« PreviousContinue »
For this reason he refuses to kill the King when he is at his prayers, and by a refinement in malice, which is in truth only an excuse for his own want of resolution, defers his revenge to some more fatal opportunity, when its object shall be engaged in some act “ that has no relish of salvation in it."
He is the prince of philosophical speculators, and because he cannot have his revenge perfect, according to the most refined idea his wish can form, he misses it altogether. So he scruples to trust the suggestions of the Ghost, contrives the scene of the play to have surer proof of his uncle's guilt, and then rests sa. tisfied with this confirmation of his suspicions, and the success of his experiment, instead of acting upon it. Yet he is sensible of his own weakness, taxes himself with it, and tries to reason himself out of it.
“ How all occasions do inform against me,
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth." Still he does nothing: and this very speculation on his own in firmity only atfords him another occasion for indulging it. It is not for any want of attachment to his father or abhorrence of his murder that Hamlet is thus dilatory, but it is more to his taste to indulge his imagination in reflecting upon the enormity of the crime and refining on his schemes of vengeance, than to put them into immediate practice. His ruling passion is to think, not to act: and any vague pretence that flatters this propensity instantly diverts him from his previous purpos.
The moral perfection of this character has born called in question by those, we think, who did not understand it. It is more natural than conformable to rules; and if not more amia. ble, is certainly more dramatic on that account. Hamlee is noe, to be sure, a Sir Charles Grandiwn. In general the ethical de. lineations of " that noble and liberal casuist" (as Shakspeare has been well called) do nul exhibit the drab-colored quakerism of morality. His plays are not copied either from The Whole Duty of Man, or from The Academy of Compliments! We oonfess, we are a little shocked at the want of refinement in these who are shocked at the want of retinement in llamlet. The deficiency of punculus exaciness in his behavior either partakes of the “ licence of the time," or belongs to the very excess of intellectual refinement in the character, which makes the comny rules of life, as well as his own purposes, sit loose upon him. lle may be said to be amenable only to the tribunal of his own thoughts, and is too much occupied with the airy world of contemplation to lay as much stress as be ought on the practical consequences of things. His ha. bitual principles of actiu are unhinged and out of joint with the time. His conduct to Ophelia is quite natural in his circumstances. It is that of assumed severity only. It is the eizt of disappointrd honpo, of bitter magents, of affertion suspendet,
Dot obliterated, by the distractions of the scene around him! Amidst the natural and preternatural horrors of his situation, he might be excused in delicacy from carrying on a regular courtship. When “his father's spirit was in arms,” it was not a time for the son to make love in, He could neither marry, Ophelia, nor wound her mind by explaining the cause of his alienation, which he durst hardly trust himself to think of. It would have taken him years to have come to a direet explana. tion on the point. In the harassed state of his mind, he could not have done otherwise than he did. His conduct does not contradict what he says when he sees her funeral
“I lov'd Ophelia: forty thousand brothers Could not with all their quantity of love Make up my sum."
Nothing can be more affecting or beautiful than the Queen's apostrophe to Ophelia on throwing flowers into the grave:
“ Sweets to the sweet, farewell.
Shakspeare was thoroughly a master of the mixed motives of buman character, and he here shows us the Queen, who was so criminal in some respects, not without sensibility and affection in other relations of life.-Ophelia is a character almost too exquisitely touching to be dwelt upon. Oh rose of May, oh flower too soon faded ! Her love, her death, are described with the truest touches of tenderness and pathos. It is a character which nobody but Shakspeare could have drawn in the way that he has done, and to the conception of which there is not even the small. est approach, except in some of the old romantic ballads. Her brother, Laertes, is a character we do not like so well: he is too bot and choleric, and somewhat rhodomontade. Polonius is a perfect character in its kind; nor is there any foundation for the objections which have been made to the consistency of this part. It is said that he acts very foolishly and talks very sensibly. There is no inconsistency in that. Again, that he talks wisely
at one time and foolishly at another; that his advice to Laertes is very sensible, and his advice to the King and Queen on the subject of Hamlet's madness very ridiculous. But he gives the one as a father, and is sincere in it; he gives the other as a mere courtier, a busy.body, and is accordingly officious, garrulous, and impertinent. In short, Shakspeare has been accused of incon. sistency in this and other characters, only because he has kept up the distinction which there is in nature, between the under. standings and the moral habits of men, between the absurdity of their ideas and the absurdity of their motives. Polonius is not a fool, but he makes himself appear one. His fully, whether in his actions or speeches, comes under the head of impropriety of intention.
Hamlet is probably, of all other of Shakspeare's characters, the most difficult to personate on the stage. It is like the attempt to embody a shadow.
“ Come then, the colors and the ground prepare,
Such, nearly, is the task which the actor imposes on himself in the part of Hamlet. It is quite remote froen hardness and dry precision. The character is spun to the finest thread, yet never loses its continuity. It has the yielding flexibility of a wave of the sa! It is made up of undulating lines, without a single sharp angle. There is no set purpose, no straining at a point. The observations are suggested by the passing scene the Rusts of passion come and go, like the sounds of musia borne on the wind. The interest depends not on the action, but on the thoughts.
THERE can be little doubt that Shakspeare was the most universal genius that ever lived. “Either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, scene individable or poem unlimited, he is the only man. Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light for him.” He has not only the same absolute command over our laughter and our tears, all the resources of passion, of wit, of thought, of observation, but he has the most unbounded range of fanciful invention, whether terrible or playful, the same insight into the world of imagination that he has into the world of reality ; and over all there presides the same truth of character and nature, and the same spirit of humanity. His ideal beings are as true and natural as his real characters ; that is, as consistent with themselves, for if we supposed such beings to exist at all, they could not act, speak, or feel otherwise than as he makes them. He has invented for them a language, manners, and sentiments of their own, from the tremendous imprecations of the witches in Macbeth, when they do “a deed without a name," to the sylph-like expressions of Ariel, who “does his spiriting gently;" the mischievous tricks and gossipping of Robin Goodfellow, or the uncouth gabbling and emphatic gesticulations of Caliban in this play.
The Tempest is one of the most original and perfect of Shakspeare's productions, and he has shown in it all the variety of his powers. It is full of grace and grandeur. The human and imaginary characters, the dramatic and the grotesque, are blended together with the greatest art and without any appear.