Page images
PDF
EPUB

(17) thee best, 0 most best] Hyperbole and super-excellence are the language of devotion and love. Mr. Steeyens quotes Acolastus, 1540.

“ That same most best redresser or reformer, is God.” (18) And more above, hath his solicitings] Besides; or as the King in the opening of this scene, moreover. Solicitings is the reading of the quartos and modern editors : soliciting of the folios. There must either way be left a difficulty in the grammar or construction. (19) If I had play'd the desk or table-book ;

Or given my heart a winking, mute and dumb;

Or look'd upon this love with idle sight.] Had I merely minuted this in my mind, locking it up in the treasury of my memory, as in a desk, for future use; or had I dealt with the active energies of body and mind, as with the eyes when yielding to repose, and suffered its bearings in silence to pass unnoticed ; or had contemplated it with a careless eye as a thing frivolous and unworthy of regard.

The enforcing of an idea by the use of synonimes or reduplica. tion of similar terms, is common to our author with those of his age. The identical instance is given by Mr. Malone from his Rape of Lucrece:

“ And in my hearing be you mute and dumb." In the folios winking was substituted for working, the reading of the quartos. Between the two words there is not much to chuse : and whether from the critical character of that age it is to be considered that the change was made in consequence of such a nicety as the recurrence of the word work, only two lines below (went round to work) is left for the reader to say.

(20) went round to work] Directly to the point, or throughout and on all sides and points; plainly and without reserve. In this sense and senses nearly allied to it, this word is used with great latitude. “Is hee more favourable in concealement than round in his private reprehensions.” Bishop Hall's Characterismes of Vertues. (The true friend) 12mo. 1608, p. 47. In H. VIII. V. 3, Chamberl, we have “ round fines," i. e. full, effectual. (21) - (a short tale to make,)

Fell into a sadness; then into a fast, &c.] The ridicule of this character is here admirably sustained. He would not only be thought to have discovered this intrigue by his own sagacity, but to have remarked all the stages of Hamlet's disorder, from his sadness to his raving, as regularly as his phy, sician could have done; when all the while the madness was only feigned. The humour of this is exquisite from a man who tells us, with a confidence peculiar to small politicians, that he could find

" Where truth was hid, though it were hid indeed
« Within the centre.” WARBURTON.

· (22) For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion-Let not your daughter walk in the sun! conception is a blessing, but not as she may conceive,-friend, look to't.] As it would be too forced a sense to say that our author calls the sun “ a good kissing carrion,” we have nothing better to offer than that “ the carcass of a dead dog, being a good kissing car. rion,may mean, good for the sun, the breeder of maggots, to kiss for the purpose of causing putrefaction, and so conceiving or generating any thing carrion like, any thing apt quickly to contract taint in the sunshine; good at catching or drawing the rays or kisses of ".common kissing Titan :" and in the phraseology of the day, as shewn by Mr. Malone in the historical play of Edw. III. 1596, the above ideas appear to have been connected :

“ The freshest summer's day doth soonest taint

“ The loathed carrion that it seems to kiss." · Hamlet having thus (if this too is not also thought too forced a construction) in no very delicate combination of them, started the ideas of “ breeding and kissing," in a wild or mad way (and yet, as Polonius says, having method in it) talks of Polonius's daughter, whom he cautions against this same Titan; whose property of corrupting, whose generating touch and teeming kiss, may ripen into conception : and then, proceeding most obviously, to infer, that within the sun's reach his influence must be in this way powerfully impressive, at the same time that he admits that one of its consequences, conception, is a blessing, he yet adds ; but not as the maid, who instead of being recluse, stages herself to the broad day, i. e. mixes with the world, and in his phrase, “ walks in the sun" (when she is prodigal enough, who but unmasks her beauty to the moon, I. 3.) exposing herself to be tainted, “ not a blessing, in the way in which she may conceive.Or its meaning and argument may be simply this; it is dangerous for your daughter to be in the sun, because the sun will breed maggots in a dead dog, he being so good (lusty) a kisser even of carrion. Here is unquestionably much doubt and difficulty; and whether we have chanced to have made a fortunate conjecture must be left to others; be this as it may, we cannot resist the temptation of subjoining a specimen of the note-making, alluded to at the close of the observations upon the character of Polonius ; and one that was certainly not made for the sake of the author or his reader.

“ The editors seeing Hamlet counterfeit madness, thought they might safely put any nonsense into his mouth. But this strange passage, when set right, will be seen to contain as great and sublime a reflection as any the poet puts into his hero's mouth throughout the whole play. We will first give the true reading, which is this: For if the sunbreed maggots in a dead dog, being a god, kissing carrion, As to the sense we may observe, that the illative particle [for 7 shows the speaker to be reasoning from something he had said before : what that was we learn in these words, to be honest, us this world goes, is to be one picked out of ten thousand.

Having said this, the chain of ideas led him to reflect upon the
argument which libertines bring against Providence from the cir.
cumstance of abounding evil. In the next speech, therefore, he
endeavours to answer that objection, and vindicate Providence,
even on a supposition of the fact, that almost all men were wicked.
His argument in the two lines in question is to this purpose,-But
why need we wonder at this abounding of evil ? For if the sun breed
maggots in a dead dog, which though a god, yet shedding its heat
and influence upon carrion Here he stops short, lest talking
too consequentially the hearer should suspect his madness to be
feigned; and so turns him off from the subject, by enquiring of
his daughter. But the inference which he intended to make,
was a very noble one, and to this purpose. If this (says he) be
the case, that the effect follows the thing operated upon [carrion]
and not the thing operating sa god,] why need we wonder, that
the supreme cause of all things diffusing its blessings on mankind,
who is, as it were, a dead carrion, dead in original sin, man,
instead of a proper return of duty, should breed only corruption,
and vices? This is the argument at length; and is as noble a
one in behalf of Providence as could come from the schools of
divinity. But this wonderful man had an art not only of ac.
quainting the audience with what his actors say, but with what
they think. The sentiment too is altogether in character, for
Hamlet is perpetually moralizing, and his circumstances make
this reflection very natural. The same thought, something di-
versified, as on a different occasion, he uses again in Measure
for Measure, which will serve to confirm these observations :

“ The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?
« Not she; nor doth she tempt; but it is I
" That lying by the violet in the sun,
“ Do as the carrion does, not as the flower,

“ Corrupt by virtuous season."
And the same kind of expression is in Cymbeline :

Common-kissing Titan,” WARBURTON, This is a noble emendation, which almost sets the critick on a level with the author. Johnson.

The wish of Dr. Johnson, expressed upon other comments of this writer, would not have been out of place here : a wish, that it had been true.

(23) — shadow of a dream] Shakspeare has accidentally inverted an expression of Pindar, that the state of humanity is rxias óvag, the dream of a shadow. Johnson,

“ Man's life is but a dreame, nav, less than so,
A shadow of a dreame.” Davies. Farmer.
“ Whose best was but the shadow of a dream.

Lord Sterling's Darius, 1603. SrecveNS.

(24) this most excellent canopy, the air,--this majestical roof fretted with golden fire)

“ As those gold candles, fix'd in heaven's air.” Sonn: XXT.

“ — Look, how the floor of heaven
“ Is thick inlaid with patins of bright gold!

M. of Ven. V. 1. Lor. Mal'ONE. And in imitation of the majestical roof of the firmament the magnificent rooms in our palaces and lofty chapels had their roofs stellated at that time; and so continued till after the middle of the last century.

(25) - lenten entertainment-] i. e, sparing, like the entertainments given in Lent.

" to maintain you with bisket,
“ Poor John, and half a livery, to read moral virtue
“ And lenten lectures.”

Shirley's Duke's Mistress, 1638. Steevens.

[ocr errors]

Shirleyo,

(26) we coated them on the way] Overtook.
" marry we presently coted and outstript them."

Return from Parnassus, 1606. In the laws of coursing, says Mr. Tollett, “ a cote is when a greyhound goes endways by the side of his fellow, and gives the hare a turn.” This quotation seems to point out the etymology of the verb to be from the French coté, the side. Sreevens.

We shall add, “ he costed and posted with such lightfoote speede, that coting and bording all, &c.” Brian Melbancke's Philistinus, 4to. 1583. Brit. Bibliogr. 8vo. 1812. II. 443. “ With that Hippomenes coted (præterit, v. 668.) her.”

A. Golding's Ov. Met. B. X. 1593. Signat. S. 3. ... Coted farre.”

Chapm. Il. 23. Tragalaw. v. 527. “ Let it bee farre from us to let our idle knowledge content itselfe with naked contemplation, like a barren womb in a monasterie. Default of speedie order and direction maketh us to be thus coated by the Spaniard.” Capt. Lord Kemys's 2d Voyage to Guinea, 4to. 1590. Pref, to Reader.

(27) laugh, whose lungs are tickled o' the sere] Of, or by the sere, or a parched affection of the throat.

Mr. Steevens, who says that laughing is very uneasy to asthmatical patients, adds, that “ such is the case, as he is told, with those whose lungs are tickled by serum;' and Mr. Douce (Illustr. II. 230.) says, that “ every one has felt that dry tickling in the throat and lungs, which excites coughing;” and he instances the use of this phrase in Howard's Defensative against the poyson of supposed prophecies, fo. 1620. “ discovering the moods and humors of the vulgar sort to be so loose and tickle of the scare." The sense, to which we are led, seems to be in conformity with the ideas above stated; and the passage may be rendered, “ By his merrinient make even those whose haske or huskiness sub

jects them to incessant coughing, involuntarily yield to laughter." Steevens produces an instance of the substantive and adjective use of the word in a still less intelligible sense:

“ And wyll byde whysperynge in the eare;

“ Thynk ye her tayle is not light of the seure ?" An antient Dialogue between the Comen Secretsry and Jelowsy, touchynge the unstableness of Harlottes. bl. I. no date.

“ Hector, thou onely pestilence in all mortalitie
To my sere spirits.” Chapman's Iliad, Fo. p. 304.

(28) the lady shall say her mind freely] “ Shall have free scope for the expression of her passion, shall not be prevented from doing justice to her part, how false soever her recital, or whatever the fate of the poet's numbers :" or, as Mr. Henderson, shall “mar the measure of the verse rather than not express herself freely and fully."

(29) their inhibition comes by means of the late innovation] Hamlet represents the conduct of the players in quitting the capital and strolling, as every way injudicious; considering it as having been altogether matter of election and choice in them. Rosencrantz, on the contrary, being of opinion, that with hardly any election given, they had yielded to circumstances, to the changes of fashion and of the times, replies; that he “ conceives ‘their inhibition (i. e. their forbiddance or cause of removal from the capital) is to be ascribed to the late innovation;" i. e. a license granted to a new description of actors; and though they, the old company, had not relaxed in their efforts, that fashion was capricious, and the new candidates for public favour had met with the most extravagant applauses and success : and that the old company, like almanacs out of date, and so, as it were inhibited or forbidden, had been superseded and dislodged. Harlequin had never, at a later period, made such inroads upon the stage, as the children of St. Paul's had then made upon the old company.

It would have been extraordinary, if the circumstances of the squabbles between the rival managers of the playhouses, at that time of day licensed, had been delivered down to us minutely, or even altogether intelligibly.

(30) ayrie of children] Aiery, or eyrie, is derived from the same root as eyas, from ey, Teut. ovum q. d. qui recens ex ovo emersit. Skin. Etymol. and signifies both a young brood of hawks, and the nest itself. MALONE.

The children were the young singing men of the chapel royal, or St. Paul's; of the former of whom perhaps the earliest mention occurs in an anonymous puritanical pamphlet, 1564, entitled The Children of the Chapel stript and whipt : “ Plaies will neuer be supprest, while her maiesties unfledged minions flaunt it in silkes and sattens. They had as well be at their popish seruice

« PreviousContinue »