« PreviousContinue »
We will try it.
Enter HAMLET, reading. Queen. But, look, where sadly the poor wretch comes
reading Pol. Away, I do beseech you, both away;
lia in Hamlet's way, in order to try his sanity, as well as the ad. dress of the King in a former scene to Rosencrantz and Guil. denstern:
I entreat you both
“ That, open'd, lies within our remedy; -—" seem to have been formed on the following slight hints in The Hystory of Hamblet, bl. let. sig. C 3: “They counselled to try and know if possible, how to discover the intent and meaning of the young prince; and they could find no better nor more fit invention to entrap him, than to set some faire and beautiful woman in a secret place, that with flattering speeches and all the craftiest mcanes she could, should purposely seek to allure his mind to have his pleasure of her.- To this end, certain courtiers were appointed to lead Hamlet to a solitary place, within the woods, where they brought the woman, inciting him to take their pleasures together. And surely the poore prince at this assault had beene in great danger, if a gentleman that in Horvendille's time had been nourished with him, had not showne himselfe more affectioned to the bringing up he had received with Hamblet, than desirous to please the tyrant.-This gentleman bare the courtiers company, making full account that the least showe of perfect sence and wisdome that Hamblet should make, would be sufficient to cause him to loose his life; and therefore by certaine signes he gave Hamblet intelligence in what danger he was like to fall, if by any meanes he seemed to obeye, or once like the wanton toyes and vicious provocations of the gentlewoman sent thither by his uncle: which much abashed the prince, as then wholly being in affection to the lady. But by her he was likewise informed of the treason, as one that from her infancy loved and favoured him.-- The prince in this sort having deceived the courtiers and the lady's expectation, that affirmed and swore hee never once offered to have his pleasure of the woman, although in subtlety he affirmed the contrary, every man there. upon assured themselves that without doubt he was distraught of his sences;-so that as then Fengon's practise took no effect.”
Here we find the rude outlines of the characters of Ophelia, and Horatio,--the gentleman that in the time of Horvendille (the father of Hamlet) had been nourished with him. But in this piece there are no traits of the character of Polonius. There is indeed
I 'll board him® presently:-0, give me leave.-
[Exeunt King, Queen, and Attendants. How does my good lord Hamlet?
Ham. Well, god-'a-mercy.
Ham. Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.
Pol. That's very true, my lord.
Ham. For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god, kissing carrion,Have you a daughter ?
a counsellor, and he places himself in the Queen's chamber be. hind the arras ;-but this is the whole. Malone.
2 I'll board him -] i. e. accost, address him. See Vol. III, p. 177, n. 5. Reed.
3 For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god, kissing carrion, -Have you a daughter?] [Old copies--a good kissing carrion,] The editors seeing Hamlet counterfeit madness, thought they might safely put any nonsense into his mouth. But this strange passage, when set right, will be seen to contain as great and sublime a reflection as any the poet puts into his hero's mouth throughout the whole play. We will first give the true reading, which is this: For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god, kissing carrion,
As to the sense we may observe, that the illative particle (for) shows the speaker to be reasoning, from something he had said before: what that was we learn in these words, to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one picked out of ten thousand. Having said this, the chain of ideas led him to reflect upon the argument which libertines bring against Providence from the circumstance of abounding evil. In the next speech, therefore, he endeavours to answer that objection, and vindicate Providence, even on a supposition of the fact, that almost all men were wicked. His argument in the two lines in question is to this purpose,-But why need we wonder at this abounding of evil? For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, which though a god, yet shedding its heat and influence upon carrion-Here he stops short, lest talking too consequentially the hearer should suspect his madness to be feigned ; and so turns him off from the subject, by enquiring of his daughter. But the inference which he intended to make, was a very noble one, and to this purpose. If this (says he) be the case, that the effect follows the thing operated upon (carrion) and not the thing operating [a god] why need we wonder, that the supreme cause of all things diffusing its blessings on mankind, Pol. I have, my lord.
who is, as it were, a dead carrion, dead in original sin, man, instead of a proper return of duty, should breed only corruption and vices ? This is the argument at length; and is as noble a one in behalf of Providence as could come from the schools of divi. nity. But this wonderful man had an art not only of acquainting the audience with what his actors say, but with what they think. The sentiment too is altogether in character, for Hamlet is perpetually moralizing, and his circumstances make this reflection very natural. The same thought, something diversified, as on a dif. ferent occasion, he uses again in Measure for Measure, which will serve to confirm these observations :
“ The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?
“ Corrupt by virtuous season.”
“ Common-kissing Titan." Warburton. This is a noble emendation, which almost sets the critick on a level with the author. Johnson.
Dr. Warburton, in my apprehension, did not understand the passage. I have therefore omitted his laboured comment on it, in which he endeavours to prove that Shakspeare intended it as a vindication of the ways of Providence in permitting evil to abound in the world. He does not indeed pretend that this profound meaning can be drawn from what Hamlet says; but that this is what he was thinking of; for “this wonderful man (Shaks. peare) had an art not only of acquainting the audience with what his actors say, but with what they think !”.
Hamlet's observation is, I think, simply this. He has just remarked that honesty is very rare in the world. To this Polonius assents. The prince then adds, that since there is so little. virtue in the world, since corruption abounds every where, and maggots are bred by the sun, even in a dead dog, Polonius ought to take care to prevent his daughter from walking in the sun, lest she
“ a breeder of sinners;" for though conception in general be a blessing, yet as Ophelia (whom Hamlet supposes to be as frail as the rest of the world,) might chance to conceive, it might be a calamity. The maggots breeding in a dead dog, seem to have been mentioned merely to introduce the word conception; on which word, as Mr. Steevens has observed, Shakspeare has play'd in King Lear: and probably a similar quibble was intended here. The word, however, may have been used in its ordinary sense, for pregnancy, without
any double meaning: The slight connection between this and the preceding passage, and Hamlet's abrupt question,--Have you a daughter?
were manifestly intended more strongly to impress Polonius with the belief of the prince's madness.
Perhaps this passage ought rather to be regulated thus :
Ham. Let her not walk i’ the sun : conception is a blessing; but as your daughter may conceive,-friend, look to 't.
Pol. How say you by that? [Aside.] Still harping on
“ being a god-kissing carrion," i. e. a carrion that kisses the sun. The participle being naturally refers to the last antecedent, dog. Had Shakspeare intended that it should be referred to sun, he would probably have written—" he being a god,” &c. We have many similar compound epithets in these plays. Thus, in King Lear, Act II, sc.i, Kent speaks of “ear-kissing arguments." Again, more appositely, in the play before us : “ New lighted
on a heaven-kissing hill." Again, in The Rape of Lucrece:
“ Threatning cloud-kissing Illion with annoy." However, the instance quoted from Cymbeline by Dr. Warbur
common-kissing Titan," seems in favour of the regu. lation that has been hitherto made ; for here we find the poet considered the sun as kissing the carrion, not the carrion as kissing the sun. So, also, in King Henry IV, P.I: “ Did'st thou never see Titan kiss a dish of butter ?" The following lines also in the historical play of King Edward III, 1596, which Shakspeare had certainly seen, are, it must be acknowledged, adverse to the regulation I have suggested :
“ The freshest summer's day doth soonest taint
“ The loathed carrion, that it seems to kiss.” In justice to Dr. Johnson, I should add, that the high eulogium which he has pronounced on Dr. Warburton's emendation, was founded on the comment which accompanied it; of which, howe ever, I think, his judgment must have condemned the reasoning, though his goodness and piety approved its moral tendency.
Malone. As a doubt, at least, may be entertained on this subject, I have not ventured to expunge a note written by a great critick, and applauded by a greater. Steevens.
conception is a blessing ; &c.] Thus the quarto. The folio reads thus : conception is a blessing; but not as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to't.” The meaning seems to be, conception (i. e. understanding) is a blessing; but as your daughter may conceive (i. e. be pregnant) friend look to’t, i. e. have a care of that. The same quibble occurs in the first scene of King Lear:
" Kent. I cannot conceive you, sir.
“ Glo. Sir, this young fellow's mother could.” Steevens. The word not, I have no doubt, was inserted by the editor of the folio, in consequence of his not understanding the passage. A little lower we find a similar interpolation in some of the copies, probably from the same cause : “ You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will not more willingly part withal, except my life.” Malone.
my daughter:-yet he knew me not at first; he said, I was a fishmonger: He is far gone, far gone: and, truly, in my youth I suffered much extremity for love ; very near this. I'll speak to him again. What do you read, my lord ?
Ham. Words, words, words!
Ham. Slanders, sir: for the satirical rogue says here, that old men have grey beards; that their faces are wrinkled; their eyes purging thick amber, and plum-tree gum; and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams: All which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for yourself, sir, shall be as old as I am, if, like a crab, you
5 Slanders, sir : for the satirical rogue says here, that old men &c.] By the satirical rogue he means Juvenal in his 10th Satire:
“ Da spatium vitæ, multos da Jupiter annos :
“ Dissimilemque sui,” &c. Nothing could be finer imagined for Hamlet, in his circumstances, than the bringing him in reading a description of the evils of long life. Warburton. Had Shakspeare read Juvenal in the original, he had met with
“ De temone Britanno, Excidet Arviragus.”and
Uxorem, Posthume, ducis?” We should not then have had continually in Cymbeline, Arvirāgus, and Posthūmus. Should it be said that the quantity in the former word might be forgotten, it is clear from a mistake in the latter, that Shakspeare could not possibly have read any one of the Roman poets.
There was a translation of the 10th Satire of Juvenal by Sir John Beaumont, the elder brother of the famous Francis : but I cannot tell whether it was printed in Shakspeare's time. In that age of quotation, every classick might be picked up by piece-meal.
I forgot to mention in its proper place, that another description of Old Age in As You Like it, has been called a parody on a passage in a French poem of Garnier. It is trifling to say any thing about this, after the observation I made in Macbeth: but one may remark once for all, that Shakspeare wrote for the people; and could not have been so absurd as to bring forward any allusion, which had not been familiarized by some accident or other. Farmer.