Page images

And that his soul may be as damn'd, and black,
As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays:
This physick but prolongs thy sickly days.

The King rises, and advances.


King. My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words, without thoughts, never to heaven go.


"Whose heels tript up, kick'd gainst the firmament.”


As hell, whereto it goes.] This speech, in which Hamlet, represented as a virtuous character, is not content with taking blood for blood, but contrives damnation for the man that he would punish, is too horrible to be read or to be uttered. Johnson.

This speech of Hamlet's, as Johnson observes, is horrible indeed; yet some moral may be extracted from it, as all his subsequent calamities were owing to this savage refinement of revenge. M. Mason.

That a sentiment so infernal should have met with imitators, may excite surprize; and yet the same fiend-like disposition is shown by Lodowick, in Webster's White Devil, or Vittoria Corombona, 1612:


to have poison'd

"The handle of his racket. O, that, that!—
“That while he had been bandying at tennis,

"He might have sworn himself to hell, and struck
"His soul into the hazard!"

Again, in The Honest Lawyer, by S. S. 1616:

"I then should strike his body with his soul,

"And sink them both together."

Again, in the third of Beaumont and Fletcher's Four Plays in One: "No; take him dead drunk now, without repentance."

Steevens. The same horrid thought has been adopted by Lewis Machin, in The Dumb Knight, 1633:

"Nay, but be patient, smooth your brow a little, "And you shall take them as they clip each other; "Even in the height of sin; then damn them both, "And let them stink before they ask God pardon, "That your revenge may stretch unto their souls." Malone. I think it not improbable, that when Shakspeare put this horrid sentiment into the mouth of Hamlet, he might have recollected the following story: "One of these monsters meeting his enemie unarmed, threatened to kill him, if he denied not God, his power, and essential properties, viz, his mercy, suffrance, &q. the which, when the other, desiring life, pronounced with great horror, kneeling upon his knees; the bravo cried out, nowe will I kill thy body and soule, and at that instant thrust him through with his rapier." Brief Discourse of the Spanish State, with a Dialogue annexed intitled Philobasilis, 4to. 1590, p. 24. Reed.

A similar story is told in The Turkish Spy, Vol. III, p. 243.



Another Room in the same.

Enter Queen and POLONIUS.

Pol. He will come straight. Look, you lay home to

Tell him, his pranks have been too broad to bear with;
And that your grace hath screen'd and stood between
Much heat and him. I'll silence me e'en here.2
Pray you, be round with him.3

Fear me not:-withdraw, I hear him coming.

I'll warrant you ;

[PoL. hides himself.


Ham. Now, mother; what 's the matter?

Queen. Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
Ham. Mother, you have my father much offended.
Queen. Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
Ham. Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.
Queen. Why, how now, Hamlet?

Queen. Have you forgot me?

What's the matter now?

No, by the rood, not so:

You are the queen, your husband's brother's wife;

2 I'll silence me e'en here.] I'll silence me even here, is, I'll use no more words. Johnson.


be round with him.] Here the folio interposes, impreperly, I think, the following speech:

"Ham. [Within.] Mother, mother, mother." Steevens. 4 Polonius hides himself.] The concealment of Polonius in the Queen's chamber, during the conversation between Hamlet and his mother, and the manner of his death, were suggested by the following passage in The Hystory of Hamblett, bl. 1. sig. D1: "The counsellour entered secretly into the queene's chamber, and there hid himselfe behinde the arras, and long before the queene and Hamlet came thither; who being craftie and politique, as soone as hee was within the chamber, doubting some treason, and fearing if he should speake severely and wisely to his mother, touching his secret practices, hee should be understood, and by that means intercepted, used his ordinary manner of dissimulation, and began to come [r. crow] like a cocke, beating with his arms (in such manner as cockes use to strike with their wings) upon the hangings of the chamber; whereby feeling something stirring under them, he cried, a rat, a rat, and pre

And, 'would it were not so!5-you are my mother. Queen. Nay, then I'll set those to you that can speak. Ham. Come, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge;

You go not, till I set you up a glass

Where you may see the inmost part of you.

Queen. What wilt thou do? thou wilt not murder me? Help, help, ho!

Pol. [behind] What, ho! help!


Dead, for a ducat, dead.

How now! a rat? [Draws.

[HAMLET makes a pass through the Arras. O, I am slain. [Falls, and dies.

Pol. [behind]

Queen. O me, what hast thou done?

Nay, I know not:

-Ham. Is it the king? [Lifts up the Arras, and draws forth PoL. Queen. O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!

Ham. A bloody deed;-almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king, and marry with his brother.

Queen. As kill a king!?

sently drawing his sworde, thrust it into the hangings; which done; pulled the counsellour (half-deade) out by the heeles, made an ende of killing him; and, being slaine, cut his body in pieces, which he caused to be boyled, and then cast it into an open vault or privie." Malone.

5 And 'would it were not so!] The folio reads— But would you were not so. Henderson.

6 How now! a rat?] This (as Dr. Farmer has observed) is an expression borrowed from The History of Hamblet, a translation from the French of Belleforest. Steevens.

7 Queen. As kill a king!] This exclamation may be considered as some hint that the Queen had no hand in the murder of Hamlet's father. Stecvens.

It has been doubted whether Shakspeare intended to represent the Queen as accessary to the murder of her husband. The surprize she here expresses at the charge seems to tend to her exculpation. Where the variation is not particularly marked, we may presume, I think, that the poet intended to tell his story as it had been told before. The following extract, therefore, from The Hystory of Hamblett, bl. I. relative to this point, will probably not be unacceptable to the reader: "Fengon [the king in the present play] boldened and encouraged by such impunitic, durst venture to couple himself in marriage with her, whom he used as his concubine during good Horvendille's life; in that sort


Ay, lady, 'twas my word.Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewel! [To PoL.

spotting his name with a double vice, incestuous adulterie, and paracide murther. This adulterer and infamous murtherer slaundered his dead brother, that he would have slaine his wife, and that hee by chance finding him on the point ready to do it, in defence of the lady, had slaine him.-The unfortunate and wicked woman that had received the honour to be the wife of one of the valiantest and wisest princes in the North, imbased herselfe in such vile sort as to falsifie her faith unto him, and, which is worse, to marrie him that had bin the tyrannous murtherer of her lawful husband; which made diverse men think that she had been the causer of the murther, thereby to live in her adulterie without controle. Hyst. of Hamb. sig. C 1. 2.

[ocr errors]

In the conference, however, with her son, on which the present scene is founded, she strongly asserts her innocence with respect to this fact:

"I know well, my sonne, that I have done thee great wrong in marrying with Fengon, the cruel tyrant and murtherer of thy father, and my loyal spouse; but when thou shalt consider the small means of resistance, and the treason of the palace, with the little cause of confidence we are to expect, or hope for, of the courtiers, all wrought to his will; as also the power he made ready if I should have refused to like him; thou wouldst rather excuse, than accuse me of lasciviousness or inconstancy, much less offer me that wrong to suspect that ever thy mother Geruth once consented to the death and murther of her husband: swearing unto thee by the majestie of the gods, that if it had layne in me to have resisted the tyrant, although it had beene with the losse of my blood, yea and of my life, I would surely have saved the life of my lord and husband." Ibid. sig. D 4.

It is observable, that in the drama neither the king or queen make so good a defence. Shakspeare wished to render them as odious as he could, and therefore has not in any part of the play furnished them with even the semblance of an excuse for their conduct.

Though the inference already mentioned may be drawn from the surprize which our poet has here made the Queen express at being charged with the murder of her husband, it is observable that when the Player-Queen in the preceding scene says:

"In second husband let me be accurst!

"None wed the second, but who kill'd the first.” he has made Hamlet exclaim-" that's wormwood." The Prince, therefore, both from the expression and the words addressed to his mother in the present scene, must be supposed to think her guilty.-Perhaps after all this investigation, the truth is, that Shakspeare himself meant to leave the matter in doubt. Malone. I know not in what part of this tragedy the King and Queen could have been expected to enter into a vindication of their mutual conduct. The former indced is rendered contemptible as

I took thee for thy better; take thy fortune:
Thou find❜st, to be too busy, is some danger.-
Leave wringing of your hands: Peace; sit you down,
And let me wring your heart: for so I shall,

If it be made of penetrable stuff;

If damned custom have not braz'd it so,

That it be proof and bulwark against sense.

well as guilty; but for the latter our poet seems to have felt all that tenderness which the Ghost recommends to the imitation of her son. Steevens.

Had Shakspeare thought fit to have introduced the topicks I have suggested, can there be a doubt concerning his ability to introduce them? The king's justification, if to justify had been the poet's object, (which it certainly was not) might have been made in a soliloquy; the queen's, in the present interview with her son. Malone.

It might not unappositely be observed, that every new commentator, like Sir T. Hanmer's Othello, must often "make the meat he feeds on." Some slight objection to every opinion already offered, may be found; and, if in doubtful cases we are to presume that "the poet tells his stories as they have been told before," we must put new constructions on many of his scenes, as well as new comments on their verbal obscurities.

For instance-touching the manner in which Hamlet disposed of Polonius's body. The black-letter history tells us he "cut it in pieces, which he caused to be boiled, and then cast it into an open vault or privie." Are we to conclude therefore that he did so in the play before us, because our author has left the matter doubtful? Hamlet is only made to tell us, that this dead counsellor was "safely stowed." He afterwards adds, “. -you shall nose him" &c.; all which might have been the case, had the direction of the aforesaid history been exactly followed. In this transaction then (which I call a doubtful one, because the remains of Polonius might have been rescued from the forica, and afterwards have received their "hugger-mugger" funeral,) am I at liberty to suppose he had the fate of Heliogabalus, in cloacam missus?

That the Queen (who may still be regarded as innocent of murder) might have offered some apology for her "over-hasty marriage," can easily be supposed; but Mr. Malone has not suggested what defence could have been set up by the royal fratricide. My acute predecessor, as well as the novelist, must have been aware that though female weakness, and an offence against the forms of the world, will admit of extenuation, such guilt as that of the usurper, could not have been palliated by the dramatick art of Shakspeare; even if the father of Hamlet had been represented as a wicked instead of a virtuous character.


« PreviousContinue »