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Pol. I have, my lord.
Ham. Let her not walk i'the sun: conception is a blessing; but as your daughter may conceive 25,friend, look to't.
Pol. How say you by that? [Aside.] Still harping on my daughter :--yet he knew me not at first; he said, I was a fishmonger : He is far gone, far gone: and, truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for love; very near this. I'll speak to him again.- What do you read, my lord ?
Ham. Words, words, words !
tended the passage as a vindication of the ways of Providence in permitting evil to abound in the world. He observes that Shakspeare' had an art not only of acquainting the audience with what his actors say, but what they think. This emendation, and the moral comment on it, delighted Dr. Johnson, who says' that it almost sets the critic on a level with the author! There was certainly much ingenuity in the emendation (which is unquestionably right) as well as in the argument, but the latter appears totally irrelevant and strained, and certainly was rather intended to show the skill and ingenuity of the critic than to raise the character of the poet, or display his true meaning. Warburton pointed out the same kind of expression in Cymbeline:- Common-kissing Titan. And Malone has adduced the following passage from the play of King Edward III. 1596, which Shakspeare had certainly seen :
• The freshest summer's day doth soonest taint
The loathed carrion that it seems to kiss,' 25 The folio reads— Conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter may conceive. Steevens thinks that there is a play upon words here, as in the first scene of King Lear :
·Kent. I cannot conceive you, sir.
• Glo. Sir, this young fellow's mother could. But the simple meaning may be, though conception in general be a blessing, yet as your daughter may chance to conceive that it may be a calamity, every thing being so corrupt or sinful in the world;' he therefore counsels Polonius not to let his daughter 'walk i'the sun,' i. e. be too much exposed to the corrupting influence of the world. The abrupt transitions and obscurities of Hamlet's language are intended to give Polopius a notion of his insanity.
Ham. Between who?
Pol. I mean, the matter that you read, my lord. · Ham. Slanders, sir : for the satirical rogue 26 says here, that old men have gray beards: that their faces are wrinkled; their eyes purging thick amber, and plum-tree gum; and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams: All of which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for yourself, sir, should be as old as I am, if, like a crab, you could go backward.
Pol. Though this be madness, yet there's method in it. [Aside.] Will you walk out of the air, my lord ?
Ham. Into my grave?
Pol. Indeed, that is out o'the air.—How pregnant sometimes his replies are ! a happiness that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity could not so prosperously be delivered of. I will leave him, and suddenly contrive the means of meeting between him and my daughter. My honourable lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you 27. · Ham. You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will more willingly part withal; except my life, except my life, except my life. ,
Pol. Fare you well, my lord.
26 By · the satirical rogue' Warburton will have it that Shakspeare means Juvenal, and refers to a passage on old age in his tenth satire, Dr. Farmer states that there was a translation of that satire by Sir John Beaumont, but is uncertain whether it was printed in Shakspeare's time. The defects of age were, however, a common topic of moral reflection. 27 This speech is abridged thus in the quartos :
* I will leave him and my daughter. My lord,
Enter ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN. Pol. You go to seek the Lord Hamlet; there he is. Ros. God save you, sir ! [To POLONIUS.
[Exit POLONIUS. Guil. My honour'd lord !Ros. My most dear lord !
Ham. My excellent good friends! How dost thou, Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye both ?
Ros. As the indifferent children of the earth.
Guil. Happy, in that we are not overhappy;
Ham. Nor the soles of her shoe?
Ham. Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours ?
Guil. 'Faith, her privates we.
Ham. In the secret parts of fortune? O, most true; she is a strumpet. What news ?
Ros. None, my lord; but that the world is grown honest.
Ham. Then is doomsday near : But your news is not true 28. [Let me question more in particular: What have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?
Guil. Prison, my lord !
Ham. A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons; Denmark being one of the worst.
Ros. We think not so, my lord. Ham. Why, then 'tis none to you; for there is 28 All within crotchets is wanting in the quarto copies.
nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so : to me it is a prison.
Ros. Why, then your ambition makes it one; 'tis too narrow for your mind.
Ham. O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space; were it not that I have bad dreams.
Guil. Which dreams, indeed, are ambition ; for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream 29.
Ham. A dream itself is but a shadow.
Ros. Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality, that it is but a shadow's shadow.
Ham. Then are our beggars, bodies; and our monarchs, and outstretch'd heroes, the beggars' shadows 30: Shall we to the court? for, by my fay31, I cannot reason. . .
Ros. Guil. We'll wait upon you.
29 Shakspeare has accidentally inverted the expression of Pindar, that the state of humanity is oklaç övap, the dream of a shadow. Thus also Sir John Davies :
*Man's life is but a dreame, nay, less than so,
A shadow of a dreame.'
· Whose best was but the shadow of a dream.' These passages remind me of a beautiful thought in George Chapman's Poem on the Death of Prince Henry, which I have cited elsewhere :
"O God, what doth not one short hour snatch up
And lighter than the shadow of a feather.' 30 · If ambition is such an unsubstantial thing, then are our beggars (who at least 'can dream of greatness) the only things of substance, and monarchs and heroes, though appearing to fill sach mighty space with their ambition, but the shadows of the beggars' dreams.' Johnson thought that Shakspeare designed ' a ridicule of those declamations against wealth and greatness, that seem to make happiness consist in poverty.'
31 See note on the Induction to Taming of a Shrew, p. 351,
Ham. No such matter: I will not sort you with the rest of my servants; for, to speak to you like an honest man, I am most dreadfully attended.] But, in the beaten way of friendship, what make you at Elsinore 32 ?
Ros. To visit you, my lord; no other occasion.
Ham. Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks; but I thank you; and sure, dear friends, my thanks are too dear, a halfpenny. Were you not sent for ? Is it your own inclining? Is it a free visitation ? Come, come; deal justly with me: come, come; nay, speak.
Guil. What should we say, my lord ?
Ham. Any thing—but to the purpose. You were sent for; and there is a kind of confession in your looks, which your modesties have not craft enough to colour: I know, the good king and queen have sent for you.
Ros. To what end, my lord ?
Ham. That you must teach me. But let me conjure you by the rights of our fellowship, by the consonancy of our youth, by the obligation of our ever-preserved love, and by what more dear a better proposer could charge you withal, be even and direct with me, whether you were sent for, or no?
Ros. What say you? [To GUILDENSTERN.
Ham. I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to
32 See note on Love's Labour's Lost, Act iv. Sc. 3.
33 To have an eye of any one is to have an inkling of his purpose, or to be aware of what he is about. It is still a common phrase. The first quarto has :-Nay, then I see how the wind sets.'