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himself. In this, they seem to me to take him at his word just there where his word is least to be taken. For, surely, thus to turn his solitary self-communings, his thinkingsaloud, against him, is not fair. Instead of so taking him at his word, we ought to see him better than he then sees himself, and rather, with our calmer and juster vision, to step between him and his morbid self-accusings; to judge him and to maintain his cause upon reasons which he is himself too unselfish, too right-hearted, too noble in mind, to accord their due, weight in his thinkings. This holds especially in regard to his soliloquy beginning, “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” where he surges through a long course of railing and storming at himself, bitterly charging himself with faults and vices which his whole conduct most certainly and most clearly acquits him of. This tempestuous strain of self-abuse springs in part from his madness, his disease, which vents itself in that way, and puts him thus to quarrelling with himself, because, in the extreme, unrelenting hardness of his case, he nevertheless will not, dare not go to accusing or arguing against his fate, or fall to quarrelling with what he regards as the inevitable orderings of Providence.
The truth is, Hamlet is suffering dreadfully: shame, indignation, grief, sympathy with his father's purgatorial pains, detestation, horror, at the triumphant murderer, a consuming, holy thirst of vengeance, impossible, as things stand, to be attained, - all these are crowding and pressing his soul together; and his intolerable anguish, instead of easing itself by blaming, by resenting, by deploring his miserable lot, seeks such relief as it can by arraigning himself before himself, as deserving a lot far worse. He thus revenges upon himself, as it were, the inexorable cruelty of his position.
All this is what some of the Poet's critics cannot or will not see; and Hamlet appears to them cold, hard-hearted, indifferent, because they are themselves either so hard or so locked up in their self-applauding critical perspicacity
as to have no ear, no sense for his mute agony. And so they take him at his word! not perceiving that what he says to himself against himself are just the things he would be sure not to say, if they were really true; while the things which he does not say are so true, and so unutterably crushing in their truth, that he must be saying something else. Because he “ has that within which passeth show,' therefore what he does show is taken as a just index and exponent of what he has within.
This brings me to one of the most peculiar and most interesting features in the delineation of Hamlet. — In his intellectual powers, attainments, resources, Hamlet is highly
his moral instincts, sentiments, principles, in his beautiful train of manly virtues, his courage, his honour, his reverence, his tenderness, his sense of truth and right, his human-heartedness, his generosity, his self-restraint, his self-sacrifice, — in these he is nobly unconscious; and rather shows his full, deep possession of them by a modest sense, or fear, of his being deficient in them: for these things are apt to be most on the tongue where they are least in the heart. Hence, in part, the singular vein of pathos that permeates the delineation. That pathos is altogether undemonstrative, silent; a deep undercurrent, hardly ever rising to the surface, so as to be directly visible, but kept down by its own weight. Hamlet, as I said before, suffers, suffers dreadfully; but he makes no sign, at least none when his suffering is greatest; or, if any at all, so very slight, as to be scarce heard amidst the louder noises of the play; as in what he says to Horatio, near the close · "Thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart; but it is no matter : it is but foolery; but it is such a kind of gain-giving as would perhaps trouble a woman." Thus his suffering is not made audible to the sense : it is speech. less, indeed unspeakable, and left for the inner eye, the intelligent heart, the sympathizing magnet within, to infer. Such is the unspoken pathos of Hamlet's situation, - a pathos so deep, so pure, so refined, so soul-moving, if we have but the eye to see it, that I know not where else we shall find its like. Let us see, for a moment, to recur to a topic already discussed, — let us see how it is with him. If he could but forget the real nature of his task; if he could give free course to his mighty impulse of justice ;/ then he might indeed have at least a respite to the torture that is wringing him. But, because his reason is so strong is to stay his hand, therefore he has to suffer such pain, - the pain of a most powerful will engaged in a mortal struggle against the insurgent forces of passion goading him onward. To quote again from Professor Werder: " To smite down the King, to sacrifice his own life by the blow, in order to be quit of his task at once, that were the easiest, the happiest thing for him ; but he wills to fulfil it, to fulfil it faithfully. What he rails at as pigeonliver'd,' when the mortal nature, impatient of pain, weary
of suffering, cries out in him, — all this is enduring ::courage, the courage of reason, springing from reverence for a holy duty, and from devotion thereto.”
But, harsh and bitter as is his lot, Hamlet never complains of it, hardly breathes an audible sigh over it: nay, he will not, if he can help it, let either himself or others see it : heroically he bears it, heroically he hides it. Of self-pity, of self-compassion, he discovers not the slightest symptom; and, so far from saying or doing any thing to stir pity or compassion in others, he is ever trying, though trying spontaneously and unconsciously, to disguise his inward state both from others and from himself; — from himself b. in high strains of self-accusation; from his true friends in smiles of benevolence, or in fine play of intellect; from his foes and his false friends in caustic, frolicsome banter, and in pointed, stinging remonstrance or reproof. Even when his anguish is shrieking within him, he knits his lips down tight over it, and strangles the utterance. For,
indeed, to his mind, it is not of the slightest consequence how much he suffers in this world, so he does his duty, his whole duty, and nothing but that; and he is so allintent upon that as to have no time, no heart, for selfcommiseration. Now this utter oblivion of self in his vast, incommunicable sorrow is to me just the most pathetic thing in Shakespeare; though, to be sure, the pathos is much less pronounced than in other cases : but I deem it all the better for that.
It is partly to relieve or divert off his sense of woe that his mind is so continually “ voyaging through. strange seas of thought”; sometimes in outpourings of statesmanlike wisdom, such as would add to the fame of a Burke or a Webster; sometimes in profound moralizing on life and death, on duty and immortality, such as would give a richer bloom to the laurels of a Cicero, a Marcus Aurelius, a Jeremy Taylor, or a Sir Thomas Browne; sometimes in well-seasoned discourse on the player's art and on the right virtues of literary style, such as 66 shames the schools”; now in flashes of wit more than Attic; now in jets of humour the freshest, the raciest, the mellowest, the most suggestive, ever delivered.
All this, to be sure, Hamlet does not himself say; no ! nor does the Poet say it for him in words; but the Poet says it through the ineffable dramatic logic of the play, — says it by a speaking silence, a mute eloquence, far more powerful and penetrating than words. It is the " austere and solid sweetness ” of a great, strong, delicate soul perfectly self-contained.
The sensitive rectitude which I have ascribed to Hamlet may seem inconsistent with his doings in the matter of the substituted commission. He does indeed discover no particular squeamishness of conscience in that matter. He knows, or at least fully believes, that Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are privy and consenting to the hideous machination against himself :
“Why, man, they did make love to this employment;
They are not near my conscience; their defeat
Nor can I see any good reason why his moral sense, even granting it to be as deep and delicate as I have supposed, should stick at thus letting such a diabolical scheme “ fall on the inventors' heads.” It is noticeable that Horatio, in the talk he has with Hamlet on that subject, v. 2, seems to regret or deplore the fate of the King's two agents in crime. He may well think it rather hard. And it is natural enough to suppose that Hamlet, on learning the horrid purpose of his voyage, may have been surprised out of his equanimity, and transported into an act of indiscriminate vengeance. But, in fact, the instant effect of the discovery is, to kindle all his powers of thought into the highest activity. It appears, indeed, that the two agents were not fully in the secret of their commission, else they would have turned back to Denmark, after the separation of Hamlet from them. But then, for aught Hamlet knows, they may have had other reasons for continuing the voyage; they may have been charged with other messages to England. It is to be noted also, that, at the time, Hamlet was expecting to go to England with them; and it has been suggested that, had he done so, he would have arrested the effect of the substituted commission. But I prefer the view taken by Professor Werder :
“As surely as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deliver their letter, his head falls. That letter, then, they must not be allowed to deliver; they must deliver a different one. Do you say he could have spared them ? he could have written something that would endanger neither him nor them? But does he know or can he discover from them so that he may depend upon their word, how far they are cognizant of the purport of their errand ? whether they are not charged with some oral message? What if they should contradict what he might write of a harmless character? What if the King of England, being in doubt, should send back to Denmark for further directions, detain all three, and then,