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Doth make against me, of this direful murder;
But (as it seems) did violence on herself.
Prince. We still have known thee for a holy man. Where's Romeo's man? what can he say in this ?
Bal. I brought my master news of Juliet's death; And then in post he came from Mantua, To this same place, to this same monument. This letter he early bade me give his father ; And threatened me with death, going in the vault, If I departed not, and left him there.
Prince. Give me the letter; I will look on it.
Prince. This letter doth make good the friar's words,
1 Mercutio and Paris. Mercutio is expressly called the prince's kinsman in Actüi. Sc. 4; and that Paris was also the prince's kinsman, may be inferred from the following passages :-Capulet, speaking of the count, in the fourth act, describes him as “a gentleman of princely parentage ;” and after he is killed, Romeo says:
Let me peruse this face;
Cap. O brother Montague, give me thy hand.
But I can give thee more.
Cap. As rich shall Romeo by his lady lie;
brings; The sun for sorrow will not show his head. Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things; Some shall be pardoned, and some punished. For never was a story of more woe, Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.3 [Exeunt.
1 The quarto of 1597 reads, “A gloomy peace.” To gloom is an ancient verb, used by Spenser and other old writers.
? This line has reference to the poem from which the fable is taken; in which the nurse is banished for concealing the marriage; Romeo's servant set at liberty, because he had only acted in obedience to his master's orders; the apothecary is hanged; while friar Laurence was permitted to retire to a hermitage near Verona, where he ended his life in penitence and tranquillity.
3 Shakspeare, in his revision of this play, has not effected the alteration by introducing any new incidents, but merely by adding to the length of the scenes.
This play is one of the most pleasing of our Author's performances. The scenes are busy and various, the incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
Here is one of the few attempts of Shakspeare to exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakspeare, that he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third Act, lest he should have been killed by him. Yet he thinks him no such formidable person, but that he might have lived through the play and died in his bed, without danger to the Poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, in a pointed sentence, that more regard is commonly had to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gayety, and courage, will always procure him friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated; he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakspeare to have continued his existence, though some of his sallies are, perhaps, out of the reach of Dryden; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humor, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime.
The nurse is one of the characters in which the Author delighted. He has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.
His comic scenes are happily wrought; but his pathetic strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations.* His persons, however distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable conceit.
* A. W. Schlegel has answered this remark at length, in a detailed criticism upon this tragedy, published in the Horen, a journal conducted by Schiller in 1794-1795, and made accessible to the English reader in Ollier's Literary Miscellany, Part I. In his Lectures on Dramatic Literature (vol. ii. p. 135, Eng. translation) will be found some further sensible remarks upon the “conceits ” here stigmatized. It should be remembered that playing on words was a very favorite species of wit combat with our ancestors. “ With children, as well as nations of the most simple manners, a great inclination to playing on words is often displayed [they cannot therefore be both puerile and unnatural; if the first charge is founded, the second cannot be so]. In Homer we find several examples ; the Books of Moses, the oldest written memorial of the primitive world, are, it is well known, full of them. On the other hand, poets of a very cultivated taste, or orators like Cicero, have delighted in them. Whoever, in Richard the Second, is disgusted with the affecting play of words of the dying John of Gaunt, on his own name, let him remember that the same thing occurs in the Ajax of Sophocles."
HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK.
The original story on which this play is founded may be found in Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish historian. From thence Belleforest adopted it in his collection of novels, in seven volumes, which he began in 1564, and continued to publish through succeeding years. It was from Belleforest that the old black letter prose “ Hystorie of Hamblet” was translated; the earliest edition of which, known to the commentators, was dated in 1608 ; but it is supposed that there were earlier impressions.
The following passage is found in an Epistle, by Thomas Nashe, prefixed to Greene's Arcadia, which was published in 1589:—“I will turn back to my first text of studies of delight, and talk a little in friendship with a few of our rival translators. It is a common practice nowa-days, among a sort of shifting companions, that runne through every art, and thrive by none, to leave the trade of Noverint [i. e. the law), whereunto they were born, and busie themselves with the endeavours of art, that could scarcely latinize their neck-verse, if they should have neede; yet English Seneca, read by candle-light, yeelds many good sentences, as Bloud is a beggar, and so forth : and if you entreat him faire in a frosty morning, he will affoord you whole Hamlets, I should say, Handfuls of tragical speeches. But O grief! Tempus edar rerumwhat is it that will last always ? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be drie ; and Seneca, let bloud line by line, and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage."
It is manifest, from this passage, that some play on the story of Hamlet had been exhibited before the year 1589. Malone thinks that it was not Shakspeare's drama, but an elder performance, on which, with the aid of the old prose History of Hamblet, his tragedy was formed.
In a tract, entitled “ Wits Miserie, or the World's Madnesse, discovering the incarnate Devils of the Age,” published by Thomas Lodge, in 1596, one of the devils is said to be “a foule lubber, and looks as pale as the vizard of the ghost, who cried so miserably at the theatre, Hamlet, revenge." But it is supposed that this also may refer to an elder performance.