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Dr. Johnson says, he does not understand this wager; and Mr. Steevens chooses to consign the terms of it to the acuteness and sagacity of the Jockey Club: but surely there is no necessity for intruding on the serious and important avocations of those gentlemen in the present case.
“The king hath laid, that in a dozen passes between yourself and Laertes, he shall not exceed you three hits; he shall not hit you three times oftener than you will hit him; if in the dozen passes Hamlet shall be hit seven times, and Laertes only three, the king will lose the wager.” “Sir, I will walk here in the hall : If it please
his majesty, it is the breathing t
the day with me,” &c. Would not this arrangement and pointing be better?-Sir, I will walk here in the hall: It is the breathing time of day with me--if it please his majesty, let the foils be brought: or else Sir, I will walk here in the hall, if it please his majesty : It is the breathing time of day with me.”
It was Hamlet's customary breathing tinie, whether his majesty pleased or not. 369. “ This lapwing runs away with the shell on
his head.” He is prematurely busy ; his actions do not wait for the judgment that ought to guide them. 366. “ There is a special providence in the fall
of a sparrow.” This seems to be taken from St. Luke, 12, 6, 7:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your father.” Lord CHEDWORTH. 367. "
You must needs have heard, “ How I am punish'd with a sore distrac
I cannot believe that Shakspeare would ever have departed so far from decorum and consistency of character, as to make Hamlet utter this ignoble falshood. I am persuaded that all which has been inserted between “ pardon it, as you are a gentlemen,” and “ let my disclaiming from a purpos'd evil,” &c. is interpolated. What follows is not false. 368. “ Let my disclaiming from a purpos'd
Hamlet certainly did not intend to kill Polonius; and though he considered that courtier to have merited his death by his intrusion, he repents the act of killing him. 374. “ [They change Rapiers, and Hamlet
wounds Laertes. ]
This exchange of weapons, as we see it exhibited on the stage, is, indeed, a very clumsy device; but there is no need of such absurd improbability: it is common, in the exercise of the sword, for one combatant to disarm the other, by throwing, with a quick and strong parry, the foil out of his hand ; and Hamlet, having done this, might, agreeably to the urbanity of his nature, have presented his own foil to Laertes, while he stooped to take up that of his adversary; and Laertes, who was only half a villain, could not have hesitated to accept the perilous accommodation, and, indeed, had not time allowed him to avoid it.
378. “ So tell him, with the occurrents, more
or less." Occurrents, I find in the translation of Tacitus, by Greenway, 1622—“Whereupon I entend to deliuer some few things done in Augustus' later times, then Neroe's Raigne, and other occurrents, as they fell out.” 379. “ And flights of angels sing thee to thy
I believe there are few readers in the closet, or spectators in a theatre, who do not cordially subscribe to this pious ejaculation of Horatio upon Hamlet's death; but Mr. Steevens is much displeased with it; and, by a long note, in which, with a fervour of reprehension that would do credit to the Society for the Suppression of Vice, he prefers a bill of religious and moral indictment against the deceased prince, in order to arrest the spirit on its passage, and prevent for ever its approach to the heavenly mansions.
This critic, whose zeal and industry in the illustration of Shakspeare cannot be too much applauded, appears, in the present instance, to have mistaken the author's design in the composition of Hamlet's character, as well as to exaggerate the facts on which he condemns it. Shakspeare never meant to display in Hamlet a pattern of purity or insipid perfection, in which no one would be found to feel an interest; but rather, on the contrary, a striking example of human frailty; a young man with noble propensities and estimable habits, contemplative, learned, and wise, but at the same time passionate, irresolute, and capricious. Profound sorrow at his father's death, succeeding horror on his learning the manner of that death, resentment at his wrongs, indignation at his mother's conduct, contempt and hatred of the murderous usurper, and indigested schemes of vengeance, alternately agitate and distract his mind, and leave him scarcely amenable to the ordinary laws of decorum.
It must be confessed, the poet has left this drama very imperfect: of the assumed madness he has neglected to make any effectual use, but while it appeared expedient for Hamlet
“ To put an antic disposition on," it certainly was very proper to wear it before the daughter of Polonius; and I cannot acknowledge that brutal conduct ascribed by Mr. Steevens to Hamlet, in this scene, howsoever it may be overacted on the stage : his satire is general; beauty, he tells Ophelia, is a dangerous quality, which will sooner corrupt honesty to vice, than honesty can change beauty, so as to make it resemble honesty. He says the world is full of wickedness, and recommends her to withdraw from it to a nunnery, that she may avoid adding to that mass of wickedness, by giving birth to more sinners. What is said of painting, lisping, ambling, &c. refers to the common practice or fashion of the times ; and as to the disavowal of his love, if madness must be scrutinized like truth and reason, Hamlet put on the madman to little purpose indeed. But this, as well as his having procured the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guilderstern, whatever Mr. Steevens may pronounce, will, I believe, be deemed excusable, for the reasons I have given in the several places; and I must further deny the assertion, that he is answerable for the distraction and death of Ophelia, until I can discover that he had any intention or thought of
such a lamentable consequence, when he mis. takingly killed Polonius. For the outrage at the funeral of Ophelia, indeed, and for the unprincely falshood uttered in the last scene to Laertes, I can find no excuse, and suppose that Shakspeare, if he had taken the trouble to correct and finish his work, would have expunged them both,
This play appears to have been, from Shakspeare's time to our own, inclusive, the most popular of his productions; and yet there are few among them more clouded by impurities, and disfigured by interpolation, in which the plot is so indeterminate, the conduct so inconsistent, and the principal and favourite person of the story, in morals, action, and behaviour, so irregular and censurable. How, then, are we to account for this predilection towards a drama and a character so anomalous as Hamlet is? I believe our gratification will be found to result .chiefly from the inherent and overbearing energies of the writing ; from sentiments naturally introduced, and happily expressed ; from that kind of fascinating eloquence which charms us in the Eloisa of Rousseau, notwithstanding the egregious improprieties that are attached to that composition.
It is pretty evident, I think, that the structure or design of this tragedy was altered, and at last left incomplete, by the author, The Ghost appears not to have been originally in the poet's contemplation ; for if it were, having adopted so sublime and potent an agent, he would never have enfeebled or defeated its effect, by resorting to the stratagem of the episode play, or any cola