Page images
PDF
EPUB

Was falsely borne in hand, sends out atreits
On Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys; . :
Receives rebuke from Norway; and, in fine,
Makes vow before his uncle, never more
To give the assay? of arms against your majesty.
Whereon old Norway, overcome with joy,
Gives him three thousand crowns in annual fee;
And his commission, to employ those soldiers,
So levied as before, against the Polack:
With an entreaty, herein further shown,

[Gives a paper. That it might please you to give quiet pass Through your dominions for this enterprize ;

6 - borne in hand,] i. e. deceived, imposed on. · So, in Macbeth, Act III:

“ How you were borne in hand, how cross’d,” &c. See note on this passage, Vol. VII. p. 456, n. 3. Steevens.

7 To give the asay-] To take the assay was a technical expresfion, originally applied to those who tafted wine for princes and great men. See Vol. XIV. p. 280, n. 4. Malone.

8 Gives him three thousand crowns in annual fee;] This reading firit obtained in the edition put out by the players. But all the old quartos (from 1605, downwards,) read threescore.

THEOBALD. The metre is destroyed by the alteration; and threescore thousand crowns, in the days of Hamlet, was an enormous sum of money.

M. Mason. annual fee;] Fee in this place signifies reward, recompence. So, in All's well that ends well:

" Not helping, death's my fee;

* But if I help, what do you promise me?" The word is commonly used in Scotland, for wages, as we say bawyer's fee, physician's fee. STEEVENS. Fee is defined by Minsheu in his Dict. 1617, a reward,

MALONE. I have restored the reading of the folio. Mr. Ritfon explains it, I think, rightly thus: the king gave his nephew a feud or fee (in land) of that yearly value, Reed.

.

On such regards of safety, and allowance,
As therein are set down.
: King.

It likes us well,
And, at our more consider'd time, we'll read,
Answer, and think upon this business.
Mean time, we thank you for your well-took la.

bour:
Go to your rest; at night we'll feast' together:
Most welcome home!

[Exeunt VOLTIMAND and CORNELIUS. · Pol.

This business is well ended. My liege, and madam, to expostulate ?

9 — at night we'll feaft-] The king's intemperance is never Suffered to be forgotten. Johnson.

· My liege, and madam, to expoftulate —] To expoftulate, for 19 enquire or discuss.

The strokes of humour in this speech are admirable. Polonius's character is that of a weak, pedant, minister of state. His declamation is a fine satire on the impertinent oratory then in vogue, which placed reason in the formality of method, and wit in the gingle and play of words. With what art is he made to pride himself in his wit :

Tl.at he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true, 'tis pity:
" And pity 'tis, 'tis true: A foolish figure;

“ But farewell it, ".
And how exquisitely does the poet ridicule the reasoning in fashion,
where he makes Polonius remark on Hamlet's madness:
• " Though this be madness, yet there's method in't:'.
As if method, which the wits of that age thought the most essential
quality of a good discourse, would make amends for the madness.
It was madness indeed, yet Polonius could comfort himself with
this reflection, that at least it was method. It is certain Shakspeare
excels in nothing more than in the preservation of his characters;
Toikis life and variety of character (says our great poet [Pope) in his
admirable preface to Shakspeare) we must add the wonderful pre-
Jervation. We have said what is the character of Polonius; and it
is allowed on all hands to be drawn with wonderful life and spirit,
yet the unity of it has been thought by some to be grossly violated
in the excellent precepts and inftruclions which Shakspeare makes his
statesman give his son and servant in the middle of the first, and

What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night, night, and time is time,

beginning of the second azt. But I will venture to say, these criticks have not entered into the poet's art and address in this particular. He had a mind to ornament his scenes with those fine lessons of social life; but his Polonius was too weak to be author of them, though he was pedant enough to have met with them in his reading, and fop enough to get them by heart, and retail them for his own. And this the poet has finely shewn us was the case, where, in the middle of Polonius's instructions to his servant, he makes him, though without having received any interruption, forget his lesson, and say,

" And then, fir, does he this;
“ He does- What was I about to say?

“ I was about to say something where did I leave?" The servant replies,

At, closes in the consequence. This sets Polonius right, and he goes on,

At clofes in the consequence.
" — Ay marry,

He closes thus: - I know the gentleman,” &c. ' which shews the very words got by heart which he was repeating. Otherwise closes in the consequence, which conveys no particular idea of the subject he was upon, could never have made him recollect where he broke off. This is an extraordinary instance of the poet's art, and attention to the preservation of character.

WARBURTON. This account of the character of Polonius, though it sufficiently reconciles the seeming inconsistency of so much wisdom with so much folly, does not perhaps correspond exactly to the ideas of our author. The commentator makes the character of Polonius, a character only of manners, discriminated by properties superficial, accidental, and acquired. The poet intended a nobler delineation of a mixed character of manners and of nature. Polonius is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with observation, confident in his knowledge, proud of his eloquence, and declining into dotage. His mode of oratory is truly represented as designed to ridicule the practice of those times, of prefaces that made no introduction, and of method that embarrassed rather than explained. This part of his character is accidental, the rest is natural. Such a man is positive and confident, because he knows that his mind was once strong, and knows not that it is become weak. Such a man excels in general principles, but fails in the particular application. He is knowing in retrospect, and ignorant in foresight.

Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time,
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,-
I will be brief: Your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it: 'for, to define true madness,
What is’t, but to be nothing else but mad :
But let that go.

Queen. More matter, with less art,

Pol. Madam, I swear, I use no art at all. That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true, 'tis pity; And pity 'tis, 'tis true : a foolish figure; But farewell it, for I will use no art. Mad let us grant him then: and now remains, That we find out the cause of this effect; Or, rather say, the cause of this defect; For this effect, defective, comes by cause : Thus it remains, and the remainder thus. Perpend. · I have a daughter; have, while she is mine; Who, in her duty and obedience, mark, Hath given me this : Now gather, and surmise,

While he depends upon his memory, and can draw from his rez pofitories of knowledge, he utters weighty sentences, and gives useful counsel; but as the mind in its enfeebled state cannot be kept long busy and intent, the old man is subject to sudden dereliction of his faculties, he loses the order of his ideas and entangles himself in his own thoughts, till he recovers the leading principle, and falls again into his former train. This idea of dotage encroaching upon wisdom, will folve all the phænomena of the character of Polonius. Johnson.

Nothing can be more juft, judicious, and masterly, than Johnson's delineation of the character of Polonius; and I cannot read it without heartily regretting that he did not exert his great abili. ties and discriminating powers, in delineating the strange, inconfiftent, and indecisive character of Hamlet, to which I confefs myself unequal. M. Mason.

- To the celestial, and my foul's idol, the most beautified
Ophelia, -
That's an ill phrase, a vile phrase; beautified is a
vile phrase; but you shall hear. Thus:

In ber excellent white bofom, these,* &c.-
Queen. Came this from Hamlet to her?

3-To the celestial, and my foul's idol, the most beautified Ophelia, Mr. Theobald for beautified substituted beatified. MALONE.

Dr. Warburton has followed Mr. Theobald; but I am in doubt whether beautified, though, as Polonius calls it, a vile phrase, be not the proper word, Beautified seems to be a vile phrase, for the ambiguity of its meaning. Johnson.

Heywood, in his History of Edward VI. says “ Katherine Parre, queen dowager to king Henry VIII, was a woman beautified with many excellent virtues." Farmer. So, in The Hog hath left his Pearl, 1614:

" A maid of rich endowments, beautified

“ With all the virtues nature could bestow." Again, Nash dedicates his Christ's Tears over Jerusalem, 1594; s to the most beautified lady, the lady Elizabeth Carey."

Again, in Greene's Mamillia, 1593 : “— although thy person is so bravely beautified with the dowries of nature.

Ill and vile as the phrase may be, our author has used it again in The Two Gentlemen of Verona :

“ - seeing you are beautified

“ With goodly shape,” &c. Steevens. By beautified Hamlet means beautiful. But Polonius, taking the word in the more strictly grammatical sense of being made beautiful, calls it a vile phrase, as implying that his daughter's beauty was the effect of art. M. Mason.

4 In her excellent white bofom, these,] So, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona:

« Thy letters -
“ Which, being writ to me, shall be deliver'd

“ Even in the milk-white bojom of thy love."
See Vol. III. p. 236, n. 2. Steevens.
I have followed the quarto. The folio reads:

These in her excellent white bosom, these, &c. In our poet's time the word Thefe was usually added at the end of the superscription of letters, but I have never met with it both at the beginning and end, Malone,

« PreviousContinue »