Page images

And let me speak, to the yet unknowing world,
How these things came about: So shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts;5
Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters;
Of deaths put on by cunning, and forc'd cause;?
And, in this upshot, purposes mistook
Fall'n on the inventors' heads : all this can I
Truly deliver.

Let us haste to hear it,
And call the noblest to the audience.

with sorrow I embrace my fortune; I have some rights of memory in this kingdom, 8 Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me.

Hor. Of that I shail have also cause to speak, And from his mouth whose voice will draw on more: 9

For me,

give order, that these bodies High on a stage be placed to the view;] This idea was apparently 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 HamJet 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 a secret which the young prince had imparted to Horatio, and had imparted to him alone; and to this it is he principally, though covertly, alludes.- 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.

o of deaths put on -] i.e. instigated, produced. See Vol. XIII, p. 84, n. 1. Malone.

and forced cause;] Thus the folio. The quartos readand 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,
Even while men's minds are wild; lest more mischance,
On plots, and errors, happen.

Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have prov'd most royally: and, for his passage,
The soldiers' musick, and the rites of war,
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies:--Such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

[A dead March. [Exeuni, bearing of the dead Bodies; after

which, a Peal of Ordnance is shot of 1

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 draw 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
« On Fortinbras: be has my dying voice;

"So tell him," &c. Accordingly, Horatio here delivers that message; and very justly infers, thai 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 solemnity; 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 conversa. tion. 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

cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of sanity. He plays the inadman most, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.

Hamlet is, through the whole piece, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem of the play, convicted the King, he makes no attempt to punish him; and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet had no part in producing

T'he catastrophe is not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necessity, than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily be formed to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.

The poet is accused of having shown little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained, but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification, which would arise from the destruction of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious. Johnson.

The levity of behaviour which Hamlet assumes immediately after the disappearance of the Ghost in the first Act (sc. v,] has been objected to; but the writer of some sensible Remarks on this tragedy, published in 1736, justly observes, that the poet's object there was, that Marcellus "might not imagine that the Ghost had revealed to Hamlet some matter of great consequence to bim, and that he might not therefore be suspected of any deep design."

“ I have heard (ailds the same writer) many persons wonder, why the poet should bring in this Ghost in complete armour.-I think these reasons may be given for it. We are to consider, that he could introduce him in these dresses only; in his regal dress, in a habit of interment, in a common habit, or in some fantastick one of his own invention. Now let us examine, whicli was most likely to affect the spectators with passions proper on the occasion.

“The regal habit has nothing uncommon in it, nor surprising, nor could it give rise to any fine images. The habit of interment was something too horrible; for terror, not horror, is to be raised in the spectators. The common habit (or habit de ville, as the French call it,) was by no means proper for the occasion. It remains then that the poet should choose some habit from his own brain: but this certainly could not be proper, because invention in such a case would be so much in danger of falling into the grotesque, that it was not to be hazarded.

“ Now as to the armour, it was very suitable to a king who is described as a great warrior, and is very particular; and consequently affects the spectators without being fantastick..

“ The king spurs on his son to revenge his foul and unnatural murder, from these two considerations chiefly; that he was sent

into the other world without having bad time to repent of his sins, and without the necessary sacraments, according to the church of Rome, and that consequently his soul was to suffer, if not eternal damnation, at least a long course of pennance in purgatory; which aggravates the circumstances of his brother's barbarity; and secondly, that Denmark might not be the scene of usurpation and incest, and the throne thus polluted and profaned. For these reasons he prompts the young prince to revenge; else it would have been more becoming the character of such a prince as Hamlet's father is represented to have been, and more suitable to his present condition, to have left his brother to the divine punishment, and to a possibility of repentance for his base crime, which, by cutting him off, he must be deprived of.

“ To conform to the ground work of his plot, Shakspeare inakes the young prince feign himself mad. I cannot but think this to be injudicious ; for so far from securing himself from any violence which he feared from the usurper, it seems to have been the most likely way of getting himself confined, and consequently dlebarred from an opportunity of revenging his father's death, which now seemed to be his only aim; and accordingly it was the occasion of his being sent away to England; which design, had it taken effect upon his life, he never could have revenged his father's murder. To speak truth, our poet by keeping too close to the ground-work of his plot, has fallen into an absurdity ; for there appears no reason at all in nature, why the young prince did not put the usurper to death as soon as possible, especially as Hamlet is represented as a youth so brave, and so careless of his own life.

- The case indeed is this, Had Hamlet gone naturally to work, as we conld suppose such a prince to do in parallel circumstances, there would have been an end of our play. The poet, therefore, was obliged to delay his hero's revenge: but then he should have contrived some good reason for it.

“ His beginning his scenes of Hamlet's madness by his beha. viour to Ophelia, was judicious, because by this means he might be thought to be mad for her, not that his brain was disturbed about state atlairs, which would have been dangerous.

" It does not appear whether Ophelia's madness was chiefly for her father's death, or for the loss of Hamlet. It is not often that young women run mad for the loss of their fathers. It is more natural to suppose that, like Chimene, in the Cid, her great sorrow proceeded from her father's being killed by the man she loved, and thereby making it indecent for her ever to marry him.

“ Laertes's character is a very odd one; it is not easy to say whether it is good or bad: but his consenting to the villainous contrivance of the usurper's to murder Hamlet, makes him much more a bad man than a good one. It is a very nice conduct in the poet to make the usurper build his scheme upon the generous unsuspicious temper of the person he intends to murder, and thus to raise the prince's character by the confession of his enemy; to make the villain ten times more odious from his own

mouth. The contrivance of the foil .unbated,' (i. e. without a button) is methinks too gross a deceit to go down even with a man of the most unsuspicious nature.

“Laertes's death and the Queen's are truly poetical justice, and very naturally brought about, although I do not conceive it so easy to change rapiers in a scuffle without knowing it at the time. The death of the Queen is particularly according to the strictest rules of poetical justice; she loses her life by the villainy of the very person, who had been the cause of all her crimes.

“Since the poet deferred so long the usurper's death, we must own that he has very naturally effected it, and still added fresh crimes to those the murderer had already committed.

“Upon Laertes's repentance for contriving the death of Hamlet, one cannot but feel some sentiments of pity for bim; but who can see or read the death of the young prince without melting into tears and compassion? Horatio's earnest desire to die with the prince, thus not to survive his friend, gives a stronger idea of his friendship for Hamlet in the few lines on that occasion, than many actions or expressions could possibly have done. And Hamlet's begging him to draw his breath in this harsh world a little longer, to clear bis reputation, and manifest his innocence, is very suitable to his virtuous character, and the honest regard that all men should have not to be misrepresented to posterity; that they may not set a bad example, wlien in reality they have set a good one: which is the only motive that can, in reason, ie. commend the love of fame and glory.

“ Horatio's desire of having the bodies carried to a stage, &c. is very well imagined, and was the best way of satisfying the request of his deceased friend: and he acts in this, and in all points, suitably to the manly honest character, under which he is drawn throughout the piece. Besides, it gives a sort of content to the audience, that though their favourite (which must be Hamlet) did not escape with life, yet the greatest amends will be made him, which can be in this world, viz. justice done to his memory.

“ Fortinbras comes in very naturally at the close of the play, and lays a very just claim to the throne of Denmark, as he had the dying voice of the prince. He in a few words gives a noble character of Hamlet, and serves to carry off the deceased hero from the stage with the honours due to his birth and merit.”



The rugged Pyrrhus, he, &c.] The two greatest poets of this and the last age, Mr. Dryden, in the preface to Troilus and Cressida, and Mr. Pope, in his note on this place, have concurred in thinking, that Shakspeare produced this long passage with design to ridicule and expose the bombast of the play from whence it was taken; and that Hamlet's commendation of it is purely ironical.

« PreviousContinue »