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L. He was one by nature adapted to " consider too curiously,” for his own peace.
A. All thoughtful minds are so.
A. So far as they are artistic, merely, they differ not from instinctive, practical characters, they find relief in work. But so far as they tend to evolve thought, rather than to recreate the forms of things, they suffer again and again the pain of death, because they open the gate to the next, the higher realm of being. Shakspeare knew both, the joy of creation, the deep pang of knowledge, and this last he has expressed in Hamlet with a force that vibrates almost to the centre of things.
L. It is marvellous, indeed, to hear the beautiful young prince cataloguem
“The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That patient merit of the unworthy takes.”
“The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The noble and most sovereign reason,
The unmatched form and feature of blown youth,” could such things come so near ?
Who then shall hope a refuge, except through inborn stupidity or perfected faith?
A. Ay, well might he call his head a globe! It was fitted to comprehend all that makes up that “quintessence of dust, how noble in reason ; how infinite in faculties; in form, and moving, how express
and admirable ; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god; the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals !" yet to him, only a quintessence of dust! L. And this world only “a sterile promontory.”
A. Strange, that when from it one can look abroad into the ocean, its barrenness should be so depressing. But man seems to need some shelter, both from wind and rain.
L. Could he not have found this in the love of Ophelia ?
A. Probably not, since that love had so little power to disenchant the gloom of this period. She was to him a flower to wear in his bosom, a child to play the lute at his feet. We see the charm of her innocence, her soft credulity, as she answers her brother,
“No more, but so ?”
The exquisite grace of her whole being in the two lines
And I of ladies most deject and wretched
That sucked the honey of his music vows.” She cannot be made to misunderstand him; his rude wildness crushes, but cannot deceive her heart. She has no answer to his outbreaks but
“O help him, you sweet Heavens !"
But, lovely as she was, and loved by him, this love could have been only the ornament, not, in any wise, the food of his life. The moment he is left alone, his thoughts revert to universal topics; it was the constitution of his mind, no personal relation could have availed it, except in the way of suggestion. He could not have been absorbed in the present moment. Still it would have been
" Heaven and earth! Must I remember?”
L. Have you been reading the play of late ?
A. Yes; hearing Macready, one or two points struck me that have not before, and I was inclined to try for
thousandth harvest from a new study of it.
Macready gave its just emphasis to the climax
“I'll call thee Hamlet,
King, father, royal Dane," so unlike in its order to what would have been in any other mind, as also to the two expressions in the speech so delicately characteristic,
“The glimpses of the moon." and
“With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls.” I think I have in myself improved, that I feel more than ever what Macready does not, the deep calmness, always apparent be. neath the delicate variations of this soul's atmosphere.
“ The readiness is all.”
This religion from the very first harmonizes all these thrilling notes, and the sweet bells, even when most jangled out of tune, suggest all their silenced melody.
From Hamlet I turned to Timon and Lear; the transition was natural yet surprising, from the indifference and sadness of the heaven-craving soul to the misanthropy of the disappointed affections and wounded trust. Hamlet would well have understood them both, yet what a firmament of spheres lies between his "pangs of despised love," and the anguish of Lear.
“O Regan, Goneril !
It rends the heart only ; no grief would be possible from a Hamlet, which would not, at the same time, exalt the soul.
The outraged heart of Timon takes refuge at once in action, in curses, and bitter deeds. It needs to be relieved by the native baseness of Apemantus's misanthropy, baseness of a soul that never knew how to trust, to make it dignified in our eyes. Timon, estranged from men, could only die; yet the least shade of wrong in this heaven-ruled world would have occasioned Hamlet a deeper pain than Timon was capable of divining. Yet Hamlet could not for a moment have been so deceived as to fancy man worth. less, because many men were ; he knew himself too well, to feel the surprise of Timon when his steward proved true.
“Let me behold
He does not deserve a friend that could draw higher inferences from his story than the steward does.
“Foor honest lord, brought low by his own heart,
Undone by goodness! Strange, unusual blood,
For bounty that makes gods, doth still mar men.” Timon tastes the dregs of the cup. He persuades himself that he does not believe even in himself.
“Who dares, who dares
So are they all." L. You seem to have fixed your mind, of late, on the subject of misanthropy!
A. I own that my thoughts have turned of late on that low form which despair assuines sometimes even with the well disposed. Yet see how inexcusable would it be in any of these be. ings. Hamlet is no misanthrope, but he has those excelling gifts, least likely to find due response from those around him. Yet he is felt, almost in his due sense, by two or three.
Lear has not only one faithful daughter, whom he knew not how to value, but a friend beside.
Timon is prized by the only persons to whom he was good, purely from kindliness of nature, rather than the joy he expected from their gratitude and sympathy, his servants.
Tragedy is always a mistake, and the loneliness of the deepest thinker, the widest lover, ceases to be pathetic to us, so soon as the sun is high enough above the mountains.
Were I, despite the bright points so numerous in their history and the admonitions of my own conscience, inclined to despise my fellow men,
I should have found abundant argument against it during this late study of Hamlet. In the streets, saloons, and lecture rooms, we continually hear comments so stupid, insolent, and shallow on great and beautiful works, that we are tempted to think that there is no Public for anything that is good ; that a work of genius can appeal only to the fewest minds in any one age, and that the reputation now awarded to those of former times is never felt, but only traditional. Of Shakspeare, so vaunted a name, little wise or worthy has been written, perhaps nothing so adequate as Coleridge's comparison of him to the Pine-apple; yet on reading Hamlet, his greatest work, we find there is not a pregnant sentence, scarce a word that men have not appreciated, have not used in myriad ways. Had we never read the play, we should find the whole of it from quotation and illustration familiar to us as air. That exquisite phraseology, so heavy with meaning, wrought out with such admirable minuteness, has become a part of literary diction, the stock of the literary bank; and what set criticism can tell like this fact how great was the work, and that men were worthy it should be addressed to them ? L. The moon looks in to tell her assent. See, she has just