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CRITICAL OPINIONS ON HAMLET.
"THE seeming inconsistencies in the conduct and character of Hamlet have long exercised the conjectural ingenuity of critics; and, as we are always loth to suppose that the cause of defective apprehension is in ourselves, the mystery has been too commonly explained by the very easy process of setting it down as in fact inexplicable, and by resolving the phenomenon into a misgrowth, or lusus, of the capricious and irregular genius of Shakspeare. The shallow and stupid arrogance of these vulgar and indolent decisions, I would fain do my best to expose. I believe the character of Hamlet may be traced to Shakspeare's deep and accurate science in mental philosophy. Indeed, that this character must have some connexion with the common fundamental laws of our nature, may be assumed from the fact, that Hamlet has been the darling of every country in which the literature of England has been fostered. In order to understand him, it is essential that we should reflect on the constitution of our own minds. Man is distinguished from the brute animals in proportion as thought prevails over sense; but in the healthy processes of the mind, a balance is constantly maintained between the impressions from outward objects and the inward operations of the intellect ;-for if there be an overbalance in the contemplative faculty, man thereby becomes the creature of mere meditation, and loses his natural power of action. Now, one of Shakspeare's modes of creating characters is, to conceive any one intellectual or moral faculty in morbid excess, and then to place himself, Shakspeare, thus mutilated or diseased, under given circumstances. In Hamlet, he seems to have wished to exemplify the moral necessity of a due balance between our attention to the objects of our senses, and our meditation on the workings of our minds,—an equilibrium between the real and the imaginary worlds. In Hamlet, this balance is disturbed; his thoughts and the images of his fancy are far more vivid than his actual perceptions; and his very perceptions, instantly passing through the medium of his contemplations, acquire, as they pass, a form and a colour not naturally their own. Hence we see a great, an almost enormous, intellectual activity, and a proportionate aversion to real action consequent upon it, with all its symptoms and accompanying qualities. This character Shakspeare places in circumstances under which it is obliged to act on the spur of the moment. Hamlet is brave and careless of death; but he vacillates from sensibility, and procrastinates from thought, and loses the power of action in the energy of resolve. Thus it is that this tragedy presents a direct contrast to that of Macbeth;' the one proceeds with the utmost slowness, the other with a crowded and breathless rapidity.
"The effect of this overbalance of the imaginative power is beautifully illustrated in the everlasting broodings and superfluous activities of Hamlet's mind, which, unseated from its healthy relation, is constantly occupied with the world within, and abstracted from the world without,-giving substance to shadows, and throwing a mist over all common-place actualities. It is the nature of thought to be indefinite ;-definiteness belongs to external imagery alone. Hence it is that the sense of sublimity arises, not from the sight of an outward object, but from the beholder's reflection upon it;-not from the sensuous impression, but from the imaginative reflex. Few have seen a celebrated waterfall without feeling something akin to disappointment; it is only subsequently that the image comes back full into the mind, and brings with it a train of grand or beautiful associations. Hamlet feels this; his senses are in a state of trance, and he looks upon external things as hieroglyphics. His soliloquy,—
'O! that this too too solid flesh would melt,' &c.
springs from that craving after the indefinite-for that which is not-which most easily besets men of genius; and the self-delusion common to this temper of mind is finely exemplified in the character which Hamlet gives of himself,—
It cannot be and lack gall
them; delays action till action is of no use; and -COLERIDGE.
thought, inspired by continual and never-satisfied y of the events of this world, and calculated to the spectators. This enigmatical work resembles magnitude always remains, that will in no we, on this piece, and yet no thinking head. the connexion and the signification of all the Vy most astonishes us is, the fact that with thomable depth, the whole should, at a frst The appearance of the Ghost takes possession cement; then the play within the play, in y attempted punishment constitutes the the King; Hamlet's pretended, and Ophelia's Salt and Laertes at her grave; their combat, ng hero Fortinbras, who, with warlike : the interspersion of comic characteristic have all of them their signification,— The only circumstance from which this of Shakspeare is, that in the last scenes s however, was inevitable, and lay in & calculating consideration, which bed must cripple the power of acting; ss
religious confidence he passes over to sceptical doubts; he believes in the Ghost of his father as g as he sees it, but as soon as it has disappeared, it appears to him almost in the light of a eption. He has even gone so far as to say, 'there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking kes it so ;' with him the poet loses himself here in labyrinths of thought, in which neither end nor inning is discoverable. The stars themselves, from the course of events, afford no answer to the stion so urgently proposed to them. A voice from another world, commissioned, it would appear, heaven, demands vengeance for a monstrous enormity, and the demand remains without effect; the minals are at last punished, but, as it were, by an accidental blow, and not in the solemn way uisite to convey to the world a warning example of justice; irresolute foresight, cunning treachery, I impetuous rage, hurry on to a common destruction; the less guilty and the innocent are equally olved in the general ruin. The destiny of humanity is there exhibited as a gigantic Sphinx, which eatens to precipitate into the abyss of scepticism all who are unable to solve her dreadful enigmas. As one example of the many niceties of Shakspeare which have never been understood, I may de to the style in which the player's speech about Hecuba is conceived. It has been the subject of ach controversy among the commentators, whether this was borrowed by Shakspeare from himself or m another, and whether, in the praise of the piece of which it is supposed to be a part, he was aking seriously, or merely meant to ridicule the tragical bombast of his contemporaries. It seems ver to have occurred to them that this speech must not be judged of by itself, but in connexion with place where it is introduced. To distinguish it in the play itself as dramatic poetry, it was essary that it should rise above the dignified poetry of the former in the same proportion that erally theatrical elevation soars above simple nature. Hence Shakspeare has composed the play in mlet' altogether in sententious rhymes full of antitheses. But this solemn and measured tone did t suit a speech in which violent emotion ought to prevail, and the poet had no other expedient than * one of which he made choice-overcharging the pathos. The language of the speech in question is tainly falsely emphatical; but yet this fault is so mixed up with true grandeur, that a player actised in artificially calling forth in himself the emotion he is imitating, may certainly be carried ay by it. Besides, it will hardly be believed that Shakspeare knew so little of his art, as not to be are that a tragedy in which Æneas had to make a lengthy epic relation of a transaction that rpened so long before as the destruction of Troy, could neither be dramatical nor theatrical."
Conceive a prince, such as is here painted, and that his father suddenly dies. Ambition and the re of rule are not the passions that inspire him. As a king's son he would have been contented; but he is first constrained to consider the difference which separates a sovereign from a subject. The *wn was not hereditary; yet a longer possession of it by his father would have strengthened the retensions of an only son, and secured his hopes of the succession. In place of this, he now beholds self excluded by his uncle, in spite of specious promises, most probably for ever. He is now poor gods and favour, and a stranger in the scene which from youth he had looked upon as his inheritse. His temper here assumes its first mournful tinge. He feels that now he is not more—that he is s-than a private nobleman; he offers himself as the servant of every one; he is not courteous and descending, he is needy and degraded.
His past condition he remembers as a vanished dream. It is in vain that his uncle strives to cheer -to present his situation in another point of view. The feeling of his nothingness will not leave
"The second stroke that came upon him wounded deeper, bowed still more. It was the marriage f his mother. The faithful tender son had yet a mother, when his father passed away. He hoped, in the company of his surviving noble-minded parent, to reverence the heroic form of the departed; but mother too he loses, and it is something worse than death that robs him of her. The trustful ge, which a good child loves to form of its parents, is gone. With the dead there is no help; on the g no hold. She also is a woman, and her name is Frailty, like that of all her sex. "Now first does he feel himself completely bent and orphaned; and no happiness of life can repay at he has lost. Not reflective or sorrowful by nature, reflection and sorrow have become for him a
*"It has been censured as a contradiction, that Hamlet in the
gay on self-murder should say,
'The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns-'
for was not the Ghost a returned traveller? Shakspeare, however, purposely wished to show, that Hamlet could not fix him. self in any conviction of any kind whatever."
thede ooinage of the poet's brain. What, then, ats: their reality is in the reader's mind. It is thene tranh, which is above that of history. Whoever has is mishaps or those of others; whoever has borne
f mederoon, and thought himself 'too much i' the sun;' whoever ammed by as mists rising in his own breast, and could find in hd bank with nothing left remarkable in it; whoever has known 'the at una the mesuesice of office, or the spurns which patient merit of the unworthy se well the felt die mod kluk within him, and sadness cling to his heart like a malady, who has taa, la lamper tegnet and as youth staggered by the apparitions of strange things; who cannot be TÀ E DE VIE be as ev hovering near him like a spectre; whose powers of action have bee won by og trenght-be to whom the universe seems infinite, and himself nothing; whose bitternes d en.. nata lin careless of consequences, and who goes to a play as his best resource to shove off, V. & MORĀ TELove, the evils of life, by a mock-representation of them-this is the true Hamlet."HAZLITT