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department. Nor is it certain that the science has fully caught up with him yet. Be that as it may, to the MedicoPsychological Faculty belongs the merit of having solved the problem over which the literary critics had puzzled so long in vain.
Hamlet himself both affirms and denies his madness; the one in his moments of calmness, the other when the fit is strong upon him. Nor is there any reason but that in both he may be perfectly sincere. It is commonly supposed that insane people are always unconscious of their state ; whereas there are many cases in which the patient is more or less conscious of it. And the degree of consciousness is apt to be inversely as that of the disease. So that the being conscious is no sure proof of simulation ; in fact, any one simulating would be almost certain to pretend unconsciousness, and so betray his falsehood by overacting his part. Thus Hamlet, in the first turn of his distemper, when he utters such “ wild and whirling words," seems to be at least partly aware of his state, for he speaks of it. Once only in the scene with his mother) does his paroxysm run to so high a pitch that he loses the consciousness of it entirely, insomuch that he goes to arguing against it. In this case, at least, his mind is completely enthralled to illusions spun out of itself; the ghost which he sees and lears being purely subjective, as is evident in that his mother neither hears nor sees any thing of the kind. Well might she say, “ this bodiless creation ecstasy is very cunning in." Yet here his intellectual faculties are kindled to the most overwhelming eloquence, burning both his mother and himself with their preternatural light.
Shakespeare's great, earnest, delicate mind seems to have been specially charmed with those forms of mental disease in which the intellect is kindled into preternatural illumination and expression. We have many instances of this; as in old Timon's terrible eloquence of invective; in Macbeth's guilt-inspired raptures of meditation ; in Lear's heart-withering imprecations; and most of all in Hamlet's profound moralizing, his tempestuous strains of self-reproach, and his over-wrought consciousness of “ thoughts that wander through eternity.” I have sometimes thought that an instinct of genius may have put the Poet upon these frequent displays of mental exorbitancy, because the normal workings of the human mind did not afford scope enough for the full discharge of his own colossal and “ thousand-souled' intellectuality.
My own idea, then, is, that, in order to make this play emphatically a tragedy of thought, the Poet's method was, to conceive a man great, perhaps equally so, in all the elements of character, mental, moral, and practical; and then to place him in such circumstances and bring such influences to work upon him, that all his greatness should be made to take on the form of thought. And with a swift intuitive perception of the laws of mind, which the ripest science can hardly overtake, he seems to have known just what kind and degree of mental disturbance or disease would naturally operate to produce such an irregular and exorbitant grandeur of intellectual manifestation.
To return for a moment to the particular question of Hamlet's madness. Why should he feign to be mad? How can he further, or hope to further, his end by assuming such a part? It does not help him onward at all; it rather hinders him; the natural effect of his conduct being to arouse suspicions in the King's mind, to put him on the alert, and to make him guard himself with redoubled vigilance. Let us see how it is.
The Ghost enjoins upon Hamlet two things ; first, “Revenge this foul and most unnatural murder"; second, " Howsoever thou pursuest this act, taint not thy mind.” Thus time and manner are left to Hamlet's own judgment; only he must not, he must not corrupt himself with any wicked or dishonorable course of action. He is solemnly warned against pursuing revenge by any methods involving self-defilement; and is to proceed as ever bearing in mind that
“Him, only him the shield of Jove defends,
Whose means are fair and spotless as his ends.” He might take off Claudius as secretly, and in some such way, as Claudius has taken off his father; but this would be to stain himself with the most abominable guilt and baseness. Whatsoever he does, he must be ready to avow it in the face of all Denmark, and to stand responsible for it. Come what may, he must, he can, use no arts but manly arts. Observe, then, what a dreadful dilemma he is placed in : he must punish, it is his most sacred duty to punish, a crime which it is not possible for him to prove, and which must not be punished till it has been proved. His strong, clear head instantly takes in the whole truth of his situation ; comprehends at a glance the entire case in all its points and bearings. All this may well fill him, as indeed it does, with the most excruciating and inevitable agony; and, while he thus lives in torture, his mighty suffering, even because he is so strong, arouses all his faculties, and permits not a particle of the intellectual man to be lost.
Thus, from the time of his interview with the Ghost, all is changed with Hamlet; all, both without and within : henceforth he lives in quite another world, and is himself quite another man. v All his old aims and aspirations are to be sternly renounced and thrust aside : life can have no more joys for him : his whole future must be cast in a new
hitherto centred are now merged in the one sacred, allabsorbing task enjoined upon him as from Heaven itself.
Now so great, so sudden, so agonizing a change within cannot but work some corresponding change without: it will naturally and even necessarily register itself in his manner and behaviour: while he is so different, how is it possible he should appear the same? And he himself evidently foresees that this change will cause him to be regarded as beside himself, as out of his right mind; especially as he cannot disclose the reason of it, and must, by all
means, keep the cause of that change, or even any whisper of it, from reaching the King or the Court. A behaviour so strange, so odd, so unaccountable, must needs appear to others to have sprung from a stroke of madness. All this he clearly forecasts, as indeed he well may. And he desires, apparently, that his action may be so construed : he lets his “ antic disposition” have free course ; and rather studies than otherwise to sustain and strengthen the imputation of madness, by his conduct. If any see fit to call this feigning, so be it: the question is not worth wrangling about. - To this degree,” says Professor Werder, “to this degree, which is relatively slight, he makes believe, he plays the madman. But, because it is essentially his truth, the effect of his real suffering, of his shattered being, to which his mind gives vent, so far as it can without betraying his secret; because it is his torture, his rage, bis cry of woe, his agony, thus outwardly expressed; therefore this playing of his is not merely feigning, and because not merely, therefore not feigning at all, in the strict sense of the word.”
Our hero is not indeed master of the situation; but he.. understands the situation, which is just what most of his critics have not done; and he is not master of it, simply because, as things stand, such mastery is quite beyond the power of any man, without help from above. The critics in question insist upon it, that the one thing which Hamlet ought to do, and which he would do, if he had any real backbone of executive energy, is, to strike the avenging blow with instant dispatch, on the first opportunity. Such an opportunity he has. or can make, at almost any time. But to do thus would be both a crime and a blunder, and a blunder even more than a crime. How shall he justify such a deed to the world ? how vindicate himself from the very crime which he must allege against the King? For, as he cannot subpæna the Ghost, the evidence on which he is to act is available only in the court of his own conscience. To serve any good end, the deed must so stand to the public
eye as it does to his own; else he will be in effect setting an example of murder, not of justice. And the CROWN will seem to be his real motive, duty but a pretence. Can a man of his “large discourse looking before and after” be expected to act thus?
We, to be sure, long impatiently to have the crowned murderer get his deserts, because the whole truth of his guilt is known to us; but the people of Denmark, Hamlet's social and political world, know nothing of it whatever, and can never be convinced of it, should he proceed in that way. For the Ghost's disclosures were made to his ear alone ; nobody else heard a word of them. And is it to be supposed that the Ghost's tale will be received on his sole word ? that, too, in behalf of an act by which he has cut away the only obstacle between himself and the throne ? The very alleging of such grounds will be regarded as, if possible, a worse crime than that in defence of which they are alleged. To the Danish people Hamlet will needs himself appear to be just what he charges Claudius with being. Claudius is their lawful King; they are his loyal subjects : they will not suffer their chosen ruler to be assassinated
upon Hamlet the very vengeance which he claims to have wreaked upon Claudius. Unless he summon the Ghost into court as a witness, every man will set him down either as a raving maniac, to be held in chains, or else as a monstrous liar and villain, who has murdered at once his uncle, his mother's husband, and his King; and then has trumped up a ghost-story in order at the same time to shield himself and to blacken his victim !
Most assuredly, therefore, the deed which the critics in question so loudly call for is the very thing of all others which Hamlet ought not to do, which he must not do; which, moreover, he cannot do, for the simple reason that
strong in reason, in judgment, in right feeling, in conscience, in circumspection, in prudence, in self-control, as well as in