Page images

That, open'd, lies within our remedy. .

Queen. Good gentlenen, he hath much talk'd of you; And, sure I am, two men there are not living, To whom he more adheres. If it will please you To show us so much gentry, and good will, As to expend your time with us a while, For the supply and profit of our hope, Your visitation shall receive such thanks As fits a king's remembrance. Ros.

Both your majesties Might, by the sovereign power you have of us, Put

your dread pleasures more into command
Than to entreaty.

But we both obey;
And here give up ourselves, in the full bent,8
To lay our service freely at your feet,
To be commanded.

King. Thanks, Rosencrantz, and gentle Guildenstern.
Queen. Thanks, Guildenstern, and gentle Rosen-

And I beseech you instantly to visit
My too much changed son.--Go, some of you,
And bring these gentlemen where Hamlet is.

Guil. Heavens make our presence, and our practices,
Pleasant and helpful to him!

Ay, amen! [Exeunt Ros. Guil. and some Attendants.

Enter POLONIUS. Pol. The embassadors from Norway, my good lord, Are joyfully return'd.

King. Thou still hast been the father of good news.


5 To show us so much gentry,] Gentry, for complaisance.

Warburton. For the supply &c.] That the hope which your arrival has raised may be completed by the desired effect. Fohnson.

You have of us,] I believe we should read--o'er us, instead of- of us. M. Mason. in the full bent,] Bent, for endeavour, application.

Warburton. The full bent, is the utmost extremity of exertion. The allusion is to a bow bent as far as it will go. So afterwards, in this play:

“ They fool me to top of my bent.Malone.


Pol. Have I, my lord ? Assure you, my good liege,
I hold my duty, as I hold my soul,
Both to my God, and to my gracious king:
And I do think, (or else this brain of mine
Hunts not the trail of policy so sure
As it hath us'd to do,) that I have found
The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy.

King. O, speak of that; that do I long to hear.

Pol. Give first admittance to the embassadors; My news shall be the fruit? to that great feast. King. Thyself do grace to them, and bring them in.

[Exit Pol. He tells me, my dear Gertrude, he hath found The head and source of all your son's distemper.

Queen. I doubt, it is no other but the main; His father's death, and our o'erhasty marriage. Re-enter POLONIUS, with VOLTIMAND and CORNELIUS. King. Well, we shall sift him.-Welcome, my good

Say, Voltimand, what from our brother Norway?

Volt. Most fair return of greetings, and desires.
Upon our first, he sent out to suppress
His nephew's levies ; which to him appear'd
To be a preparation ’gainst the Polack;
But, better look’d into, he truly found
It was against your highness: Whereat griev'd,
That so his sickness, age, and impotence,
Was falsely borne in hand, -sends out arrests
On Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys;
Receives rebuke from Norway; and, in fine,
Makes vow before his uncle, never more
To give the assays of arms against your majesty,

the trail of policy - ] The trail is the course of an animal pursued by the scent. Johnson.

the fruit -] The desert after the meat. Johnson.

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. 127, n. 5. Steevens.

3 To give the assay - ] To take the assay was a technical expression, originally applied to those who tasted wine for princes and great men. See King Lear, Act V, sc. iii, Vol. XIV.



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

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

[Exeunt Vol. and Cor.

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


4 Gives him three thousand crowns in annual fee;] This reading first 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, lawyer's fee, physician's fee. Steevens. Fee is defined by Minsheu, in his Dict. 1617, a reward.

Malone, I bave restored the reading of the folio. Mr. Ritson explains it, I think, rightly, thus : the King gave his a nephew a feud or fee (in land) of that yearly value. Reed.

At night we'll feast -] The King's intemperance is never suffered to be forgotten. Fohnson.

6 My liege, and madam, to expostulate --] To expostulate, for to enquire or discuss.

The strokes of humour in this speech are admirable. Poloni. us'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 :

" That he is mad, 'tis true : 'tis true : 'tis pity:


What majesty should be, what duty is,

And pity 'tis, 'tis true: A foolish figure ;

“ But farewel 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 es. sential 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 ; To this life and variety of character (says our great poet [Pope] in his admirable preface to Shakspeare) we must add the wonderful preservation. 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 instructions which Shakspeare makes his statesman give his son and servant in the middle of the first, and beginning of the second act. 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, sir, 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 closes in the consequence.

Ay marry, He closes thus:-I know the gentleman," &c. which shews the very words got by heart which he was repeat. ing. 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

Why day is day, night, night, and time is time,
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 farewel 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.
I have a daughter; have, while she is mine;

delineation of a mixed character of manners and of nature. Polo. nius 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. While he depends upon his memory, and can draw from his repositories 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 solve all the phænomena of the character of Polonius. Johnson.

Nothing can be more just, judicious, and masterly, than John. son's delineation of the character of Polonius; and I cannot read it without heartily regretting that he did not exert his great abi. lities and discriminating powers, in delineating the strange, inconsistent, and indecisive character of Hamlet, to which I con. fess myself unequal. M. Mason.

« PreviousContinue »