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2. “ He deliberately procures the execution of his school-fel. lows, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who appear not, from any circumstances in this play, to have been acquainted with the treacherous purposes of the mandate they were employed to carry. To embitter their fate, and hazard their punishment beyond the grave, he denies them even the few moments necessary for a brief confession of their sins. Their end (as he declares in a subsequent conversation with Horatio) gives him no con. cern; for they obtruded themselves into the service, and he thought he had a right to destroy them."
Though it does not distinctly appear in any part of this drama that Hamlet knew that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were privy to this murderous project, yet throughout he perfectly well understood their insidious aims, under the mask of an old school friendship, and that they were creatures of the King, placed and brought from a distance for the sole purpose of being spies upon him: but it was not till after he discovered that his own murder was to be effected by means in which they were at least chosen agents and instruments, that “ benetted round," as he says he was, “ with villanies," in the moment of discovery and resentment, he retorts upon them as principals, and takes the course of retaliation which that moment naturally suggested, the death to which he was himself destined.
Mr. Malone presumes, that Shakespeare, who “ has followed the novel of the Hystorie of Hamblet pretty closely, probably meant to describe Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the representatives of the ministers of the King in the novel, and who were apprised of the contents of their packet, as equally crimi. nal with those ministers, and combining with the King to deprive Hamlet of life.” The passage runs thus: “ Now to beare him company were assigned two of Fengon's faithful ministers, bearing letters ingraved in wood, that contained Hamlet's death. But the subtil Danish prince, being at sea, whilst his companions slept, having read the letters, and knowing his uncle's great treason with the wicked and villainous mindes of the two courtiers, that led him to the slaughter, raced out the letters that concerned his death, and instead thereof graved others, with commission to the king of England to hang 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.” Signat. G 2.
3. “ From his brutal conduct towards Ophelia, he is not less accountable for her destruction and death."
Now it does not appear that any part of his conduct to her was the occasion of either. On his most offensive carriage towards her (III. 1.), she is so perfectly satisfied that it proceeded from distraction, that immediately upon it, she twice implores heaven to help and restore him; and, upon his leaving her, exclaims,
«0, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown.”
So far, then, as respects Ophelia and her personal feelings, these declarations prove that she was no otherwise a sufferer from this supposed offensive carriage, than as by sympathy partaking in his sufferings : and so far as respected himself and his main purpose, this carriage towards a beloved object, and such a personage, was the surest method to impress a belief of his madness upon all, and particularly upon the father of that beloved obiect, the confidential minister of the King; whose apprehensions inight;by such device be laid asleep, till Hamlet should find his scheme ripe for execution.
And this charge is still further unjust, as the distraction of Ophelia, under which she met her death, is throughout this drama represented to have been the consequence of her father's sudden and melancholy end.
4. “ He interrupts the funeral designed in honour of this lady, at which both the King and Queen were present; and, by such an outrage to decency, renders it still more necessary for the usurper to lay a second stratagem for his life, though the first had proved abortive."
As the interruption to this ceremony, and in this presence, was first given by Laertes, who first leapt into the grave, and who immediately, upon Hamlet's so doing, became the aggressor in an assault there, it seems little less than wilfully injurious both to overlook this assault, and otherwise charge the interruption upon Hamlet; and the more so, as his conduct in this assault was also temperate and meritorious.
It is still more strange to say that Hamlet's offence, at the worst not even charged as amounting to more than a violation of decency, could become an argument for the “ necessity" of the King's “ laying a second stratagem for his life," i. e. for assassinating him. Further, even if this strange consequence were admitted, the thing is without foundation in point of fact; for that second stratagem was concerted before the time of the funeral.
5. “ He insults the brother of the dead, and boasts of an affection for his sister, which before he had denied to her face; and yet at this very time must be considered as desirous of supporting the character of a madman, so that the openness of his confession is not to be imputed to him as a virtue.”
We have already noticed, that to this denial of his love, the party interested at the time the denial was made, herself attached no credit to it. This open avowal of it, and the whole of his conduct at the grave, were natural ebullitions of that passion in an ardent mind; and had nothing of resemblance to a designed insult upon the brother of the dead. They were, on the contrary, in the highest degree conciliatory; and as far as he dared, true : and such qualities, wherever found and disclosed, are of the character of virtue.
6. “ He apologizes to Horatio afterwards for the absurdity of this behaviour, to vhich, he says, he was provoked by that
“nobleness of fraternal grief,” which, indeed, he ought rather to have applauded than condemned.” .
For his intemperance and want of self command, in which Laertes repeatedly set him the example, he does, indeed, reproach himself; but, though curses were imprecated also upon his head by Laertes, he does no more than insist upon the title, which the character of a lover gave him, to indulge in wilder transports than any that the affection of a brother could raise ; and, instead of condemning that expression of passion, he in terms applauds the “ nobleness” of the source from which it sprang.
7. * Dr. Johnson has observed, that to bring about a reconciliation with Laertes, he has availed himself of a dishonest fallacy; and to conclude, it is obvious to the most careless spectator or reader, that he kills the King at last to revenge himself, and not his father.” .
The “ dishonest fallacy" imputed was, that “ he was visited with a sore distraction.” The principle of self-preservation bad long dictated to Hamlet that he must not allow that his conduct was under the guidance of sober reason; and as he knew, from the expected return of the ambassadors from England, that his time was short, now, and in the presence of the king, it became more than ever necessary that he should continue to wear this mask: and as this character had been long before assumed by Hamlet, the charge of dishonesty had with much more propriety have been preferred against the adoption of it at all, than at so late an hour against this apology: for nothing, no new device, dishonest or fallacious towards Laertes, exists in any part of Hamlet's conduct.
Then as to the remaining part of the charge, as no reason is offered, the reader must be equally at a loss with ourselves to conceive why Hamlet, how much soever alive to his own personal wrongs, should not also have been actuated by a sense of those of his father. But that a sense of those of his father was uppermost in his thoughts at the moment of taking his revenge, his words
“Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane” speak unanswerably. These point solely to his father's cause and injuries; and are in direct correspondence with what he had just said to Horatio ; when, enumerating the various consideracions that constitute a justification of this act, he classes these first :
“ He, that hath kill'd my father, whor'd my mother.” Much the same view is taken of this subject by Mr. Richardson, in his Essays upon Shakespeare's dramatic Characters, 8vo. 1797, p. 101.
He says, “ engaged in a dangerous enterprize, agitated by impetuous emotions, desirous of concealing them, and, for that reason, feigning his understanding disordered; to confirm and publish this report, seemingly so hurtful to his reputation, he would act in direct opposition to his former conduct, and inconsistently with the genuine sentiments and affections of his soul. He would seem frivolous, when the occasion required him to be sedate : and, celebrated for the wisdom and propriety of his conduct, he would assume appearances of impropriety. Full of honour and affection, he would seem inconsistent: of elegant and agreeable manners, and possessing a complacent temper, he would put on the semblance of rudeness. To Ophelia he would shew dislike and indifference; because a change of this nature would be, of all others, the most remarkable, and because his affection for her was passionate and sincere."
He adds, “ let Hamlet be represented as delivering himself in a light, airy, unconcerned and thoughtless manner, and the rudeness, so much complained of, will disappear.” .