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Why does the drum come hither?
themselves into the service, and he thought he had a right to de. stroy them. From his brutal conduct towards Ophelia, he is not less accountable for her distraction and death. 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. He insults the brother of the dead, and boasts of an affection for his sister, which, before, he had denied to her face; and 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. He apologizes to Horatio afterwards for the absurdity of this behaviour, to which, he says, he was provoked by that nobleness of fraternal grief, which, indeed, he ought rather to have applauded than condemned. Dr. Johnson has observed, that to bring about a reconciliation with Laertes, he has availed himself of a dishonest fallacy; and to conclude, it is obvious to the most careless spectator or reader, that he kills the King at last to revenge himself, and not his father.
Hamlet cannot be said to have pursued his ends by very warrantable means; and if the poet, when he sacrificed him at last, meant to have enforced such a moral, it is not the worst that can be deduced from the play; for, as Maximus, in Beaumont and Fletcher's Valentinian, says
Although his justice were as white as truth,
“ His wav was crooked to it; that condemns him." The late Dr. Akenside once observed to me, that the conduct of Hamlet was every way unnatural and indefensible, unless he were to be regarded as a young man whose intellects were in some degree impaired by his own misfortunes; by the death of his father, the loss of expected sovereignty, and a sense of shame resulting from the hasty and incestuous marriage of his mother.
I have dwelt the longer on this subject, because Hamlet seems to have been hitherto regarded as a hero not undeserving the pity of the audience; and because no writer on Shakspeare has taken the pains to point out the immoral tendency of his character.
Steevens. Mr. Ritson controverts the justice of Mr. Steevens's strictures on the character of Hamlet, which he undertakes to defend. The arguments he makes use of for this purpose are too long to be here inserted, and therefore I shall content myself with referring to them. See REMARKS, p. 217 to 224. Reed.
Some of the charges here brought against Hamlet appear to me questionable at least, if not unfounded. I have already observed that in the novel on which this play is constructed, the ministers who by the king's order accompanied the young prince to England, and carried with them a packet, in which his death was concerted, were apprized of its contents: and therefore we Enter FORTINBRAS, the English Ambassadors,and Others.
Fort. Where is this sight?
may presume that Shakspeare meant to describe their representatives, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as equally criminal; as combining with the King to deprive Hamlet of his life. His procuring their execution therefore does not with certainty appear to have been unprovoked cruelty, and might have been considered by him as necessary to his future safety; knowing, as he must have known, that they had devoted themselves to the service of the King in whatever he should command. The princi. ple on which he acted, is ascertained by the following lines, from which also it may be inferred that the poet meant to represent Hamlet's school-fellows as privy to the plot against his life :
“ There's letters seal’d: and my two school-fellows-
" And blow them to the moon." Another charge is, that “ he comes to disturb the funeral of Ophelia :" but the fact is otherwise represented in the first scene of the fifth Act: for when the funeral procession appears, (which he does not seek, but finds,) he exclaims
“ The queen, the courtiers: who is this they follow,
" And with such maimed rites?" nor does he know it to be the funeral of Ophelia, till Laertes mentions that the dead body was that of his sister.
I do not perceive that he is accountable for the madness of Ophelia. He did not mean to kill her father when concealed behind the arras, but the King; and still less did he intend to deprive her of her reason and her life: her subsequent distraction therefore can no otherwise be laid to his charge, than as an unforeseen consequence from his too ardently pursuing the object recommended to him by his father.
He appears to have been induced to leap into Ophelia's grave, not with a design to insult Laertes, but from his love to her, (which then he had no reason to conceal,) and from the bravery of her brother's grief, which excited him (not to condemn that brother, as has been stated, but) to vie with him in the expression of affection and sorrow:
Why, I will fight him upon this theme,
“ Make up my sum.” When Hamlet says,
“the bravery of his grief did put me into he comes -] The words stood thus in edit. 1778, &c.
What is it, you would see? If aught of woe, or wonder, cease your search.
Fort. This quarry cries on havock!'-O proud death!
The sight is dismal;
Not from his mouth,
from England, Are here arriv’d; give order, that these bodies High on a stage be placed to the view ;4
a towering passion," I think, he means, into a lofty expression (not of resentment, but) of sorrow. So, in King John, Vol. VII, p. 330, n. 3:
“ She is sad and passionate at your highness' tent.” Again, more appositely in the play before us :
“ The instant burst of clamour that she made,
“ And passion in the gods.” I may also add, that he neither assaulted, nor insulted Laertes, till that nobleman had cursed him, and seized him by the throat. Malone. 1 This quarry cries on havock!] Sir T. Hanmer reads:
cries out, havock! To cry on, was to exclaim against. I suppose, when unfair sportsmen destroyed more quarr, or game than was reasonable, the censure was to cry, Havock. Johnson. We have the same phraseology in Othello, Act V, sc. i:
Whose noise is this, that cries on murder?” See the note there. Malone.
2 What feast is toward in thine eternal cell,] Shakspeare has already employed this allusion to the Choe, or feasts of the dead, which were anciently celebrated at Athens, and are mentioned by Plutarch in The Life of Antonius. Our author likewise makes Talbot say to his son in The First Part of King Henry VI:
“ Now art thou come unto a feast of death.” Steevens'. his mouth, ] i. e. the king's. Steevens.
And let me speak, to the yet unknowing world,
Let us haste to hear it,
Hor. Of that I shall have also cause to speak,
- give order, that these bodies High on a stage be placed to the view;] This idea was appa. rently taken from Arthur Brooke's Tragicall Hystory of Romeus and Juliet, 1562:
“The prince did straight ordaine, the corses that wer
founde, “ Should be set forth upon a stage hye rayscd from the
grounde,” &c. Steevens. 5 Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts ;) Carnal is a word used by Shakspeare as an adjective to carnage, Ritson.
Of sanguinary and unnatural acts, to which the perpetrator was instigated by concupiscence, or, to use our poet's own words, by "carnal stings.” The speaker alludes to the murder of old Hamlet by his brother, previous to his incestuous union with Gertrude. A Remarker asks, “ was the relationship between the usurper and the deceased king a secret confined to Horatio ?”. No, but the murder of Hamlet by Claudius was secret which the young prince had imparted to Horatio, and had imparted to him alone; and to this it is he principally, though covertly, al-. · ludes.-Carnal is the reading of the only authentick copies, the quarto, 1604, and the folio, 1623. The modern editors, following a quarto of no authority, for carnal, read cruel. Malone.
The edition immediately preceding that of Mr. Malone, reads carnal, and not cruel, as here asserted. Reed.
6 Of deaths put on ~] i. e. instigated, produced. See Vol. XIII, p. 84, n. 1.
and forced cause;] Thus the folio. The quartos read and for no cause. Steevens.
some rights of memory in this kingdom,] Some rights, which are remembered in this kingdom. Malone. VOL. XV.
But let this same be presently perform’d,
Let four captains
[A dead March. [Exeunt, bearing of the dead Bodies; after
which, a Peal of Ordnance is shot off?
9 And from his mouth whose voice will draw on more:] No is the reading of the old quartos, but certainly a mistaken one. We say, a man will no more draw breath; but that a man's voice will diaw no more, is, I believe, an expression without any authority. I choose to espouse the reading of the elder folio:
And from his mouth whose voice will draw on more. And this is the poet's meaning. Hamlet, just before his death, had said:
“But I do prophecy, the election lights
“So tell him," &c. Accordingly, Horatio here delivers that message; and very justly infers, that Hamlet's voice will be seconded by others, and procure them in favour of Fortinbras's succession. Theobald.
i If the dramas of Shakspeare 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 solemnitv; 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