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elevation to his spirits, which may pass for his feigned “madness.” He utters whatever comes uppermost ; and the freedoms which he takes with Ophelia, while they are equally remote from bitterness or harshness, are such as in Shakspere's age would not offend pure ears. The mixture in his wild speeches of fun and pathos is nevertheless most touching. “What should a man do, but be merry " comes from the profoundest depths of a wounded spirit. The test is applied; the King is “frighted with false fire,”—his “occulted” guilt has unkennelled itself. The elation of Hamlet's mind is at its height. His contempt of the King is openly pronounced to his creatures;–Rosencrantz and Guildenstern quail before his biting sarcasm; —Polonius is his butt. All this is, as he thinks, the coruscations of the cloud before the deadly flash. “Now could I drink hot blood,” is the feeling that is at the bottom of all. Then comes the scene in which the King prays, and Hamlet postpones his revenge, with an excuse almost too dreadful to belong to human motives. They were not his motives. Coleridge discriminates between “impetuous, horror-striking fiendishness,” and “the marks of reluctance and procrastination;” and it is
it, did but prolong his “sickly days.” Polonius falls by an accident, instead of his “betters.” The “wretched, rash, intruding fool” was sacrificed to a sudden impulse, which stood in the place of a determinate exercise of the will. Hamlet scarcely regrets the accident: —“take thy fortune.” His mind is eased by his colloquy with his mother. The vision again appears to whet his “almost blunted purpose;” but nothing is done. His intellect is again at its subtleties:–
“There's letters seal’d: and my two school-
He casts himself like a feather upon the great wave of fate;—he embraces the events that marshalled him “toknavery.” Dangerous as they be, they are better than doubt. He believes that he pierces through the darkness of his fate:—“I see a cherub, that sees him.” He leaves for England; not forgetting him whose
“Form and cause conjoin'd, preaching to stones, Would make them capable;”
but still meditating instead of acting. It would be a curious problem to be solved, but it will never be solved, whether Shakspere himself obliterated the scene which only appears in the second quarto*, in which the workings of Hamlet's mind at this juncture are so distinctly revealed to us. That he meant the character to be mysterious, though not inexplicable, there can be no doubt. Does it become too plain when Hamlet's meeting with the Norwegian captain leads him into a train of thought, at first made up of generalizations, but in the end most conclusive as to the causes of his indecision?—
Of thinking too precisely on the event, L
(A thought, which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom,
And ever, three parts coward), I do not know
Why yet I live to say, ‘This thing's to do;'
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and Imeans,
To do 't.”
It was not “bestial oblivion.”—Oh, no. The eternal presence of the thought —“this thing's to do,” made him incapable of doing it. It was the “thinking too precisely on the event” that destroyed his will. It was in the same spirit that his will had been “puzzled” by the “dread of something after death,”—that his conscience—(consciousness)—“sicklied o'er” his “native hue of resolution.” The “delicate and tender prince” exposed what was mortal and unsure to fortune, death, and danger, even for an eggshell. Twenty thousand men, for a fantasy and trick of fame, went to their graves like beds. But, then, the men and their leader made “mouths at the invisible event.” The “large discourse” of Hamlet, “looking before, and after,” absorbed the tangible and present. In actions that appear indirectly to advance the execution of the great “commandment” that was laid upon him, he has decision and alacrity enough. His relation to Horatio (we are somewhat anticipating) of his successful device against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would appear to come from a man who is all will. His intellectual activity revels in the telling of the story. Coleridge has admirably pointed out, in ‘The Friend,' how “the circumstances of time and place are all stated with equal compression and rapidity;” but still, with the relater's general tendency to generalize. The event has happened, and Hamlet does not think too precisely of its consequences. The issue will be shortly known.
“It will be short: the interim is mine;
This looks like decision, growing out of the narrative of the events in which Hamlet had exhibited his decision. But, even in his own account, the beginning of this action was his
“indiscretion,” proceeding from sudden and indefinable impulses:– “Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting That would not let me sleep.” Wonderfully, indeed, has Shakspere managed to follow the old history—“How Fengon devised to send Hamlet to the king of England with secret letters to have him put to death, and how Hamlet, when his companions slept, read the letters, and, instead of them, counterfeited others, willing the king of England to put the two messengers to death,” —without destroying the unity of his own conception of Hamlet. Mrs. Jameson, in her delightful ‘Characteristics of Women, has sketched the character of Ophelia with all a woman's truth and tenderness. One passage only can we venture to take, for it is an image that to our minds is far better than many words: “Once at Murano, I saw a dove caught in a tempest; perhaps it was young, and either lacked strength of wing to reach its home, or the instinct which teaches to shun the brooding storm; but so it was—and I watched it, pitying, as it flitted, poor bird! hither and thither, with its silver pinions shining against the black thunder-cloud, till, after a few giddy whirls, it fell, blinded, affrighted, and bewildered, into the turbid wave beneath, and was swallowed up for ever. It reminded me then of the fate of Ophelia; and now, when I think of her, I see again before me that poor dove, beating with weary wing, bewildered amid the storm.” And why is it, when we think upon the fate of the poor storm-striken Ophelia, that we never reproach Hamlet's We are certain that it was no “trifling of his favour” that broke her heart. We are assured that his seeming harshness did not sink deep into her spirit. We believe that he loved her more than “forty thousand brothers”—though a very ingenious question has been raised upon that point. And yet she certainly perished through Hamlet and his actions. But we blame him not; for her destiny was involved in his. We cannot avoid transcribing a passage from the article in ‘Blackwood's Magazine, which we have already mentioned: “Soon as we connect her destiny with Hamlet, we know that darkness is to overshadow her, and that sadness and sorrow will step in between her and the ghost-haunted avenger of his father's murder. Soon as our pity is excited for her, it continues gradually to deepen; and, when she appears in her madness, we are not more prepared to weep over all its most pathetic movements than we afterwards are to hear of her death. Perhaps the description of that catastrophe by the Queen is poetical rather than dramatic; but its exquisite beauty prevails, and Ophelia, dying and dead, is still the same Ophelia that first won our love. Perhaps the very forgetfulness of her, throughout the remainder of the play, leaves the soul at full liberty to dream of the departed. She has passed away from the earth like a beautiful air—a delightful dream. There would have been no place for her in the agitation and tempest of the final catastrophe.” Garrick omitted the grave-diggers. He had the terror of Woltaire before his eyes. The English audience compelled their restoration. Was it that “the groundlings” could not endure the loss of the ten waistcoats which the clown had divested himself of, time out of mind?—or, was there in this scene something that brought Hamlet home to the humblest, in the large reach of his universal philosophy M. Willemain, in his Essay on Shakspere, appears to us utterly to have mistaken this scene”: “Strike not out from the tragedy of ‘Hamlet, as Garrick had attempted to do, the labours and the pleasantries of the grave-diggers. Be present at this terrible buffoonery; and you will behold terror and gaiety rapidly moving an immense audience. . . . . Youth and beauty contemplate with insatiable curiosity images of decay, and minute details of death; and then the uncouth pleasantries which are blended with the action of the chief personages seem from time to time to relieve thespectators from the weight which oppresses them, and shouts of laughter burst from every seat. Attentive to this spectacle, the coldest countenances alternately manifest their gloom or their gaiety; and even the statesman
* We translate from the last edition of his Essay. Paris, 1839.
smiles at the sarcasm of the grave-digger who can distinguish between the skull of a courtier and a buffoon.” This may be the Hamlet of the theatre; but M. Willemain should have looked at the Hamlet of the closet. The conversation of the clowns before Hamlet comes upon the scene is indeed pleasantry intermixed with sarcasm; but, the moment that Hamlet opens his lips, the meditative richness of his mind is poured out upon us, and he grapples with the most familiar and yet the deepest thoughts of human nature, in a style that is sublime from its very obviousness and simplicity. Where is the terror, unless it be terrible to think of “the house appointed for all living;” and what is to provoke the long peals of laughter, where the grotesque is altogether subordinate to the solemn and the philosophical? It is the entire absorption of the fellow who “ has no feeling of his business,” by him of “daintier sense" who considers it “too curiously,” that makes this scene so impressive to the reader. Of Hamlet's violence at the grave of Ophelia we think with the critic on Sir Henry Halford's Essay, that it was a real aberration, and not a simulated frenzy. His apparently cold expression, “What, the fair Ophelia 1" appears to us to have been an effort of restraint, which for the moment overmastered his reason. In the interval between this “towering passion” and the final catastrophe, Hamlet is thoroughly himself—meditative to excess with Horatio—most acute, playful, but altogether gentlemanly, in the scene with the frivolous courtier. But observe that he forms no plans. He knows the danger which surrounds him; and he still feels with regard to the usurper as he always felt :
“Is’t not perfect conscience, To quit him with this arm!”
But his will is still essentially powerless; and now he yields to the sense of predestination: “If it be now, "t is not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.” The catastrophe is perfectly in accordance with this prostration of Hamlet's mind. It is the result of an accident, produced we know not how. Some one has suggested a polite ceremonial on the part of Hamlet, by which the foils might be exchanged with perfect consistency. We would rather not know how they were exchanged. “The catastrophe,” says Johnson, “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.” No doubt. A tragedy terminated by chance appears to be a capital thing for the rule-and-line men to lay hold of. But they forget the poet's purpose. Had Hamlet been otherwise, his will would have been the predominant agent in the catastrophe. The empire of chance would have been over-ruled; the guilty would have been punished; the innocent perhaps would have been spared.
Have we lost anything? Then we should not have had the Hamlet who is “the darling of every country in which the literature of England has been fostered;”* then we should not have had the Hamlet who is “a concentration of all the interests that belong to humanity; in whom there is a more intense conception of individual human life than perhaps in any other human composition: that is, a being with springs of thought, and feeling, and action, deeper than we can search;”t then we should not have had the Hamlet, of whom it has been said, “Hamlet is a name; his speeches and sayings but the idle coinage of the poet's brain. What, then, are they not real? They are as real as our own thoughts. Their reality is in the reader's mind. It is we who are Hamlet.”:
* Coleridge. t Blackwood, vol. ii. it Hazlitt.
CHAPTER W. OTHELLO.
ON the 6th of October, 1621, Thomas Walkley entered at Stationers' Hall ‘The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice.’ In 1622, | Walkley published the edition for which he had thus claimed the copy. It is, as was usual with the separate plays, a small quarto, and it bears the following title :- The Tragoedy of Othello, the Moore of Venice. As it hath beene diverse times acted at the Globe, and at the Black-Friars, by his Majesties Servants. Written by William Shakespeare.’ It contains, also, a prefatory address, which is curious —“The Stationer to the Reader. To set forth a book without an Epistle were like to the old English proverb, a blue coat without a badge ; and the author being dead, I thought good to take that piece of work upon me : to commend it I will not : for that which is good, I hope every man will commend, without entreaty : and I am the bolder, because the author's name is sufficient to vent his work. Thus leaving every one to the liberty of judgment, I have ventured to print this play, and leave
it to the general censure. Walkley.” ‘The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice, commences on page 310 of the Tragedies in the first folio collection. It extends to page 339; and after it follow, “Antony and Cleopatra,’ and “Cymbeline.’ It is not entered at Stationers' Hall by the proprietors of the folio edition, which affords some presumption that Walkley was legally entitled to his copy. But it is by no means certain to our minds that Walkley’s edition was published before the folio. The usual date of that edition is, as our readers know, 1623; but there is a copy in existence bearing the date of 1622. We have, however, no doubt, that the copy of “Othello” in the folio was printed from a manuscript copy, without reference to the quarto ; for there are typographical errors in the folio, arising, no doubt, from illegibility in the manuscript, which would certainly have been avoided had the copy been compared with an edition
printed from another manuscript. The fair inference, therefore, is, that the “Othello” of the folio was printed off before the quarto of 1622 appeared. Had it been the last play in the book, we should have retained the same opinion, from internal evidence. As two plays succeed it in the volume, we are strengthened in the belief that the original quarto and folio editions were printing at one and the same time. The folio edition is regularly divided into acts and scenes; the quarto edition has not a single indication of any subdivision in the acts, and omits the division between Acts II. and III. The folio edition contains 163 lines which are not found in the quarto, and these some of the most striking in the play: the number of lines found in the quarto which are not in the folio do not amount to 10. The date of the first production of ‘Othello' is settled as near as we can desire it to be. The play certainly belongs to the most vigorous period of Shakspere's intellect— “at its very point of culmination.” Chalmers, upon the very questionable belief that the expression new heraldry refers to the creation by James I. of the order of baronets, gave it to 1614; Malone, in the early editions of his ‘Essay,’ to 1611; Drake, to 1612. In the later edition of Malone's ‘Essay,’ published by Boswell, in 1821, Malone says, without any explanation, “we know it was acted in 1604, and I have therefore placed it in that year.” Mr. Collier, however, has been able most satisfactorily to place it two years earlier. There are detailed accounts preserved at Bridgewater House, in the handwriting of Sir Arthur Mainwaring, of the expenses incurred by Sir Thomas Egerton, afterwards Lord Ellesmere, in entertaining Queen Elizabeth and her court three days at Harefield. Amongst the entries in these accounts is the following:— “6 Aug. 1602. Rewardes to the Waulters, Players, and Dauncers. Of this 2010 to Burbidge's players of Othello . 64 18 10.” Burbidge's players were those of the Blackfriars and Globe—Shakspere's company. Mr. Collier adds, “Perhaps it is not too much to
presume that the dramas represented on these joyous occasions for the amusement of Elizabeth were usually new and popular performances. ‘ Othello’ was unquestionably | popular, and most likely new, in 1602.”*
When Shakspere first became acquainted with the ‘Moor of Venice” of Giraldi Cinthi (whether in the original Italian, or the French translation, or in one of the little story-books that familiarized the people with the romance and the poetry of the south), he saw in that novel the scaffolding of ‘Othello.’ There was formerly in Venice a valiant Moor, says the story. It came to pass that a virtuous lady of wonderful beauty, named Desdemona, became enamoured of his great qualities and noble virtues. The Moor loved her in return, and they were married in spite of the opposition of the lady's friends. It happened too (says the story) that the senate of Venice appointed the Moor to the command of Cyprus, and that his lady determined to accompany him thither. Amongst the officers who attended upon the General was an ensign, of the most agreeable person, but of the most depraved nature. The wife of this man was the friend of Desdemona, and they spent much of their time together. The wicked ensign became violently enamoured of Desdemona ; but she, whose thoughts were wholly engrossed by the Moor, was utterly regardless of the ensign's attentions. His love then became terrible hate, and he resolved to accuse Desdemona to her husband of infidelity, and to connect with the accusation a captain of Cyprus. That officer, having struck a sentinel, was discharged from his command by the Moor; and Desdemona, interested in his favour, endeavoured to reinstate him in her husband's good opinion. The Moor said one day to the ensign, that his wife was so importunate for the restoration of the officer, that he must take him back. “If you would open your eyes, you would see plainer,” said the ensign. The romance-writer continues to display the perfidious intrigues of the ensign against Desdemona. He steals a handkerchief which