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Worse than the mutines in bilboes.' Rashly,
his two companions ; and not content to turn the death they had devised against him, upon their own neckes, wrote further, that king Fengon willed him to give his daughter to Hamblet in marriage.” Hyst. of Hamblet, signat. G 2.
From this narrative it appears that the faithful ministers of Fengon were not unacquainted with the import of the letters they bore. Shakspeare, who has followed the story pretty close. ly, probably meant to describe their representatives, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as equally guilty; as confederating with the King to deprive Hamlet of his life. So that his procuring their execution, though certainly not absolutely necessary to his own safety, does not appear to have been a wanton and improvoked cruelty, as Mr. Steevens has supposed in his very ingenious observations on the general character and conduct of the prince throughout the piece.
In the conclusion of his drama the poet has entirely deviated from the fabulous history, which in other places he has frequentIy followed.
After Hamblet's arrival in England, (for no sea-fight is mentioned) “ the king, (says The Hystory of Hamblet) admiring the young prince,-gave him his daughter in marriage, according to the counterfeit letters by him devised; and the next day caused the two servants of Fengon to be executed, to satisfy, as he thought, the king's desire.” Hyst. of Hamb. Ibid.
Hamlet, however returned to Denmark, without marrying the king of England's daughter, who, it should seem, had only been betrothed to him. When he arrived in his native country, he made the courtiers drunk, and having burnt them to death, by setting fire to the banqueting-room wherein they sat, he went into Fengon's chamber, and killed him, “giving him (says the relater) such a violent blowe upon the chine of the neck, that he cut his head clean from the shoukiers.” Ibid. signat. F 3. He is afterwards said to have been crowned king of Denmark.
Malone. I apprehend that a critick and a juryman are bound to form their opinions on what they see and hear in the cause before them, and not to be influenced by extraneous particulars unsurported by legal evidence in open court. I persist in observing, that from Shakspeare's drama no proofs of the guilt of Rosen. crantz and Guildenstern can be collected. They may be convicted by the black letter history; but if the tragedy forbears to criminate, it has no right to sentence them. This is sufficient for the commentator's purpose. It is not his office to interpret the plays of Shakspeare according to the novels on which they are founded, novels which the poet sometimes followed, but as often materially deserted. Perhaps he never confined himself strictly to the plan of any one of his originals. His negligence of poetick juslice is notorious; nor can we expect that he who was content to sacrifice the pious Ophelia, should have been more scrupulous
And prais'd be rashness for it,-Let us know,
about the worthless lives of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Therefore, I still assert that, in the tragedy before us, their deaths appear both wanton and unprovoked; and the critick, like Bayes, must have recourse to somewhat long before the beginning of this play, to justify the conduct of its hero. Steevens.
mutines in the bilboes.] Mutines, the French word for seditious or disobedient fellows in the army or fleet. Bilboes, the ship’s prison. Johnson.
To mutine was formerly used for to mutiny. See p. 186, n. 6. So mutine, for mutiner, or mutineer: “un homme mutin," Fr. a mutinous or seditious person. In The Misfortunes of Arthur, a tragedy, 1587, the adjective is used :
Suppresseth mutin force, and practicke fraud.” Malone. The bilboes is a bar of iron with fetters annexed to it, by which mutinous or disorderly sailors were anciently linked together. The word is derived from Bilboa, a place in Spain where instruments of steel were fabricated in the utmost perfection. To un. derstand Shakspeare's allusion completely, it should be known, that as these fetters connect the legs of the offenders very close together, their attempts to rest must be as fruitless as those of Hamlet, in whose mind there was a kind of fighting that would not let him sleep. Every motion of one must disturb his partner in confinement. The bilboes are still shown in the Tower of London, among the other spoils of the Spanish Armada. Steevens.
When &c.] Hamlet delivering an account of his escape, begins with saying—That he rashly -and then is carried into a reflection upon the weakness of human wisdom. I rashlypraised be rashness for it--Let us not think these events casual, but let us know, that is, take notice and remember, that we sometimes succeed by indiscretion when we fail by deep plots, and infer the perpetual superintendance and agency of the Divinity. The observation is just, and will be allowed by every human being, who shall reflect on the course of his own life. Fohnson. This passage, I think, should be thus distributed:
Hor. That is most certain.)
Ham. Up from my cabin, &c. So that rashly may be joined in construction with in the dark grop'd I to find out them. Tyrwhitt,
There 's a divinity that shapes our ends,
That is most certain.
. . Is 't possible? Ham. Here's the commission; read it at more leisure.
2 There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.] Dr. Farmer informs me, that these words are merely technical. A wool-man, butcher, and dealer in skewers, lately observed to him, that his nephew, (an idle lad) could only assist him in making them;" he could rough-hew them, but I was obliged to shape their ends.” To shape the ends of wool-skewers, ie. to point them, requires a degree of skill; any one can rough-hew them. Whoever recollects the profession of Shakspeare's father, will admit that his son might be no stranger to such terms. I have frequently seen packages of wool pin’d up with skewers. Steevens.
3 Larded with many several sorts of reasons,] I am afraid here is a very poor conceit, founded on an equivoque between reasons and raisins, which in Shakspeare's time were undoubtedly pronounced alike. Sorts of raisins, sugars, &c. is a common phraseology of shops.-We have the same quibble in another play.
Malone, I suspect no quibble or conceit in these words of Hamlet. In one of Ophelia's songs a similar phrase has already occurred : “ Larded all with sweet flowers.” To lard any thing with raisins, however, was a practice unknown to ancient cookery. Steevens.
4 With, ho ! such bugs and goblins in my life,] With such causes of terror, rising from my character and designs. Johnson.
A bug was no less a terrifick being than a goblin. So, in Spenser's Fairy Queen, Book II, c. iii:
“ As ghastly bug their haire an end does reare,' We call it at present a bugbear. Steevens...
But wilt thou hear now how I did proceed?
Hor. Ay, 'beseech you.
Ham. Being thus benetted round with villaniès,
Ay, good my lord.
5 Or I could make - ] Or in old English signified before.
They had begun the play;] Hamlet is telling how luckily every thing fell out; he groped out their commission in the dark, without waking them; he found himself doomed to immediate destruction. Something was to be done for his preservation. An expedient occurred, not produced by the comparison of one method with another, or by a regular deduction of consequences, but before he could make a prologue to his brains, they had begun the play. Before he could summon his faculties, and propose to himself what should be done, a complete scheme of action presented itself to him. His mind operated before he had excited it. This appears to me to be the meaning. Johnson.
as our statists do,] A statist is a statesman. So, in Shirley's Humorous Courtier, 1640:
that he is wise, a statist.” Again, in Ben Jonson's Magnetick Lady:
“Will screw you out a secret from a statist.” Steevens. Most of the great men of Shakspeare's times, whose autographs have been preserved, wrote very bad hands; their secretaries very neat ones. Blackstone.
I once did hold it, as our statists do,
A baseness to write fair,] “ I have in my time, (says Montaigne) seene some, who by writing did earnestly get both their titles and living, to disavow their apprentissage, marre their pen, and affect the ignorance of so vulgar a qualitie.” Florio's translation, 1603, p. 125. Ritson.
- yeoman's service :] The meaning, I believe, is, This yeomanly qualification was a most useful servant, or yeoman, to me; i. e. did me eminent service. The ancient yeomen were famous for their military valour. “These were the good archers in times past, (says Sir Thomas Smith) and the stable troop of footmen that affraide all France.” Steevens.
Ħam. An earnest conjuration from the king .
our author is, like many of his phrases, sufficiently constrained
Shakspeare has so many quibbles of his own to answer for,
Though the first and obvious meaning of these words certainly
“ He shall but bear them, as the ass bears gold,
66 To groan and sweat under the business.” Julius Cæsar,
In further support of his observation, it should be remembered,