malone. 9_arrows of outrageous fortune ;] “ Homines nos ut esse meminerimus, eâ lege natos, ut omnibus telis fortunæ proposita sit vita nostra.” Cic. Epist. Fam. v. 16. Steevens.

1 Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,] A sea of troubles among the Greeks grew into a proverbial usage ; xarãv Janocoon, raxãy tpironía. So that the expression figuratively means, the troubles of human life, which flow in upon us, and encompass us round, like a sea. Theobald.

Mr. Pope proposed siege. I know not why there should be so. much solicitude about this metaphor. Shakspeare breaks his metaphors often, and in this desultory speech there was less need of preserving them. Johnson.

A similar phrase occurs in Rycharde Morysine's translation of Ludovicus Vives's Introduction to Wysedome, 1544: - how great a sea of euils euery day ouerunneth” &c.

The change, however, which Mr. Pope would recommend, may be justified from a passage in Romeo and Juliet, scene the last:

"You—to remove that siege of grief from her —.” Steevens. One cannot but wonder that the smallest doubt should be entertained concerning an expression which is so much in Shak

[ocr errors]


« PreviousContinue »